This is a terrific article from an unusual source: George Ball, past president of the American Horticultural Society and chairman of the Burpee Seed Company.

Ball writes:

“Frequently, these days, I’m reminded of Edward Lear’s whimsical illustration, “Manypeeplia Upsidedownia.” The drawing depicts an imagined botanical species, with a half dozen characters suspended upside down from a flower’s bending stem. It is a product of the Victorian golden age of nonsense, but it is fitting today, now that we Americans seem to have landed in our own, darker era of nonsense, one in which we take our follies seriously and act upon them. To see folly in full flower, look no further than the Common Core State Standards.

“Now adopted in 45 states, including California, and the District of Columbia, this federal effort sets uniform standards on how math and English are taught in American schools. A top-down program imposed on states in order to qualify for Race to the Top funds, the curriculum is the fruit of a process tainted with politics, vested interests and a lack of transparency.

“The Common Core Curriculum is being implemented without empirical evidence of its value, and imposed hurriedly without consulting the very people most affected: students, teachers and parents.”

Mr. Ball is under the illusion that a massive change in federal policy should be based on trial and evidence, something he may have learned from studying plants. How curious.

He notes: “In July, the state of New York announced the results of its first tests based on the Common Core: The region hasn’t been this battered since Superstorm Sandy. Just 26 percent of students in third through eighth grade passed the English exam, and only 30 percent passed the math test. In one Harlem school, just 7 percent of students received passing scores in English, and 10 percent in math. We’ve gone from No Child Left Behind to Well-Just-About-Every-Child-Left-Behind: progress of a kind. If “learned helplessness” is the Common Core’s goal, it’s a stunning success.”

He concludes with the wisdom of an expert on growing plants from seed:

“What’s lost in Common Core is the human factor. Teachers, whose performance evaluations and salary are pegged to their students’ test results, are deprived of the freedom and creativity that is the oxygen of learning. In an ever-changing world, common sense would propose a broad range of educational approaches rather than a single one designed to ready all students for college. In education, as in gardens, a monoculture is doomed to decay and eventual failure.

“After genetics, the most advanced psychological research tells us a child’s development is determined by micro-relationships – the ever-present, barely perceptible gestures, expressions and glances – that are the soul of communication, nurture and empathy.

“Common Core sacrifices the magic of teaching and learning on the altar of metrics. Teachers, students and administrators are no longer engaged in an organic process geared to the individual. Largely designed by testing experts, not teachers, the monolithic curriculum is like detailed gardening instructions from someone who has never set foot in a garden. “Grow faster!” is the experts’ motto. Well, children are not cornstalks.

“Rather than embark on this Upsidedownia national educational experiment, let’s begin at the local, really local, level: the individual child. Hire smart, empathic teachers with depth and vision, and watch our children grow into a harvest of creative, thoughtful, articulate intellects and citizens. This is, one might say, the cure for the Common Core.”