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  • Steven Fesmire

    This post makes the excellent point that the proof is in the pudding, but the author unfortunately also implies that criticisms of the Common Core are conspiratorial. There’s no reason to object in principle to a Common Core that views teachers as informed, skilled, and experienced facilitators and practitioners. Meanwhile, there are sound empirical reasons to raise questions about a tendency to use an inflexible yardstick to standardize measures of educational progress uniformly across all individuals, schools, school districts, and state borders. Such questions are particularly appropriate in a troubling cultural context in which teachers often feel that they have become functionaries under the surveillance of an administrative bureaucracy (no matter how well-intentioned).

    Much of the criticism of the Common Core should be understood against the backdrop of an increasingly industrial model of education in the U.S., in which educating whole persons for lifelong growth is replaced by a view of education as just another industrial sector, on a par with any other sector. Efficiency is the foremost aim, due largely to a national suspicion of educational spending. But efficiency at what price? A school may train more students with fewer teachers, and an industrial sector may produce more clothes, cars, or animal protein to meet market demands with lower overhead costs. These products can then be used, or put to work to produce more things. The industrial imagination stops here, with efficient production. This is arguably useful, but what else has been unintentionally made, to which industrial thinking is oblivious? Have we made narrower lives? Have we embittered and disabled? Have we anesthetized moral and ecological sensitivity? Have we, in John Dewey’s words, made life more “congested, hurried, confused and extravagant”?

    None of these questions necessarily indicts the Common Core, so it’s important not to make a red herring of it: these are questions about the cultural context in which the Common Core is operating. It’s essential to think about this cultural context carefully in order to clarify educational priorities and values so that our assessments and standards can better operate as means to our best ends. And in the end, isn’t the public good best served when our schools become cultures of imagination where we learn to live better? In sum, here’s the question to be asked of the Common Core: Can it lead us away from a dispiriting industrial model of education and toward schools as cultures of growth and imagination?

    Steven Fesmire is the author of Dewey (Routledge, 2015) and John Dewey and Moral Imagination (Indiana University Press, 2003).

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