Defending Catholic Professors: A Response to the CCCII Architects’ Criticisms

CCCII

In reference to the response from the architects of CCCII to the letter from 132 Catholic Scholars to the Bishops concerning the dangers of Common Core State Standards, I am compelled by deep concern to respond.. I have been studying and learning about the CCSS and the CCCII, because I am a parent with 3 daughters in the parochial schools, all of which have adopted the Common Core. I am also a public school teacher. As such, I am keenly aware of modern pedagogy, standards, curriculum, policies and politics present in the public schools, and thus I am well equipped to understand these same issues in parochial schools. I am currently in the midst of 22 days of CCSS training and deeply understand the nature, intention and outcomes of CCSS.  This knowledge allows me to state emphatically that the CCSS is just as the 132 scholars report, and that what CCSS will do to students by way of pedagogy, policy and curriculum is shameful. It was as long ago as 1983 that Diane Ravetich made the chilling assertion that America’s sworn enemy could do no more to destroy us than to foist upon us our current system of public education. Clearly things have only gotten worse and the Common Core ideology is not new, but just a continued evolution of the failed schemes that have ruined public education and what is new is a massive shift from state standardization to national standardization, easily implemented by technology and a few key strokes, which besides being patently unconstitutional, grossly violates our Catholic principle of subsidiarity and the reality that parents are a child’s first teachers.

I have read, reviewed and studied the national standards of the CCSS and the benchmarks, standards, rubrics, booklists, unit suggestions, and many other available curricular ideas propounded by the CCSS. I have faithfully concluded that the CCSS is educationally bankrupt.

However, I write today because I find the response to the scholars’ letter troubling. The claim was made that the letter is “based on misinformation regarding the Common Core.” I believe there is no misinformation in that letter regarding the CCSS, and if there is I would surely like to see specific examples of it. Of particular importance is the truthful statement “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.” This is factual and demonstrable. What counter arguments do the architects of the CCCII have to this coherent statement?

The claim has been made that the signers of the scholars’ letter have a “total lack of understanding about the difference between Standards and Curriculum.” I have long been troubled by this canard because there is an obvious intrinsic intertwinement between standards and curriculum, in fact, of the two, standards are by far the more dominant element in all educational considerations. I was told face to face by experts in the field of CCSS and read with my own eyes on page 7 of Larry Ainsworth’s book Rigorous Curriculum Development that the curriculum is the standards plus their assessments plus rigor as defined by Bloom’s taxonomy and Depth of Knowledge (DOK). Moreover, Secretary Arne Duncan has stated, with regards to assessments of the Common Core that “the new assessments will help drive the development of a rich curriculum.” Thus, it is disingenuous and misleading to pretend that there is some sort of secret knowledge about standards and curriculum that cannot be understood by “non-experts.” Further, using holy books with standards comprised of “empty skill sets” reduces the holy books to utilitarian fodder. It is not the Bible that can sanctify the standards, but the standards that bar the human soul from authentic interaction with the Bible, there must be no mistake about that. If there is something I misunderstand about the relationship between standards and curriculum, please correct my understanding.

The architects of the CCCII responded that “the Common Core standards themselves in no way prevent Catholic school teachers from doing what they always must do with any curriculum: exercise their professional judgment to provide their students with academic rigor in the context of the Catholic identity and mission of their Catholic school.” In truth, Common Core standards and a Catholic Identity are mutually exclusive. The curriculum driven by Common Core makes authentic Catholic teaching impossible. The Catholic identity as expressed by Archbishop Miller in the Holy See’s Teaching on Catholic Schools speaks to the mutual exclusivity between both the CCSS/CCCII and an authentic Catholic Identity. In Archbishop Miller’s book, on page 26, he gives a warning about the very same pitfall that the proponents of CCSS and CCCII are propagating- “All too many Catholic schools fall into the trap of a secular academic success culture, putting their Christological focus and its accompanying understanding of the human person in second place. Christ is “fitted in” rather than being the school’s vital principle.” Correct me if I am wrong, but this is what is meant by “excellence,” is it not? If yes, I cannot let this assertion remain unchallenged – in an authentic Catholic education, excellence is understood to pertain to excellence in the 7 virtues, not high test scores or other arbitrary student assessment measurements.

