Is the Common Core Un-American? Professor Deneen Says Yes

What should conservatives do with the new Common Core Learning Standards?

Trash them, demands Notre Dame political theorist Patrick Deneen.  In doing so, Deneen makes some fishy assertions about the educational imaginations of our Founding Fathers.

As ILYBYGTH readers are well aware, there is no unified “conservative” position on the Common Core.  Some smart conservatives hate them.  Other smart conservatives hold their noses and endorse them.

Professor Deneen signed on to the recent letter against the standards to the US Catholic Bishops.  Deneen and other prominent Catholic intellectuals voiced their dismay at the intellectual, political, and spiritual implications of the new standards.

In his recent essay in The American Conservative, Deneen spells out in more detail his objections.

The standards, Deneen warns, represent a monstrous over-emphasis on only two of the five main purposes of education.  The standards push schools to focus only on basic facts and logic. They ignore the formation of good citizens with character and a sense of wonder.

In this case, according to Professor Deneen, two-fifths of a loaf is worse than none at all. These standards, he argues, are not simply a good attempt at a difficult task.  Rather, they are fundamentally flawed, since they are based on a “dessicated and debased conception of what a human being is.”

So far, so good.  But Professor Deneen argues that this sort of common educational standard violates the best American traditions, and this doesn’t seem to fit the historical record.

The good professor is a mighty smart guy, well versed in the political thought of our founders.  So I have a hard time sussing out what he means by the following:

Because humans in their social and political communities are various, it was understood by our Founders that the way that these educational purposes to be achieved would be various, and so the commitment to local control of education was not born of a resignation in the absence of a strong central government, but a positive embrace of variety and multiplicity.

I’m no expert in early America, but that just ain’t so.  Prominent founders such as Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin, and Benjamin Rush all pushed for greater systematization and centralization of schooling.  Each of them hoped to organize a chaotic network of educational opportunities into a more coherent centralized system of schooling.

Perhaps none of these founders would have wanted a single system for all of the states, as the Common Core standards hope for.  But each of these founders, at least, would have applauded the attempt to make education less happenstance and more predictable.

I understand Professor Deneen’s disgust at the lopsided nature of the Common Core State Standards, even if I don’t agree with it.  But I don’t see the basis for his claims that this sort of effort violates the spirits of the Founders.  On the contrary, this sort of rationalization and systematization is just the kind of thing those big-idea men would have drooled over.


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  1. Donna

     /  November 21, 2013

    I talked to a couple teachers about Common Core and how it might effect us as a homeschooling family for end of the year testing and the SAT. One said she just has to rearrange what is taught when. The other said don’t worry about it, teach your kids and they will be fine. Don’t spend money on Common Core aligned curriculum, it’s just a way for curriculum companies to make more money. Common Core is just repackaged No Child Left Behind. New buzz words cycle with political races. Every time they switch things like this, kids lose skills. If they would just let teachers do their job……

  1. Common Core: The Rest of the Story | I Love You but You're Going to Hell

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