Beth Fine

Educational Fiction Author – Serious Thinker – Child at Heart

Common Core Curriculum Concerns – Part IV

Tacked on Difficulty:
Embedding Language Arts (ELA) into content is touted by proponents of this curriculum. I couldn’t disagree more and say so multiple times in this report. ELA should be mastered in elementary school to ensure secondary success. I believe to ensure that outcome, language arts deserve adroit separation in earlier grades, giving time to practice and polish needed skill in our language. In reviewing CCC_-ELA, I constantly wrestled with its naive insistence of “embedding,” especially with many foreign, unusual names that took phonetic study to pronounce, time that could have been applied to learning English instead. As clever as embedding seems or strives to be, I found its attempts at “enrichment,” either simply pretentious or risked confusion. Below are two examples from Unit 8: Native Americans, two full pages (pp. 6-7) listing names to pronounce phonetically:

Alemeda /ae/ l/e/ /m/ /ee/ /d/ /ә/
Nyah-gwaheh /n/ /ie/ /o/ /g/ w/ /o/ /e/

While reading this material, I kept looking for redeemable aspects. I kept asking myself, who is this supposed to reach? What is this supposed to teach? Why introduce such complexity in this early grade? The smart kids may get some of this above-grade-level-information,but how about the slower ones? Granted, some of the content intends to be fun, even tantalizing. But if the content holds such embedded difficulty and within very complex contexts, doesn’t inevitable failure await those not ready for such subtlety?

Couldn’t such complexity backfire? When New Math arrived in early 1960s, everything became overly verbalized. For instance: 3 x 3= 9 stretched into this verbiage: “3, taken 3 times brings about a product of 9.” The new way of saying things confused smart kids who didn’t understand what they were suppose to do. However, average kids caught on somewhat, but below average students finally understood. So, sacrificing the brightest became a new method of redistribution. But what did we lose in that trade?

To be fair, I am not totally against embedding information but do resist Common Core Curriculum’s blind application of it, merelydeclaring that it makes content more difficult. I want to add “that it certainly makes it look more difficult.” However, I do agree with The Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development on the research that “thinking skills…are better learned and retained when they are embedded in units that deal with complex meaningful problems….” That does not mean that embedding thinking skills in content equals the same thing as embedding highly-needed language arts skills into early-learning content. That major error of CCC appears as its main premise. We have a highly complex language with parts needing early-on-isolation, for students to master for later, competent use. (…/Thinking-About-Curriculum.asp)

Another error I often noted in Common Core Curriculum, is the extreme of treating all human children as if they learn material at the same pace and with the same enthusiasm. So, proponents of this approach fawn over the idea that somehow, we can produce true equality for all… at some point…down the line…in the future.

Comprehension is not merely reading words on a page (though phonics and memory help) but a current grasping of concepts to build onto new, larger ideas or to reserve them to mesh later in application.

For example, in promoting my own middle school mystery series, my publisher recommended it for age 10-14+ but not younger. However, parents would insist their younger kids could easily read the words on a page. I would reply, “Yes, they may be able to sound out the syllables and even know a definition of individual words. However, younger children often still lack enough life experience to comprehend the aggregate complexity or the subtle, nuanced concepts those words represent.” Otherwise we invite kids to con teachers by parroting information.

To present or push material, especially serious material that does not match developmental stages, could damage not only children’s self-esteem but also affect their tender psyches. Premature presentation can jade children or make them think they already know a subject when it is elaborated in an upper grade where it should be taught. Devising an overly difficult curriculum to impress school districts and instruction leaders (principals) seems shortsighted if it’s then plated and served to young children. Mishandling the timing of introducing material could likely shatter their trust in the future, kill their love of learning, or harden their tender hearts just beginning to understand what life could mean for them.

For years, my sister taught kindergarten. I joked that since all her students came out her class able to read, these kids could go straight to Harvard. She sadly retorted, “No, kids’ love of learning and the joy of coming to school get systematically eradicated by third grade. How prophetic! With this Tennessee proffered third grade curriculum I evaluated, CCC guarantees a joyless school year. Let’s not keep this approach, much less thrust it onto fourth and fifth grades.

As indicated before, in these units, I found goals, concepts, and facts spreading in all directions, seemingly meant to fill children with advanced, extraneous material cloaked as rigorous, without making sure to satisfy the original goal of students really knowing how to read – the most important success of all! Since the inundation of information appeared at least 2-3 years above the interest level and ability to absorb enough for accurate standardized testing, no wonder each domain’s instructions told the teacher to repeat the material, perhaps in hopes of pulling out higher scores,? Result: Endless, boring repetition.