Two questions were posed by the architects of the CCCII in response to the scholars’ letter, one, one, “Have you read the Common Core standards in their entirety” and two, “can you name the knowledge and skills in the standards themselves that you think Catholic children should not learn.” To these two questions, I answer yes and yes. I am well acquainted with the standards and I am well aware of the knowledge and skills they promote. The standards are dreadful, as Dr. Stotsky clearly explained of the English Language Arts standards; they are “empty skill sets” and sacrifice great literature for informational texts. As Dr. Milgram has testified, the math standards prioritize “fuzzy math” methods, i.e. interactive and discovery learning methods, at the expense of tried and true “drill and skill” i.e. rote memorization of math facts. Thus the standards are bankrupt and the skills in the CCSS should never be taught in the sequence dictated by the developers. The CCSS is founded on two erroneous assumptions. First, that an education is comprised of the skills defined by the CCSS, when in fact, the skills represent the antithesis of a true education, especially a Catholic education. Second, the CCSS assumes a profoundly misunderstood anthropology, one that is the dehumanized antithesis of the Christian anthropology. It assumes the secular humanist anthropology cut off from moral agency and considers “man the measure of all things.”

The idea that the CCSS and the CCCII are “educating children with 21st century skills” demonstrates a grave misunderstanding of Catholic education. An education is not skill training. Many of the skills taught in the public schools are worse than worthless because not only are they empty skills, but also because the pursuit of these empty skills prevents students from learning what is truly important in the acquisition of a true education. When Catholic parents understand the real aims of the public schools and how Catholic schools’ adoption of CCSS and/or CCCII means they are now following suit, they will be outraged. This realization is inevitable. More and more Catholic parents are learning about their schools adopting the Common Core State Standards — at morning drop-off and evening pick-up times, at sporting events, at educational forums, through email networks, through the coverage of the 132 scholars letter in the Catholic and secular press (for example, the November 2 article at the Washington Post). They are learning that not only have parochial schools adopted these secular standards with a veneer of Catholicism mortared on top, but that Catholic school education has gradually devolved by imperceptible degrees, such that the academic rigor is equivalent to public schools

As parents, faced with this realization, we must then ask ourselves – what skills are truly necessary for an authentic Catholic education? Quite simply, the same skills that have defined the educated human person for millennia: cultivation of habits of mind and soul centered on the virtues. The skills necessary to do this are the intransitive arts of grammar, logic, and rhetoric, and these are developed by exposure only to good and great works. This is an education for all times and all peoples who seek to fulfill their ultimate purpose and end in eternal beatitude. As well, it is the finest citizens from all lands, in all cultures, and all epochs who have been educated in the virtues, who have deep knowledge of themselves, and who are able to accurately and deeply articulate reality. It is these same truly educated souls that are solely responsible for building up and edifying society. The CCSS is the very anti-thesis of a true education and it promotes false skills, the deadly vices and eschews the virtues. Sadly, it gives the appearance of building up, but it only has the potential to puff up with a temporary gain for a long term loss.

Another criticism by the architects accuses the Catholic scholars of including the “deceased” among their signers and of not having attended certain meetings contained in the within their letter to bishops. I am unaware of any deceased professors on that list, and the burden of proof lies with the architects of the CCCII to identify those who are, given they are making the accusation. Moreover, it is unclear how the human mind is barred from understanding the CCSS for not having attended certain meetings. Could the architects please elaborate on this assertion?

Finally, the architects of the CCCII have sought to discredit the Catholic professors, claiming that, “With one or two exceptions, none of the signees have the professional expertise to back up the allegations they make.” I am familiar with many of these fine scholars, most of whom have spent their entire careers in classrooms, and I know they understand fully the allegations they make. As such, the charge that they lack “professional expertise” is an echo of the language the swindlers used in The Emperor’s new Clothes — educational jargon miscalled “expertise.” These men and women are fine scholars and professors, and this “lack of credibility” accusation is a straw man ploy. It will not work on parents who understand the deeper implications of the CCSS and CCCII and how they are the death knell of an authentic Catholic education.

I am extremely concerned about the future of authentic Catholic education. As I continue to study the entirety of CCSS and CCCII, it is becoming manifestly apparent that it is the 132 professors that have the best interests of Holy Mother Church, the members of the Body of Christ, children and their first teachers alike. I am deeply troubled about the mutual exclusivity of Catholic education and CCSS/CCCII. Though I am immune to arguments forged in jargon, I am more interested in truth than in being right. If any architect of the CCCII finds instances where I have erred in my analysis, I would consider it an act of Christian charity if the CCCII proponents could correct me by use of truth and sound arguments.

Finally, I believe that the proponents of CCCII and CCSS in Catholic schools, the educators at Loyola University and Boston College and those at the NCEA, have a Catholic duty and an intellectual responsibility to answer the objections so clearly articulated by the 132 scholars in their letter to the Bishops.