Common Core’s Substandard Writing Standards

I’ve donned my boots and leggings, and done what I had no desire to do.  I am examining, with tedious scrutiny, the so-called Common Core Curriculum for literature and English, a new’n’improved set of standards for reading and writing in our schools from kindergarten to twelfth grade.  I have read the essays, written by students, which the authors of the curriculum recommend as just the kinds of things that every student ought to produce.

The best essay by far, for both style and organization, is a report on the economic effects of the Spanish Flu, in the United States after the First World War.  No other essay in the set comes close.  To read the others, after this one, is to stumble down the side of a ravine.  Yet I would not want one of my students to have written this essay, not in a hundred years.

I’ll get to the paper’s troubles in due course, saving the most disappointing and troubling for another time.  First I must show where the battle lines are.  For battle lines there indeed are; it is not that the authors and I disagree about how best to teach students how to read poetry or to write well about the Spanish Flu.  We are not quarreling colonels on the same side in a war.  We are enemies.  The authors believe that the humanities are subordinate to rhetoric.  We read a poem by Keats in order to see, or to pretend that we see, how he uses images or odd words or a cunning series of expressions to persuade us of some peculiar point of view.  The authors do not read poems at all, really.  They read texts, or, as they put it with the air of technicians, text.  When you read a passage by Dostoyevsky, or a poem by Donne, or the maunderings of a politically correct doyen, you are reading text, and reading text requires the same techniques, always and ever, just as there is a correct way to dissect a dead cat on the laboratory table.  But I and my comrades believe that rhetoric is subordinate to the humanities.  We attend to Keats’ words and metaphors so that we will better see what he is saying to us about what it means to be human.  We do not invert the order of ends.  We care ultimately about the good, the true, and the beautiful, and what vision of those that Keats was granted to see.  We read poetry as poetry, and we rejoice in its truth and its beauty, nor do we presume to know all about it.

The authors of the curriculum read and write by formula.  It is deadly.  For writing is an art, not a science.  It cannot be taught by rule.  It cannot be divided into component parts, like the levers and hammers of a machine.  It is at once too familiar to us, because we see it around us all the time, as we see weeds, dirt, litter, rubble, and all the other debris of common and unconsidered life; and not at all familiar, since so little of what we do see is worthy of our attention, much less our love.  Writing can let the truth shine out for even the simplest, or it can sow the seeds of lies under such thick mud of verbiage that even the wisest may miss them.  And the more it is taught as if it were a science, especially a mechanical one, the more likely will it be put in the service of lies.

Here I needn’t turn to the first inventors of the checklist for linguistic invention, the Sophists, who purported to teach young Greek men how to speak persuasively in the assembly, regardless of the truth of their claims or the wisdom of their recommendations.  All I need to do is to note that a machine is neither honest nor dishonest.  It is a dead thing.  But good writing is not a dead thing.  It is the honest expression of what the writer knows or sees or believes or feels.  Excellent writing may sear that knowledge or vision in the reader’s mind.  Any careful observer, for example, may note that spiritual callousness, not touchiness, is the more common malady of the young student in our schools.  But it takes a John Ruskin to say of that trained and inbred callousness that “it is in the blunt hand and the dead heart, in the diseased habit, in the hardened conscience, that men become vulgar.”  It takes a C. S. Lewis to assert that “the task of the modern educator is not to cut down jungles but to irrigate deserts.”  So from the masters.  We may emulate them, learning from them the knack for finding the illuminating turn of phrase, or the right word for the just thought.  Not everyone can be a Giotto; many thousands of us must be content with taking our lead from Giotto, and mingling with his instruction whatever measure of talent we may possess, so that we may merit to stand alongside those humble but accomplished Pictores Ignoti whose work was beautiful because it was ordinary, the ordinary glory of thousands of village churches and priories and chapels and monasteries that couldn’t afford a Giotto.

Most students cannot rise even to that level.  That is still no bar against their learning to write well, so long as we remember what good writing is.  Grammar aside, good writing is as I have said, the honest expression of what the writer knows or sees or believes or feels.  Its first rule is truth.  Set aside bad grammar and maladroit style.  Good writing is honest and possesses those traits that are the common companions of honesty: clarity, modesty, plainness, good humor.  Bad writing is dishonest and keeps company with ruffians and fools: vagueness, muddle, ostentation, self-promotion, and concealment.  We cannot teach every student to be John Ruskin.  We cannot teach more than a few of them to be worthy imitators of John Ruskin.  But we can teach them to be honest.  We cannot raise every boy to be Lord Nelson or every woman to be Florence Nightingale.  But we can raise every boy to be a man and every girl to be a woman.

So, when I don my robe as the Unteacher, I never say to my students, “Follow these steps and you will be a great writer,” as if I were imparting the secret ingredients of an infallible potion.  I say, “Never pretend to know what you do not really know.  Never pretend to believe what you do not believe.  Never affect a certainty you cannot reasonably claim.  Never affect uncertainty so as not to offend the muddled.  Never use a word whose meaning and usage you are unclear about.  Never open a thesaurus unless you are looking for a word you know quite well but cannot at the moment remember.  Never put on airs.”

Yet the writer of the best essay in the CCC lot violates these moral directives all the time.  He pretends to know what he cannot possibly know.  He affects certainty without actually troubling to look at what he is certain about.  He puts on airs.

Let me give an example.  In the space of a very few sentences, the writer makes these claims:

•  America was as vulnerable to the deadly grip of influenza that would befall it in 1918 as Medieval Europe had been to the Bubonic Plague of the fourteenth century. [No source given]

•  More people died of the Spanish Flu in the 10 months that it devastated the world than had died of any other disease or war in history. [Source is unclear; probably A]

•  A commonly cited estimate of deaths is 21 million worldwide, yet prominent demographer Kingsley Davis estimates that the disease killed approximately 20 million in the Indian subcontinent alone. [Source A]

•  The actual number of deaths will never be known, but the modern estimate is somewhere between 50 and 100 million. [Source B]

•  If an equal percentage of the world population died today, that would be close to 2 billion victims. [Source C]

•  A bare minimum of 550,000 Americans, or .5 percent of the American population, died in the apocalyptic pandemic. [Source C]

•  In comparison to the .1 percent of infected who die of the annual flu, it killed 2.5 percent of those who contracted it. [Source D]

•  The [Black Death] that killed approximately one-third of Europe allowed formerly impoverished and powerless serfs to assert their independence. [Source E, a few pages later]

Now, the thing about these claims is that they cannot all be true at once.  The writer hasn’t noticed it, because he’s doing a cut-and-paste job, pretending to know what he doesn’t know and to have examined what he hasn’t examined.  If every single person alive right now were infected with the Spanish Flu, and if the mortality rate were as high as Source D says it was in 1918, and if 2 billion people were to die of it, as Source C says, then the world’s population would have to be 80 billion.

