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Words of Wisdom: Martin Cothran on Common Core

Our friend Martin Cothran is the author of Memoria Press’ Traditional Logic, Material Logic and Classical Rhetoric programs, and is an instructor of Latin, Logic, Rhetoric, and Classical Studies at Highlands Latin School. He currently serves as senior policy analyst with The Family Foundation of Kentucky. His articles has have appeared in the Cincinnati Enquirer, the Louisville Courier-Journal, and various other newspapers, as well as on radio and television. He has also served as a registered agent (or “lobbyist”) at the Kentucky State Capitol for over 12 years and has served on various state committees that oversee education policy, where he continues to be an influential voice on education policy issues. Martin is the managing editor of “The Classical Teacher” magazine, which also serves as Memoria Press’ product catalog. He and his family live in Danville, KY.

Recently Martin has been quite outspoken in opposition to the new Common Core standards and he was kind enough to explain his concerns in this edition of Words of Wisdom.

You have written and spoken quite a bit in opposition to Common Core, especially the science standards it promotes. Why is this so important to you?

The Common Core standards are important because of the number of children that will be affected by national standards which are eliminating content knowledge and trying to replace it with amorphous “critical thinking skills.” I’m obviously not against critical thinking skills, since that’s what the liberal arts are. The trouble is that public school policy-makers have no clue what constitute critical thinking skills. It’s a nice-sounding phrase that has no definitive meaning. The lack of content knowledge will further corrupt the process of passing our culture down to the next generation, which is the most important educational goal.

Not only will curricula change, but so will textbooks and tests. The curriculum changes will affect mostly public school students, but the changes in textbooks and testing will affect all students, private and public.

What do you recommend the average homeschooler and classical educator do to prepare for common core’s advance?

Home and classical educators can do two things: First, ignore Common Core for purposes of their own curriculum. Do what you know is right for your children, not what the educational establishment says you should do. It will be gone in five years anyway. Second, be in contact with your state lawmakers and make it clear to them that you are opposed to national standards that de-emphasize content knowledge in the name of amorphous “critical thinking skills” which no one can seem to define (next time someone uses that expression ask them to give you a definition).

What do you believe will be the greatest challenge to classical education in the next decade or so?

The greatest challenge to classical education in the next decade will be to come up with a definition of what it is before it gets too big. If you ask most classical educators what classical education is they will have a hard time telling you. We need to get that fixed before the movement grows too large.

What are you reading these days? Any good?

I am reading Robert Hughes’ The Culture of Complaint, which is an excellent dissection of our popular culture. Maybe the best I have ever read. I have just finished Time of Need, by William Barrett. Barrett was the editor of Partisan Review, the great intellectual magazine of the 1950s, and literary critic for the Atlantic in the 50s and 60s. He is one of the great expositors of the history of ideas in the 20th century. His Irrational Man is the greatest book on existentialism available. Time of Need is an in-depth survey of the great writers of the 20th century. It is among the most thought provoking and readable books about literature I have ever read. I also just finished A Land Remembered, by Patrick D. Smith, probably the best book of historical fiction I have come across. It tells the history of Florida through three generations of one family. It will knock your socks off. You will never think of Florida the same way again. I am also reading A Kentucky Cardinal, by James Lane Allen, a Kentuckian and one of the great American writers of the 19th century, now unfortunately forgotten. It is a pastoral tale of the romance and marriage of a man to the woman next door, but more than that it is the tale of a man who loves the things of nature. It is one of the most beautifully written books you will ever read.

How’s grandfatherhood?

Grandfatherhood is great, partly because of the grandmother I get to share it with, who is even more enamored of grandmotherhood than Grandfather is of grandfatherhood.

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