Many years go, when I was a Fellow at the conservative Manhattan Institute, I got o know Sol Stern, who has been at that think tank for many years. Sol has an interesting history. Back in the radical 1960s, he was an editor at the leftwing Ramparts. At some point, he had a political-ideological conversion experience, and he became a zealous conservative. He is a journalist, not an educator. He writes about what interests him. Ten years ago, he wrote a book advocating school choice, called Breaking Free. In 2011, he wrote a book about Israeli-Palestinian relations, called “A Century of Palestinian Rejectionism and Jew-Hatred.” one thing about Sol Stern: He has strong opinions.
At the moment, his strong opinions are focused on fervent advocacy for the Common Core. Stern thinks that the Common Core implements the ideas of E.D. Hirsch, Jr. Hirsch believes that kids should learn lots of background knowledge, which will not only make them smarter but enable them to read and understand increasingly difficult text. I agree that background knowledge matters, so long as it is developmentally appropriate, that is, comprehensible to the child. And I don’t see Comon Core as the fulfillment of E.D. Hirsch’s vision. After all, David Coleman–widely acknowledged as the “architect” of he Common Core–advocates “close reading,” in which a student deciphers text without reference to any background knowledge. One example would be a student reading the “Gettysburg Address” without reference to or knowledge of the Civil War or Lincoln or the battle it commemorates. I think Hirsch would insist that context and background knowledge are crucial for comprehension. I am not sure that Stern understands the Commn Core standards but he has now made it his business to defend them and to attack those who doubt their excellence.
Stern got into a heated debate with Peter Wood, the president of the National Association of Scholars, who does not believe–as Stern and Arne Duncan insist–that development of CCSS was “state-led.” They have other differences, but it is amusing to see Stern, one of our most conservative education commentators, defend Duncan and CCSS.
Now comes Mercedes Schneider to dissect Sol Stern’s take on the Common Core. It’s fair to say that she knows a lot more about the Core than Sol Stern. Stern doesn’t really understand that the CCSS does not embody Hirsch’s Core Knowledge. And it must surely pain him to realize that one of he best-selling books about the Common Core was written by Lucy Calkins of Teachers College, one of Stern’s arch enemies (he hates Balanced Literacy, loves phonics).
Bottom line: CCSS has created strange alliances.