GEORGE KENNEDY: Conservatives, Common Core critics put ideology above facts

Thursday, May 22, 2014 | 5:32 p.m. CDT; updated 8:15 p.m. CDT, Thursday, May 22, 2014

You may have missed the modest report on Page 4 of Wednesday’s Missourian. Chris Jasper summarized the previous day’s public forum for Republican candidates for the legislature from Boone County.

George KennedyIf you haven’t recycled the paper already, it’s worth a look, both because of what it shows about these candidates and as another symptom of the ideology-above-facts syndrome that has infected the Republican Party in Missouri and across the nation.

The candidates were talking about the Common Core, the new set of standards for math and English education that are intended to make sure our high school graduates are ready for college and employment. Missouri has adopted them, and the Columbia Public Schools are headed toward implementation this fall.

Echoing conservatives nationwide, the three speakers competed to be the most strongly opposed. Chuck Basye was “100 percent” against. Betsy Phillips, who is running against him for the Republican nomination in the 47th District, was “completely against.”

Caleb Rowden, who’s running unopposed for re-election in the 44th District, trumped them both by pointing out that he and his legislative colleagues voted this year to establish a committee to reconsider and rewrite Missouri’s standards.

You read this kind of thing and you have to ask yourself, are these people stupid or just ignorant? Or, considering that they’re seeking membership in a legislative majority so conservative it no longer listens to Kit Bond, are they cynically mouthing words they don’t really believe?

You have to hope the answer is ignorance. That’s curable. (It’s a little harder to accept, though, in Rowden’s case. He seems to be a pretty well-informed guy, adept enough to win the tacit endorsement of the retiring Democratic icon Chris Kelly.)

Still, optimist that I am, I’ll introduce Mr. Basye and Ms. Phillips to a few facts. (These come, by the way, from the website, to which I was directed by an essay in Wednesday’s Missourian, written by Danielle Johnson, an actual teacher at Oakland Middle School, alma mater of my three kids.)

The standards are not, as the Republicans say they believe, a plot by the Obama administration and its fellow-traveling liberals. Instead, they were created beginning in 2009 by a consortium of teachers, researchers and state policymakers under the auspices of the National Council of Chief State School Officers and the National Governors Association.

As the website points out, “Federal funds have never and will never be used.”

Education professionals such as Ms. Johnson have adopted the standards in 44 states, the District of Columbia and the U.S. Virgin Islands. Indiana, which is even redder in political complexion than Missouri, has rescinded its adoption.

The website does provide a hint of why so many Republicans are so upset. The new standards, it says, are “research- and evidence-based.” Real research, such as the kind that demonstrates the emerging effects of climate change, and actual evidence, such as the paleontology that proves evolution, are anathema to a disturbing percentage of right-wingers.

Here’s what the website reveals about the subversive nature of the standards for English language arts:

“The Common Core asks students to read stories and literature, as well as more complex texts that provide facts and background knowledge in areas such as science and social studies. Students will be challenged and asked questions that push them to refer back to what they’ve read. This stresses critical-thinking, problem-solving and analytical skills that are required for success in college, career, and life.”

Pretty radical stuff, isn’t it? And it gets worse:

By the time they finish high school, students will be expected to have read “classic myths,” “America’s founding documents,” “foundational American literature,” and even Shakespeare.

Aren’t you shocked?

To me and, I’ll guess, to most of you, those goals and those expectations seem desirable and reasonable. The setting of high standards and expecting them to be met I’ve long thought of as a conservative value.

Mr. Basye and Ms. Phillips may be surprised to learn that the construction of syllabus, and the methods of teaching are left up to the states, districts and classroom teachers. There will be no national tests, no national database.

Ms. Johnson’s essay is a plea for both supporters and critics of the Common Core to base their discussion on knowledge of the facts. That’s what the standards are asking of students, after all.

The kind of criticism those Republican candidates offered this week didn’t show much knowledge. It did show why so many of us think so little of politics and politicians.

George Kennedy is a former managing editor at the Missourian and professor emeritus at the Missouri School of Journalism. He writes a weekly column for the Missourian.

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Ellis Smith May 22, 2014 | 7:43 p.m.


We used to have a "common core" in this country; we simply didn't give it a fancy name; but we actually TAUGHT it, reasonably well in many states.

The present public education mess has been caused by groups in attempts to satisfy various agenda, but WHO through all of that is SUPPOSED to be the professionals?

Both Mark Foecking and Ellis Smith posted eariler this week on this (see their respective profile listings). I couldn't care less whether you bother reading what I had to say, but you might check what Foecking had to say.

RESULTS, George - words are a dime a dozen, and some are overpriced at that.

(Report Comment)
George Kennedy May 23, 2014 | 12:33 p.m.

Ellis --

Always in search of a good argument, I read both your and Mark's essays. I don't see any serious disagreement between either of you and my basic point, which was that the right-wingers are trashing what should be a solidly conservative value on the basis of ideology rather than any actual facts. The three of us, at least, all favor a rigorous "research- and evidence-based" curriculum, it appears to me.

Thanks for reading.


(Report Comment)
Ellis Smith May 23, 2014 | 1:06 p.m.

RESULTS, George. No interest at all in debating political philosophy, regardless of whose. Far too much debate, and far too few positive results. Huge national problem, not confined to education.

(Report Comment)
Skip Yates May 25, 2014 | 5:03 a.m.

George, there are many people that sincerely believe Common Core will produce the commonest of intellects. There are many articles from people of substance that argue this point. Doubtful any would ever appear in the Missourian.

(Report Comment)
Ellis Smith May 25, 2014 | 6:14 a.m.

Time for some Missouri Ozarks wisdom.

An Ozark mother was distressed when her son, Johnny, was sent home from his one-room school with a note from his teacher saying she was fed up with his coming to school dirty and that he needed to be given a bath.

The mother sent a note back with Johnny for the teacher: "Johnny ain't no rose. Learn 'em, don't smell 'em."

Let's get priorities straight, George. Fifty years of foolin' 'round with a lot of poorly executed theory is more than long enough.

(Report Comment)

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