But every single person was not infected.  Most people were not infected.  Source C says that 1 American in 200 died of the Spanish Flu.  If the mortality rate were 1 in 40, as Source D says, that means that 1 in 5 Americans were infected.  If 1 in 5 people worldwide were infected—a generous supposition, since the author notes elsewhere that Americans during the war were especially susceptible to the infection, because of crowding at military bases, camps, and hospitals—then there would have had to be 20 billion people alive at the time.  That is not even close to the truth.

The first claim is that America was just as vulnerable to the flu as Europe had been to the Black Death.  Source E says that the Black Death killed a third of the population of Europe.  But according to Source C, the population of America in 1918 was roughly 110 million.  One third of 110 million is about 37 million.  Then it is quite ridiculous to assert equivalence: a man in Europe when the Black Death struck was more than 60 times as likely to die as was a man in America when the Spanish Flu hit.  It is also, therefore, misleading in the extreme to imply that the Spanish Flu was the worst pandemic in history.  Even in absolute numbers, it is not true.  And the essay is not about absolute numbers.  It purports to be about the damage done to the American economy by the Spanish Flu; and for that we need relative numbers, not absolute numbers.

These problems, which do not have to do with the style of the essay, are pretty easy to notice.  They are boulders in the reader’s path.  All you have to do is to pause and look.  But the author did not do that, nor did his teacher, nor did the mechanics of the Common Core Curriculum.  For the mechanics, the crucial thing is that the author presents “evidence” for his claims, and not whether the evidence is really evidence, or whether the pieces of evidence are consistent with one another, or whether the author draws just conclusions from the evidence.  They apply the rubric of their very badly written checklist: the author “develops the topic thoroughly by selecting the most significant and relevant facts, extended definitions, concrete details, quotations, or other information and examples appropriate to the audience’s knowledge of the topic.”  Again, this is their model essay, and it is the best of them all, written with no time constraints and with opportunity for “feedback” (note the mechanical term) from the teacher.

More to come.

Anthony Esolen


Professor Esolen is a teaching fellow and writer in residence at Thomas More College of the Liberal Arts, in Merrimack, New Hampshire. Dr. Esolen is a regular contributor to Crisis Magazine and the author of many books, including The Politically Incorrect Guide to Western Civilization (Regnery Press, 2008); Ten Ways to Destroy the Imagination of Your Child (ISI Books, 2010) and Reflections on the Christian Life (Sophia Institute Press, 2013). His most recent books are Reclaiming Catholic Social Teaching (Sophia Institute Press, 2014); Defending Marriage (Tan Books, 2014); Life Under Compulsion (ISI Books, 2015); and Out of the Ashes (Regnery, 2017).

  • Blacha

    I would like to have solid evidence that the Common Core is secretly diverting the change in the minds of today’s youth. I do not trust Gates at all. I do believe that the CC is a method to change from within the ideology of the young in order to create a new generation of blind followers

  • Beth

    Thank you for taking this on, Professor. Looking forward to the next installment.

  • Steven Jonathan

    Bravo Dr. Esolen!

    A sorely need dissection of the rotting corpse of public education. I is dirty work and I applaud your resolve and sacrifice to speak plain and direct truth about this dreadful development in an already dreadful system.

    Everything the public schools do reminds of Gandalf’s words to the wizard of many colors “He that breaks a thing to find out what it is has left the path of wisdom.”

    Yes, the lies are buried so deep beneath the mud that even otherwise intelligent folks cannot see them. That there is even a debate about this horrible agenda is very troubling indeed!

    Dr. Esolen, your wonderful words remind me of Socrates at the end of the Apology- Socrates asks his friends for a favor in helping him to guide his children. He says “O friends, punish and trouble my sons as I have troubled you, if they seem to care about
    riches, or anything more than about virtue. or if they pretend to be something when they are really nothing, – then reprove them, as I have reproved you, for not caring about that for which they ought to care, and thinking that they are something when they are really nothing.”

    Just imagine if we stopped lying to our children, what would happen?

    • Laura

      You might be surprised to know its not just the public schools adopting common core our catholic schools are too.

      • Mike M.

        Laura, it should probably be added….with few exceptions, from what I’ve gathered through examining both social media sources, print sources, and some peer-reviewed sources, most Parochial Schools which are considering or in the process of accepting the CCSS, are doing so ONLY because they get limited, or specific-use-only, State or Federal funds. THAT is pretty much a significant feature to include.

  • gardener

    years ago I would be reading the New Yorker and would think ” I love this guys writing” It was Arturo Vivanti and eventually I grew to recognize it and also had the opportunity to know him. When I read your work, I go through the same process. I love your writing but always start to read and have to look at who is writing and it is an “Of Course” moment. Are any of your classes available for audit for seniors? Thank you for clarifying even more my thoughts on Common Core. Beautiful.

  • John O’Neill

    I agree completely with Professor Esolen. However I would like to point out that even without CC things would be just as bad. As a former public school teacher I can vouch for the fact that the vast majority of American teachers are woefully uneducated and lack any trace of erudition. I found that the Social Studies teachers spent most of their time pointing out the absolute perfidy of Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan, and George W. Bush and the evil of the Republican party and the white race; the English teachers busied themselves with teaching about minority and gay literature and ignoring that dead white guy Shakespeare; the Science teachers spent a lot of time teaching about the absolute truth of global warming and evolution, no opposition allowed; the Language teachers were the most pathetic they spent a lot of time on food (pasta, tacos, crepes) and how to eat in a foreign restaurant, their objective was to enable the student to order from a menu in another country and not the literature, history, or culture of that country; finally the administrators strove mightily to please the parents and to assure them that their children were special and bright and could do whatever they decided they could do, self esteem is the holy grail of the American education system.

    • Art Deco

      Thomas Sowell has long contended that teacher training programs select for mediocrity. They screen out people with authentic academic interests and retain people who were indifferent students who identify with indifferent students. (I think the disreputable Mr. Sailer contends the effect is partially counteracted by state certification examinations).

      You see another problem in your examples: you have half-assed liberal education which is simply too prevalent and unfocused. We need youngsters who can write grammatical English, do practical and elementary algebra, and have at least had the basics of American history, geography, and civics drilled into them with enough effect that they can satisfy a state examiner several years in a row on a day in June. Literary criticism, general science instruction, and foreign languages should be for a minority of secondary school students who are inclined toward academics. We need vigorous vocational schooling for most of our youth.

    • Tony

      John — that fits with what my students tell me about their language classes in high school. They’ll tell me that they’ve had four (or six) years of French or Spanish, and then I’ll ask them whether they can read a French or Spanish novel. The answer is always no — always. The ones whose instruction hasn’t been entirely empty can read newspapers in the language; the others can’t even do that. Everything is geared toward conversation, which is exactly the wrong thing to stress unless you are going to take a vacation in France or Spain and need to ask where the bathrooms are and when your train is leaving the station.

      What you say about history and science also confirms what I’ve heard from my students, though not all of them. There are still teachers, one here and one there, who really do teach those subjects. They are, however, thwarted in part by the textbooks, which encourage the abandonment of any real attempt to understand people of the past on their terms rather than ours, and any attempt to understand science from the foundation of its principles. Physics classes are harder and harder to find.

