Please see my page Common Core & Catholic Education for more information and links to great resources.
The following is a letter that I sent via email to Livia Riley, Superintendent of Schools for the Diocese of Harrisburg prior to the May 2014 school board meeting. I received no response as of yet.
Re: School Board Meeting May 8, 2014
Dears Ms. Riley, Ms. Barrett, & School Board Members:
I have contacted Ms. Riley in the past regarding my concerns about Common Core. I have also written an extensive letter to Administrator Gillelan, in the absence of a Bishop, regarding my concerns. In light the upcoming School Board meeting for the Diocese of Harrisburg, and in the view of the fact that these meetings are not open to the public, nor is the public provided opportunity to comment during the meeting, I am sending this letter to express my grave concern regarding the alignment of Catholic education in the Diocese of Harrisburg to Common Core.
Sister Dale McDonald of the NCEA claims Catholic schools need to “get on board” because it will be hard for schools to procure textbooks or for teachers to attend professional development without accepting Common Core. It’s all hearsay and propaganda from both state and federal government bureaucrats, and now the NCEA, who are pushing these standards onto our schools and into our lives. Over and over again we hear the Common Core buzzwords: robust … rigorous … deeper understanding … higher level learning … competing in the global economy … 21st century workplace … college-and-career-ready. Such buzzwords thinly disguise an agenda of replacing the objective measurement of knowledge and skills with subjective appraisals of students’ attitudes and behavior as global citizens.
Sadly, over many decades we have witnessed a transition of our schools where time honored Truths and Traditions have been watered down to more closely align with secularized public education. Instead of standing as a stalwart against the dramatic shifts in popular culture, the Catholic schools have morphed into something that may still be considered a parochial education, but more in tune with the secular world. And now Common Core is the culmination of this merger.
Why, given the exceptional history of Catholic education in America, would Catholic schools adopt a utilitarian, one size fits all approach to education that view individual children as human capital? This is contradictory to everything that a Catholic is supposed to believe about each individual’s unique essence. The purpose of education is to create thinkers and develop each individual child’s intellect to the best of his abilities, not to create workers for so-called jobs of the future, which are unknown and cannot be known.
The crisis is tied to the fact that the Common Core is ushering in to Catholic schools all over the country a new pedagogy and various unproven teaching and learning theories and methods, not to mention the prospect of a massive data collection system on each and every child. With this, it is much more then just standards; it is a radical movement and agenda that will destroy Catholic education and our schools. It removes the beauty and wonder and goodness from all that a Catholic school is. It harms the souls of each individual child so that they can be groomed for a workforce and have “common” behaviors.
The clandestine manner in which Common Core was developed and adopted raises red flags and does not inspire trust in the motives and methods of the individuals behind Common Core. Parents were completely left out of the process and we now find ourselves trying to catch up to a train that has already left the station. Most of our state legislators were also blind-sighted by Common Core and are now facing upset parents who are demanding answers and all they can do is respond with “white papers” from the PA Department of Education lauding the standards.
At the heart of Common Core are data, assessments, and transformation of human relationships of teacher/student to facilitator/learner. These assessments (which use to be called tests) will ultimately be the vehicle for ushering in controversial content into our schools. I understand that Catholic schools are not required to participate in the data collection, which is part of a State Longitudinal Data System (SLDS) designed to capture data from “Birth to College/Career” (called P-20) or to use PA’s standardized testing (Keystone Exams, PSSA), and I pray that this continues to be the case. As parents we are given no choice to opt our children out of this invasive and unnecessary use of data on our little ones, nor was our consent obtained to have data collected in the first place.
These assessments are designed to test not just knowledge and mastery of material, but also, attitudes, values, and beliefs. And the values, attitudes, and beliefs that are considered “correct” according to those who created the assessments, may conflict or contradict with what the child’s parents and/or the Catechism/Magisterium teaches. Are we going to teach our children to capitulate their beliefs in order to give the “right” answer?
Phyllis Schafly recently noted in her letter to the Roman Catholic hierarchy:
“The mission of the Catholic school is to prepare students for eternal life with God while its secondary goal is to prepare them for temporal work. They accomplish this by pursuing Truth and by seeking to acquire Knowledge for its own sake. In contrast, the goal of Common Core is the narrow training of students to become mere functionaries educated solely for earthly success. Catholic educators should be leery of any standards that create automatons rather than humane individuals.”
