Sunday, December 11, 2016

Rotten to the Core

There are many similarities between Catholic schooling and its public K-12 counterpart, but the two also have profound differences. In addition to providing students with the academic knowledge and skills they need to prosper, Catholic schools have a unique spiritual and moral mission to nurture faith and prepare students to live lives illuminated by a Catholic worldview.

The Common Core national standards have been adopted by hundreds of Catholic elementary and high schools. ... Thus, this letter takes on importance of the highest magnitude;


Gerard V. Bradley, Professor of Law c/o University of Notre Dame,
 The Law School 3156 Eck Hall of Law, 
PO Box 780 Notre Dame, IN 46556 
October 16, 2013

(This letter was sent individually to each Catholic bishop in the United States. 132 Catholic professors signed the letter).

 Your Excellency:

We are Catholic scholars who have taught for years in America’s colleges and universities. Most of us have done so for decades. A few of us have completed our time in the classroom; we are professors “emeriti.” We have all tried throughout our careers to put our intellectual gifts at the service of Christ and His Church. Most of us are parents, too, who have seen to our children’s education, much of it in Catholic schools. We are all personally and professionally devoted to Catholic education in America.

For these reasons we take this extraordinary step of addressing each of America’s Catholic bishops about the “Common Core” national reform of K-12 schooling. Over one hundred dioceses and archdioceses have decided since 2010 to implement the Common Core. We believe that, notwithstanding the good intentions of those who made these decisions, Common Core was approved too hastily and with inadequate consideration of how it would change the character and curriculum of our nation’s Catholic schools. We believe that implementing Common Core would be a grave disservice to Catholic education in America.

In fact, we are convinced that Common Core is so deeply flawed that it should not be adopted by Catholic schools which have yet to approve it, and that those schools which have already endorsed it should seek an orderly withdrawal now.

 Why – upon what evidence and reasoning – do we take such a decisive stand against a reform that so many Catholic educators have endorsed, or at least have acquiesced in?

In this brief letter we can only summarize our evidence and sketch our reasoning. We stand ready, however, to develop these brief points as you wish. We also invite you to view the video recording of a comprehensive conference critically examining Common Core, held at the University of Notre Dame on September 9, 2013. (For a copy of the video, please contact Professor Gerard Bradley at the address above.)

News reports each day show that a lively national debate about Common Core is upon us. The early rush to adopt Common Core has been displaced by sober second looks, and widespread regrets. Several states have decided to “pause” implementation. Others have opted out of the testing consortia associated with Common Core. Prominent educators and political leaders have declared their opposition. The national momentum behind Common Core has, quite simply, stopped. A wave of reform which recently was thought to be inevitable now isn’t. Parents of K- 12 children are leading today’s resistance to the Common Core. A great number of these parents are Catholics whose children attend Catholic schools.

Much of today’s vigorous debate focuses upon particular standards in English and math. Supporters say that Common Core will “raise academic standards.” But we find persuasive the critiques of educational experts (such as James Milgram, professor emeritus of mathematics at Stanford University, and Sandra Stotsky, professor emerita of education at the University of Arkansas) who have studied Common Core, and who judge it to be a step backwards. We endorse their judgment that this “reform” is really a radical shift in emphasis, goals, and expectations for K-12 education, with the result that Common Core-educated children will not be prepared to do authentic college work. Even supporters of Common Core admit that it is geared to prepare children only for community-college-level studies.

No doubt many of America’s Catholic children will study in community colleges. Some will not attend college at all. This is not by itself lamentable; it all depends upon the personal vocations of those children, and what they need to learn and do in order to carry out the unique set of good works entrusted to them by Jesus. But none of that means that our Catholic grade schools and high schools should give up on maximizing the intellectual potential of every student. And every student deserves to be prepared for a life of the imagination, of the spirit, and of a deep appreciation for beauty, goodness, truth, and faith.