    • Ford Oxaal

      ‘Social Studies’ has turned out the be the bane of education. It used to be hard to get a PhD. — only a tiny number could earn that distinction. Then they invented the sociology degree. Sociology is, in essence, the gutting of History. It is the world from the perspective of a bureaucracy, or a tabulating machine. Syntax with no semantics. It cultivates bad taste in ideas.

      • Art Deco

        You are talking absolute rot.

        1. Doctoral programs are hypertrophied, but that is true all across the board. The most comical example is the long march of it through vocational faculties. You have doctorates in business administration, physical therapy, and now ‘nursing’ (as if nurses learned a body of knowledge distinct from physicians). That’s in addition to fields where the title has long been awarded even though the length of study made that dubious (optometry, audiology, dentistry, and chiropractic).

        2. There are not that many sociologists, all things considered. The liberal arts faculty I know best has over 200 professors and lecturers, and about a half-dozen are sociologists. The American Sociological Association has some 9,500 non-student members. That would be about four members for each baccalaureate granting arts-and-sciences faculty in the country.

        3. There are historical sociologists, but sociology has many components: e.g. practitioners concerned with theory, concerned with ethnographic research, practitioners concerned with survey research. There is historiographical writing, but there really is not much of a theoretical angle to history and cliometrics is an unusual subdiscipline. I will wager you the cliometrician on most faculties is in the economics department, not the history department.

        4. I have heard complaints from anthropologists that sociologists are not conscientious in their methods (“what sociologists call ‘ethnography’ I woundn’t call ‘ethnogrpaphy’). That’s a cultural anthropologist taking. Sociologists are kindred to anthropologists and social psychologists, not to historians. They are attempting to ascertain general patterns of collective behavior; documenting this or that is generally incidental.

        5. A problem with sociology is that those drawn to the discipline and retained within it are odd and insular. You have more communists than conservatives in sociology. The same problem manifests itself in cultural anthropology and social psychology. The capacity of sociology to act as a genuine social research discipline is truncated by the requirement that work be apologetical in defense of a peculiar world view (the abuse of the off-the-reservation Mark Regnerus is salient here; keep in mind his research findings merely buttress common sense).

        • Art Deco

          Oh, and the bureaucratic numbnuts in middle management at the offices of the superintendant of schools has an Ed.D. degree, kind of like “Dr. Jill Biden”.

          • Guest

            Yes, that is why we have so many credentialed people and almost no educated people in society.

        • Ford Oxaal

          If you can’t explain it to a sixth grader, it is likely false or pretentious. You can only discuss sociology with another sociologist.

          • Art Deco

            That is the most bizarre pedagogical principle I have seen enunciated in a very long time. Try teaching calculus to 6th graders. Is it all just tommyrot?

            I would tend to agree with you that sociology is too esoteric for inclusion in a secondary school curriculum and that attempts to replace history, geography, and civics with ‘social studies’ were a waste. I would agree with you that the discipline likely is liberally populated with hackademics who do their charges and the world of knowledge no good. However, sociology is not a pseudo-discipline like ‘women’s studies’ cobbled together from bits of territory occupied by extant disciplines, nor does it need to be held together by a common worldview.

            • Ford Oxaal

              I share the “pedagogical principle” (better would be “sanity check”) with Albert Einstein. Any six-year-old can understand the concept of a limit in calculus. Calculus makes physics easier, not harder. But that’s all beside the point. The point is that sociology is positivist babble, and intrinsically evil. (I am kind of jerking your chain here, so apologies.)

              • Art Deco

                Any six-year-old can understand the concept of a limit in calculus.

                Let go of my leg.

                But that’s all beside the point. The point is that sociology is positivist babble, and intrinsically evil.

                You do not know what you are talking about, and you should cease this.

                • Ford Oxaal

                  Not that all kids should focus on math. But, you are wrong to regarding sixth graders, and I saw this first hand at the Harvard MIT math tournament a couple weekends ago. There were tons of kids there from all over the world. I can assure you that sixth graders are perfectly able to digest calculus, because many eighth and ninth graders there have long since finished calculus. There is typically only one difference between these math kids and other kids — they were motivated to learn math one way or the other, and had spent time on it — lots of time — by an early age. And their parents did not stifle their interest.

                  • Guest

                    You mean some introductory course in calculus? Because there are several variations including differential equations, and group theory to name just a couple. Are you claiming there is a large subset of sixth graders who have completed such studies?

                  • Art Deco

                    Given my own experiences with the subject (which included multi-variable calculus and a suggestion by a faculty member that I major in the subject) and the experiences of classmates (two of whom are now senior corporation executives), the notion that 11 year old youths can routinely handle calculus is just rot, most particularly handling limits, which the lapsed chemistry professor who taught me calculus in the first instance said was a struggle for her to grasp. Given the rest of this discussion, I cannot believe you are not simply pulling yarn for effect.

                    • Ford Oxaal

                      Any true CONCEPT is explainable to a sixth grader. That does not mean, in the case of, brace yourself, CALCULUS (be afraid, be in awe) they can see new theorems and devise proofs in an articulate manner to another sixth grader. That means they get the idea of, for example, a limit. Not only that, but it is not that a sixth grader cannot understand “insert some high priest magic incantation here”, it’s that they don’t care. They have better things to do, like study their catechism and their Latin grammar, and have club meetings and build tree forts. Meanwhile, if you show them something cool/fundamental in math, they do care!! The fundamental theorem of arithmetic is extremely interesting to any sixth grader.

                    • Art Deco

                      Any true CONCEPT is explainable to a sixth grader

                      That is simply false.

                • Ford Oxaal

                  So you are saying you would let Auguste Comte brainwash your children with his nonsense?

                  • Art Deco

                    No, I am saying that you are talking nonsense. Blatant and pig-headed nonsense.

                    • Ford Oxaal

                      Oh no, the ghost of Jean Paul Sartre 🙂 OK. You win. A gin and tonic awaits.

              • Adam__Baum

                Physics has it’s limits as well. While it has been quite useful at quantifying the inobvious, such as the elasticity of time, it still doesn’t really understand it. “What is time” remains one of the great mysteries of the universe.

                • Ford Oxaal

                  Time is change. Change is a puzzle (see Parmenides), but it has an answer (google “common sense oxaal”).

                  • Adam__Baum

                    Why can’t I change backward, just as I can move backward?

                    • Ford Oxaal

                      A cause includes its effect. An effect is only part of a cause, not vice versa. Because an effect cannot include its cause, time cannot go backwards. God could make creation go backwards, but He would have to rewrite the entire universe from scratch.

                    • Strawberry

                      At a quantum level, things do “time” backwards.

                      It’s a parameter that can have both positive and negative values just as your momentum can be positive (forwards) and negative (backwards).

                    • Adam__Baum

                      It’s unacheivable here, though. We still have a poor understanding of time.

            • sequax

              There was a Jesuit who taught 6th graders Calculus in my (public!) elementary school. He had a full class, and was NOT watering things down.

        • Adam__Baum

          “A problem with sociology is that those drawn to the discipline and retained within it are odd and insular.”

