The Common Core: A train wreck coming for Catholic schools…

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For quite a while, The Motley Monk has been on top of the Common Core, concerned about its implications for Catholic schools.

Last September, The Motley Monk discussed some reasons why parents should be wary. In November, he pointed out why a number of Catholic school principals fear its potential impacts for curriculum. Also in November, The Motley Monk questioned whether the NCEA had embraced the secularist educational agenda of the Common Core irrespective of what those principals fear. The Motley Monk then followed-up with a post asking whether the NCEA’s President had put the proverbial “cart before the horse” by accepting money for staff development programs to implement the Common Core in Catholic schools from the Gates Foundation which is promoting the Common Core.

The Motley Monk is gratified that others are beginning to get the message and promote it.

  • The Will Skillman Fellow in Education at The Heritage Foundation, Lindsey Burt, has written a commentary concerning the Common Core appearing in The Sunshine State News. Burke Believes Florida provides a perfect example of a state where national standards will hurt the educational system, not help it. So also with greater centralization. Burke would rather greater accountability to parents and taxpayers. More important insofar as Catholic schools are concerned, Burke believes that if the Common Core standards are fully implemented, school choice will end and the “public system will continue to receive a steady stream of dollars and students, no matter how poorly it performs.”

The problem is that if the Gates Foundation and its allies take Catholic schools along the same path where they have led public education…that will fundamentally change Catholic schools and their Catholic identity, no matter how many cues about church teachings are inserted into lesson plans. Catholic identity goes much deeper than having tidbits of the Faith inserted into lesson plans….

The great strength of Catholic schools is their faith-based belief in human dignity. Studies have quantified how this philosophy of Christian personalism leads to higher levels of faculty engagement and concern not only for what students learn, but the kind of people they become.The nature of Catholic schools is “special” and shouldn’t be something given up too easily says Moses. Instead of treating students as persons with dignity, the standards “treat students like widgets” in an assembly line.

  • Over at The Catholic Thing, David G. Bonagura, Jr.—a theology professor at St. Joseph’s Seminary in New York, says that “Catholic education ceases to exist” if Catholic schools adopt the Common Core. Yes, they will continue to have uniforms, religion classes, and charge tuition, but they will have surrendered their Catholic identity. Bonagura writes:

Catholic education begins on the premise that a loving, rational God created an ordered and purposed universe that points human beings back to Him….

In studying creation and all its features, including human beings and their works, we discover truths that shed further light on the mystery of God, the ultimate Truth….

With a “pedagogical method” grounded in the liberal arts—in which there is progression of stages from grammar to logic to rhetoric—the Common Core will upend a curriculum that supports the school’s identity.

The good news is that a number of dioceses—hopefully, the beginning of a trend—are getting the message and saying “No” to the Common Core.

The bishop of the Diocese of Green Bay (WI) has proscribed the Common Core. Also in Wisconsin , Common Core will not be part of educating youth in the dioceses of LaCrosse and Madison. In Michigan, the Diocese of Gaylord will not implement the Common Core. The bishops and superintendents in these dioceses are aware of the threat to Catholic identify the Common Core presents. The Superintendent of Schools for the Diocese of Gaylord, Charles Taylor, put it best when he observed:

[O]ur Catholic identity and formation remains at the heart of who we are and what we do; in essence teaching our students to recognize and pursue that which is good, holy, true and beautiful.

What the Common Core would require is that the teaching of religion be just one element of the curriculum, resulting in what Taylor calls the “dilution of Catholic culture and loss of identity that has been so lamented for nearly half a century.”

Hopefully, many other bishops and superintendents will “get it” and stop the “Common Core” train dead in its tracks before it makes a train wreck of Catholic schools.



