Whether or not you approve of Common Core standards, they deserve a fair hearing. And they deserve to be judged by how well or poorly American students are doing.
By now we already know that American children are seriously lagging their peers in other nations. We know that when it comes to math and science, American children, with the exception of a happy few, are not competitive.
Now, we have some data on the way Common Core is teaching language arts and literature. We know that many college Humanities departments have ceased to teach language and literature, preferring to indoctrinate their students. Apparently, not enough for some of today’s protesting students, but much of what passes for literary studies today involves politically correct claptrap, efforts to deconstruct the Western canon and an indoctrination in critical theory.
As for Common Core, how often does it introduce children to great writers or great literature?
According to a story in The Daily Caller, it has limited the exposure to literature, And test scores have accordingly diminished:
The adoption and implementation of the Common Core State Standards Initiative in more than 40 states around the country since 2010 has wrought two major changes: (1) a notable decrease in the use of fiction and literature in America’s reading and English classes and (2) lower reading and math scores on the U.S. Department of Education-mandated National Assessment of Educational Progress.
The Common Core standards — now instituted in more than 40 states — mandate that nonfiction books constitute at least 70 percent of the texts read by high school students.
The nonfiction-heavy reading regime has forced English teachers nationwide to ditch short stories, poetry and literary classics such as “Huckleberry Finn” and “The Great Gatsby” in favor of dry how-to manuals and dated dispatches from the Federal Reserve.
Let’s underscore the fact that children’s scores are lower in comparison with their American peers. It's what happens when you dumb down the curriculum.
A list of suggested “informational texts” which have replaced world-class literature in public schools under Common Core includes “Recommended Levels of Insulation by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency” and “FedViews” by the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco.
There’s also “Executive Order 13423: Strengthening Federal Environmental, Energy and Transportation Management,” a publication of the General Services Administration.
In 2009, about 36 percent of the material America’s fourth graders were reading was nonfiction. About 25 percent of the material America’s eighth graders were reading was nonfiction. In 2015, under Common Core, the percentages of nonfiction reading material have climbed to 45 percent for fourth graders and 32 percent for eighth graders, according to the Brookings Institution.
Does it matter that children learn how to speak and to write well? Of course, it does. No matter what you do in life you will be communicating with other human beings. You ability to grasp an issue, to articulate your point and to use language effectively has a great deal to do with your ability to participate in conversations and to hold down most jobs. If you are barely articulate you will have trouble communicating with other people, trouble writing reports, trouble framing a strategy and so on. You will probably have trouble writing thank you notes.
Dare we mention that in many cases social status and standing are determined by how well or poorly you use the language. Some people have very bad grammar and are not welcomed to certain dinner tables or corridors of power because of it. The minute anyone says: "I seen…" he is labeled. Perhaps it is not as bad in America as it is in Great Britain—see My Fair Lady—but your ability to participate in a conversation has a huge influence on your place in society and your prospects for advancement.
You might respond that you are going to run a hedge fund, trade futures and options and not have to speak in more than grunts and moans.
And yet, hedge fund mogul Paul Tudor Jones was ranting at his staff the other day that they seemed to be incapable of writing intelligible reports. And they did not even suffer Common Core.
People like Jones and Warren Buffett spend many hours every day reading reports of one kind or another. Even if the reports present the relevant information, no writer should force his readers to suffer the mental abuse of reading a report that sounds like it was written by a semi-literate clod. For his part Jones made it clear that he wanted his research analysts to write reports that were structured like news stories, not like detective fiction.
Of course, you know what that means. It means that he wanted the first paragraph to summarize all the important information. He did not want to have to read to the end before arriving at the punch line.
Naturally, most people believe that young people do not know how to communicate because they text too much. I take their point. And yet, in a time where texting has become a mania for all young people, would it not be to their advantage to be forced to take a little time to read Mark Twain or James Joyce, or God forbid, Shakespeare?
We could wax eloquent on the aesthetic delights to reading great literature. Were we to be more practical, we would also note that great writers are masters of the use of language and masters of storytelling. If you do not read them your ability to use language will be seriously limited.
One understands that life is not a story and that you do best not to live your life as though you are a fictional character. And yet, you do need to learn how to communicate with other people Making a point, to say nothing of persuading people to accept it, requires that you learn how to frame it in narrative terms.
Moreover, if you are doing policy analysis, you will need, among other things, to know how to imagine alternative possible scenarios. A lack of imagination, it has been said, was the reason the American government did not stop the attack on the World Trade Center.
When we say that a presidential candidate is a great communicator we mean that he knows how to make his policy points in narrative terms. Of course, life is not a story and storytelling, for all its usefulness, is not the be-all and end-all of human existence. If an analyst’s information is wrong or skewered, if it is distorted to fulfill the terms of a narrative fiction or an ideology, he will have abused the system. And yet, if he presents a cogent and accurate analysis in a form that will engage his readers he will have done his job, well and effectively.