The Stubborn Insistence That the Common Core Is NOT a Curriculum

A teacher welcome pupils in a classroom at David Johnston primary school on September 4, 2012, in Bordeaux, southwestern Fran
A teacher welcome pupils in a classroom at David Johnston primary school on September 4, 2012, in Bordeaux, southwestern France, after the start of the new school year. AFP PHOTO / PIERRE ANDRIEU (Photo credit should read PIERRE ANDRIEU/AFP/GettyImages)

The Common Core State Standards Initiative (CCSSI), in its list of Myths versus Facts about the new Common Core State Standards (CCSS), addresses the curriculum issue thusly:

Myth: These Standards amount to a national curriculum for our schools.

Fact: The Standards are not a curriculum. They are a clear set of shared goals and expectations for what knowledge and skills will help our students succeed. Local teachers, principals, superintendents and others will decide how the standards are to be met. Teachers will continue to devise lesson plans and tailor instruction to the individual needs of the students in their classrooms.

I can stubbornly insist that the elephant in the room is just an awkward looking houseplant. Doesn't make it true. We can call the CCSS the Common Core State Benchmarks, Guidelines, Requirements, or Ensigns for all I care. But this does not eliminate the fundamental truth that the CCSS is a curriculum. And like many iterations of curriculum, it is sullied by the ideologies and personal ambitions of its architects.

There is little doubt in my mind that these architects of the core are well connected and well compensated for their time. Yet, similar to most who wield all the power and influence in education reform currently, it is obvious that they don't really have a firm grasp of education or teaching. I don't fault them for that, necessarily. Their goals are not related to teaching or education, but to the efficient management of an entire institution rich with largely untapped investment capital.

Without getting into the weeds of curriculum theory, information from the CCSSI makes it very plain that we're dealing with something much more precise than generic standards. The mission of the CCSS is very clear that the ultimate purpose of education and schooling is to transfer the "knowledge and skills" in order to "compete successfully in the global economy." Preparation for the world of work and economic competitiveness, increased productivity and efficiency, limit the kinds of conversations educators can have with students. It defines what knowledge and skills are important and admits unmistakably that an educated person is a productive worker.

It is presumptuous to assume that we are all on board with this narrow view of education, or that our collection of knowledge in education tells us that the CCSS are the last best hope we have to preserve and improve our quality of life in the United States. If these assumptions are being made, then whoever is making them doesn't really know anything about education. This is also obvious in the CCSSI's counter argument, that teachers and administrators can choose how to address the CCSS. This is a matter of method, or pedagogy, as we educators call it. The CCSS already establishes the scope and sequence of what is to be taught, which is the basic definition of curriculum.

But what intrigues me most about all of this is the stubborn insistence from supporters that the CCSS are not curriculum. Why is this so important? If the CCSS are so good, then what difference does it make? Well, as progressives have been railing against the corporate connections inherent in CCSS drafting and implementation, the right wing of the Republican Party is all of the sudden very active and vocal against CCSS, prodded by conservative activists like Michelle Malkin. To them, the CCSS represent a government takeover akin to Obamacare.

More importantly, to the ultra-conservative, the CCSS reek of Federal indoctrination of children. There is some paranoia, albeit misplaced, that adoption of the CCSS will lead to the teaching of socialism or other Obama-inspired boogeymen. I don't share these sentiments. However, the persistent denial that the CCSS are tantamount to an overall curriculum is important to quell the hysteria over increased government intrusion into the lives and minds of children.

The rejection of labeling the CCSS as curriculum is also meant to quell the fears and disappointments of many educators who, since NCLB, already feel like they've lost complete control over their profession. Every year, more decisions are being yanked from the hands of teachers. It started recently with assessment and now it will be curriculum. Fairly soon, teachers will simply become the ones they've feared the most: glorified "babysitters," the warm bodies supervising your children while you likely do something more important.