The culture wars and Common Core (part 1)

By Cathy Keim

First of a two-part series.

I have been writing about traditional marriage, traditional family, and sanctity of life issues for several years. I have been increasingly aware of the inability to communicate with people why these traditional values are important to them personally and to our society as a whole especially in our political realm. It is hard to win political battles if we cannot defend our positions cogently and make a compelling case for them.

There is the ever-present problem of media bias, which skews decidedly towards the progressive values, but our positions are true and have facts to support them. We can cite studies that show that children do best in a home with their married father and mother. We can demonstrate that babies have a heartbeat at about six weeks in a pregnancy and that they can feel pain by 16 to 18 weeks.

Why is it so hard to engage voters with our traditional values? Why do our facts fall on deaf ears? Donald Williams, PhD, makes a compelling case in his recent article “Discerning the Times.” (This is from the print version of the Christian Research Journal.)

We paid insufficient attention to changes taking place in our colleges in how reading and writing were taught.


The attempt to discover the author’s message to his original audience was replaced by a new view in which authorial intention is irrelevant at best and meaning is in the eye of the beholder. When people are taught to read this way, the authority of all cultural texts- including our founding documents and Scripture- is undermined, so that even good arguments for traditional values lose their traction. To reverse this defeat, we must recognize the importance of reading and how it is taught.

Tea Party activists, pro-life advocates, and judicial restraint supporters all point to our founding documents and our Judeo-Christian heritage and beg for people to resist the “hope and change” that has been unleashed on our country. Our history is firmly on our side of the argument, but people look at us as though we are speaking gibberish.

I remembered an article about a teacher complaining about a Common Core lesson plan in the Washington Post several years ago. I looked it up and sure enough my memory was correct: the teachers were to teach the Gettysburg Address in a particular manner.

Another problem we found relates to the pedagogical method used in the Gettysburg Address exemplar that the Common Core calls “cold reading.”

This gives students a text they have never seen and asks them to read it with no preliminary introduction. This mimics the conditions of a standardized test on which students are asked to read material they have never seen and answer multiple choice questions about the passage.

Such pedagogy makes school wildly boring. Students are not asked to connect what they read yesterday to what they are reading today, or what they read in English to what they read in science.

The exemplar, in fact, forbids teachers from asking students if they have ever been to a funeral because such questions rely “on individual experience and opinion,” and answering them “will not move students closer to understanding the Gettysburg Address.”

(This is baffling, as if Lincoln delivered the speech in an intellectual vacuum; as if the speech wasn’t delivered at a funeral and meant to be heard in the context of a funeral; as if we must not think about memorials when we read words that memorialize. Rather, it is impossible to have any deep understanding of Lincoln’s speech without thinking about the context of the speech: a memorial service.)

The exemplar instructs teachers to “avoid giving any background context” because the Common Core’s close reading strategy “forces students to rely exclusively on the text instead of privileging background knowledge, and levels the playing field for all.” What sense does this make?


Asking questions about, for example, the causes of the Civil War, are also forbidden. Why? These questions go “outside the text,” a cardinal sin in Common Core-land.

According to the exemplar, the text of the speech is about equality and self-government, and not about picking sides. It is true that Lincoln did not want to dishonor the memory of the Southern soldiers who fought and died valiantly. But does any rational person read “The Gettysburg Address” and not know that Lincoln desperately believed that the North must win the war? Does anyone think that he could speak about equality without everyone in his audience knowing he was talking about slavery and the causes of the war? How can anyone try to disconnect this profoundly meaningful speech from its historical context and hope to “deeply” understand it in any way, shape, or form?”

This teacher points out many of the problems with reading without any context. However, you must remember that the proponents of “New Criticism” have been entrenched in our universities for over fifty years. While most of us ignore the academic world, it does not ignore us. The professors of the academy have been educating our children and setting them loose on our society to wreak havoc. We have been undermined from within. Few of us, or our children, can articulate these concepts in the academic jargon that the scholarly journals use. In fact, we do not read the journals because they seem ridiculous to us, but the concepts have filtered into our society so that appealing to the original intent of the founders of our country or declaring that our Judeo-Christian heritage tells us that marriage is between a man and a woman has no weight or credibility.

If our citizens have been taught that it doesn’t matter what meaning the author intended to convey, but only what they interpret it to mean to them, then we cannot convince them by our good arguments from the Constitution or the Bible.

Williams adds:

(W)e must adjust our rhetoric to address the audience that actually exists, not the one that was here two generations ago. We need to stop berating people for departing from a position they never held.


It is too late to preserve the American republic (we have to restore it). We have lost the opportunity to appeal to the old consensus and we need to stop acting like it is still there.

If you have had a hard time crystallizing your concerns about Common Core, then I hope that this information will help you identify a key problem in an easy to share example. I find that many people just cannot grasp what is at stake in our schools.

Sadly, we lost the culture war over fifty years ago when we let the academic world be overtaken by progressive professors. Common Core is just one of the final steps in destroying our society.

Part II will address what we can do to remedy our situation.

2 thoughts on “The culture wars and Common Core (part 1)”

  1. Interestingly, many aspects of Common Core, including this one which requires kids to make meaning of a text without having appropriate context, run counter to what educational research says. There have been many studies completed over the last few decades which show that providing kids with a context for reading aids their comprehension.

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