Perdido 03

Perdido 03

Saturday, March 24, 2012

David Coleman And The Common Core Consortium Bring The Thomas Gradgrind Philosophy Of Education To The Nation

New York Public School Parents blog covered the coming disaster that is Common Core pretty well yesterday.

The developer of the ELA standards, David Coleman, a former McKinsey consultant and Gates Foundation functionary with no actual teaching experience, has decreed that "non-fiction" and "informational texts" will supplant any other kind of reading material in schools, that "testing conditions" for reading must be mimicked so that students cannot be asked their prior knowledge about a subject, cannot be introduced to reading passages before they actually read them, cannot be given any historical context whatsoever

because the prescribed Common Core’s close reading strategy “forces students to rely exclusively on the text instead of privileging background knowledge, and levels the playing field for all.”

The new Common Core Curriculum decrees that 50% of texts read in K-5 be "informational texts." In 6-12, the prescribed percentage of informational texts is 75%.

You see, in the new global economy, only non-fiction, informational texts are privileged or valued; thus the new Common Core Curriculum prescribes just those kinds of texts.

In addition, reader response to texts is out. The Daily Censored sums up Coleman's approach to reading, response and emotion like this:

Common Core Curriculum Standards entrepreneur David Coleman is barnstorming the country claiming that schools need to de-emphasize fiction and obliterate any semblance of reader response. No feelings, no imaginations, no speculations: Just the facts, kid.

What children need, asserts Coleman, whose connection with what US public schoolchildren need is a masters degree from Oxford, is a close reading of “informational text.” That’s what he calls non-fiction. No opinion, no flights of fancy. No creation of new worlds. The teacher’s job is to make sure kids stick just to the text. Informational text, pronounces Coleman, is what will give students the world knowledge necessary to compete as workers in the Global Economy.

As Coleman so famously said at a panel of educators gathered at the New York State Department of Education in April 2011 to talk about the new Common Core standards,

“[A]s you grow up in this world you realize people really don’t give a shit about what you feel or what you think.”

You see, in Coleman's view, education is simply the tool to develop competent, efficient workers and so emotion, reaction, and personal perspective on things are found wanting.

Only facts and information matter:

As premier standards entrepreneur, Coleman is a busy man, having already co-written the Common Core State Curriculum Standards and the Publishers’ Criteria for the Common Core State Standards in English Language Arts and Literacy[2]) . Coleman insists that teachers must train students to be workers in the Global Economy. In his words, “It is rare in a working environment that someone says, “Johnson, I need a market analysis by Friday but before that I need a compelling account of your childhood.” Translation to the classroom: No more primary grade essays about lost teeth or middle school essays about prepubescent angst. Instead, students must provide critical analysis of the “Allegory of the Cave” from Plato’s Republic, listed as an “exemplary informational text” in the Common Core State Standards for Language Arts.[3] If that’s judged as over the top for 12-year-olds, there’s always Ronald Reagan’s 1988 “Address to Students at Moscow State University.”

As I was thinking about this coming educational and societal disaster that has been pushed by the Obama administration and funded by Bill Gates and his malanthropic Gates Foundation, I couldn't help but be struck by an article I read in the Times about the new national rugby coach, Mike Tolkin, who is an English teacher at Xavier High School in New York.

The Times article (informational text, btw!) describes Tolkin teaching (shushhhhh, don't tell anybody!) Shakespeare:

Mike Tolkin, the newly appointed head coach of the United States men’s national rugby team, steps in front of his audience and begins speaking.

But there is no talk of drop goals or scrums. Rather, he deftly explains inverted syntax and figurative language. The topic is Shakespeare’s 18th sonnet, the one that begins, “Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day.” And the audience is a class of seniors at a Jesuit school in Manhattan, where Tolkin has spent more than 20 years as an English teacher.

The accompanying photo shows Tolkien teaching in front of a blackboard with (Omigod, how can such a school abuse its students this way!) a chalked outline on it.

No "smart" board there, no electronic media - just chalk, blackboard, Shakespeare, and discussion.

Clearly this man knows nothing from the Common Core and just what makes for good teaching. And clearly this must be a bad school that graduates barely literate cretins who cannot function in the globalized economy.

Because as the Common Core people keeping telling us, we must dispense with the old and the archaic, we must bring 21st Century technologies and ways of thinking and knowing the world to our classrooms or imprison students in an unemployable and impoverished future.

So it's time to throw out Shakespeare and revel in the minutes from Federal Reserve Open Committee meetings, preferably on iPads.

Interestingly enough, while the Common Core people like to promote their curriculum and philosophy of education as "cutting edge," there is something very familiar about a school of education that pushes nothing but facts and information.

Now please don't get upset with me, but I'm going to quote from a piece of fiction called Hard Times. And please don't misunderstand, but I'd like to give you some context - the novel was written by a fellow from the Victorian era named Charles Dickens.

Here is the relevant text, as published in 1854. It's long, but you can channel the Common Core approach by not having any feelings about the text as you read it or thinking about any of the context I just gave as background.


Chapter I — The One Thing Needful

“NOW, what I want is, Facts. Teach these boys and girls nothing but Facts. Facts alone are wanted in life. Plant nothing else, and root out everything else. You can only form the minds of reasoning animals upon Facts: nothing else will ever be of any service to them. This is the principle on which I bring up my own children, and this is the principle on which I bring up these children. Stick to Facts, sir!”The scene was a plain, bare, monotonous vault of a schoolroom, and the speaker’s square forefinger emphasized his observations by underscoring every sentence with a line on the schoolmaster’s sleeve.


