A number of diocesan schools have made or are considering making the switch to a Catholic classical curriculum. I made a presentation last week to a California school considering the switch. They wanted to know how a classical curriculum would fulfill the new Common Core Standards being recommended to all fifty states.
I was first struck by what I expected – the absence of any attention to the real goods of education in the statement expressing the purpose of the standards: “To be ready for college, workforce training, and life in a technological society.” Of course, no attention is paid to forming human beings into the best they can be, orienting them to truth and beauty, introducing them to the greatest of human accomplishments. The statement of purpose really renounces any claim to know the purpose – whatever the colleges want, whatever business wants, whatever technology demands.
But then I was pleasantly surprised by the content of the English and Literacy standards themselves. Without mentioning it, they seemed to embody the fundamental lesson to be found in Dorothy Sayers’ “Lost Tools of Learning”. Students who have learned the “facts” of various subjects yet have never learned how to learn new subjects are not really educated. The CCS demands that schools integrate development in generalized areas of language, critique and presentation throughout the curriculum. They need to recognize the different approaches and evidence proper to different kinds of learning. Students need to be challenged by great works of literature (Shakespeare is mentioned several times) that will increase their language capabilities while exercising them in understanding other times and places.
I puzzled over the bad and the good until I realized that the standards fit the goals. Since colleges, at least on the humanities side, are in complete disarray, with courses offerings and selections resting primarily on the whims of professors and students, while the future demands of the workforce and technology are completely unpredictable, students need to be prepared for any kind of learning, they need the “Lost Tools of Learning”.
The CCS document repeats frequently that it merely describes the end; means are left up to schools and teachers. Hopefully, more of them will discover that a classical education is the most powerful way to meet such standards. At least those of us blessed to be involved in classical education can now boast of being on the cutting edge of the latest movement in education. That is practically antithetical to the classical spirit, and will likely pass as every educational fad does. Still, maybe we can enjoy the unusual position for awhile.
(The Common Core Standards for English and Literacy are found here; see especially pp. 6-7: http://www.corestandards.org/assets/CCSSI_ELA%20Standards.pdf)