As Christians, we have watched as God and the Word have been pushed out of our state-run school system. We have watched an agenda that leaves behind time honored traditions, objective truth and understanding of natural law and replaces it with opinions and moral relativism where children are no longer able, nor is it acceptable, to distinguish right and wrong. Truths become opinions and opinions can be changed to meet the consensus.
In fact, the Common Core Next Generation Science Standards intend to do just that – replace scientific method with consensus as the means of establishing scientific truth. Please see the article titled: Public School Science Standards: Political or Pure? By E. Calvin Beisner, Ph.D available at www.cornwallalliance.org. The Cornwall Alliance is “a coalition of clergy, theologians, religious leaders, scientists, academics, policy experts, and others, and is committed to bringing a proper and balanced biblical view of stewardship to the critical issues of environment and development.” This “green” movement is actively promoted and encouraged as many have bought into the lie of human caused climate change, which is not about being good stewards of God’s creation, but about population control and redistribution of resources. It is unfortunate that many of our Catholic leaders, priests, and teachers have also bought into this movement believing they are helping to save the planet and serving the poor, when it is doing neither. It is a dangerous liaison.
In a commentary written for the July 15, 2013 issue of The Catholic Witness, Father Quinlan was responding to President Obama’s disparaging statements in Ireland about the divisiveness of Catholic education. Father Quinlan said:
“For over two centuries, Catholic schools have served the mission the Church envisioned for them … They have prepared young people to become leaders of the Church and civic community. … I respectfully submit that Catholic schools are in many ways the very glue that helps hold our American community together by helping to prepare well-educated and morally literate citizens.”
Furthermore Father Quinlan references the Supreme Court case Pierce vs. the Society of Sisters (1925) where the court recognized the right of parents to raise and educate their children according to their faith, noting that “the child is not a creature of the state.”
Bishop McFadden echoed this sentiment when asked about Common Core during a Penn Live interview conducted on March 19, 2013 during the following Q&A exchange [emphasis mine]:
Comment From Guest: Hello! Thank you for taking time to answer our questions. I was wondering if you are aware of / and how you feel about the Common Core education standards that have been adopted by PA and now by the Harrisburg Diocese, and if you are concerned about the impact this will have on parental rights, public intrusion in the Catholic schools, a national standard that seeks a one-size-fits all approach, and privacy, with the vast data requirements that will follow children from pre-k through college and the workplace.
Bishop McFadden: The question about schools is very important to me, and would suggest is important to Pope Francis because he is an educator. I believe very much in parental rights. In our country, the educational system has become an educational monopoly of the government. While there have been battles over school choice, I believe the real issue is parental rights. I believe that parents have an inalienable right to choose the education that best meets the needs of their child. Children belong to parents, not to the state.
Bishop McFadden: I think that the common standards are a beginning point in helping us to ensure that children have a minimal education. But they should only be the starting point. We need to seek a system that is less concerned about standards and is more concerned about helping each child achieve their educational potential. Standards may make us feel good, but they do not accomplish the task. We will be better off when we get parents back involved in the education of their children. This is especially true for the poor parents who, in many urban areas, are consigned to a failing school system, as though the parents are not able to recognize what is best for their children.
I have to question whether Bishop McFadden, may he rest in peace, was properly informed about Common Core and all that it entails because his comments are completely the opposite of what Common Core represents. And I continue to pray that Bishop Gainer will recognize that Common Core does not belong in our Diocese schools.
The Classical Education model which served generations of children so well has been replaced with an outcomes based system that involves training, not teaching, our children. We have been battling these influences over our children’s education for decades. It did not start, nor will it end with “Common Core.”
And there already exists an education system that is less concerned with standards and more concerned with helping each child achieve his potential! Classical Liberal Education based on the Trivium! The classical education model does not rely on textbooks, which are pre-digested facts analyzed and reduce by someone else, and instead uses actual source documents and literary and artistic works relevant to the topic and time period being studied. With classical education, schools are not at the whim of textbook publishers and their worldview and agenda they wish to promote.
