Todd Wedel, Academic Dean

Todd Wedel, Academic Dean

In the last of this series on Common Core, I’d like to flesh out some practical outworkings from our examination of the metaphors (industrial vs. organic), messages (competition vs. growth), as well as how the dangers of comparison lead us to a definite, nuanced, loving response.

In the first two posts on Common Core, I laid out four points of response, and I’d like to here revisit those and expand on each, developing how our examination in this series provides more of a holistic vision and specific action.

  1. We will not adopt Common Core as a standard.

We have seen that the driving impetus behind Common Core involves an anthropology of students that is industrial and primarily economic in nature. This anthropology drives everything from the pedagogy and practices in the classroom to the assessments, evaluations, and advancements of students in the system.

Our vision and mission envision an entirely different student, an anthropology of personhood rooted in image bearing of the Triune God, and a different path, one of growth, flourishing and a life of virtue and wisdom. This anthropology, rooted deeply in our theology, must cultivate all we do.

  1. We will not avoid adopting texts, resources, even metrics simply because they align with Common Core.

Although the metaphor and anthropology are wrong, we must also remember that those who designed Common Core, whatever their spiritual state, political views, or personal biases, are image bearers as well. They cannot help but live in God’s world. As such, there will be elements of Common Core which will, perhaps even against the desires of the designers, align with what we envision for our students.

Although this does not mean we must consider such resources and materials, nor does it mean that we would necessarily be wrong to do so.  Perhaps this may better be put that we will not avoid adapting texts, resources, and metrics, but will not adopt them. Adaptation involves the selection of what aligns, while adoption would perhaps ignore fundamental distinctions.

As one small measure, in mathematics, some of the Common Core requirements involve students not simply answering a question, but providing a written explanation of how the solution was derived. Such a requirement is something that aligns well with a Classical framework, one we already employ, so as there are resources that would play to those strengths, we would be wise to consider adapting them.

  1. We will be aware of the more subtle ways Common Core will impact the educational establishment.  Aware of these effects (and others), we will evaluate our decisions in line with our vision and mission, not with any other arbitrary standard of measure.  

We must realize that we may face challenges here. Because of the closed nature of the Common Core requirements, it may be that we will see great success in test scores. It may be that by the same measures, we may seem to lose our advantage or even fall “behind.”

The temptation, then, will be to adopt Common Core because of a false comparison. We  may be tempted to begin with the means of assessment (testing). Assessment, though, always proceeds from the structure, content, and means of teaching, so to adopt the assessments will lead to adopting the Common Core pedagogy to ensure success on the tests.

We must, instead, remember that our students are image bearers of incredible worth and dignity, immortal beings entrusted to us for teaching and training in knowledge, wisdom, and righteousness, and that our pedagogy, in all its fullness, must be formed to that end and by the means appropriate.

If our students are not prepared for the Common Core tests and assessments, it does not inherently mean that we have failed; it may mean that we have, indeed, succeeded.

I am not, in truth, concerned about this possibility. Even if there are immediate gains in some sectors of education in Common Core, we must remember that we are about reclaiming and redeeming education. As God leads His building of His kingdom, the metaphor and anthropology driving Common Core will eventually pay itself out in producing students who cannot perform in the very measures (economic global competition) they envision.

  1. We will be aware of the political pressures and conflicts that would, perhaps, seek to see Common Core imposed even upon private schools and work with like-minded individuals to provide what influence we can to ensure educational freedom not only for us but for all who would desire to see education reclaimed.

To end, we must return to the beginning. The Common Core video begins with the framework that education must be, to paraphrase, “preparation for the real world.” In fact, this is one of the most frequently expressed commonplaces about education, one of the most often touted advertisements for educational establishments, public, private, secular, Christian.

This metaphor, as we saw, defines the “real world” as that which the students encounter outside of themselves and to which they must accommodate themselves. Yet it is so easy to fall prey to this vision. No matter how much we set forth (and believe ourselves) that virtue, honor, sacrifice, piety, surrender, wisdom matter, there is ever the call that, as I’ve had students say, “Yes, this is all fine and good, but this isn’t how the real world works.”

My students’ failure, as often is my own, is in forgetting and losing sight of the “real world.” The “real world” is not the one we encounter as we walk out our doors. Or rather, we encounter a part of the real world, and a part of a false one. We forget the grand narrative of God.

The Fall affected everything—humans individually, collectively, in our societies, politics, thoughts, desires, images, indeed all of Creation. The Fall was and is the lie, and the world marred by sin continues that lie.

The “real world” is that which began at the beginning and will be brought to perfection at the end. The real world is that which broke in upon us in the Incarnation, was brought to birth in Christ’s life, death, and resurrection, and which is even now growing and flourishing in greater and greater measure.

Our call then, and what we must envision and impart to our students, is that they are to go forth to see and be used in bringing the real world to bear against the false one, to find that often this is less a clear division and more often a heterogenous mixture. Their response, as ours, must often be less about utterly destroying to rebuild (although at times this may be necessary); more often, our role is to prune and pare, irrigate and fertilize.

We must remember that we are participants in this grand story; where we find ourselves now is not as it always has been, nor as it always shall be. The challenges of Common Core call us to partner with others who desire to see reclamation and renewal. We are called to be faithful stewards of our time, remembering that we may be those who plant, those who water, but it is God who gives the growth.

For indeed, this is what we find in education—we but plant or water, it is God who gives the increase.