Thinking deeply about … um … what?

Students will read more short informational texts under the new Common Core Standards and have less time for complete books — fiction or nonfiction — writes Will Fitzhugh, editor of the Concord Review.

Among the suggested texts are The Gettysburg Address, Letter from Birmingham Jail, Abraham Lincoln’s Second Inaugural Address, and perhaps one of the Federalist Papers, but no history books, writes Fitzhugh.

In the spirit of turnabout, English teachers could stop assigning complete novels, plays and poems, Fitzhugh writes.  Instead of reading Pride and Prejudice, perhaps Chapter Three would do.  “They could get the ‘gist’ of great works of literature, enough to be, as it were, ‘grist’ for their deeper analytic cognitive thinking skill mills.”

Teachers will have to “to wean themselves from the old notions of knowledge and understanding” to offer “the new deeper cognitive analytic thinking skills required by the Common Core Standards,” Fitzhugh writes, perhaps with a touch of sarcasm.

In 1990, Caleb Nelson wrote in The Atlantic about an older Common Core at Harvard:

The philosophy behind the [Harvard College] Core is that educated people are not those who have read many books and have learned many facts but rather those who could analyze facts if they should ever happen to encounter any, and who could ‘approach’ books if it were ever necessary to do so….

That’s the idea, writes Fitzhugh.

The New Common Core Standards are meant to prepare our students to think deeply on subjects they know practically nothing about, because instead of reading a lot about anything, they will have been exercising their critical cognitive analytical faculties on little excerpts amputated from their context. So they can think “deeply,” for example, about Abraham Lincoln’s Second Inaugural Address, while knowing nothing about the nation’s Founding, or Slavery, or the new Republican Party, or, of course, the American Civil War.

Students will learn that “ignorance is no barrier to useful thinking,” Fitzhugh predicts. “The current mad flight from knowledge and understanding . . . will mean that our high school students [those that do not drop out] will need even more massive amounts of remediation when they go on to college and the workplace than are presently on offer.”

Via Jim Stergios of Rock the Schoolhouse, a Common Core skeptic.

Among Common Core exemplar texts are Evan Connell’s Son of the Morning Star about The Battle of Little Big Horn and Dee Brown’s Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee, RiShawn Biddle points out.

About Joanne


  1. BadaBing says:

    The good part, and maybe the only good part, about this is that I won’t have to teach all of “To Kill a Mockingbird.” Just a snippet will do.

  2. Maybe I’m missing something, but wouldn’t teaching the Gettysburg Address without context be pointless? Isn’t there an assumption that the students will have learned about the Civil War, either by textbook, lecture, timeline, something, and then read the actual text of a few documents? I’m willing to believe that there is no such assumption, but I haven’t read the actual standards.

    I know that I have my hs kids read the actual Watson and Crick paper about the structure of DNA, but I’ve taught the material first. They read it and answer some questions, because I want them to understand that science doesn’t come pre-written in a textbook. My own kid, entering 2nd grade, has learned about the Revolutionary War and will learn about the Constitution and the Civil War this year. Since he’ll already have some background, I’m sure we’ll be reading some primary documents by the time he gets to high school, along with analysis and context.

    • lulu;

      It’s not pointless if your goal is to create serfs who can be convinced of whatever the political line of the day is because they lack the context to see the flaws. The goal is clearly to implicitly teach students to not even _expect_ context when “thinking”.

  3. Richard Aubrey says:

    All we have to do is…and then this fuzzy, untestable, indefinable result will result.
    That such things have never happened and that various circumstances where people learn “snippets” of one thing or another haven’t resulted in such things is…in the realm of ed irrelevant.
    People can just say such nonsensical things and don’t expect to be laughed out of town.
    I can imagine trying this kind of thing in an enterprise which has to succeed in a measurable form.
    You don’t need a securities license to be a stockbroker. Just a couple of books on investing and you’ll be good. Just so you can think about investing….

    • Welcome to the fold and, if I understand you correctly, this is a truth about the public education system to which I’ve fairly recently tumbled.

      In an enterprise which has to succeed in a measurable form – make profits with some degree of consistency, land in a manner which allows you to walk away, not bury too many of your mistakes – there are consequences that occur in close enough proximity to the failure to act as a deterrent and which are sufficiently linked to the enterprise to make avoidance of unpleasant consequences difficult.

      But not in the public education system and, by extension, all institutions directly linked to the ostensible goal of educating kids.

      Half-baked schemes and idiotic fads are just as good, if not better, then the sorts of ideas and policies that yield the hoped-for results.

      And as I’ve remarked before, that state of affairs isn’t a problem to be fixed but a largely inescapable feature of the public education system.

      • Roger Sweeny says:

        Any enterprise has to cover its costs in order to survive. In a for-profit business as opposed to a non-profit, that includes a return to the investors in the form of profit. (Of course, non-profits can take in more money than they spend and just accumulate the excess as “reserves”–or they can increase the compensation of the people who work in the enterprise.)

        Has education been a successful business? It has been wildly successful. As everyone knows, the amount of money going to educational enterprises has been going up far faster than inflation or GDP.

  4. Mike in Texas says:

    As a journalist, Joanne, you should be appalled.

  5. I never read a complete history book (other than a textbook) in my k-12 career. We had a mix of textbook and short primary source documents. If we wanted to read long-form history, we did it on our own.

    In college we read a mix of long-form and excerpts.

    However, I think Fitzhugh’s criticism of the state of high school history misses that this was ALWAYS the case. High school history is a bunch of survey courses, because you’re trying to impart general knowledge. There’s no time to go deeper– even the surveys barely manage to get everything in.

  6. DM, One of the great things about the us my older kids attended was the fact that the APs went beyond surveys because kids have to take honors US before AP US and honors world before AP Euro – same with sciences. Wootton

    • Yeah, at Blair history was pretty much an afterthought, and at the time, only non-college track kids took World History. Everyone else did : US history, Current Events/National, State Local Government, and either AP Euro or AP US (because your senior year you wanted as much time as possible for science and computer science electives!)