On Corbett Bashing and the Common Core

by Christopher Paslay

Common Core texts indoctrinate young children and teach them to manipulate facts for social advocacy.  Sound familiar, Philadelphia? 

Mark Twain once said, “The difference between the right word and the almost right word is the difference between lightning and a lightning bug.”

This is the philosophy I use when I teach students in my high school English classes how to write.  There is no substitute for the right word—no true synonym—and until a writer figures this out, he won’t be able to fully articulate his thoughts.  This is the case whether you are writing a narrative, informational, or persuasive essay (the Common Core’s preferred term for “persuasive” is now “argumentative”).

Good writing, especially in today’s culture of limited attention spans, is focused, clear, and accurate.  Good writers can say more in less space—and they can back their writing with examples, details, and evidence.

This philosophy has worked well with my own students at Swenson Arts and Technology High School.  On the 2012 PSSA Writing Test, 74% of my 11th graders scored proficient or advanced—a whopping 28.1% percent higher than the Philadelphia School District average, which was only 45.9%.

Unfortunately, some English Language Arts texts being promoted by the Common Core are no longer focused on teaching students succinct, accurate writing that avoids the use of flimsy persuasive techniques (such as red herrings, overgeneralizing, circular arguments, name calling, etc.), but on writing that actually encourages the use of emotionally charged propaganda for social advocacy.  In short, some ELA texts supported by the Common Core are not making young children free thinkers, but politically indoctrinating them (type the phrase “Common Core indoctrination” on YouTube and see the results).

One interesting case of indoctrinating students and promoting the use of propagandistic writing for social advocacy is the state of Utah’s first grade ELA primer Voices: Writing and Literature, recommended by, and aligned with, the Common Core.  On the surface it appears the text is about literature and writing, but a closer look reveals a major theme is social justice and social advocacy.  This, amazingly, is being introduced not to college undergraduates in Community Organizing 101, but to first graders!

One section in Voices: Writing and Literature teaches young children how to play fast and loose with facts by using emotionally charged propagandistic words to elicit emotions and bring about liberal social change.  It doesn’t teach children to use the right word, as Twain would have advocated (as well as any respectable writing teacher), but to use a word that will get folks stirred-up for social justice, whether or not that word is true, evidence-based, or accurate.

Click on the below YouTube video to see for yourself:

Because the Philadelphia School District is flat broke and has no money to invest in a new set of textbooks, such a primer may not be made available to our city’s school children.  However, the political indoctrination of School District students—and the teaching of how to play fast and loose with facts—is well underway.  Groups like Youth United for Change and the Philadelphia Student Union, who often partner with politically motivated adult organization such as the Education Law Center, are well schooled on the use of propaganda in writing.

All three of these groups frequently use “correlation to prove causation”—a logical fallacy and standard propaganda technique—to imply that Philadelphia public schoolteachers are discriminating against minority students because black students are three times as likely to be suspended or expelled as their white peers (and these groups continue to claim this despite the fact that no documented cases of racial discrimination by a Philadelphia teacher against a students exists . . . except, of course, the discrimination against Sam Pawlucy by a black geometry teacher for wearing a Romney T-shirt in class).

The newly founded “Fund Philly Schools Now” does much of the same in terms of their blatant use of propaganda.  Launched to help raise money for struggling city schools, an admirable goal, their website states:

Since Gov. Corbett took office, it has become clear that when he must make the choice between tax breaks for corporations and much-needed investments in our children, he chooses corporations and wealthy donors every time. The crisis in Philadelphia public schools has been manufactured by Gov. Corbett. He is starving the city of resources and then using teachers as scapegoats and Philadelphia families as pawns.

Propagandistic?  No question.  With Federal stimulus money gone, Governor Corbett has been forced to make due with less, and this has no doubt adversely impacted Philadelphia public schools (as well as most public schools in PA).  But the crisis in city schools was not “manufactured by Gov. Corbett.”

During the Ackerman years, from July of 2008 to July of 2011, the School District blew through nearly $10 billion, spending so reckless it prompted the IRS to open a detailed audit of their financial practices.  The rapid expansion of charter schools—nearly 100 of them in 10 years—also greatly contributed to the School District’s financial crisis.  There is also the matter of Philadelphia residents owing over $500 million in delinquent property taxes.  And the fact that the School District loses millions of dollars in unreturned textbooks and stolen computer equipment each year.  And the reality that recently retired baby-boomers are overwhelming the pension system.  And all the cronyism/nepotism over the past five years from the usual suspects . . . Ackerman, Archie, Evans, Gamble, Fattah Jr., etc.

All Corbett?  Please.

Does the School District badly need money?  Absolutely.  Do I want to see our city’s children get the resources they need?  Most definitely.  But the theatrics and use of propaganda to get money is getting old.  People are growing tired of it.  Attacking public officials is becoming counterproductive (just ask Mayor Nutter).  Why does the rest of the state hate Philadelphia, think we are a cesspool?  Perhaps they are tired of Victimology 101.  It’s like with affirmative action: If groups in need simply took responsibility for their problems and said, I’m having some trouble keeping up, can you please lend a hand?, people would bend over backwards to help out.  But it doesn’t work like that.  Affirmative action in 21st century America goes more like this:  It’s YOUR fault I have problems, so give me what you owe me, now!