The judgments of Stotsky and Milgram (among many others) are supported by a host of particulars. These particulars include when algebra is to be taught, whether advanced mathematics coursework should be taught in high school, the misalignment of writing and reading standards, and whether cursive writing is to be taught.

We do not write to you, however, to start an argument about particulars. At least, that is a discussion for another occasion and venue. We write to you instead because of what the particular deficiencies of Common Core reveal about the philosophy and the basic aims of the reform. We write to you because we think that this philosophy and these aims will undermine Catholic education, and dramatically diminish our children’s horizons.

Promoters of Common Core say that it is designed to make America’s children “college and career ready.” We instead judge Common Core to be a recipe for standardized workforce preparation. Common Core shortchanges the central goals of all sound education and surely those of Catholic education: to grow in the virtues necessary to know, love, and serve the Lord, to mature into a responsible, flourishing adult, and to contribute as a citizen to the process of responsible democratic self-government. Common Core adopts a bottom-line, pragmatic approach to education. The heart of its philosophy is, as far as we can see, that it is a waste of resources to “over-educate” people. The basic goal of K-12 schools is to provide everyone with a modest skill set; after that, people can specialize in college – if they end up there.

Truck-drivers do not need to know Huck Finn. Physicians have no use for the humanities. Only those destined to major in literature need to worry about Ulysses. Perhaps a truck-driver needs no acquaintance with Paradise Lost to do his or her day’s work. But everyone is better off knowing Shakespeare and Euclidean geometry, and everyone is capable of it. Everyone bears the responsibility of growing in wisdom and grace and in deliberating with fellow-citizens about how we should all live together. A sound education helps each of us to do so.

The sad facts about Common Core are most visible in its reduction in the study of classic, narrative fiction in favor of “informational texts.” This is a dramatic change. It is contrary to tradition and academic studies on reading and human formation. Proponents of Common Core do not disguise their intention to transform “literacy” into a “critical” skill set, at the expense of sustained and heartfelt encounters with great works of literature.

Professor Stotsky was the chief architect of the universally-praised Massachusetts English language arts standards, which contributed greatly to that state’s educational success. She describes Common Core as an incubator of “empty skill sets . . . [that] weaken the basis of literary and cultural knowledge needed for authentic college coursework.” Rather than explore the creativity of man, the great lessons of life, tragedy, love, good and evil, the rich textures of history that underlie great works of fiction, and the tales of self-sacrifice and mercy in the works of the great writers that have shaped our cultural literacy over the centuries, Common Core reduces reading to a servile activity.

 Professor Anthony Esolen, now at Providence College, has taught literature and poetry to college students for two decades. He provided testimony to a South Carolina legislative committee on the Common Core, lamenting its “cavalier contempt for great works of human art and thought, in literary form.” He further declared: “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.”

Thus far Common Core standards have been published for mathematics and English language arts. Related science standards have been recently released by Achieve, Inc. History standards have also been prepared by another organization. No diocese (for that matter, no state) is bound to implement these standards just by dint of having signed onto Common Core’s English and math standards. We nonetheless believe that the same financial inducements, political pressure, and misguided reforming zeal that rushed those standards towards acceptance will conspire to make acceptance of the history and science standards equally speedy – and unreflective and unfortunate.

These new standards will very likely lower expectations for students, just as the Common Core math and English standards have done. More important, however, is the likelihood that they will promote the prevailing philosophical orthodoxies in those disciplines. In science, the new standards are likely to take for granted, and inculcate students into a materialist metaphysics that is incompatible with, the spiritual realities –soul, conceptual thought, values, free choice, God– which Catholic faith presupposes. We fear, too, that the history standards will promote the easy moral relativism, tinged with a pervasive anti-religious bias, that is commonplace in collegiate history departments today.

 Common Core is innocent of America’s Catholic schools’ rich tradition of helping to form children’s hearts and minds. In that tradition, education brings children to the Word of God. It provides students with a sound foundation of knowledge and sharpens their faculties of reason. It nurtures the child’s natural openness to truth and beauty, his moral goodness, and his longing for the infinite and happiness. It equips students to understand the laws of nature and to recognize the face of God in their fellow man. Education in this tradition forms men and women capable of discerning and pursuing their path in life and who stand ready to defend truth, their church, their families, and their country.

