Common Core and Critical Thinking: Sounds Good, but is it?

Common Core and Critical Thinking: Sounds Good, but is it?
June 3, 2014

Nancy J. Thorner

Nancy J. Thorner is a writer, cellist, and Tea Party activist based in suburban Chicago. (read full bio)

To briefly summarize Common Core, the decision to adopt the Common Core standards was left almost exclusively in the hands of the governors and the state boards of education. The public was not made aware that our education system was in the process of being changed, and certainly we were clueless that all states had been asked to accept an education system initiated at the federal level, something our forefathers prudently warned against. However, forty-five states committed to those standards, and did so even before the standards and/or accompanying curriculum were completed.  

Yes, you read that correctly, States agreed to accept Common Core Standards without any proof whatsoever that it was superior to the system being replaced. It should be no surprise that parents and concerned citizens throughout America are just plain angry with the secrecy, the process, the lack of testing before being accepted and/or implemented in most every school in America, and the serious faults already discovered. It makes us wonder if this is still the America we have known and loved, when history, tradition, citizens, and our Constitution are ignored by so many levels of authority over us.

How might Common Core academic standards be described? 

In a nutshell the intent is for teachers to work on critical thinking (a buzz word), rather than the traditional memorization method. That sounds like a good thing, right?  We all value critical thinking skills, so why is there so much controversy about the new education system?  The devil is in the details, which is what parents and educators are now discovering. Critical thinking exercises are woven into the curriculum but the liberal writers’ choices and messages from those exercises are controversial and being criticized.   For instance curriculum encourages students to question the morals and teachings they have received at home and church.  Oh, it is all done rather subtly and if it was only found to occur once or twice, nobody would get too excited.  However, we have known for decades that this tactic by liberals is unashamedly and blatantly practiced in most every American college and university.   Up to 90 percent of college professors admit they are liberal, that hiring practices favor them, and that conservative professors are shunned and ridiculed by the dominate liberal staff.  Our college classrooms are traps for unsuspecting students to be inoculated with liberalism.   With such success, it is not a surprise liberals found a way to begin that liberal indoctrination much earlier in our children’s education experience.

Common Core's left-leaning influence can be observed in a 5th grade grammar class assignment. The exercise asked students to change several sentences by using possessive nouns in the following paragraph:  “The choices of the president affect everyone. He makes sure the laws of the country are fair. The commands of government officials must be obeyed by all.  The wants of an individual are less important than the well-being of the nation.”  Of concern to parents is that many of these types of assignments are often exclusive to the classroom, and thus parents are unaware if and when their child might be given an assignment which they would find objectionable.

Aside from examples of liberal indoctrination, there are other problems being discovered.  Before Common Core, students were taught the skills of memorization.   An example is when students would read a short story and then discuss the plot in class, thus encouraging students to read, remember, and relate what they learned.  Instead, Common Core asks students to invent what a character might say to a friend in an email, based on the story.  Some may not see a problem with that, but others consider the assignment an invitation for students to reveal personal feelings and private information, in which teachers gain personal information about their students and families.  Could that be a form of data mining?  Whether it is or not, actual data mining is already embedded in Common Core.  New technology development being pushed by feds allows for data collection on every child.

Students now have to connect the dots and apply critical thinking, in what experts are calling higher-order thinking necessary for preparing students for life after high school.  A Four-page Parents' Guide to Student Success (Color) is available for downloading here which outlines academic state standards for Common Core that a student should know at each grade level from Kindergarten to 8th grade, with special guides for high school English and Math. Those having concerns about Common Core believe the standards and curriculum are not grade level appropriate.  Some lower grades are inappropriately higher than brain development for that age, which explains the extreme frustration levels teachers and parents are witnessing in the students.  But, oddly, those higher standards are not seen at the Jr. High and High School level.  Instead, complaints are flooding in that higher level mathematics classes, such as Calculus, have been eliminated.

Teachers, principals, and parents are beginning to speak out against Common Core, some of which had been early supporters.  A powerful example is statements made by an award-winning principal, Carol Burris, principal of South Side High School in New York, who went from being a Common Core supporter to becoming a strong opponent.  When she first learned about Common Core, she was excited about the possibilities that were promised by its promoters.  She even authored a book, “Opening the Common Core,” to help schools and teachers meet the goals of Common Core. However, after actually using Common Core, she discover problems, one of which was testing and evaluating teacher student test scores.  She is not alone as 1,536 New York principals signed a letter agreeing with her.  She saw and exposed other problem which she explains in these powerful statements.

"I confess that I was naïve. I should have known in an age in which standardized tests direct teaching and learning, that the standards themselves would quickly become operationalized by tests. Testing, coupled with the evaluation of teachers by scores, is driving its implementation. The promise of the Common Core is dying and teaching and learning are being distorted.  The well that should sustain the Core has been poisoned. . . 

Test scores are a rough proxy for learning. . . .What occurs in a “data driven”, high-stakes learning environment is that the full domain of what should be learned narrows to those items tested.  The Common Core, for example, wants students to grow in five skill areas in English Language Arts — reading, writing, speaking, listening and collaboration. But the Common Core tests will only measure reading and writing.  Parents can expect that the other three will be neglected as teachers frantically try to prepare students for the difficult and high-stakes tests. What gets measured gets done, and make no mistake: “reformers” understand that full well.  In fact, they count on it. They see data, not children.  For the corporate reformers, test data constitute the bottom-line profits that they watch."

What about Common Core English Language Arts? 

