Common Core gives new twist to U.S. history

By Leo Hohmann

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Some are calling it the “Common Core Twist.”

No, it’s not a new dance move.

It’s a new method of teaching under Common Core national education standards – called “critical thinking” – that critics say skips over the facts and details behind important historical events such as the framing of the Declaration of Independence.

An example of this technique was on display recently in a classroom in Modesto, California, in which America’s founding document was compared to a high-school break-up letter.

America’s story of breaking away from England was likened to that of two high-school sweethearts cutting the cord on their relationship.

“Instead of focusing on the actual wording of the Declaration of Independence, and encouraging students to delve into the concepts and reasons behind the decision to break with England, the lesson likens the country’s beginnings to a high school love affair,” writes Victor Skinner at

And, “that’s the Common Core twist,” according to a report on the classroom lesson in the Modesto Bee.

“The difference is, we used to tell them answers. Now they’re having to struggle, come up with their own answers. That’s the critical thinking,” Principal Deb Rowe told the Bee.

“It’s a return to a lot of things we were doing when I started teaching 22 years ago. It’s refreshing,” Zambo told the newspaper. “They were indoctrinated into: There is one right answer. This is history! There are many perspectives.”

Common Core advocates talk a lot about “critical thinking” or “deeper thinking” skills.

They are training teachers not to require any single right answer, whether it’s a math problem or a history lesson. What matters is how well the student defends his or her answer. In math, that theory manifested itself in the infamous “2 plus 2 equals 5” stories that went viral on the Internet months ago.

The Common Core social studies standards have not been completed yet but are a work in progress. With early experiments now released in classrooms such as the one in Modesto, it appears the same critical thinking philosophy will be applied to the teaching of history.

“If you’re teaching the Declaration of Independence you have to teach what it was, what led up to it, what it accomplished, because otherwise it is all taken out of context,” said Meg Norris, a longtime public school teacher in Georgia who retired last year to become a full-time anti-Common Core activist after she found out the destructive impact the standards were having on her students.

She said “critical thinking” should not be confused with “logical thinking.” They are not necessarily the same.

“It’s all about proof and argument, but you can’t think critically if you have no content base,” said Norris, who taught English/Language Arts for middle and high school and has a specialist degree in brain-based teaching and learning.

True critical thinking involves being able to analyze abstract concepts, something young brains aren’t capable of doing, according to researchers.

Abstract thinking doesn’t even begin to develop until the high school years, Norris said.

“Some earlier and some much later. Some adults never develop the ability,” she said. “But to expect it – force it – on young brains is setting them up to fail. Research shows if you try to force things before the brain is ready when the time comes it is even more difficult to learn.”

According to a pro-Common Core research blog at Young Education Professionals, teachers from across Washington, D.C., gathered earlier this year to strategize on how to implement this change in thinking. They were meeting for the final “Cutting to the Core” professional development session. In this seminar the teachers were instructed to “shift the mindset of our students from seeking the one easy, right answer to searching to unearth several right answers,” wrote Scott Goldstein, a social studies and ESL teacher at a D.C. public charter school who helped lead the seminary.

Besides pushing critical thinking on students before their brains are capable of processing abstract concepts, there is another fear. Some believe the “more than one right answer” philosophy will be exploited by social engineers who have long played a dominant role in education reform movements like Common Core.

Charlotte Iserbyt, former adviser to Ronald Reagan’s Department of Education and author of “The Deliberate Dumbing Down of America,” has explored the history of “critical thinking” in depth and has written about it in her blog “The ABCs of Dumb Down.”

She says the concept of critical thinking was introduced into the U.S. education system in the 1960s. Educators were instructed to use critical thinking skills as a method to get students to think for themselves.

“Consensus is a part of critical thinking using the Marxist Hegelian dialectic. It is doubtful that it is the Socratic Dialectic as some educators might claim. The Socratic Dialectic was phased out with the Enlightenment and it was replaced largely by the Hegelian Dialectic,” Iserbyt writes. “Socratic Dialectic’s purpose was to logically arrive at Truth. The Syllogisms of logic embodied such concepts as ‘opposites cannot be true at the same time,’ which shatters any hope for logic in ‘consensus.'”

The Hegelian Dialectic is influenced by Darwinian evolution which does not allow for any lasting truth, only evolving opinions, Iserbyt says. “In this dialectic, Christianity, the Constitution, etc. are merely opinions that must be questioned and then compromised with conflicting opinions in order to reach consensus. Eternal truths are reduced to opinions of a bygone era and do not fit into today’s evolving world.

“Critical Thinking is a dialectic method of criticizing American values in order to change American ideals.”

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