          I was forced to take a sociology class as an undergraduate. When the instructor (who was fond of wearing pastel-colored knitted berets, speaking of odd) wasn’t busy pontificating on how he couldn’t quite acclimate himself to the fact that his wife was a better earner than he was, he was was usually off attributing certain statistical phenomona to some invidious social pathology.

          Since this was the days when Carl Lewis was the premier sprinter in the world, he was lamenting the absence of caucasians among elite class sprinters to inadequate attention by college recruiters and (this is not made up) the nature of African American worship that placed a premium on musical that developed superior kinesis.

          One day, he was asserting the existence of an undiscovered equal to Mr. Lewis, who was overlooked due to racism. He offered the absolute assurance that this individual existed and that given the opportunity, he would find that individual. One young lady, not one to suffer fools gladly muttered “while you are out there, get me a white “Dr. J” (Julius Erving) and OJ (Orenthal James Simpson, when he was still a football hero and not a felon, with a pall upon his persona) .

          If you want a peek into the existential funk that is sociology, check out the introduction to “Witnessing for Sociology” that this individial co-authored some years after wasting my time.

          • Art Deco

            Ford Oxaal complaint implicates not only sociology, it implicates economics, cultural anthropology, human ecology, social psychology, all but purely descriptive demography, and all but the literary side of political science. You wish to study crime as a phenomenon, the dynamics of urban settlement, the common life of organizations, well it’s all ‘positivist nonsense and evil’.

            I would not wish to deny that the pool of people in faculties of sociology and cultural anthropology are pathological – that is to say they have lost the ability to identify a broad mass of social question worth studying and – given the prickery to which academics are given as a matter of course – harass people who do identify such questions. The experience Mark Regnerus is a case in point. That is not Ford Oxaal’s point. Ford Oxaal’s point is that there is no such thing as social science. That is sheer crank nonsense.

        • Guest

          “1. Doctoral programs are hypertrophied, but that is true all across the
          board. The most comical example is the long march of it through
          vocational faculties. You have doctorates in business administration,
          physical therapy, and now ‘nursing’ (as if nurses learned a body of
          knowledge distinct from physicians). That’s in addition to fields where
          the title has long been awarded even though the length of study made
          that dubious (optometry, audiology, dentistry, and chiropractic).”

          Yes, most of your point is true but I would add up until a few decades ago there were but a handful of professions. They included medicine, dentistry, law, and engineering. Each had a specific body of knowledge that was unique.

          Law school used to be a bachelor program until the JD degree became popular. As far as I know that “doctorate” is not used as a title. A three year program.

          Medical and Dental school were fours years plus residency if desired. During WWII many dental programs were condensed to 3 years to push out graduates quickly. All went back to 4 years in subsequent decades except for a handful. In fact, there is talk about decreasing Medical school to three years now to increase the supply of internists and family medicine docs.

          I mention this because length of study is not the sole criteria for obtaining a doctorate.

          • Ford Oxaal

            “Doctorate” includes research doctorates — kind of like getting a doctorate in shop class, or spending time on google. A “real” doctorate means you are among the world’s experts on a given subject (other than sociology, of course). [Please, humor me just a little here]

            • Guest

              I agree with you about Sociology. It started out as Social Relations and then gained support. There was a short paper around 1948 from a Biochemist at Harvard called the Study of Man that pretty much made the case soft sciences were not real sciences at all.

              Of course, “doctor” means teacher. Obtaining such a degree does not mean one is a “world expert”.

              • Ford Oxaal

                Yes, these things evolve. So now we need to distinguish “Higher Doctorate”.

                • Guest

                  What is a higher doctorate?

                  • Ford Oxaal

                    English term for “real man” doctorate.

              • Art Deco

                No, social relations departments were formed in the post war period to draw on a variety of social research disciplines. I think Talcott Parsons was an advocate of this. Sociology and cultural anthropology and social psychology antedate the formation of departments in social relations.

            • Art Deco

              No, Ford. A real doctorate means you have completed the course requirements and your dissertation, not that you have satisfied some combox clown.

              • Michael Paterson-Seymour

                Some doctorates (the Oxford DD, DCL, DM and DMus) require 33 terms of teaching the subject at the University.The candidate must also have published something of significance, but they are, in effect, long-service medals.

            • Guest

              A “world expert” is not the standard nor has it been the standard in America in any time in the recent past decades.

              Anyone who has been to any college in the past 60 years can see that.

          • Art Deco

            1. I believe dentists have fellowships and what not after completing their degrees, but these are not required to practice dentistry. I suppose it varies by state.

            2. Medical school follows a calendar year schedule. I think that is atypical for professional schools, though we can take an inventory.

            3. The dentist I know best tells me the culture of the profession is quite different from that of medicine. Rates of technological change are slow and dentists tend to be quite conservative about adopting innovations. He said the one truly new thing to come down the pike since he was licensed (in 1977) has been dental implants. He said he had done a few but refuses to do any more, because they are no more functional than bridgework and run the risk of tissue rejection.

            4. This same dentist told me that after nineteen years of practice, he had forgotten masses of material that you have on licensing exams because you simply never use it. He was thinking of relocating, but worried he could no longer pass the exams if he left the state in which he was practicing.

            5. Dentists have long been addressed as ‘doctor’, so that’s an established convention I would live with. What strikes me as strange is addressing chiropractors as ‘doctor’ while addressing physical and occupational therapists as ‘mister’.

            6. Keep in mind that podiatrists, audiologists, dentists, and optometrists not only have shorter programs, and residencies which do not approach the duration or demands of medical residencies, they are also only dealing with a narrow segment of malfunctions.

            I can certainly introduce you to an attorney who will tell you that much of your time in law school is wasted, because the curriculum is set up to train appellate judges, not working lawyers. He is of the opinion that classroom study should be reduced to one year, followed by a two year apprenticeship before taking the bar. (As a layman, I cannot figure why legal study in this country requires an antecedent baccalaureate degree; some brief certificate programs in liberal arts and business would seem ample).

            • Guest

              I do not know about the merits of your assertions here but my point is that a doctorate is not determined by the standards I have been reading in these com boxes. I agree the doctoral degree has been bastardized. There must some objective standards and post doctoral work is not the issue at all.

              So, what exactly is your point?

    • Dr. Timothy J. Williams

      Everyone in academia knows that this article is undeniably true. However, as a university professor, I know all too well how difficult is it to fight against the surging tide of mediocrity. I cannot do what I would like to do in the classroom. Yes, high school has largely become a combination of babysitting and indoctrination, but most people do not realize that academic freedom is increasingly a myth at the university level, even at conservative Catholic universities, and we increasingly resemble public high schools.

      I try to teach history and literature in my elementary and intermediate French courses, but it is extremely difficult to do since all instructional materials are now geared toward “industry standards” that neglect these domains. ACTFL (the American Council on Teaching of Foreign Languages) says I should be teaching “cultural awareness,” by which they mean the ability to babble about blended families, racism, and global warming. And I am not free to ignore their “standards,” because universities now employ “assessment officers” whose role it is to monitor that professionally generated “goals and objectives” are being implemented in the curriculum.