To read The Motley Monk’s posts concerning the Common Core and Catholic schools, click on the following link:

To read Lindsey Burke’s op ed, click on the following link:

To read Paul Moses’ article, click on the following link:

To read David Bonagura’s commentary, click on the following link:

To read the Bishop of the Diocese of Green Bay’s statement, click on the following link:

To read the Bishop of the Diocese of LaCrosse’s statement, click on the following link:

To read the Diocese of Madison’s statement, click on the following link:

To read Superintendent of Schools for the Diocese of Gaylor’s letter, click on the following link:

To read The Motley Monk’s daily blog, Omnibus, click on the following link:

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  1. My son attends a diocesan high school. Several of the texts state “Common Core” on their covers. I have looked them over and have seen nothing objectionable.

    I have read and heard enough about Common Core to understand that its attention is to the core of the curriculum. Each district, school, and individual teacher is free to add other materials. Also, it also focuses on interdisciplinary approaches, so for example statistics can be added to a sociology class.

    Many people fear Common Core because like many past educational “reforms” certain people pushing it are anti-Christian. Well, so what? Even if they were to sneak an anti-Christian point now and then into a text, a Catholic teacher can certainly criticize it in a Catholic school classroom. I actually remember a couple of such episodes in my high school days. Is it not better to teach our young people to identify and be critical of conflicts with the Faith than to hide such conflicts and insulate them from such influences?

    No, Common Core will not dilute Catholic education. Here is what will dilute it: stop praying at the beginning of the school day, stop praying at the beginning of each class, stop talking about God and Jesus and the Church at the times it is appropriate, stop having Exposition, stop having Mass, and stop the reception of the Sacraments at school. Do all that and you will dilute Catholic education.

  2. “No, Common Core will not dilute Catholic education. Here is what will dilute it: stop praying at the beginning of the school day, stop praying at the beginning of each class, stop talking about God and Jesus and the Church at the times it is appropriate, stop having Exposition, stop having Mass, and stop the reception of the Sacraments at school. Do all that and you will dilute Catholic education. ”
    Tom D.,The public school system obliterates the dignity of their students and the students’ parents. The Ninth Circuit Court in California told the parents who objected to public school indoctrination that once the student crosses the threshold of the school, parents have nothing to say about what their children are taught. “In loco parentis” says that the teachers may only teach what the parents want their children to learn. The child’s civil rights are held in trust for him by God, his parents and finally the state, in this order. The state does not own the child, nor the parents, nor the school. “We. the people” do.
    God and prayer are no longer allowed in school. Mass and Nativity scenes are prohibited on military bases. Christmas is not allowed in schools, and crosses are being removed from cemeteries across the nation. “…or prohibit the free exercise thereof” , the First Amendment is ignored, trampled upon, as well as ridiculed. This is nothing more than subjugation of a people through their children, long a communist stratagem.
    Once Common Core is given access to Catholic Schools, a government steeped in abortion, contraception and pornography, a government that prohibits Mass and Nativity scenes for the military, that government will find an excuse to overthrow the Catholic school system.
    Common Core is a well groomed Trojan Horse. See Obamacare if you want to know what our government is capable of. Obamacare says that the government can change anything, anytime it wants to. The HHS Mandate was added AFTER Obamacare was passed by Congress, meaning that Congress passed Obamacare without informed consent, the act of free will of free men. Welcome to the Concentration Camp of Common Core.

  3. Mary, I well know the difference between public and Catholic schools. I begged my parents to move me out of the public and into the Catholic school system for the very reasons you mention. It was one of the best choices I even made.

    Having pointed that out, I also need to point out that most texts and other materials used in non-religious classes in my time were secular books. I was there and so I know this to be true. This is true today with Common Core. I fail to see how this is any different. Again, I’ve seen the Common Core text that are currently in use in my son’s biology class. It says “Common Core” on the cover. I have seen nothing really objectionable in this text, at least nothing different than what was in the texts of my day.

    I’m sorry, but the critics of Common Core constantly speak and write in generalities. I have never seen anything critical that specifically states anything that is a threat to the Faith. All I see are things that could be a threat. Well, I look around, and the number of things in this world that could be a threat to the Faith are legion. We need to be practical and pick our fights.

