WASHINGTON, D.C. – In 2009, when I attended the National Council for the Social Studies (NCSS) conference, I learned that most of the educators bristled at the idea of following educational “standards.”

Most of the sessions involved sharing strategies for formally adhering to standards, while covertly turning students into activists for radical causes.  Among these were repeal of immigration laws, statehood for Washington, D.C., and acceptance of Islam as superior to Christianity. Instead of being given a knowledge base in history, civics, and geography, students were emotionally manipulated into being advocates, attending protests, and lobbying legislators.

Flash forward to 2014.  Now the objectives of these social studies teachers are the objectives of Obama’s Department of Education.  The Common Core “standards” for math and English Language Arts are the law in 45 states.  Those for science and social studies have been written, but are still voluntary.

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Eschewing traditional forms of knowledge acquisition and writing (the old standards), “The College, Career, and Civic Life (C3) Framework for Social Studies State Standards: State guidance for enhancing the rigor of K-12 civics, economics, geography, and history” promote the idea of doing social studies.  Yes, “doing.”

The word “doing” appears frequently in the guidelines, as it does in the Department of Education’s 2012 report, “A Crucible Moment: College Learning & Democracy’s Future,” which was criticized roundly by the National Association of Scholars (myself included) for using civics education to promote radical activism and anti-Americanism in higher education.

In order to advance similar activism, the authors of the K-12 “C3 Framework” caricature traditional education as pouring knowledge into students who are passive vessels. But traditional, classical education, founded on a firm base of knowledge, is the kind that works and best prepares students for adult life.  It incorporates three levels of learning outlined by the Atlanta Classical Academy charter school, as taken from their successful petition before the Board of Education:

  1. Grammar Stage (mastery of key foundational facts, rules, and tools, imparted by teachers who are experts in their subject);
  2. Logic Stage (mastery of relationships, categories, and order to create coherent frameworks);
  3. Rhetoric Stage (communication and reasoning).

Notably, Common Core skips the first step, reducing it to a haphazard process of “discovery”–a hallmark of progressive education.  The cart is put before the horse through “experiential” learning, where students “practice[e] the arts and habits of civic life.”

Authored by Mary Grabar

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