The Answer to Common Core: Alternative Models of Education

by James Corbett
June 3, 2014

One does not have to scratch very deeply into the surface of pop culture to see that “schools” are nearly universally portrayed in our culture as boring, stultifying, prison-like environments where students have to struggle to maintain consciousness.

As we examined last week, this state of affairs is not the result of random happenstance or a failure of the government to throw enough money at the problem, but a structural feature of the modern education system that was consciously constructed by the industrial robber barons and financial giants of the early 20th century, including the Carnegies and the Rockefellers, and promoted by the politicians under their influence, including Woodrow Wilson, who, years before coming into office as President of the United States, delivered a lecture on “The Meaning of a Liberal Education” where he stated:

“We want one class of persons to have a liberal education, and we want another class of persons, a very much larger class, of necessity, in every society, to forego the privileges of a liberal education and fit themselves to perform specific difficult manual tasks.”

Sadly, this agenda, to the extent that it had not already been enacted at the time of Wilson’s speech, has been fully realized today.

The next logical step in this agenda is the implementation of Common Core, a set of educational standards so poor that those tasked with validating those standards refused to do so. [See this and this and this.]

But for those who are opposed to this conception of schooling, the rote memorization and endless standardized testing, the introduction of biosensors and other devices into the classroom to monitor students’ behaviour, the prolongation of childhood and arbitrary grouping of individuals by age, the unquestioning obedience to authority that is inherent in the classroom dynamic, the training for the workforce implicit in the segregation of tasks into arbitrary work periods, the Pavlovian conditioning of the bell, what is the alternative? What can be positively proposed as a counterbalance to this palpably destructive form of modern day schooling?

This is not a rhetorical question, it is a very real question that has real answers in the real world. One clue as to an alternative system can be found in the Netherlands, where the prestigious University of Groningen, celebrating its 400th anniversary this year, is establishing a new University College Groningen that promises to challenge preconceptions about schooling, education, and the learning environment. One of the professors helping to establish the UCG curriculum is Tjeerd Andringa, an Associate Professor in Sensory Cognition who will be leading a course on the intersection of geopolitics and cognition that will push the boundaries of content and form of education.

Another professor who attempted to provide a challenging, radical, anti-establishment learning environment of self-directed education was Denis Rancourt, who, in his tenured position at the University of Ottawa, experimented with a course on activism in society until railroaded out of the university by threatened bureaucrats and administrators. In 2011 he appeared on The Corbett Report to discuss his experience.

There is no one set method for education. Every child is different; each will learn in their own way, respond to challenges and tasks in different manners; benefit from different approaches and different levels of outside input and self-direction. But that is the real task of education; not teaching children to memorize names, dates and figures out of a textbook and regurgitate them on the test paper, but to understand who they are as individuals, what they can contribute to the world, and how to connect with those around them. There are classrooms around the world where these experiences are a core part of the education environment, as well, and in very rare instances, as in the case of Toshiro Kanamori’s fourth grade class in Kanazawa, Japan, followed throughout the year by NHK’s cameras in 2003 for a remarkable documentary, the results are as powerful as they are undeniable.

For parents, teachers, school administrators and others who have a genuine concern about the Common Core approach to education, it is important to note that there are educational alternatives out there. Alternatives that have nothing to do with larger school budgets, rewritten textbooks or biometric scanners in the classroom. Alternatives that are not funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation or evaluated on a standardized testing regime that rewards rote memorization. Alternatives that encourage children to become an active part of their own education, and shape their own course toward adulthood. But do the American public, or indeed the public of the world, have the courage to explore these alternatives, or will they lay down yet again and give in to the institutional inertia of the status quo?