    As I wrote, Common Core does not dictate an entire curriculum. It dictates only the Core. I’ve seen the documents and this is true (the critics are also correct in writing that those documents are poorly written and use poor examples for supplementary materials, but that’s another story) . A Catholic school district is entirely free to add their own supplementary materials that will blunt and negate any anti-Christian material that might appear in the core.

    I fail to see why this is a problem.

  4. Mary, here is a half-valid criticism of Common Core:

    A group of 132 Catholic scholars, led by Gerard Bradley of the University of Notre Dame, has written to the U.S. bishops, protesting against the Common Core on the grounds that it aims too low. Read more:

    They are right, Common Core does aim low. It does so because it is concerned with the Core. Excellence comes from the supplementary materials the district, school, and teacher introduce. Excellence in education comes from expanding the education beyond the core.

    I find this criticism of Common Core to be like criticizing Winston Churchill’s support of Basic English. In both cases we would be criticizing the beginning of an education for failing to be the completion of one.

  5. I went to the September posting from The Motley Monk cited at the beginning of this posting, and found this line: “Hicks tells her readers how the Common Core now is infecting Catholic schools nationwide because, although dioceses are not required to adopt the Common Core, they must do so if students are to demonstrate mastery on the tests measuring what students have learned”

    This is largely untrue. I know for a fact that the mastery tests mandated by the Now Child Left Behind law are mandated only for public schools. Catholic and other religious schools are exempt. I would imagine this is probably true of any state mandated mastery testing.

    The reason why Common Core is entering Catholic schools is because is will become increasingly difficult to find textbooks that do not use Common Core.

  6. I then went to the Motley Monk’s first November posting and found this:

    “The survey’s results [from the Catholic school principals] indicate:

    •8% are comfortable with Catholic schools accepting the Common Core as it is currently formulated.

    •32% prefer that dioceses and Catholic schools decline to participate in the Common Core project.

    •40% want the Church to take more time to study the standards more closely.

    •20% prefer that Catholic schools adopt the standards, but only with significant changes to protect Catholic identity.

    If I were a principal I would be in that last 20%, not just because of the need to protect Catholic identity, but because I understand that such changes (expansions, really) are necessary for Common Core to work.

  7. “It dictates only the Core.” Having the state “dictate”, your word, to the church violates the separation of church and state. Books may be bought without admitting the state to run our Catholic schools. Should the state decide to deregister, their word, Catholic schools and teachers, what is you plan of action, Tom D?
    “although dioceses are not required to adopt the Common Core, they must do so if students are to demonstrate mastery on the tests measuring what students have learned” Common Core ought to have a common aim, and that is, to educate students. Setting up tests is indoctrination by the very results the tests demand. Putting the students at the mercy of a state who has no mercy is not Catholic. The state has an agenda and that state’s agenda is not Catholic nor religious nor freedom. If the state really cared about the students, it would legalize vouchers.
    Thank you Tom D. for all your research and for the chance to reply.

  8. Tom D,
    I think you have hit upon the key, which is the changes you would propose would indeed be expansions, meaning that they would not present anything incompatible with CC as it exists, and that is because there is nothing remotely pernicious about CC.

  9. Mike Petrik: What if CC will not allow any expansions? remotely or not remotely pernicious? What if the state sends an armed guard into the Catholic school classroom to monitor the use of CC and CC’s presentation. Parents cannot be forbidden from the classroom. Concealing a child from his parents is kidnapping. Concealing a child from tyranny by the state may become necessary.

  10. Mary, if you were to read Common Core documents (sadly, I have), you would know that Common Core almost requires expansion of the curriculum, and it does not dictate what that expansion is. It gives examples for expansion. Some of the suggested expansions are really good, such as Euclid’s Elements. Some of the suggestions are really bad, such as dense policy statements written by Obama administration hacks. My point is that Common Core is meant to be a springboard that everyone can agree meets a standard for springboards. It is nothing more.

    One problem is that many people read the suggested expansions as part of the dictated core. They are not. To highlight this, a Catholic (or any Christian) school could use this American Catholic blog site as one of the expansions to the Common Core. Nothing in the Common Core literature would prevent this.