Not the best way to get the help you need, or to get at the true root of problems.

Neither is using propaganda to bring about reform (or to teach our students English Language Arts).

According to the mission statement of the Common Core:

The Common Core State Standards provide a consistent, clear understanding of what students are expected to learn, so teachers and parents know what they need to do to help them. The standards are designed to be robust and relevant to the real world, reflecting the knowledge and skills that our young people need for success in college and careers.

Dr. Carole Hornsby Haynes, a noted curriculum specialist and former public school teacher, disagrees with the Common Core’s mission statement and feels they have an ulterior agenda.  She writes in a recent article:

Common Core is not about “core knowledge” but rather is the foundation for left-wing student indoctrination to create activists for the social justice agenda. Education is being nationalized, just like our healthcare, to eliminate local control over education, imposing a one-size-fits-all, top-down curriculum that will also affect private schools and homeschoolers.

I don’t know if Dr. Hornsby Haynes is totally correct about the Common Core, but I know this: ELA teachers should teach students how to make strong, factual arguments, not how to play loose with the facts to support their own political agendas.

Obama’s Missing Records Make Research Assignments Difficult

by Christopher Paslay

While preparing a research assignment on our country’s first African American president, I was startled to find much of Barack Obama’s records are missing or sealed from the public.

With the Philadelphia School District now officially adopting Pennsylvania’s Common Core Standards, I’ve been spending time this summer developing lessons and assignments for the coming 2012-13 school year.  In particular, I’m in the process of creating a research essay for my 10th graders, one that meets standard CC.1.4.9-10.W—research writing.      

My initial idea was to have my 10th graders write about our first African American president—Barack Hussein Obama.  The reason I chose President Obama is because of the “Obama Effect,” the premise that Barack Obama’s presence in office has provided a psychological boost and helped African American students achieve academically.

Using President Obama as a subject might indeed serve to inspire my students.  He is the ultimate role model, and all the things he’s done my students could strive to do: they could work to succeed in school; win scholarships and get awarded financial aid; excel in the Ivy League and go to law school; write scholarly articles as a law professor; and maybe one day become president.

To make this real, to show my students firsthand what the president has achieved, I wanted them to go to the primary sources of all of Obama’s personal and academic history over the years.

But when I began researching Obama’s background for my assignment, through the Internet, books, newspaper articles and other sources, I was shocked to find that most of the things I looked for were either missing or sealed from the public by Obama’s lawyers.

Here is a list:

Obama’s High School Records and SAT Scores

President Obama attended Punahou School in Honolulu, one of Hawaii’s top private institutions.  However, Obama has refused to release his high school transcripts and SAT scores to the public, despite numerous requests by citizens and journalists.

Financial Aid and Scholarship Money

Obama’s financial records at the Punahou School and Occidental College have not been released.  This is an ongoing controversy, because some have suggested that Obama enrolled in Occidental College as a foreigner (not a U.S. citizen) to receive aid reserved for foreign students.  World Net Daily writes:

In a legal action, handled largely by Gary Kreep of the U.S. Justice Foundation, officials at Occidental College were served with a demand to produce records concerning Barack Obama’s attendance there during the 1980s because they could document whether he was attending as a foreign national.

Kreep petitioned the college with a demand for its records concerning Obama.

Obama’s lawyers had the petition thrown out.  Both Obama’s Occidental College transcripts and financial records remain sealed; the Obama “foreign national” issue popped up again this spring when a 1991 booklet published by Obama’s literary agency surfaced listing him as being “born in Kenya and raised in Indonesia and Hawaii.”

Columbia University Records and Thesis

In 1981, at age 20, Obama transferred from Occidental College to Columbia University.  His transcripts at Columbia also remain sealed.  According to a September 2008 story in the New York Sun:

The Obama campaign has refused to release his college transcript, despite an academic career that led him to Harvard Law School and, later, to a lecturing position at the University of Chicago. The shroud surrounding his experience at Columbia contrasts with that of other major party nominees since 2000, all whom have eventually released information about their college performance or seen it leaked to the public.

His thesis on “Soviet Nuclear Disarmament” also remains unavailable.

Harvard Law School Records

Obama’s Harvard Law School Records are sealed.  So are his LSAT scores.

University of Chicago Scholarly Articles

Obama lectured at the University of Chicago Law School from 1992 until 2004.  Reporters have been unable to find any scholarly articles authored by him.

Medical Records

It is customary for presidents running for office to disclose their medical records.  Obama’s medical records have yet to be released.


Obama’s fully visible passport has not been released (in 2010, the White House posted a partially blurred version on their website).

Needless to say, learning that so many of President Obama’s records are sealed or missing was quite startling.  This will clearly change the direction of my research assignment.  Perhaps I will require my students to read one of Obama’s two memoirs—either Dreams From My Father or Audacity of Hope, although Obama himself has admitted that these books are not wholly factual and based on “composites,” shaped and rounded by him and his editors to evoke just the right emotions from readers; some even suggest Obama’s two memoirs were ghost written by a third party.

It would be quite disheartening to learn that the Obama Effect is based on a hoax.  I guess I’ll have to make some adjustments to make my research assignment on Barack Hussein Obama work.