Possible reasons for man’s existence on earth marched across entire units covering pagan and pantheistic beliefs of ancient Greeks, Romans, Vikings, and Native Americans. However, units about animals and ecology subtly suggested that man is simply the spoiler of Earth – the object of worship for environmentalists’.

Examples ran the gamut. In Unit 2: Rattenborough’s Classification of Animals, pages 102-108 of Chapter 10: Jane Goodall, receives accolades as an activist and primatologist who marvels at how smart chimpanzees are, leaving an unspoken comparison to humans. Unit 11: Introduction to Ecology page 52 opined that “early humans were like all other living things in nature…just another part of the natural food chain.” Page 58 listed facts about Hoover Dam, “It changed the natural flow of the river and endangered several species of fish and plants. You may say the dam was good for people but not so good for the environment.” Going onto pages 62-71, the easily influenced third graders would read examples in Chapter 7 entitled, Environmental Damage Caused by Humans. An extensive narrative told about the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf. Takeaway: Man bad; animals good.

Pages 84-90 of Unit 11 touted the Sierra Club, the premiere environmentalism agent. (My husband and I belong in the 1970s, took classes in ecology, understood the tactics, and even filed a class action against residents living on our lake.) With its proponents having an almost religious fervor, and because New Agers have filled the staffs of EPA and the Department of Interior, I almost expect the Supreme Court will deign environmentalism as a religion as it did for Humanism in 1961. (

Superficial references to Greek and Roman gods, Caesars, Virgil’s poetry, classical architecture, and ancient proverbs introduced very complex subjects deserving mature discussion far beyond the grade level in which it has been presented. Mentioning it does not equal modeling it. Making classical references cannot produce the same results as a traditional, classical education which consistently creates great thinkers and citizens.

An inadvertent repercussion can come from premature introduction of the classics. Such cursory exposure to literary background may cheat students of enthusiasm when later on in high school it is appropriate to read Edith Hamilton’s Mythology: Timeless Tales of Gods and Heroes. Instead, I can hear students saying, “Aw, I already know all that,” and not relishing the impact of how useful knowledge of the Greeks could amplify their understanding of English poets who made exhaustive references to deepen or embed classical metaphors. That would seem appropriate stair-casing?!

Attempting to analyze voluminous(20,000) typed pages of material, I noticed the absence of page indexes essential for referencing. The Table of Contents did not suffice, so I had to return many times to a myriad of pages from the various domain sources, to find a sought-after item. I can only imagine how a teacher manages with this system. Additionally, I found it inefficient to work with so many loose sheets of paper. Though this method may teach the need to recycle, it seems counter-intuitive to the usual moratorium on excess classroom printing. Since loose sheets now ostensibly represent books, I can see the dog eating the very few worksheets sent home. And with no textbooks, parents cannot see what’s being taught or help explain topics to their kids. I now presume textbooks are out, but complexity stays in as a task to juggle a myriad of loose pages.

What’s wrong with a book to hold? What happened to books with words and accompanying pictures? I pity the children who no longer have a set of textbooks, each book on a different subject and each book with an index to which they can be taught to refer. Even though some information from the domain read-alouds is reiterated in the student reader units, (also through Tell It Again Images and Vocabulary Cards), the student still has no book index to refresh his mind on what he may have heard but forgot from the teacher’s oral presentation.

A simple book with chapters (e.g. capitalization, punctuation, compound verbs, etc.) and an index would greatly help students to see a set of skills or a body of knowledge worthy to study and master because the writer had separated it into logical sections for faster absorption. Instead, with this curriculum, young children have a hodge-podge of loose pages filled with future testable knowledge and skills meshed into the narratives to be accessed and referenced by only one thing – their memory…or Control F=Find, that is, later on, when the school system can afford computers for every child to use, lose, or abuse.

Perhaps that is why I found this material so cryptically organized even if to satisfy the jargon word “embedded.” However, introducing “difficulty” into content is quite different from a scope of topics crammed within one chapter. For example, on pages 30-32 of the Read Aloud: The Ancient Roman Civilization, I found a complex content mixture of art, architecture, poetry, geography, history, and social studies, all laced with language arts in the form of difficult vocabulary words for this domain, plus erratic phonics lessons from the Teacher’s Guide and Student Workbook. I couldn’t keep up even though I have two master’s degrees and taught ELA to adults.

Stay tuned for future entries on Common Core Curriculum.

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