    Personally, I think that much of the problem with Common Core is the foundational documentation. It is obviously written by committees, and it was written in a deliberately vague manner in an apparent attempt to reduce political sniping. The authors didn’t realize that vagueness itself invites political sniping.

    I think the best course of action is to read Common Core the way we want to read it, and implement it our way.

  11. Mary, I think the word “dictate” is the correct one. If a school were to claim it is using Common Core, and it were not, then it would be committing fraud. There should be some legal mechanism by which the organization that controls the definition of Common Core can ensure that its standards are followed.

    On the other hand states should be free to opt out of Common Core. I believe that the law does allow this.

    The big issue is, should the Federal government be involved in education. I personally think there is a place, and the assistance of the Federal government in the development of standards such as Common Core is one. Having opined that, let me state that I do believe that the Department of Education does too much and assumes too much power from the states. If I had my druthers I’d cut back the current education funding and roll the Department of Education into a Department of Education, Science, and Technology with the tech components of the Departments of Commerce and Energy, and throw in NASA for good measure.

  12. Of course states are free to opt out of Common Core. After all the initiative is the product of the National Governors Association, the Council of Chief State School Officers, and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, not the federal government. Yes, the Obama Administration is enthusiastic about the initiative, and as a consequence it is well-understood that state adoption will influence federal funding. Of course, many folks who oppose Common Core oppose federal funding anyway. The bottom line is that adoption of Common Core is completely a state level decision. The initiative is not and never has been a child of federal bureaucrats. Yet, DC educrats certainly like it and they will dole out federal funding accordingly. Opposition from the left is grounded in too much emphasis on testing and opposition from the right is pretty much just a knee jerk negative reaction to anything the Obama Administration thinks is a good idea.

  13. [I usually only post on one topic, but this is an important one as well]

    I am not a big believer in ‘conspiracy theories’ nor am I subject to any bouts of paranoia, but i have to say that “Common Core” fits into a more general pattern of both dividing the Catholic community [attempting to drive a wedge between ‘progressive’ and more ‘conservative’ Catholics or their other ploy drive a wedge between Catholics and the bishops]. There has not only been a steady drumbeat of completely secularizing all law in this country-separating law from its ‘natural law’ foundation and away from the Judaeo-Christian culture which was at least until recently the primary culture of America, but now we are witnessing through various angles, attacks on our Catholic adoption agencies, all Catholic institutions other than our actual churches, including and most especially our Catholic Healthcare and Catholic Univiersities, and now, through this “trojan horse” our Catholic primary and secondary education systems. Next thing will be “homeschooling”.

    This is “statism” folks, pure and simple. It might look and feel nicer than its meaner brothers of facism, naziism and marxism, but do not think it is any less intent on whittling down the Catholic Church-seen to be its biggest obstacle and threat to its growing hegemony. I swear they took all their cues from Henry VIII and just changed the ‘sound’ of the rules, regulations and policies. They will not succeed in separating the American Bishops from Rome-so the Beast will howl, trust me.

    I am not an alarmist-at least usually. But this is a trojan horse-you wait and see.

  14. Botolph: I have no doubt that some people, such as Bill Ayers, would love to use Common Core as a Trojan horse. I have no doubt that there are some liberal school districts that would allow people like Bill Ayers to get away with bringing in a Trojan horse. These truths do not mean that Common Core cannot be used by Catholic schools for ends that are faithful to the Church. The outcome depends on vigilance and discernment – which in this day and age we should be doing anyway.

    You raise another point: any improvement to school curricula is of course an opening which today’s neo-barbarians may try to exploit. No doubt. There is no way education can be improved without opening us up to such an attack. So, do we refuse to improve education? Of course not. We simply cannot allow Catholic education to fall behind.

    I agree with your comment on homeschooling. That must remain legal in all 50 states. I also agree with the bulk of your non-education comments. I must confess that I also am not into conspiracy theories. I think that most people who are against us do not conspire, they just follow the prevailing winds. In another sense, the only real conspiracy is the one described in The Screwtape Letters.

