Common Core’s Aim ‘Is to Make Proletarians of Us All,’ Study Finds

May 2, 2014 - 10:31 AM

Given the dramatic reduction in time spent on literature "implicitly mandated by" Common Core's "national standards, and the ambivalence, if not hostility, of the standards writers towards literature," poetry may not survive in classrooms, says a new study by Pioneer Institute.

"The Common Core proponents do not like poetry," conclude the authors of "The Dying of the Light: How Common Core Damages Poetry Instruction":

"The aim here is to depress and level, not to ennoble. It is to make proletarians of us all."

"It is not clear that the literary genre called poetry has a future in the face of a reduction in literary study that Common Core's English language arts standards implicitly mandate-and in the context of Common Core's drive for workforce development," the study says.

Stotsky provides a history of how poetry was taught in America's schools before Common Core. She then notes the lack of poetry content in Common Core's curriculum, as "an incoherent group of poems" listed in an appendix "representing a wide range of intellectual levels, literary movements, and literary traditions at every grade span" provided to teachers without adequate context.

Stotsky asks pointedly: "Who was the real audience for Appendix B in Common Core's ELA document? Teachers or potential advocates for Common Core (e.g., the editorial board of the New York Times)?"

From the study:

The Common Core English language arts standards were intended to apply to all students indiscriminately to ensure that they would become efficient workers in a "global economy." In other words, the aim is precisely the reverse of that to which the old proponents of a humane education were committed.... The aim here is to depress and level, not to ennoble. It is to make proletarians of us all.

But no one will buy a product with the label "proletarian" upon it. That is why we must mask the reality with slogans. According to the Common Corers, students trained to become workers will "actively seek the wide, deep, and thoughtful engagement with high-quality literary and informational texts that builds knowledge, enlarges experience, and broadens worldviews." That is the language of the marketer and the campaigner.

The designers of the Common Core, ideologues themselves, do not recognize this. In all their hundreds of clotted and ill-written pages of self-promotion, diktats, and appeals to statistics, they mention beauty only once, in the context of a "skill." But the greatest "skill" in reading is not a skill at all. It is something quite different. It is a virtue, a habit of peaceful reception. One cannot produce joy on an assembly line. One cannot manufacture gratitude. One cannot devise a formula for humble hearing.

The study is written by Anthony Esolen, Jamie Highfill, and Sandra Stotsky. Esolen is a poet and Professor of Literature at Providence College; Highfill was chosen 2011 Middle School English Teacher of the Year by the Arkansas Council of Teachers of English Arts and taught grade 8 English in Fayetteville, Arkansas for 11 years, and Stotsky is a University of Arkansas Professor emerita.