Common Core Pretends to Focus on Critical Thinking

Just this morning (December 2, 2013) my local newspaper, The Valdosta Daily Times, carried an AP story with the headline: “Critical thinking hallmark of Common Core class.” It begins with a story about a fifth grade class in Middletown, Delaware. It seems that this school system has adopted the Common Core model hook, line, and stink bait.

The main point that is made is that in a “Common Core” classroom, students are no longer expected to just listen to their teacher. They are to “figure things out for themselves.” Several times in the article, the point is made that students are no longer expected to memorize facts and figures, people’s names and events, and so forth. They learn to dig beneath the raw facts and figure out the whys and wherefores.

I remember when my older son was in the fifth grade. We lived in Kansas at that time. There are 105 counties in Kansas, and his teacher expected the children to be able to take an outline map of Kansas and write in the names of each of the 105 counties from memory. At the next parent-teacher conference, I asked his teacher whether it was really important for fifth grade kids to be able to list and identify the location of all of Kansas’ counties. His answer to me was, “Of course not. That would be silly, but it is important for people to learn how to memorize.” He was right, and I have never forgotten that wisdom. That son is now 54 years old and holds an important position in the company he works for. He handles a multi-million dollar budget and up to 500 employees and operates from Virginia to Texas. His ability to put his finger on matters in a hurry is a significant part of his success at this time of his life.

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Good teachers have been expecting children to dig beneath the surface of their studies whether in science, math, language arts, or any other subject. In my experience as a teacher for 40 years, I have often run into “new ideas” to improve my students’ educational experience in my English classroom, both in literature and in written composition. First of all, I have seen nearly all of those “new ideas” at sometime in my career. Ninety percent of them were discarded to return to the old tried and true teacher guided approach to subjects.

I so remember when the laissez faire system of education in the 70s became the rage. “Let the students feel things through. Let them set their own pace. Let them teach themselves what they need to know for their lives.” My answer was always, “What if our football coach tried the laissez faire system of coaching? What if he let the boys come to practice when they wanted to and not when the practice was scheduled? What if he allowed those who didn’t like to get hit hard to avoid blocking practice some afternoon? What if he let the boys who didn’t like to run skip wind sprints altogether? What kind of a team record would we have? And how long would the coach last at our high school?”

classroomOh, I guess that if a school system can’t hire any quality folks as teachers, it probably should have some kind of directed Common Core curriculum. But be sure to tell any business or industry that is looking to locate in that community that you have elected to conduct your educational system according to Common Core. And if your shop needs a cadre of welders, you’re sure that your children can learn to weld. After all, they have been taught to look beneath the surface of facts, and they really know how to think critically.

Do these aficionados of Common Core think that the men and women of the 40s, 50s, and 60s didn’t know how to think critically when they moved the United States to become the greatest and most powerful nation that ever existed in the world? Come on now. Really!

Come to think of it, that system of laissez faire education that was promulgated in the 70s and 80s may have contributed to the Obamacare website fiasco. I have done a little website designing since my retirement from full time teaching in 1999, and you better be able to think critically, but you also better be able to follow directions and dot all of the “i’s” and cross all of the “t’s.” And you better have a good memory or you’ll waste a lot of time consulting your website design reference books. Website browsers are unforgiving of ill-conceived design modules.


The views expressed in this opinion article are solely those of their author and are not necessarily either shared or endorsed by

About the author

Harry Livermore

Harry Livermore spent a lifetime teaching English in high schools and junior colleges in Kansas, Oklahoma, and Georgia. He now writes for and is editor of the Valdosta Magazine. Harry and his wife Janice live in Valdosta, GA. They are members of the First Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in Valdosta. Harry has two sons, six grandchildren, and six great-grandchildren who live in Georgia, Oklahoma, and Texas.

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