  15. Tom D,

    I respect your opinion, the way you have expressed yourself, etc. It is always good to get feedback, even if one disagrees with you, as long as it is done in a respectful and constructive manner-something I certainly aspire to but do not always practice-mea culpa.

    Catholic education in the last forty years or so has already undergone a great deal of change and not for the better. Now I know that we no longer have vast numbers of (mostly) women religious who have consecrated their lives to Christ and the commitment of the Catholic Church to a) evangelize and catechize our young people and 2) to educate them completely-even with such subjects as music and art. I believe these too are essential marks of a solid education.

    I went to a Catholic grammar school and a public high school. In my day I believe I saw the best of both worlds, worlds that no longer exist, I am sad to say. The teaching order of sisters who taught me, were themselves under ‘superiors’ (not just the principle or the head of the convent) who were at the “Mother House”. These ‘superiors’ were highly trained in the subjects that they came out to test us and the particular nun who was our teacher. We didn’t have nor need the state to test us. The main subjects were down pat. we learned through the various ways of learning: memorization, reading, listening etc-in other words, not just one way. In English, we had grammar down pat, diagramming sentences etc [if I fail now it is age and carelessness on my part, not my education] I have to confess I was never good at ‘art’ but we also had music-they trained us to ‘read’ and ‘write’ music-both ‘ordinary music and (pre-Vatican II, Gregorian chant). I was taught, at a grammar school level, the history of music-both classical [I had a good sense of the major symphonies by sixth gradeand American (Stephen Foster etc) I began French in the fourth grade-now I wish they also had taught Latin [and FYI I participate in the Ordinary Form of the Roman Rite-so I am not being ‘nostalgic or ‘knocking the Ordinary Form’ etc’ etc] Latin is extremely important. I know that Catholic homes schoolers can begin it as early as the third grade-bravo!!! I’ll stop—-can you see now why I see red with this new fangled program—-just more dumbing down, no matter how you cut it.

    We do not have the set up my nuns have, but why can’t our diocesan offices do something similar? We don’t need the secular crap we need good solid Catholic education in ‘grammar’ [which really means getting the foundation for the liberal arts] and secondary schools [that can and should be on par with the ‘private schools’ that prepare young people for the Ivy League] I also would call for at least one secondary school in each diocese that would give a solid academic foundation but would be oriented toward ‘the vocations’. One of my biggest complaints of the post Vatican Church (and I do have some) is that we have ended up all but forgetting and abandoning ‘the working class’ in America. Not everyone even should have to go to ‘college’ but everyone needs more than a HS education. These young people also need to be evangelized and catechized as well as giving them a great preparations for their own vocations.

    Sorry, lol I could go on and on. Bottom line I am with Dr Anthony Esolen from Providence College on this subject.

  16. Thank you, Botolph, for a very fine exposition of our situation. I pray for priests and nuns. I too was educated by the good sisters who worked for God, not the state. I was taught Thomas Aquinas through grammar school. This business of the Catholic school under the boot of the state is not good. Then, if the state is so concerned about the welfare of its students, why hasn’t the state (read government) given us vouchers? After all it, is out tax money.

  17. Tom D. Can the state (government) add “expansions”? If Catholic schools may add expansions, can the state add expansions that cannot be removed by the Catholic school?

  18. Mary, I would say yes, the state governments could dictate “expansions” to Common Core to private or religious schools, but they would have to pass the existing constitutional legal limitations. Catholic schools are still free to tell the state to take a hike if they need to.

  19. BTW, Mary, the states can make such limited dictations now under current law and curricula. I don’t think Common Core changes anything in this regard.

  20. The state’s power to control what is taught in schools really stems from its control of accreditation and, hence, of admission to a rage of careers.

    It says to private schools, “teach what you like, but if your students have not learned what we deem necessary, they will never become physicians or advocates or magistrates or consuls or diplomats or functionaries or teachers.”

    They will be confined to those callings that were open to Catholics under the Test Acts.

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