      But there is another reason that teaching French history and literature would be professional suicide. Students do not want to study this difficult material. They do not want to invest the time and energy required to learn to read a foreign language with accuracy and discernment. They want to learn how to say cute things in French. And the students are in complete control of the whole ball game. My university judges a professor’s teaching abilities almost entirely by what teenagers have to say about him. If students do not like what you are “selling,” they write you a bad course evaluation at the end of the semester, and after a few years of that, you will be looking for a new job. It is sheer consumerism. I have been a university professor for 25 years, and I have yet to meet the university administrator who will take a principled stand for academic integrity.

      • John O’Neill

        Professor Williams thanks for the input into the discussion. I must add that I taught Latin in public schools and was considered an oddball because anyone who knew Latin must be some sort of a reactionary. Many of my students were motivated and eventually wound up in medical school or law school. Shortly after I retired the school district saw fit to drop Latin from the curriculum. Long ago I was reading Vergil in Latin in my high school Latin class taught by a dedicated priest who was comfortable in Latin. I do not think that that experience exists any longer in any American school public or private. To be fair to the other language teachers in high school they were teaching optional courses which were dependent on the whim of the typical high school student. So trying to teach them the difficult concepts of a foreign language had to be abandoned in favor of happy bullshit activities; after all these public school teachers wanted to keep their jobs and keep their place at the public feeding bag. I also did teach in a German secondary school where I was the Englisch Lehrer for several years and am fluent in German. Most of the language teachers in my school were barely fluent in the target languages themselves. In my experience as an adjunct professor (Wall mart wages and conditions) I found incredibly uneducated colleagues who were hoping against hope that they would be able to move into a full time job. Indeed speak from my experiences when I say that the American educational system is a gigantic expensive joke and I cannot refrain from laughing when I hear political and cultural leaders expounding on the need for more and more of this education; it is like piling manure upon manure , at the end all you have is an enormous pile of manure.

        • Anne White

          Sadly agreeing that you are correct in your assessment.

      • Art Deco

        Sol Stern and James Q. Wilson have written on this question for general audience, and their thesis is this: the National Assessment of Educational Progress does not bear out the thesis that there has been a secular decline in median academic performance. Wilson contended (20 years ago) that the phenomenon was not one of decline, but of ‘mediacritization’, with the lesser students performing better and the better students performing worse (and that the phenomenon had played out over the period running from about 1963 to 1983).

        • Dr. Timothy J. Williams

          1983?!! I taught my first university courses as a graduate student adjunct in 1983, and that was a long time ago. Anyone who claims there has not been a steep decline in academic performance since then (with the best students now merely average, and the rest almost ineducable) is either out of touch with reality or deliberately lying to produce the results desired by those funding the “research.”

          • Art Deco

            Anyone who claims there has not been a steep decline in academic
            performance since then (with the best students now merely average, and
            the rest almost ineducable) is either out of touch with reality or
            deliberately lying to produce the results desired by those funding the

            That would not describe either Sol Stern or James Q. Wilson.

          • Mike M.

            Dr. Williams well stated! I graduated with a BA in History,
            and a minor in Archeology from a Catholic College in Maryland, the oldest
            Independent Catholic College in the US-in 1980, spent a very short time as an
            adjunct lecturer for an Adult Education Class in Military History a nearby Junior
            College. I must say, the early to mid-1980s was indeed the time when the
            efforts of Liberal and Progressive individuals and groups were able to most
            successfully ply their agendas in our Public Schools System. For me, it was
            fortunate most of my non-collegial formal education was done in a parochial
            environment. I was fortunate to start my high school experience with two years
            at an all-male Catholic school in Washington, D.C., right next to Catholic
            University, and had my parents not decided to take my five younger brothers and
            sisters out of the Montgomery County/D.C. area, to Washington County, MD-in
            Western Maryland, I might have finished my formal education, up to my early
            20s, at Catholic University. When I went back to school in 1987, for my Formal
            Education Classes, I found an amazing change had occurred. I found college
            juniors and seniors who had serious gaps in comprehensive knowledge of history,
            geography, current events, civics, etc….not to mention some of the poorest
            examples of grammar and writing techniques. It wasn’t EVEN a question of a
            limited vocabulary, but ALL the other attendant features one anticipates and
            expects from college students. I had actually started my almost 20 years of
            civilian educational experiences as a Call-in-Substitute for a nearby Public
            School System in 1983. In order to get into a more stable and full-time
            position, I needed to get Certified by the (ever increasingly politicized and
            Union-oriented) State Department of Education. I am fond of saying, when I was
            teaching in the public schools-during the 80s and 90s- I was
            “Certifiable” (because I’d taken all the professional courses, and
            passed them) but was just not “Certified.” I left Public Education as
            a non-contracted teacher in 1995, spent three years in a Juvenile Detention
            Facility near Camp David, MD teaching math and social studies to juvenile offenders.
            I then secured a position as a History and Social Studies teacher at a Catholic
            High School in Hagerstown, MD from 2000 to 2003, an even more professionally
            enlightening and productive experience. All through much of these teaching
            experiences, I was (still) able to impart much of my own experiences,
            education, and training into my daily learning interactions with my students (I
            truly learned from THEM!). I have been a part, albeit on the periphery of the
            most negative or egregious changes in Public Education, and have been able to
            see the alternative available to many parents, both as a student, and finally as
            a teacher, and it is truly sad and more than a bit deplorable for an
            Educational System which truly was the envy of much of the world. The 1980s was
            perhaps the last decade in which American institutions of learning, from
            Kindergarten to College experience a noticeable influx of students from outside
            the United States, either as Immigrant students, or as young adults here on
            Student Visas. Most regrettably, the Liberal/Progressive Agendas would NOT have
            been so successful, if the multitude of the American people hadn’t been asleep
            at the wheel and allowed this hijacking of our (predominantly) Public
            Educational System. (It is also, perhaps, worthwhile to point out, 1) I
            received my MAED from the University of Phoenix in 2008, at age 50, and retired
            from the Army in 2011, after spending 20 of my 24 years of Reserve, National
            Guard and Active Duty time as an Instructor/Trainer. I think my perspectives on
            the plight of the American Educational System, albeit a bit piecemealed here, sufficiently
            qualify me to state how important resistance to the Common Core State Standards
            is. We don’t need, nor can we afford, to have Common Core State Standards be
            the “new wave/trend” in American Education!

    • LeticiaVelasquez

      I agree Mr O’Neill that Social Studies ad English classes are places for liberal indoctrination,Public schools in this nation one hundred years ago were profoundly Protestant and often virulently anti-Catholic. That is the reason that Catholics wisely created their own excellent school system a hundred years ago. Until the government, by means of offering money, crept in an overtook the Catholic school system. Now the NCEA boldly accepts $100,000 from the Gates to adopt Common Core. The surrender is complete.