The history of Catholic education is rich in tradition and excellence. It embraces the academic inheritance of St. Anselm, St. Augustine, St. Thomas Aquinas, and Blessed John Henry Newman. In contrast to such academic rigor, the Common Core standards lack an empirical evidentiary basis and have not been field-tested anywhere. Sadly, over one hundred Catholic dioceses have set aside our teaching tradition in favor of these secular standards.

America’s bishops have compiled a remarkable record of success directing Catholic education in America, perhaps most notably St. John Neumann and the Plenary Councils of Baltimore. Parents embrace that tradition and long for adherence to it – indeed, for its renaissance. That longing reflects itself in the growing Catholic homeschool and classical-education movements and, now, in the burgeoning desire among Catholic parents for their dioceses to reject the Common Core.

Because we believe that this moment in history again calls for the intercession of each bishop, we have been made bold to impose upon your time with our judgments of Common Core. Faithfully in Christ, we are:

Gerard Bradley Professor of Law University of Notre Dame Robert P. George McCormick Professor of Jurisprudence Princeton University Anthony M. Esolen Professor of English Providence College Anne Hendershott Professor of Sociology Franciscan University of Steubenville Kevin Doak Professor Georgetown University Joseph A. Varacalli S.U.N.Y. Distinguished Service Professor Nassau Community College-S.U.N.Y. Patrick McKinley Brennan John F. Scarpa Chair in Catholic Legal Studies Villanova University School of Law Robert Fastiggi, Ph.D. Professor of Systematic Theology Detroit, MI Duncan Stroik Professor of Architecture University of Notre Dame Thomas F. Farr Director, Religious Freedom Project and Visiting Associate Professor Georgetown University Matthew J. Franck, Ph.D. Director, Simon Center on Religion and the Constitution Witherspoon Institute Ronald J. Rychlak Butler Snow Lecturer and Professor of Law University of Mississippi, School of Law V. Bradley Lewis Associate Professor of Philosophy The Catholic University of America Patrick J. Deneen David A. Potenziani Memorial Associate Professor of Political Science University of Notre Dame E. Christian Brugger, D.Phil. J. Francis Cardinal Stafford Professor of Moral Theology Saint John Vianney Theological Seminary, Denver Kenneth L. Grasso Professor of Political Science Texas State University James Hitchcock Professor of History Saint Louis University Maria Sophia Aguirre, Ph.D. Director of Economics Programs and Academic Chair The Catholic University of America Fr. Joseph Koterski SJ President, Fellowship of Catholic Scholars Fordham University Francis J. Beckwith Professor of Philosophy and Church-State Studies Baylor University Thomas V. Svogun Professor of Philosophy and Administration of Justice and Chairman of the Department of Philosophy Salve Regina University Scott W Hahn Professor of Theology Franciscan University of Steubenville Eduardo J. Echeverria, Ph.D., S.T.L. Professor of Philosophy and Systematic Theology Sacred Heart Major Seminary Ryan J. Barilleaux, Ph.D. Paul Rejai Professor of Political Science Miami University (Ohio) Brian Simboli, Ph.D. Science Librarian Lehigh University John A. Gueguen Emeritus Professor, Political Philosophy Illinois State University G. Alexander Ross Institute for the Psychological Sciences Suzanne Carpenter, Ph.D., R.N. Associate Professor of Nursing Retired Patrick Lee McAleer Professor of Bioethics Franciscan University of Steubenville Peter J. Colosi, PhD Associate Professor of Moral Theology St. Charles Borromeo Seminary Dr. Robert Hunt Professor of Political Science Kean University Matthew Cuddeback, PhD Assistant Professor of Philosophy Providence College Dr. Joseph H. Hagan President Emeritus Assumption College John A. Cuddeback, PhD Professor of Philosophy