Common Core changes the meaning of education

By Ken Williams and Contributing Writers / June 12, 2015 / The Register

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Huxley’s “Brave New World” constructs an environment where individual identity is stripped by a government that controls nearly all aspects of life through classical social conditioning. Not far from that fictionalized dystopia is an emerging education paradigm in America similar in philosophy and structure. This paradigm is a reappearance of the progressive education theories found in the California Learning Assessment System and School-to-Work that dominated politics two decades ago. It competes against traditional and direct academic instruction advocates who oppose diluted academics, “student-centered” instruction and social emotional learning programs.

In a traditional or classical education model, the primary focus is the transmission of facts and knowledge related to math, science, literature and history. Filling a child’s mind with rich content leads to critical, abstract thought required for a free society. Further, traditional learning is a continuum where young students absorb facts and information in the early years in preparation for more advanced studies in grades six through 12. By the time a student graduates, they are fully capable of discerning their own values and attitudes about the world. The latest government education paradigm, known as Common Core, however, is in the business of shaping attitudes, values and dispositions.

Parents do not want government determining their child’s values; they want public education to reflect their own values. California, however, is moving quickly down the tracks on this experimental bullet train to implement a bold framework that places a tremendous emphasis on untested, experimental SEL programs rather than tried and true traditional learning. The lack of transparency between the goals of this reform and how it has been sold to parents has led to much controversy and deception. This discrepancy was revealed at the Orange County Board of Education special meetings on Common Core last fall.

Under this emerging educational paradigm, a student’s “competencies and skills” are advanced through curriculums such as social math, where even the most obvious answers must be explained and discussed collaboratively. The new pedagogies and assessment testing will not only teach and measure academic knowledge, but also values, beliefs and attitudes.

A prominent leader in Common Core and the SEL movement is Michael Fullan, an educational globalist from Canada. Fullan spent the last three decades challenging traditional learning systems around the globe in favor of so-called 21st century “skills and competencies.” Parents assume these refer to academic knowledge. Categorically, they do not. They are related to SEL indicators such as self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, responsible decision-making and relationship skills. At a recent board meeting, we learned that Fullan is already hard at work in O.C. school districts assisting in implementing Common Core.

Fullan is a change agent who hopes to transform the primary purpose of education by substituting traditional learning methods with pedagogies that place great value on political correctness, social justice, social attitudes and personal beliefs. Currently, he is working closely with the California Office to Reform Education to redesign our systems of education.

CORE consists of 10 districts in California, with Garden Grove, Santa Ana, Long Beach and Los Angeles in the middle. Fullan is helping CORE to develop a new School Quality Improvement Index to replace California’s previous Academic Performance Index. Under the new system, 60 percent of a school’s score will be based on academics and 40 percent on social emotional factors. The previous model used only scholastic factors to determine API scores.

Arguably, a system that attempts to “standardize” values and beliefs has the potential to produce a generation of like-minded citizens, and a world not so far from Huxley’s dystopian vision. Common Core is a Trojan horse creating a national curriculum and new pedagogies, and it uses untested psychological assessments. Lamentably, it increases the role of the state and federal government in our lives, as the concept of local control of education is removed without the consent of the people.

Dr. Williams and Robert Hammond are board members and trustees of the Orange County Department of Education.

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