    • musicacre

      With respect to that “…dead white guy Shakespeare..” haven’t any of those teachers and curriculum developers realized that someday a lot of those gays will also be “dead white guys..” I know, I know, in their haste to fling any un -pleasantry to turn off the kids they used this temporary terminology. I’m sure they’ll come up with something better if the students figure it out. Only IF. I think Post-christian students have an unhealthy dread fascination with death, (just look at the popular horror movies) so that works to frighten them away!

  • Ford Oxaal

    The rich get richer as the dumb get dumber.

  • Art Deco

    Some set of contractors are supposedly due to receive $350 million to design standardized tests derived from the ‘common core’. It’s like the D.C. Lottery or New York’s “Job Development Authority” – a business opportunity for insiders.

    • Adam__Baum

      It’s funny how often people are suprised by the tendency of human beings to be attracted to huge piles of money yet nobody is surprised when bears stop at a stream full of salmon.

  • Lydia

    So what I want to know is what we can do to counteract what the kids will be getting when homeschooling is not an option? Both Catholic and Public schools in our area will be using CC and think it is wonderful. My kid already hates reading and this will make it worse.

    • sibyl

      Lydia, probably the answer is, you will be homeschooling anyway; it will just be in the evenings, while you’re helping your child with homework. I would encourage you: if you can’t homeschool, you can still counteract the tedium by giving better things to read in the child’s off time. Whatever sludge he’s getting in school, give him the very best at home; limit or even do away with all the pop culture and replace it with excellence. If you can, find a book that you could read together. Fill your home with good music, books, and ideas. That really combats a LOT of the crud at school.

      • musicacre

        And make sure they get busy with those things that you give them: music, books, ideas. Our kids got involved with music festival, so it made them practice their instruments with a passion (music); they learned about pro-life and helped us with our fundraisers (ideas), got them on books early and now they lecture me (two decades later)…about not being as well-read as them! It works! Actually I guess this should be in the Lydia reply column…just expounding on the above idea!

  • John Albertson

    Few degrees are as frail as D.Ed. – Yet the educational bureaucrats who only learn how to teach but not what to teach insist as being addressed as “Doctor” as though they were on a par with scholars of achievement. The archdiocese of New York has yet to explain how its shaky school system has imposed Common Core on all its schools with no consultation with pastors or parents.

    • WRBaker

      Most dioceses probably didn’t explain CC to the “first educators of their children” and probably won’t. After all, the diocesan education offices know best – just ask them (or the NCEA or the Gates Foundation).

      • Adam__Baum

        If the Pope is serious about the Church not being just another NGO, he might consider whether that is a danger comes from the existence of entenched bureaucracies in “Catholic” organizations that promote mission drift and what is known as the “angency problem”.

  • WRBaker

    Cursive writing is becoming a thing of the past, too, because everything must now be typed. The article mentions “copy and paste,” which makes it so easy to cheat (which is becoming even more of a problem). Common Core is a system for the masses – the proletariat. Asking students to relish the use of words only inhibits worker production (technical writing for all!) and spending time on lofty ideas is so unnecessary because the state knows what’s best for you and it can only get you into trouble.

  • TheodoreSeeber

    “The authors of the curriculum read and write by formula. It is deadly. For writing is an art, not a science. ”

    And this is why communication with certain liberal elites is impossible- there is no translation matrix between the arts and sciences.

  • It is hard to blame the kid when the CDC’s own Magazine has confusing numbers.

    “An estimated one third of the world’s population (or ≈500 million persons) were infected and had clinically apparent illnesses (1,2) during the 1918–1919 influenza pandemic. The disease was exceptionally severe. Case-fatality rates were >2.5%, compared to <0.1% in other influenza pandemics (3,4). Total deaths were estimated at ≈50 million (5–7) and were arguably as high as 100 million (7)."

    If 500 million contracted it and 50-100 million died, the 2.5 case-fatality rate is way off. It would obviously be 10-20%.

  • Thinkling

    From what I have seen of higher (and even secondary) ed, I have to agree with this essay. In the Strange Bedfellows department, it recalls Robert Pirsig’s Phaedrus and his critique of the educational establishment in Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintainence.

  • carol

    take a good look at the text books and the school work from 1915, then 1940, 1960, 1990, and today.IT WILL MAKE YOU CRY!! My Grandmother taught school from 1914 when she received her teaching certificate to 1959. I have seen the text books, the wonderful McGuffy Readers that a high school senior today could not make it through the third grade book! And the many text books since then that have become wordy with no information or knowledge. My grandsons are in 6th and 8th grade, they can not write , they can barely read, they can not tell time. I will ask them a question and they do not have a clue who Benjamin Franklin is or any idea what he did. The excuse is that they will learn that in the later grades. Really?? Then what are they learning now? NOTHING. Go back to the McGuffy Reader content, the kids that those books educated built America.

  • Eamonn McKeown

    I can’t comment on CC, or today’s education to be honest, but what Arne Duncan has said about opposition to CC is reprehensible. This guy is a public servant, not a talking head a la Martin Bashir, or even a politician like Alan Grayson who is subject to recall – maybe, like Sebelius, he has forgotten who he works for. Below is the link to the WaPo blog that quotes the Education Secretary of the U.S.

    Imagine if he’d said that about urban black mothers? and/or was in a Republican admin.?

    p.s. Apart from the antagonism, I love the dialogue here. Always lots to learn.

  • hombre111

    Not bad. My conservative state adopted Common Core three years ago without a lot of controversy. Looks like conservatives are doing a service by questioning the thing. What I like is this article was not written from an ideological perspective. It’s simple principle was, first tell the truth. And the example given shows that the writer of this article did not tell the truth and got away with it. This undermines the authority of the whole Common Core project.

  • Tim

    The essay cited above, “In the Wake of the Spanish Lady, American Economic Resilience in the Aftermath of the Influenza Epidemic of 1918”, was written by a kid in 12th grade. It can be read at:

    For a 17yo, I thought it was a pretty good effort. Most of the criticisms of the essay seem to be quibbles or taken out of context. The only truly factual error I saw listed by Anthony Esolen was the claim that, “If an equal percentage of the world population died today, that would be close to 2 billion victims.” I imagine that the 17yo author would have read “2 billion victims” in the source and assumed this was how many people would have died, rather than how many would have been infected. I’ve seen a published author and so-called military expert make the same error by assuming “casualties” meant deaths rather than “dead and injured”, so I didn’t see this as a major blunder. I suggest readers take a look at the writing and the associated comments and make their own decisions. For my part, these essays and standards will help me to help prepare my own children for the SAT and ACT exams.

    • mom2amob

      Tim, Thanks for the link. I was also impressed by the essay. I ran it through an analyzer and found that it is written at a grade level of Flesch-Kincaid grade level of 13.6. Compare this with Anthony Esolen’s article, which is written at a grade level of 8.3 and some of your observations might be explained.

      • Tony

        A pretty snotty comment. Did you trouble to notice what I am arguing, that it is nonsense to pretend that you can teach someone to write well by formula? It is just as foolish to think that the real complexity of a text can be captured by mathematics, without regard to content, subtleties, imagination, allusiveness, artistic structure, and so forth. For your information, Boys’ Life Magazine, March 1, 1911, is — by the algorithms! — more “complex” by far than is the current editorial page of the New York Times.

