Common Core incompatible with Catholic education, report finds

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BOSTON – A new report on Common Core finds that the educational standards’ singular focus on workforce preparation conflicts with the larger mission of Catholic schools.

The study, a joint project of the Pioneer Institute and the American Principles Project, traces the history of Catholic school involvement with Common Core and describes the secular pressures that led many Catholic schools to adopt the federally-backed standards before addressing the philosophic incompatibility of the Common Core with Catholic education.

In After the Fall: Catholic Schools Beyond the Common Core, authors Anthony Esolen, Dan Guernsey, Jane Robbins, and Kevin Ryan conclude that the nationally-aligned Common Core standards contradict the academic, spiritual and moral mission of Catholic education. The sixty-page study also features a preface by Harvard Law School professor Mary Ann Glendon and former Boston mayor Raymond Flynn, both of whom served as U.S. Ambassadors to the Holy See.

In order to achieve their objectives of academic excellence, Catholic schools have historically adopted a liberal-arts approach to educating their students, with a strong emphasis on great works of literature, language, and religious studies. With its focus on math and technical writing, Common Core gives short shrift to these subjects and provides an “eviscerated one-dimensional approach of simple skills-development detached from truth, beauty and human excellence.”

Common Core has long been criticized for its emphasis on conceptual math over automaticity and for watering down the study of literature.

But the authors of the new study also raise three fundamental spiritual and moral objections to using Common Core in Catholic schools: (1) that Common Core misunderstands the nature of character formation; (2) that Common Core is based on an understanding of literature that ignores Catholic conceptions of man, creativity, and God; and (3) that Common Core de-emphasizes the liberal arts and the humanities due to a lack of understanding about the relationship of man and God to each other and to everything else.

Catholic schools typically embrace character education and rely heavily on rigorous study of the humanities as crucial means to inspire students toward a virtuous life.

In the report’s executive summary, the authors aver that this “character education” aims to prepare students spiritually for a meaningful life in the modern world and “preparation for ‘the next life’.” This, not the provision of workplace skills, is the primary goal of Catholic education, they claim.

Common Core, by contrast, leaves students with “a strictly utilitarian view of mankind, man with his soul amputated,” said Anthony Esolen, a literature professor at Providence College and one of the report’s four authors.

The report comes nearly three years to the day after over 130 Catholic scholars around the country sent a letter to U.S. Catholic bishops urging them to ignore the Common Core’s standards and enjoining those dioceses that had adopted the nationally-oriented standards to “withdraw” as soon as possible.

The authors conclude that Catholic schools must adopt their own standards, separate from Common Core’s, in order to fulfill their mission, which Glendon and Flynn posit in the report’s preface is to “seek to maximize the intellectual and spiritual potential of every child.”

Read the full report here.