My daughter goes to a school in the Diocese. I am under the painstaking decision process as to whether to continue her education there, send her to a local “Christian Academy,” or homeschool. I am truly heartsick over being placed in the position of having to make this decision. I discovered that Catholic schools had adopted Common Core after I had already registered and enrolled her in the school. She is currently finishing up her Kindergarten year. I am astonished at the expectations place on these little ones who are just beginning the long journey in their education. Kindergarten is no longer the “children’s garden” of learning through play, songs, and rhyme that it was intended to be and instead is now focused on high stakes learning standards and curriculum. And the teacher proudly claims how she knows the children will rise to these new expectations. But why do they have to? And, no, this is not about a mom not liking things being “too hard” for her child, as many try to portray those of us with legitimate concerns. It is about frustrating these little ones at an early age and turning them off to learning. It’s a mom’s concern about why Kindergarteners need to have “meaningful, deep conversations” instead of just enjoying story time or why they need to know about “making inferences” from a story about bugs at an age when they cannot grasp this concept. It is a mom’s concern about education being developmentally appropriate and making children jump through hoops to show off how “challenging” it all is, especially when the challenges serve no good purpose.
There a few bastions of hope in PA for authentic Catholic education, but sadly these schools that use the classical education model are too far away for me to consider. I encourage you to look at the curriculum and philosophy of the Reginal Luminis Academy in Downington, PA. Catholic parents are hungry for a return to the classical liberal education model, based on the Trivium model, and many of them, realizing that Catholic education has abandoned this philosophy and model have been left with no choice but to homeschool their children. Many of these parents would probably flock back to Catholic schools if classical education were to return. At least each school in the Diocese should have the flexibility to decide.
If in order to “get on board,” as Sister Dale McDonald said, Catholic schools must purchase the same textbooks used in public schools and attend the same professional development courses as public teachers, what is the point exactly of sending our children to Catholic schools?
Furthermore, Common Core violates the principle of subsidiarity as is it a top down centralized approach to education.
It seems Catholic schools are no longer a safe haven from the politically motivated agenda that has permeated our education system. Many of the individuals behind Common Core have the same worldview as Bill Gates, who funded nearly every entity involved in the development of Common Core, in terms of global citizenship, radical egalitarianism, and radical environmentalism that goes beyond authentic Catholic teaching about being good stewards of God’s great creation and social justice founded upon sacred scripture and objective truth. Instead it is based on lies and half-truths. Bill Gates openly advocates for forced sterilization, abortion, and birth control as a means of solving the “problem” of overpopulation. And yet, his deep pockets seem to be attractive to organizations involved in Catholic education, including the NCEA.
Under the banner of diversity and multiculturalism, an anti-American and anti-Christian sentiment permeates much of the education materials that are published for today’s education market. Multiculturalism, under the guise of fostering knowledge, understanding, and respect of other cultures, actually serves the purpose of casting America, Western civilization, and especially Christianity, in a negative light. And the contributions and influence of Christianity, specifically Catholicism, are misrepresented or hardly mentioned at all. These are evident in the History/Social Studies standards that are under production as part of Common Core. I want my daughter to understand the world, but I do not want her to be taught that she’s “global citizen.” Furthermore, I do not want her taught under education policy and goals developed by the United Nations, which is the origin of this 21st Century Learning and globalization efforts.
Please reconsider Common Core and halt its implementation in our Catholic schools. However, eradicating Common Core is just the beginning of restoring Catholic education to become the model that will lead the way, not follow in footsteps of failed education policies and a popular culture in decline. I implore the Diocese to disassociate itself from the voluntary alignment to PA Academic Standards and the use of textbooks and materials designed for secular education. With the Classical Education, children learn what is true and beautiful and standards really aren’t even necessary. The breadth of knowledge attained with classical education provides a strong foundation for children to reach their full potential as God intended.
Furthermore I ask that the Diocese advise school staff against attending NCEA conferences, conventions, and meetings in various cities. The NCEA is aggressively promoting all things related to this progressive and secular education agenda – 21st Century learning digital learning and Common Core.
If you have not yet seen it, I urge you to read the letter written by Gerard Bradley, Professor of Law, and signed by 132 Catholic scholars expressing their grave concern regarding Common Core. It was sent to all US Catholic Bishops and can be found at the following link:
Steven Jonathan Rummelsburg penned and open letter addressed to Dominican Sister John Mary Fleming, executive director of the Secretariat of Catholic Education for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. Click here to read the National Catholic Register‘s Jan. 27, 2014 interview with Sister Fleming, to which Mr. Rummelsburg is responding.
I continue to pray for hearts and minds to realize this grave error and reverse course. I would appreciate feedback from the School Board addressing my concerns. Thank you for your time and attention.
Yours in Christ,
Frances A. Fulton