      • slainte

        How does Shakespeare rank in your analyzer?

        • P

          The “All the world’s a stage” monologue has a tenth-grade reading level, according to the analyzer.

      • Deacon Ed Peitler

        Your comments are gratuitously rude.

        • Guest

          And silly.

      • P

        I am a person who believes that writing long sentences means I’m smart; yes, I am a genius who understands that if I just keep typing, avoid periods, and use words with many syllables such as, say, for instance, I’ll give you an example, it’s, wait a second, oh, yes, here is a word I can use, why not say “Mississippi”, or how about “xylophone”, or even “onomatopoeia”– all of which are words that an eight-year-old knows, yet I see now (since I am writing this directly into a writing analyzer) that this sentence has a readability score of NEGATIVE FIFTY-SEVEN (or a grade level of 55) on the Flesch-Kincaid reading formula, which means that, apparently, only the brightest graduate students in the world can read and understand everything I have just written.

      • Guest

        Technocracy now passes as education and enlightenment? You are too funny.

        • Sam Graff

          Written at a grade level of 13.6? Isn’t that sophomoric by definition? There’s a lot to be said for simple, declarative sentences.

    • Tony

      Excuse me, but they are not quibbles. The student simply does not have an adequate knowledge of history or of economics to write that essay. He does not notice that his “facts” coming from various places do not cohere with one another. There are more problems with the essay, which I will get to in another article. He has either misunderstood or misrepresented his sources. You see, I am doing the homework that the CC editors did not do.

  • Cincinnatus1775

    A fish rots from its head, a republic from its schools.

  • indiacatalina

    I wonder if anyone has ever bothered to find out the real facts about the so wrongly called “Spanish Flu”. It was not Spanish at all. According to what I know, it came from the United States via a cook that was sent to Europe. And it killed both Francisco and Jacinta of Fatima. Maybe these facts have nothing to do with the topic that professor Esolen is discussing, but it is interesting to know them….Children, as my own grandchildren, are taught to “copy and paste” and on top of that they learn NOTHING!

  • Michael Paterson-Seymour

    As someone who has had to read a lot of witness statements, one of the commonest faults I have noticed in the writing of younger people is their tendency to prefer the general, the abstract and the vague to the concrete and the particular.

    I once read three precognitions. The first, from a 26-year old woman merely offered the opinion that a person was “drunk”; the second, from a teenager, described him as “all over the place.” The third, from a man in his sixties, actually described the person’s condition: “He was unsteady on his feet. When I went over to him, his eyes were glazed, his speech was slurred and his breath smelt strongly of drink.” Here, at least, was someone who could distinguish observation from opinion.

    • musicacre

      The medical world also requires the same concrete reporting. Generalities are taboo in nursing notes; it’s the first thing we learned; that they are legal documents, if need be. So the descriptions are always absolutely specific, instead of assuming a heart attack for example, one describes behaviors,” sweaty, pulse racing at whatever numbers, face ashen, breathing labored, reports pain at such and such a place, etc.”

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  • Rick

    Just wanted to make a few points:
    1. The Common Core standards are standards–they are not a curriculum, as Professor Esolen has mistakenly written (in caps, no less–giving it a certain but false authority). Standards, any standards, inform a curriculum, which teachers and schools develop by stating the learning objectives, choosing the books/texts/materials, devising the assignments, and creating the tests that can show whether students have learned what the curriculum has laid out as the plan.

    2. If folks want to attack the Spanish Flu article’s flaws, fine; even good writing can be made better. They should, however, take their complaints to the Concord Review, a remarkable little journal that publishes history research by high school students. It was founded in 1987, long before the Common Core standards, by Will Fitzhugh, who was appalled at the poor writing of secondary students. Apparently, many of the journal’s article writers end up getting into Ivy League colleges, so perhaps critics instead should be examining the journal’s editorial review policy, or the teaching of research and writing practices of feeder schools to the Ivies, or well-heeled suburban schools with high ambitions for their students. That the Concord essay appears as an example of a well-done essay in a Common Core list may be merely a result of “not much else to choose from.” The essay is only one example of what can be done by a high school student. True, the student would have benefited from the critique of Professor Esolen much earlier in the day. But after all, we are beings limited in space and time.

    3. Finally, I’m just not convinced that the Common Core’s requirement that students focus on the text, or texts, e.g., to use text-base evidence to show their understanding of a work and its author or marshal their arguments, is such a bad thing–or a new thing. The Common Core is calling for the teaching of argumentative writing, for example, rooted in logic, text-based evidence, instead of the apparently prevalent practice in the schools of teaching argument writing as mere persuasion, by appealing to the emotions of the audience or even the appeal of the writer himself. Professor Esolen’s claim that the “authors of the curriculum read and write by formula”–or that they mandate students do the same– simply has no backing, despite his use of a student essay that preceded the Common Core to imply it is so.

    • Guest

      As an outsider to all this I have a couple of comments and questions. As to your first paragraph are you not making a distinction without a difference? Call it what you must but the standards listed are implemented and teachers teach to it and the kids are tested on it. Cut it up anyway you want but the result is the kids are taught or “indoctrinated” into this current fad.

      My other point is that it is really one more fad from the professional educators, right? One in a long series of them. Is this worse than all the rest? I have no idea but from my view it is just a fad.

      As for the so-called ivy group of schools all I can say that the President and his wife are graduates. Aside from having enough serotonin to give speeches before large groups of people neither one strikes me as an intellectual or smarter than the average bear.

    • James_Kabala

      Now I’m more confused than ever – where exactly do these essays come from?

    • Tony

      It would be nice if we returned to writing about the things that matter; a sixteen year old can write well in appreciation of what Keats may be doing in a poem, but he is in no position to bandy ideas with the poet. All that the encouragement to write “research” papers and “evidence-based” arguments does is to produce bogus stuff, plastered over with a coating of objectivity and “science.” We differ in fundamental principles here. The humanities are not there to provide dead matter for clever arguments studded with footnotes citing other clever arguments. And children are not information-processors or robots.

      • Guest

        Thank you. What you say here seems very profound. So profound that it may be lost on many. Are you saying that we are training mere technocrats? We no longer educate people. We credential them and claim that is education.

  • Kevin Aldrich

    I’m not a fan or supporter of CC for lots of reasons, but here are the actual “College and Career Readiness Anchor Standards for Writing.” Can you tell me what you think is wrong with them?

    Text Types and Purposes

    1. Write arguments to support claims in an analysis of substantive topics or texts, using valid reasoning and relevant and sufficient evidence.

    2. Write informative/explanatory texts to examine and convey complex ideas and information clearly and accurately through the effective selection, organization, and analysis of content.

    3. Write narratives to develop real or imagined experiences or events using effective technique, well-chosen details, and well-structured event sequences.

    Production and Distribution of Writing

    4. Produce clear and coherent writing in which the development, organization, and style are appropriate to task, purpose, and audience.

