Common Core lessons blasted for sneaking politics into elementary classrooms

It's exactly what critics of the Common Core school curriculum warned about: Partisan political statements masquerading as English lessons finding their way into elementary school classrooms.

Teaching materials aligned with the controversial national educational standards ask fifth-graders to edit such sentences as “(The president) makes sure the laws of the country are fair,” “The wants of an individual are less important than the well-being of the nation” and “the commands of government officials must be obeyed by all.” The sentences, which appear in worksheets published by New Jersey-based Pearson Education, are presented not only for their substance, but also to teach children how to streamline bulky writing.


“Parents should insist on reviewing their children’s school assignments,” said Glyn Wright, executive director of the Eagle Forum, a think tank that opposes implementation of Common Core. “Many parents will be shocked to find that some ‘Common Core-approved’ curriculum is full of inappropriate left-wing notions, disinformation, and fails to teach the truth of American exceptionalism and opportunity.”

The politically charged lesson appears in a worksheet titled “Hold the Flag High,” in which students are taught about Abraham Lincoln and the Civil War. The assignment asks students to make examples of sentences; “less wordy by replacing the underlined words with a possessive noun phrase.” They are then presented with a half-dozen sentences describing the job duties of a U.S. president.


But if the lessons are meant as a primer on the Constitution, there's another problem, note critics. The job of making sure laws are fair is not the president's, but the judicial branch's. The executive branch's duty is to administer laws. And the example that places the well-being of the nation above the "wants of an individual" appears to run counter to the basic principles of the Bill of Rights.

“We are doing a terrible disservice to this generation and the next if we only present them with one side of the argument and bombard them with ideas contrary to the American ideal," Wright said. "In doing so, we allow our children to be indoctrinated instead of educated.”

A Pearson spokesperson told the “Hold the Flag High” worksheet will undergo some editing of its own, based on issues raised by critics, including Education Action Group Foundation.

“These particular questions appear in a fifth-grade unit of Pearson’s Reading Street, an English Language Arts program,” the Pearson official said. “They accompany a selection about soldiers during the Civil War, and they attempt to make a connection between that passage and language skills. As with all our curricular materials, they underwent a thorough development and review process. Still, we are always open to improving our work … Based on this feedback, we will be modifying the worksheet to clarify these questions.”

The official adds that while they are currently being used as common core material, versions of this worksheet including the questions of the Possessive Nouns section have been around and copyrighted since 2007.

The Common Core State Standards Initiative was devised by an association of the nation's governors and backed by the Obama administration in 2009 with the goal of setting a uniform standard for grades K-12 nationwide. Some 45 states, in many cases enticed by federal grants, have signed on and testing of students in grades 3-8 and once in high school is scheduled to begin next year.

Critics of the initiative say that school districts will devise curriculums to maximize their students' performance on the national exams; some in fact, have already done so. The same critics also claim that Common Core math standards barely cover basic geometry or second-year algebra and that the classics are all but ignored in English classes.

While Common Core has plenty of defenders -- and may prove beneficial -- critics maintain that it is not the federal government's job to impose educational standards.