“In this life, we want nothing but Facts, sir; nothing but Facts!”

Chapter II — Murdering The Innocents

THOMAS GRADGRIND, sir. A man of realities. A man of facts and calculations. A man who proceeds upon the principle that two and two are four, and nothing over, and who is not to be talked into allowing for anything over. Thomas Gradgrind, sir — peremptorily Thomas — Thomas Gradgrind. With a rule and a pair of scales, and the multiplication table always in his pocket, sir, ready to weigh and measure any parcel of human nature, and tell you exactly what it comes to. It is a mere question of figures, a case of simple arithmetic. You might hope to get some other nonsensical belief into the head of George Gradgrind, or Augustus Gradgrind, or John Gradgrind, or Joseph Gradgrind (all supposititious, non-existent persons), but into the head of Thomas Gradgrind - no, sir!

In such terms Mr Gradgrind always mentally introduced himself, whether to his private circle of acquaintance, or to the public in general. In such terms, no doubt, substituting the words ‘boys and girls,’ for ‘sir,’ Thomas Gradgrind now presented Thomas Gradgrind to the little pitchers before him, who were to be filled so full of facts.

Indeed, as he eagerly sparkled at them from the cellarage before mentioned, he seemed a kind of cannon loaded to the muzzle with facts, and prepared to blow them clean out of the regions of childhood at one discharge. He seemed a galvanizing apparatus, too, charged with a grim mechanical substitute for the tender young imaginations that were to be stormed away.

‘Girl number twenty,’ said Mr Gradgrind, squarely pointing with his square forefinger, ‘I don’t know that girl. Who is that girl?’

‘Sissy Jupe, sir,’ explained number twenty, blushing, standing up, and curtseying.

‘Sissy is not a name,’ said Mr Gradgrind. ‘Don’t call yourself Sissy. Call yourself Cecilia.’

‘It’s father as calls me Sissy, sir,’ returned the young girl in a trembling voice, and with another curtsey.

‘Then he has no business to do it,’ said Mr Gradgrind. ‘Tell him he mustn’t. Cecilia Jupe. Let me see. What is your father?’

‘He belongs to the horse-riding, if you please, sir.’

Mr Gradgrind frowned, and waved off the objectionable calling with his hand.

‘We don’t want to know anything about that, here. You mustn’t tell us about that, here. Your father breaks horses, don’t he?’

‘If you please, sir, when they can get any to break, they do break horses in the ring, sir.’

‘You mustn’t tell us about the ring, here. Very well, then. Describe your father as a horsebreaker. He doctors sick horses, I dare say?’

‘Oh yes, sir.’

‘Very well, then. He is a veterinary surgeon, a farrier, and horsebreaker. Give me your definition of a horse.’

(Sissy Jupe thrown into the greatest alarm by this demand.)

‘Girl number twenty unable to define a horse!’ said Mr Gradgrind, for the general behoof of all the little pitchers. ‘Girl number twenty possessed of no facts, in reference to one of the commonest of animals! Some boy’s definition of a horse. Bitzer, yours.’


‘Bitzer,’ said Thomas Gradgrind. ‘Your definition of a horse.’

‘Quadruped. Graminivorous. Forty teeth, namely twenty-four grinders, four eye-teeth, and twelve incisive. Sheds coat in the spring; in marshy countries, sheds hoofs, too. Hoofs hard, but requiring to be shod with iron. Age known by marks in mouth.’ Thus (and much more) Bitzer.

‘Now girl number twenty,’ said Mr Gradgrind. ‘You know what a horse is.’

The Gradgrind theory of education, the David Coleman Common Core Curriculum.

Just the facts.

Just the information.

No feelings.

No thoughts.

No personal perspective.

That's Gradgrind's theory of education - but it's David Coleman's too.

It's what lies underneath the Common Core Curriculum, the education "reforms" pushed by Obama and Bloomberg and the other corporate reformers, the prevailing ideology promoted by the Gates Foundation.

So cutting edge a philosophy of education, the Common Core could have been around in 1854.


  1. Facts, facts, facts. I've met a few students who claimed to have read Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451 and have incorrectly stated that no one is allowed to read. Individuals in Bradbury's dystopia are allowed to read. They are allowed to read facts because no one can argue about facts. It is fiction and the classics that cannot be read because it promotes free thought and individualized thinking. Have we reached the dark and bleak future prophesized in so many dystopians already?

  2. Actually, Common Core encourages students to analyze all types of text. The 70-30 split has existed for years in American public schools if you think about it. After all, students must read across the content areas by 6th grade, so fictional literature has always been just a portion of what students should have been reading. The problem is that teachers have been reading social studies and science text for their students, analyzing the text for their students, and telling their students what they need to know. Common Core requires students to read and analyze the text for themselves (gasp!), thus PROMOTING individual thought rather than rote memorization of what someone else finds important. The very essence of Common Core is the belief that students MUST learn to think for themselves and stop relying on their teachers to think for them. Students are also encouraged to write opinion pieces and to cite evidence to support those opinions. I don't see anything wrong with students learning to provide tangible evidence that validates their arguments. In fact, don't we expect this very thing of authors ourselves? By the way, the CCSS are a project of the National Governor's Association, and states had an option on whether or not to adopt them. They were never mandated by Obama or the federal government. I am proud to see America's public schools leading its students in discovering the very type of thinking on which this country was founded.