    5. Develop and strengthen writing as needed by planning, revising, editing, rewriting, or trying a new approach.

    6. Use technology, including the Internet, to produce and publish writing and to interact and collaborate with others.

    Research to Build and Present Knowledge

    7. Conduct short as well as more sustained research projects based on focused questions, demonstrating understanding of the subject under investigation.

    8. Gather relevant information from multiple print and digital sources, assess the credibility and accuracy of each source, and integrate the information while avoiding plagiarism.

    9. Draw evidence from literary or informational texts to support analysis, reflection, and research.

    Range of Writing

    10. Write routinely over extended time frames (time for research, reflection, and revision) and shorter time frames (a single sitting or a day or two) for a range of tasks, purposes, and audiences.

    • Tony

      Nobody can learn to write well by following those ten rubrics. What you’ll see is a mechanical, check this off, check that off, meeting of all the ten “requirements.”

      You’ll note that all of the recommendations are themselves badly written. They cloak their vagueness of thought and their mutual incoherence in lofty edu-lingo. Think: What exactly does good writing look like? What kind of good writing can we reasonably expect from a young student?

      Once you ask those questions, you can then ask, “What in the hell does good writing have to do with the Internet or with ‘technology’?” Or, “Why on earth should I encourage my students to write things off the cuff?” Or, “What is the point of asking students in high school to engage in ‘research’ in any specific thing, when the pressing need is for general knowledge?” Or, “What in the name of all that is holy is a ‘well-structured event sequence’? Is that just what used to be called a well-told story? And do all well-told stories have to have ‘well-structured event sequences’?”

      Who ARE these people who are pretending to know how to teach young people how to read and write? They can’t paint by numbers, and they come up with a Plan to Produce Peruginos. Swift was wrong. Englishmen are not the most pernicious race of little odious vermin that Nature ever suffered to crawl upon the face of the earth. Educrats are.

      • Kevin Aldrich

        You can’t learn to write well by making claims and then supporting those claims with valid evidence? That is what good writing teachers ask students to do and help them to do.

        It is not appropriate to write some pieces over a long period of time as well as be able to produce something quickly?

        • James_Kabala

          I have to admit sympathy with Mr. Aldrich’s position. I guess I would ask – if in-class writing is out and research papers are out, what kind of assignments should students be receiving?

          I wonder if a problem here is that most readers of this article – including you, including me, including your staunch allies, including your rude critics – are above average (in your case highly above average) in intelligence. To an intelligent adult, to narrate events in the order they happened (for example) is so obvious that to treat it as a skill to be taught is ludicrous at best and vaguely insulting at worst. But not everyone is smart, and even kids who are smart often need to be guided toward what seems obvious to an adult.

          • Kevin Aldrich

            Thanks, James.

            Actually, I would interpret “well-structured event sequences” to mean not just “narrate events in chronological order” or in the order of exposition, complications, climax, and denouement, but also beginning in medias res.

      • You prove to be skilled at composing rants, if little else. Crisis Magazine is an ideal place for you. 🙂

        Those few misguided souls who wish to express themselves without ranting may find some help in keeping the “College and Career Readiness Anchor Standards for Writing”, alongside the standards provided by some plain common sense.

  • bcdunning

    My children attend Catholic schools that have adopted the CCC. The CCC for my sixth-grader’s literature class requires mastery of a book he read in the third grade, if not earlier. Indeed, I understand that the CCC would have his teacher focus on that book for weeks, if not months. When my older children studied literature with the same gifted teacher, pre-CCC, they read several classics during the same period of time, and of course they are better off for having done so.
    George W. Bush was ridiculed for referring to “the soft bigotry of low expectations.” Now those low expectations have become the standard. Soft bigotry, indeed.

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  • Anthony Esolen is complaining of someone: “He affects certainty without actually troubling to look at what he is certain about. He puts on airs.”

    Physician, heal thyself.

    • Tony

      The logical fallacy, ad hominem. Engage the arguments about the matter at hand. The kid who wrote the essay is bright, but when I hunted down three of his sources (the rest I haven’t procured yet), I found that he either didn’t understand what they were saying, or he misrepresented them. That’s not a surprise, since he’s only seventeen. But it is stupid to ask a seventeen year old kid to write a report on the economic effects of the Spanish Flu, when he doesn’t know anything about economics in general, and therefore can’t understand what his own sources are saying, nor can he judge their veracity. It’s a bad assignment. And there is worse to come.

      • Tony, it would only be a logical fallacy if I said that these flaws of Esolen invalidated his argument. But that’s not what I said. It’s quite possible that everything he has written is true — yet that doesn’t change the fact that he’s castigating this student for traits he is guilty of himself.

        • Art Deco

          Tony, it would only be a logical fallacy if I said that these flaws of
          Esolen invalidated his argument. But that’s not what I said.

          That is what you said.

          • Where? Please quote the part where I said this, please.

      • Sorry, Tony, I hadn’t realized you were Anthony, so let me expand on my response to your accusation that I’ve committed an ad hominem fallacy.

        First, I wasn’t actually saying you were wrong in this article. Rather I was thinking of previous work where your writing took on airs or affected a certainty which you cannot claim. I’ve actually written about a few of these examples over the past year and can direct you to them if you like.

        More to the point, since I wasn’t disputing you on this piece, it’s impossible to describe what I wrote as an ad hominem fallacy.

        Of course, even if I were saying that you violated your own rules in this article, that wouldn’t be an ad hominem fallacy either; again, that could only occur if I were using your violations to say that your criticisms of the student are incorrect. And no where have I done that.

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  • Vivianne

    It is almost laughable if it were not so tragic….

  • It’s too bad that the literature and writing standards are so abysmal, because the science standards in the Common Core actually are a big improvement over the status quo — that is, it seems the quality of the CC is uneven.

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  • David M Paggi

    Dr. Esolen:

    Thank you for exposing the Common Core for what it is: to standardize is to mediocritize, to coin a word awful enough for this rot. At a time when our fund of information is growing exponentially, I believe our curricula should be more rigorous than in times past, not less.

    It seems to me teaching rhetoric to students with no depth can only yield banal results. The missing ingredient is the study of literature. How can a student who has never been exposed to Shakespeare have any idea how beautiful English can really be?

    Moreover, literature tells stories that inform the mental models students build of who they are and the virtues to which they should aspire. To ask another rhetorical question: How is a student to develop a sense of honor, gentle treatment of women, and placing himself at the service of ideals greater than himself, if he knows nothing of the chivalry of the Arthurian legend? In the absence of heroes and heroics, we are left with ideals which are merely utilitarian. Here the student is truly impoverished by the “soft bigotry of low expectations,” as he is not considered smart enough or worthy enough to know what used to be considered essential.

    While Victorian prose may be an acquired taste, one of the things I enjoy in reading Blessed John Henry Newman is his ease in making literary allusions as well as his refined use of English. In order to write that well, one has to have read well.

    As Instructing the Ignorant is one of the Corporal Works of Mercy, the converse is that there is no virtue in leaving students ignorant in a misplaced attempt to make learning
    a more pleasant experience.

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