by Dr. Tom Askew
Race to the Top, a federal program set up as a competition among the states to receive education grants, has required since 2010 that states adopt the Common Core State Standards Initiative (CCSSI) in order to compete for the funds. Since virtually every state is now vying for these monies, there is concern that the CCSSI will become a mandated national curriculum, even for religious schools and homeschoolers included.
Spokespersons such as Maureen Van Den Berg of the American Association of Christian Schools and William Estrada of the Home School Legal Defense Association are concerned that should the CCSSI be implemented in all states, it will supplant local autonomy in school curriculum for both the public and private sectors.
What do the standards say?
For those who do not enjoy reading voluminous and dry government tomes, here is a quick sample CCSSI requirement. A fourth grader should be able to:
“Explain major differences between poems, drama and prose, and refer to the structural elements of poems (e.g., verse, rhythm, meter) and drama (e.g., casts of characters, settings, descriptions, dialogue, stage directions) when writing or speaking about a text.”
Notice that the standard does not specify a particular poem or drama, and it does imply that only one interpretation of the literature is acceptable. On first inspection these (literally) thousands of standards seem generally skill-based – dull but benign. Yet a better feel for CCSSI comes from looking not at a single requirement, but at the published philosophy inspiring the standards. A properly educated student should:
At first glance, these may still sound relatively harmless, but there are some implications educational consumers should notice. Many Americans still think of school as a place where empty brains get stuffed with facts, but that is only alluded to in the “strong content knowledge” statement. The others are more subjective. By what standard will students be taught to critique? What constitutes acceptable evidence? Where is the logic implicit in this decision-making actually being taught? Are the teachers themselves being held responsible for being logical? Will students only be taught to “understand” other cultures, or will they implicitly be led to believe that American culture is inferior?
What about state standards?
While CCSSI requirements are thus far being kept broad and open to a variety of implementations, many states have adopted state standards which are much more specific and cause concern to some citizens. In Arizona, while no attempt has been made to cause private schools and homeschoolers to conform to the standards, public schools are regularly evaluated on utilization of the standards in the schools.
What might be of concern in the Arizona standards? In the economics section of the social studies standard, for example, there are statements that could easily promote class envy and government dependency (“Explain how the unequal distribution of income affects public policy and standards of living”) and advocate government oversight of health, education and job training as an “investment.”
The Bible teaches protection of private property, not redistribution (Exodus 20:15, 17; and many passages about stealing). The Bible also teaches that human nature is sinful (Jeremiah 17:9), a premise which those who put faith in government to regulate every aspect of private life are prone to overlook.
An even more serious problem in the world history section of the Arizona standards is the complete omission of the existence of the Hebrew people as a significant contributor to world culture. If taught by these standards alone, an Arizona student might attribute the collective wisdom of America’s heritage to Qin Shi of China (Confucius) or the Sumerian Law of Hammurabi, while knowing nothing of the Ten Commandments or Moses the Lawgiver.
Pray for religious freedom
Pray that parents will free to be the decision-makers for their children’s education. Intercede that education based on the revealed knowledge of the Holy Scriptures will continue to be available and accessible. Ask God that educational decisions in the United States will be made on the basis of what is right and good and true – not on the basis of what is easily obtainable and well-funded.
Dr. Tom Askew has been an educator in both public and private schools for 37 years, in Hong Kong, Germany, Georgia, and Arizona. He is currently doing educational consulting and instruction for Christian schools in Arizona.