Common Core: Mental Junk Food? - Part 3

    Posted on Tuesday, July 4, 2017 at 11:06 AM

    Posted by Mike McPartlin on Jul 4, 2017 11:06:38 AM

    Is the Declaration of Independence really just another "Informational Text?"

    by Mike McPartlin, Headmaster, Bridgedale Academy


    Common Core ignores the philosophical underpinnings of the Declaration

    Appendix B of the Common Core English standards contain a "sample performance task" for teachers to give to their students while discussing (i.e. teaching) the fiction and non-fictional "texts" to be covered in their classes. One of the readings Common Core recommends for tenth and eleventh graders is our Declaration of Independence.

    Declaration of Independence and Common Core
    Here's the sample performance task provided in Appendix B for the Declaration of Independence:

    "Students analyze Thomas Jefferson's Declaration of Independence, identifying its purpose and evaluating rhetorical features such as the listing of grievances. Students compare and contrast the themes and argument found there to those of other U.S. documents of historical and literary significance, such as the Olive Branch Petition." [Emphasis in the original.]

    That's it. Sort of misses the point, doesn't it? 

    What about self-evident truths? What about unalienable rights? What about the Laws of Nature and of Nature's God? What about government deriving its just powers from the consent of the governed?

    These ideas and more are given short shrift by the Common Core.

    The "philosophy" of the Declaration defines us as Americans.

    Declaration of Independence defines First Principles of Being AmericanAlthough we are talking about "analyzing" the Declaration of Independence as an English language document (and technically not as a historical document), it is nonetheless astonishing that ANY discussion of the Declaration in an American school should not begin and end with its significance as basically defining what it means to be an American.

    In the words of Terrence O. Moore, author of The Story-Killers, A Common-Sense Case Against the Common Core, the Declaration is "the foundational rock principle in American history ... (that) defines the first principles of being American."

    "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness."

    Question: Who, when thinking of the Declaration of Independence, doesn't think first of these immortal words?

    Answer: the bureaucrats who created the Common Core.

    Why highlight the grievances and not the philosophy?

    The Story Killers Terrence Moore

    Dr. Moore speculates in his book on the possible "causes" of the sample performance task's "blatant mishandling of the Declaration." He names three:

    1) that "the authors of the Common Core have no confidence in teachers being able to have a conversation about the philosophical basis of American liberty;" 

    2) that "the authors of the Common Core themselves do no understand the Declaration;" and

    3) that it is a "ruse," suggesting that the authors of the Common Core "are adamantly opposed to the Founding of the country being portrayed in a positive light," and that "they wish to divert attention from the truly remarkable aspects of the Declaration." 


    Why the reference to the Olive Branch Petition?

    The Olive Branch Petition was adopted by the Second Continental Congress on July 5, 1775 as a last ditch attempt to avoid war with Great Britain. It too was directed to King George III, but was (obviously) far more polite in tone. And it failed, rather spectacularly I would add.

    Considering the earth-shaking significance of the Declaration of Independence signed one year later, the Olive Branch Petition is, again in the words of Dr. Moore, "about the least significant thing the authors of this assignment could have come up with." 

    John Locke Second Treatise of Government and Declaration of IndependenceIf you wish to bring in another document, Dr. Moore asks, why not "John Locke's Second Treatise of Government, the source of the Founding Fathers' thinking on natural rights?" 

    Or why not the Virginia Declaration of Rights, written only a few weeks before the Declaration of Independence, and containing similar language, and a similar philosophy (also borrowed heavily from Locke).

    In Dr. Moore's opinion, "it is precisely these tough questions about liberty, equality, rights, and happiness that are not elicited in this 'sample performance task.'" Because "nothing about this 'task' indicates that the authors of the Common Core understand the significance or the philosophical meaning of the Declaration of Independence."

    So how about a more substantial sample performance task?

    Dr. Moore is obviously not very happy with the "treatment" of the Declaration of Independence by the authors of the Common Core (for what it's worth, he also eviscerates Common Core's treatment of two literary classics of fiction, Mark Twain's Tom Sawyer and Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice).

    Thomas Jefferson and Declaration of IndependenceBut he is good enough to offer his own "sample performance task." Here it is:

    What is a self-evident truth? Can you give an example of an obvious self-evident truth by which you live? What is the significance of being "created"? What is meant by "equal"? What does "unalienable" mean? What is a "right"? How is a right different from a duty? Does a right imply a duty? Where do rights come from? Where do they not come from? What is liberty? What is happiness? Is happiness a passing mood or a permanent condition? What is the significance of "the pursuit" of happiness being a right but not happiness itself? With regards to rights, what is the role of government? What is "consent"?

    For what it's worth, Dr. Moore admits "these are not easy questions," and that he will regularly spend two class days with his college students discussing them.


    Did you notice that Dr. Moore never gets to discussing the "listing of grievances" deemed so important by the authors of the Common Core? He does suggest he would get to them, if he could dedicate more than two full college class periods to it.

    It's really too bad that Common Core's "sample performance task" chooses to avoid these important ideas completely.

    On second thought, it's a disgrace.


    Additional Resources

    Please also check out our prior blogs about Common Core:

    Common Core: Mental Junk Food? Part 1

    Common Core: Mental Junk Food? Part 2

    And if you haven't already done so, I recommend you check out the following resources:

    YouTube Videos:

    Pioneer Institute and Common CorePioneer Institute Video “Setting the Record Straight on Common Core: Part 1” 

    Pioneer Institute Video “Setting the Record Straight on Common Core: Part 2” 



    The Education Invasion “How Common Core Fights Parents for Control of American Kids” by Joy Pullmann

    “The Story Killers: A Common Sense case against Common Core” by Dr. Terrence Moore



    You can also check out my prior blogs at: 

    Is Common Core a Good Thing?

    Common Core: Mental Junk Food? - Part 1

    To learn more about Bridgedale, please click the button below to schedule a time to chat with Bridgedale's Headmaster.


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