A new article in Crisis Magazine entitled, Saving the Uncommon Core of Catholic Education , highlights why Catholic schools are foolish to embrace the Common Core. As the article explains,
“the Common Core embraces essentially a trade-school mentality. Even in English class—where the heart of humanist education should beat most strongly—the curriculum is to be redesigned to offer less classic literature and more nonfiction “informational texts.” After all, if a student is unlikely to encounter Paradise Lost in his future job, why waste time on it now? Better to focus on the technical manuals or government documents that he might grapple with in the corporate world.”
It goes on to make the valid point of why on earth the Catholic schools, which have a proven track record, would want to abandon classical education in favor of emulating the public schools in the area of academics:
Why Catholic schools, which have a centuries-old vision of the purpose of education, and a track record only the most elite secular institutions can match, should embrace this olive-drab doctrine of uniformity and utilitarianism is not at all clear. In what way is this mindset compatible with Catholicism, and certainly with Catholic education? The great Catholic educator and scholar John Henry Newman, author of the visionary book The Idea of a University, believed that education must be directed at the whole person, not toward forming students for predetermined professional slots. Education, he wrote, trains “the intellect to reason well in all matters, to reach out towards truth and to grasp it.”
After all, isn’t the underlying assumption of the school choice movement that there are academic and curricular differences between public and private schools? This is an article that any Catholic will want to read in its entirety, as it says so much. It includes the wise remarks of Dr. Anthony Esolen, editor of Magnificat and professor at Providence College, whose comments echo the sentiments in hearts of many parents. He had this to say about Common Core:
[W]hat appalls me most about the standards … is the cavalier contempt for great works of human art and thought, in literary form. It is a sheer ignorance of the life of the imagination. We are not programming machines. We are teaching children. We are not producing functionaries, factory-like. We are to be forming the minds and hearts of men and women.
Frankly, I do not wish to be governed by people whose minds and hearts have been stunted by a strictly utilitarian miseducation…. Do not train them to become apparatchiks in a vast political and economic system, but raise them to be human beings, honoring what is good and right, cherishing what is beautiful, and pledging themselves to their families, their communities, their churches, and their country.
A better idea would be for Catholic schools to reject Common Core, reaffirm their commitment to classical education, and market themselves as something distinctly different than what the public schools are offering academically. They should start by studying the case of St. Jerome Academy in Maryland, where a return to classical education led to an immediate jump in test scores, as well as a waiting list. You can read about their success story in the First Things article, A Case for Classical Education. Here’s an excerpt:
In 2009, St. Jerome’s parish school in the Archdiocese of Washington, D.C., faced dropping enrollment and major debt that forced a diocesan review process. A group of parishioners approached Pastor James M. Stack with the idea of a classical curriculum, a bold move for an urban, socioeconomically and ethnically diverse school. Fr. Stack and Principal Mary Pat Donoghue embraced the idea, and a volunteer curriculum team of educators, theologians, and philosophers hammered out the 120-page educational plan for the pre-K-8 school. The superintendent supported the initiative, and St. Jerome’s today has gained national attention for its early successes. Some classes now have waiting lists. After the first year with the new approach, math and reading scores jumped. Disproving the notion that a classical curriculum is elitist, many students who previously struggled found motivation and success through the rich content and lively discussions that required them to think deeply.
“We have seen what it looks like for a child to be truly educated, and it is a very different thing than just the acquisition of skills,” said Donoghue. “This is about opening the treasure trove of the Catholic Church, and re-imagining ourselves in its heritage and thought.”
As public education moves toward nationally accepted common core standards, Donoghue insists that the Church has an opportunity to move in a different direction and resist the pressure to conform to decidedly secular content and pedagogy. Classical Catholic schools have made a conscious choice, not to turn back to the past, but to draw upon the riches of tradition to help children understand who they are in the modern world. The response of students, parents, and teachers reveals the fruit of these efforts.