Cursive writing has been removed from the curriculum, the same script used for our original official documents.   Like the math and history standards, the English language arts standards also went unnoticed because they were adopted by 45 state long before they were written or finalized.  English Language Arts standards insistthat reading must be divided equally (50-50) in the elementary grades between fiction and informational text, and divided 70-30 in favor of informational text in high school.  Teachers are lodging complaints stating many elementary school librarians and elementary students dislike being forced to read technical books, which are boring, instead of stories they enjoy reading. This Common Core mandate is resulting in a loss of interest in reading.  Why should Common Core standards set forth any percentages at all?  Common Core neglects age appropriateness and thus makes a teachers’ job close to impossible.  Not a good mix for a happy classroom.

A diminished emphases on literature in the secondary grades makes it unlikely that American students will study a meaningful range of significant literary works before graduation.  The decline in readiness for college reading is due largely to an increasingly incoherent, less challenging literature curriculum, which began in the 1960’s.  Common Core does not resolve that problem.

One book that would not be acceptable to many parents, but which has been designated as an approved piece of Common Core literature, is Barack Obama's biography.  Why?  They see no need for 4th graders to be taught that "America is, at its core, a racist nation."   

Another problem is how pornography has found its way into our children’s curricula through the guise of literature that addresses issues of race and culture.  Complaints have been made about the choice of reading material, but blatantly ignored.  So, what exactly are the parents’ complaints? Examples can be seen in these approved books: Invisible Man, written by Ralph Ellison and published in 1953, received complaints because of its graphic sexual themes of incestuous rape, rape as sexual play, and foul language.

Also considered objectionable is Nobel Prize-winning author Toni Morrison's The Bluest Eye, a popular selection of Oprah's Book Club, which is about the rape of an eight-year-old girl by her father, told from the view of the sexual offender.  The book recounts actual sexual acts as described by the pedophile.

Once again, how can these extreme examples of pathetic circumstances and vile violations of established laws be something any reasonable adult would find acceptable for minors to read?  Are parents informed their children are reading this type of pornographic material? What does it say about schools that allow our children to be exposed to such sadness as seen in the violation of souls due to the pervert behavior of the dredges of our society?  What ever happened to reading the “Classics”, books that don’t pollute children’s minds but enrich and inspire them?  If we ever wonder why our culture has declined so quickly, examine what is read, seen, and heard in the media, and unfortunately even within our school classrooms and libraries. 

What about Common Core Math?

The 100 page Standards for Mathematical Practice describe varieties of expertise that mathematics educators at all levels should seek to develop in their students.  Instead of simply teaching multiplication tables, schools are adopting "an inquiry method" of learning in which children are supposed to discover the knowledge for themselves.  In an odd pedagogical agenda, based on a belief that conceptual understanding must come before practical skills can be mastered, students must be able to explain the "why" of a Procedure.  According to the authors of Common Core, solving a math problem otherwise becomes a "mere calculation" and the student is viewed as not having true understanding.  

Under Common Core standards, students will not learn traditional methods (stacking of numbers) of adding and subtracting double and triple digit numbers until fourth grade. The standard method for two and three digit multiplication is delayed until fifth grade, and the standard method for long division until sixth.  Students had been taught Algebra in 8th grade.  Common Core now recommends that it be taught starting in the 9th grade.  This change means that the great majority of American students will not be able to reach the calculus level in high school.  So, many parents are scratching their heads trying to figure out why the new system is better than the old, when colleges are looking for students who know calculus.  Some believe this will put low income families at a disadvantage because students who have parents able to hire tutors will have the advantage on college admissions. 

It is not surprising that both teachers and parents are complaining that Common Core math standards focus too much on process.  Simple problems become confusing and create more opportunity for error, causing frustrated children. The Curriculum Director at a school in Grayslake, IL (a northern suburb of Chicago), was captured on video saying that the correct answer is less important than "the procedure” of a student arriving at that answer.  That means, arriving at the wrong answer doesn't matter as long as the child can explain how he/she calculated the problem.   If a student begins to think getting the right answer to a math problem isn’t as important as the method they use to get that answer, we can all hope they don’t become doctors,  pharmacists, or engineers.  Math is an exact science, and parents believe getting the right answer to a math problem should be the first goal.  A critical thinking exercise of how that answer was achieved can be another assignment, but should not be the main focus of mathematics, as it is with Common Core.  Once again age appropriateness has been ignored by Common Core authors.

Another problem with the new math and a growing frustration is that parents are unable to understand their child's homework assignment because the confusing Common Core way of adding and subtracting is foreign to them.  Children can no longer expect help from their parents, because even those with doctorate degrees cannot make sense of their grade school children’s arithmetic homework assignments.  Do we want parents to avoid helping and checking their child’s homework assignments?  How else does a parent know what is being taught, and whether their child is on track with the learning assignments?  Successful students usually have engaged parents willing and able to help at home.  Common Core tends to eliminate that advantage. Instead, Common Core is turning children into little mathematicians who don't know how to do actual math. 

Part 2 will delve into Common Core History and Science standards.  Just as Common Core Language Arts and Math Standards reflect a leftist agenda as set forth in the 1992 UN Agenda 21, Common Core History and Science standards are likewise based in what is often described as a one-world government agenda.

 

[Originally published at Illinois Review]

Nancy J. Thorner

Nancy J. Thorner is a writer, cellist, and Tea Party activist based in suburban Chicago. (read full bio)

Articles By Nancy J. Thorner