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Terrence Moore
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Terrence Moore

Common Core kills off the great stories

Education

Terrence Moore didn’t plan to crusade against the Common Core education push.

He was just minding his own business teaching history at Hillsdale College and helping start classical schools.

A Marine Corps veteran with a Ph.D. in history, Moore was founding principal of a classical school in Colorado. He researched Common Core after hearing from Indianapolis mothers Heather Crossin and Erin Tuttle. They were troubled by what they saw of Common Core in their children’s schools, and they wanted someone with academic credentials to take a closer look.

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The result is a 263-page book, The Story-Killers: A Common-Sense Case Against the Common Core, which goes well beyond the usual critique of Common Core.

Yes, there’s big money to be made on Common Core by the textbooks publishers and testing companies. Yes, Common Core can be a federal government tool to nationalize education, even though governors initiated the idea.

Moore goes deeper and takes apart Common Core for its failure to take advantage of the great traditions of classical education. He’s unhappy about the tossing out of classical stories in favor of informational texts, but he laments a bigger tragedy: the loss of the great story.

“The Common Core and the textbook editors are replacing the classic stories with post-modern tales of cynicism and ennui,” he writes. “Both the human mind and soul long for greatness, for stories that are good and beautiful and true. If we allow our stories to die, our love of the good and the beautiful and the true will die with them.”

Moore lives in northern Indiana, has young children, and is part of an interesting trend. In central Indiana some parents have fled schools that adopt Common Core and have turned to several classical schools instead.

Moore’s problem with Common Core is its lack of vision and its emphasis on “college and career readiness,” even in elementary school. Students need a loftier vision than job training. “The authors of the Common Core say so little about the moral purposes of education,” he writes. “Do they themselves have not children?”

What’s needed are great stories that deal with great moral issues. “Literature offers a window into the thoughts and actions of profoundly interesting human beings,” he writes.

Moore offers an echo of the late Francis Schaeffer in his plea for the human element in education and literary analysis, as opposed to just the mechanical. “Literature is about people,” he contends. “We do not get to know—least of all figure out—people by asking them what their main idea is or whether they are in the middle of a rising action and heading towards a climax.”

As his alternative to Common Core, Moore leans very classical. His reading list would include Plato’s Republic in the ninth grade, along with Uncle Tom’s Cabin for junior year. For the sophomore year he includes Augustine’s Confessions, the Luther-Erasmus debate on free will, and Rousseau’s Discourse on Inequality. He recommends Lyndon B. Johnson’s Great Society speech for junior year government, along with the Bill of Rights, the Constitution, and Lincoln’s anti-slavery response to the Dred Scott Supreme Court decision.

Instead of cutting back on literature and history in high school, Moore would beef up the curriculum. He recommends Shakespeare, John Milton, and the Magna Carta.

Yes, Terrence Moore is idealistic. His classic cure may be too hard for many public schools. But Common Core seems to be losing its grip in a number of states. In the debate over something better, the classical advocates like Moore should get equal time. Their core has been well tested for many years with very good results.

Russ Pulliam
Russ Pulliam

Russ is a columnist for The Indianapolis Star, the director of the Pulliam Fellowship, and a member of God's World Publications' board of directors.

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