Christendom College Dr. Michael J. Healy Professor and Chair of Philosophy Franciscan University of Steubenville Thomas Hibbs Dean of the Honors College Baylor University Susan Orr Traffas Co-Director, Honors Program Benedictine College Michael J. Behe Professor of Biological Sciences Lehigh University Thomas R. Rourke Professor of Politics Clarion University Robert H Holden Professor, Dept. of History Old Dominion University Philip J. Harold Associate Dean, School of Education and Social Sciences Robert Morris University David T. Murphy, Ph.D. Dept. of Modern & Classical Languages Saint Louis University W. H. Marshner Professor of Theology Christendom College David W. Fagerberg Associate Professor, Theology University of Notre Dame Melissa Moschella Assistant Professor of Philosophy Catholic University of America Daniel J. Costello, Jr. Bettex Professor of Electrical Engineering, Emeritus University of Notre Dame Brian Scarnecchia, Associate Professor of Law Ave Maria School of Law Thomas Behr Assistant Professor of Comparative Cultural Studies University of Houston Bernard Dobranski Dean Emeritus and Professor of Law Ave Maria School of Law Daniel Philpott Professor, Political Science and Peace Studies University of Notre Dame Anne Barbeau Gardiner Professor emerita, Dept of English John Jay College, CUNY C.C. Pecknold Assistant Professor of Theology The Catholic University of America Anthony Low Professor Emeritus of English New York University Heather Voccola Adjunct Professor of Church History Holy Apostles College and Seminary Raymond F. Hain, PhD Assistant Professor of Philosophy Providence College Catherine Abbott Professor of Mathematics Keuka College Thérèse Bonin Associate Professor of Philosophy Duquesne University Dr. Francis P. Kessler Prof. Political Science Benedictine College Christopher Wolfe Co-Director, Thomas International Center Emeritus Professor, Marquette University Carson Holloway Associate Professor of Political Science University of Nebraska at Omaha Stephen M. Krason, J.D., Ph.D. President Society of Catholic Social Scientists Laura Hirschfeld Hollis Associate Professional Specialist and Concurrent Associate Professor of Law University of Notre Dame Wilson D. Miscamble, C.S.C., Professor of History University of Notre Dame Stephen M. Barr Professor of Physics University of Delaware D.C. Schindler Associate Professor of Metaphysics and Anthropology The John Paul II Institute for Studies on Marriage and Family Jeanne Heffernan Schindler Senior Research Fellow Center for Cultural and Pastoral Concerns David L. Schindler Gagnon Professor of Fundamental Theology Pontifical John Paul II Institute, Catholic University of America Rev. Edward Krause, C.C.C. Professor of Social Sciences, Emeritus Gannon University Christopher O. Tollefsen Professor of Philosophy University of South Carolina Paige E. Hochschild Assistant Professor of Theology Mount St. Mary's University Robert C. Jeffrey Professor of Government Wofford College Rev. Anthony E. Giampietro, CSB Executive Vice President and Academic Dean Saint Patrick's Seminary & University Dr. Roger Loucks Associate Prof. of Physics Alfred University J. Daniel Hammond Professor of Economics Wake Forest University Kenneth R. Hoffmann, Ph.D. Professor of Neurosurgery SUNY at Buffalo Timothy T. O'Donnell, STD, KGCHS President Christendom College Thomas W. Jodziewicz Department of History University of Dallas Sr J. Sheila Galligan IHM Professor of Theology Immaculata University Maura Hearden Assistant Professor of Theology DeSales University Robert Gorman University Distinguished Professor of Political Science Texas State University Steven Justice Professor of English University of California, Berkeley and University of Mississippi Carol Nevin (Sue) Abromaitis Professor of English Loyola University Maryland Dr. Sean Innerst Theology Cycle Director, St. John Vianney Theological Seminary Robert A. Destro