The Common Core: A Curriculum for Clever Robots

March 2015By Anthony Esolen

Anthony Esolen is a Professor of English at Providence College. His latest book is Defending Marriage (Saint Benedict Press). He and his family worship at Sacred Heart Church in West Warwick, Rhode Island. Dr. Esolen presented a version of this article as the 2014 Ruggiero Lecture on Catholic Education at DeSales University in Center Valley, Pennsylvania.

You’ve no doubt heard of the Common Core Curriculum, the fifth horseman of the Apocalypse, which has been visited upon the sons of men for their folly and wickedness. This one isn’t a red horse or even a pale horse but a coughing, broken-winded old nag; the worst of the old improvements in education, gussied up with techno-lingo and a lot of money, and made to trot by the reliable methods of financial carrots and bureaucratic sticks. I am not here to tell you about that. You don’t need to hear it from me that sewers have an uneasy smell or that the most dangerous thing in the world is a theorist with one idea, a lot of money, and the power of the state behind him.

I’m here to tell you about the Common Core because of its name, or rather its advertising tag — because that is what it is, alliteration and all. It is reminiscent of Orwell’s Ministry of Truth, or Minitruth, to use the Newspeak advertising lingo. Minitruth is where evidence of events goes down the memory hole to disappear forever. It is also reminiscent of the Ministry of Love, or Miniluv, the terrifying underground hole where you go to have your spirit crushed, to betray your friends, and to truckle to the boundless ambition of Big Brother. For there is no core in the Common Core; only a hole where a core should have been. There is no shared heritage of songs that touch the heart, no heroes to make the eyes grow wide with wonder, no vision of a celestial city to rouse us from our sloth, to say, “Come, let us take up the journey.”

What is a core? For the promoters of the Common Core, the one thing needful is the imparting of so-called skills. These include writing a formal essay that descends upon the mind of the reader like a chloroformed towel upon the nose and mouth, or mastering a nine-step algorithm for solving a problem in higher arithmetic, without the too-dangerous assistance of intuition or a strong memory. The promoters think of education as essentially technological, for doing things that are precisely delineated. It is an education for clever robots.

A core, if it is to be a core and not just a small collection of courses with a name like those that sell toothpaste, must be a heart; and if it is a heart for beings with hearts, it must reach into the depths of those hearts. And not only can Catholic education be such a heart; it is about the only thing remaining that can be.

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Dear Prof Esolen,
Sadly, the truly Catholic education you describe exists (in America at least) only in the distant past, in a handful of independent (non-Diocesan) Catholic schools, and among Catholic home schoolers. Without naming-names, the Diocesan school superintendents, the staffs of the Diocesan Catholic School Departments, and the entire NCEA scoff right along with leaders of the secular schools whom they both resemble and admire. The Diocesan schools, for the most part, buy the same text books as the secular schools, follow the same curriculum fads and fashions, tack-on a couple of hours of religious education (hermetically sealed-off from the other disciplines lest it contaminate their pristine secularism) and market that to unsuspecting parents as 'Catholic' education. If you ask them why, e.g. Catholic Social Doctrine doesn't inform their 'social studies' curriculum, they will tell you (very earnestly) that the separation-of-Church-and-State prohibits that.
Yours in Christ, Evagrius
Posted by: Augustine1
March 07, 2015 12:30 AM EST
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