Professor of Law & Director The Catholic University of America Richard Sherlock Prof. of Philosophy Utah State University Adrian J. Reimers Adjunct Assistant Professor in Philosophy University of Notre Dame Dr. Jessica M. Murdoch Assistant Professor of Fundamental and Dogmatic Theology Villanova University Mary Shivanandan, S.T.L., S.T.D. Professor of Theology Retired John Paul II Institute for Studies on Marriage & Family at the Catholic University of America Alice M. Ramos Professor of Philosophy St. John's University Dennis J. Marshall, Ph.D. Professor of Theology Aquinas College Dennis D. Martin Associate Professor of Theology Loyola University Chicago Janet E. Smith Father Michael J. McGivney Chair of Life Ethics Sacred Heart Major Seminary Leonard J. Nelson,III Retired Professor of Law Samford University Charles D. Presberg, PhD Associate Professor of Spanish University of Missouri-Columbia Brian T. Kelly Dean Thomas Aquinas College Michael F. McLean President Thomas Aquinas College Philip T. Crotty Professor of Management (Emeritus) Northeastern University James Matthew Wilson Assistant Professor of Literature Villanova University R. E. Houser Bishop Wendelin J. Nold Chair in Graduate Philosophy University of St. Thomas (TX Gary D. Glenn Distinguished Teaching Professor Emeritus Department of Political Science, Northern Illinois University Cynthia Toolin, Ph.D. Professor of Dogmatic and Moral Theology Holy Apostles College and Seminary Virginia L. Arbery, Ph. D. Associate Professor of Humanities Wyoming Catholic College Maryanne M. Linkes, Esquire Adjunct Professor University of Pittsburgh & Community College of Allegheny County James Likoudis, M.S.Ed. Education writer Montour Falls, NY 14865 Dr. Emil Berendt Assistant Professor of Economics Mount St. Mary's University David F. Forte Professor of Law Cleveland State University Anthony W. Zumpetta, Ed.D. Professor Emeritus West Chester University (PA) Thomas D. Watts Professor Emeritus University of Texas, Arlington Catherine Ruth Pakaluk, PhD Assistant Professor of Economics Ave Maria University Craig S. Lent Freimann Professor of Electrical Engineering University of Notre Dame Christina Jeffrey, Ph.D. Lecturer on the Foundations of American Government Wofford College Robert G Kennedy Professor of Catholic Studies University of St Thomas (MN) Holly Taylor Coolman Assistant Professor, Dept. of Theology Providence College Raymond F. Hain, PhD Assistant Professor of Philosophy Providence College David Whalen Provost Hillsdale College David M. Wagner Professor of Law Regent University School of Law John G. Trapani, Jr., Ph.D. Professor of Philosophy Walsh University Tina Holland, Ph.D. South Bend, Indiana James F. Papillo, J.D., Ph.D Former Vice President of Administrative Affairs and Associate Professor in the Humanities Holy Apostles College and Seminary Dr. J. Marianne Siegmund Theo. Department and SCSS member University of Dallas Dr. Daniel Hauser Professor of Theology University of St. Francis Joshua Hochschild Mount St. Mary's University William Edmund Fahey, Ph.D. Fellow and President The Thomas More College of Liberal Arts John C. McCarthy Dean, School of Philosophy The Catholic University of America Christopher O. Blum Academic Dean Augustine Institute Chiyuma Elliott Assistant Professor of English and AfricanAmerican Studies University of Mississippi Mark C. Henrie Senior V.P., Chief Academic Officer Intercollegiate Studies Institute Jeffrey Tranzillo, Ph.D. Professor, Systematic Theology Craig Steven Titus, S.Th.D/Ph.D. Associate Professor Director of Integrative Studies Institute of the Psychological Sciences Rev. Peter M.J. Stravinskas, Ph.D., S.T.D. Executive Director Catholic Education Foundation William W. Kirk Vice President for Student Affairs and General Counsel Ave Maria University Curt H. Stiles, Ph.D. Professor of Business Policy Cameron School of Business University of North Carolina