A Monstrous Story for a Monstrous Curriculum: The Ugly Heart of Common Core

Custer County District High School, Miles CityI am a high school English teacher. I became a teacher because I believe that literacy, which goes beyond just reading the words on the page, is an absolute necessity for maintaining our Republic. Proof of that is found in the many laws against reading certain texts, or against reading altogether, that have been passed down by every tyrant since literacy became available to the general population. A few examples of such tyrannical laws are the Taliban banning reading for any female or laws against teaching slaves to read or the Soviet Union’s banning of such books as A Wrinkle in Time, Where’s Waldo, and To Kill a Mockingbird. The communist Khmer Rogue in Cambodia so hated literacy that just wearing glasses was cause for execution. Literacy leads to freedom and tyrants know it.

I have been teaching for over twenty years. Generally, I have been given either no curriculum or curriculum that was focused on skills, not specific texts. I would have to get those skills taught in whatever way I wanted to get there. Sometimes I was given more direction and that direction was generally pretty good including texts, key terms, supplemental stories, and suggested writing assignments. These directions were created at a school level by the teachers in the school. I helped write some myself. Mostly, I have had a lot of freedom in how I could achieve the learning goals.

Not anymore.

Today I was in a professional development session for my school district. Our school system has swallowed the Common Core curriculum whole. Why wouldn’t they? The federal system has said that it is “voluntary”, but “voluntary” means that the district gets cut off from major federal funding if it does not adopt the standards, so “voluntary” is subjective. Here is what the Washington Post reported Sen. Charles Grassley has to say about Common Core:

Current federal law makes clear that the U.S. Department of Education may not be involved in setting specific content standards or determining the content of state assessments. Nevertheless, the selection criteria designed by the U.S. Department of Education for the Race to the Top Program provided that for a state to have any chance to compete for funding, it must commit to adopting a “common set of K-12 standards” matching the description of the Common Core.

The Washington Post also reported, “The Republican National Committee recognizes the CCSS for what it is — an inappropriate overreach to standardize and control the education of our children…”

For those of you who may be unfamiliar with Common Core, it is a curriculum created in the private sector but pushed onto states by the federal government and endorsed by Bill Gates. The cost of implementing the program runs from millions to billions depending on the state. It is untested and unresearched. It has been criticized for being not as rigorous as proponents claim, clearly biased to a liberal perspective, so much so that many see it as indoctrination, and it is being forced on the states in spite of the fact that a federal curriculum is unconstitutional violating the 10th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution which established the principle that“…the “power” to oversee education belongs to the states. This longstanding principle of local control of education is reiterated throughout our laws and government codes.”

All of that sounds like something that makes NO connection whatsoever to most parents or teachers or American citizens as to why they should fight this curriculum. Here, I am going to provide you with a concrete example that shows the ugly heart of the Common Core. There is something deeply dark and offensive in this lesson created to support Common Core. It is a lesson designed to corrupt essential human decency.

The unit – sorry “module” – that I am using as an example is centered around To Kill a Mockingbird with the theme of “How individuals demonstrate individuality in the face of outside pressures.” At the beginning of all of this, it looks good. I love the book; it is a great American classic and I have taught it many times. The module includes 30 days of lessons associated with the novel and multiple additional short reading assignments. However, as I looked this module over, I became more and more concerned. For me to break down the many problems with this module in detail would take quite a while, so I am going to show you an example of one lesson on one short reading assignment that left me speechless with horror.

This assignment in the module includes a short story by Guy de Maupassant, 19th century writer famous forThe Necklace. Again, this seems rather innocent; this story is often included in high school texts, but not thisparticular story and, more importantly, not with this particular writing assignment.

The short story is The Mother of Monsters (link below). A quick summary of the story is that a gentleman on vacation is introduced to the Mother of Monsters, a local oddity described as a “peasant” and the “Devil”. Her story is that she finds herself pregnant while she is working as a simple serving girl. She binds her body with boards and cords to hide her growing belly. Her child is born horribly deformed. She takes care of the child, but resents it, until a sideshow man comes along and offers to buy the “thing” and to pay a yearly stipend for its use. Once she realizes how much money she can make, she repeats her pregnancy pattern by birthingmonster after monster after monster of intentionally deformed children to sell to showmen. She lives a “bourgeois” life as a result (note the stab at the bourgeois here).

The narrator is reminded of this “Devil” when he later sees a popular “Parissiane” strolling on a beach followed by admirers. Her three children are also all deformed because she wants to maintain her trim figure throughout her pregnancies, so she keeps her corset tightly cinched. Peasant and lady; different, yet the same. Both the Mother of Monsters. Both display a level of selfish evil that most humans would revile.

Now as a high school story, this story may have a lot of meat to chew on for discussion…for maybe 11th or 12thgraders, but this is a story assigned to incoming 9th graders, students who are 13 or 14 years old. Students this age are not ready to handle the truly disturbing elements of a story which reveals some of the most perverse sides of human nature. That is bad enough; however, it gets worse. You may wonder what this story has to do with To Kill a Mockingbird and the theme of individuality. Here is the writing assignment associated with this story:

Write an essay that compares the cultural experience reflected in To Kill a Mockingbird and The Mother of Monsters and explain how this experience helped a character demonstrate individuality in the face of outside pressure.  

Individuality! Outside Pressure!!!! These women chose to deform their children for their own selfish gains or selfish vanity! The first pregnancy of the peasant woman we might forgive out of mercy, but the purposeful birthing of the rest of the 11 children that she intentionally deformed is unconscionable and unforgivable. The same holds with the Parisienne.

To judge these women as demonstrating their INDIVIDUALITY in the face of outside pressure is absurd and defies human decency. It is like insisting Jeffery Dahmer was expressing his individuality through cannibalistic murder. Additionally, it is not a major leap to conclude that if deforming your children in order to express your own individuality is acceptable, then killing your children to protect your individuality (or selfish inhumanity) is perfectly fine too. This is obviously a pro-abortion message. This story paired with this assignment is a repulsive perversion of the concept of “lesson”; it is a corruption of anything descent and good.

There is something deeply repulsive in this lesson, especially as it is aimed at students as young as 13. I have been told that I must teach this module. I can make some adjustments, but not too many. I am struggling to find a way to NOT perpetuate the ugliness found here. I am certainly NOT going to teach this story, though I may find myself in trouble with the system as a result. Some things are worth refusing to do even if there is a cost.

This is what is going on in our schools. This is what you need to see with open eyes. They are doing more than trying to increase rigor; they are indoctrinating our children into one way of thinking—their way! Schools should teach how to think, but never what to think. This is why we must fight what some are trying to sell us as “hope and change” to America.

                                                            

Link to the story “The Mother of Monsters”: http://www.classicreader.com/book/1238/1/

Dana R. Casey is a veteran High School English teacher of more than two decades in an East-coast urban system.  She is a life-long student of theology, philosophy, and politics, dedicated to the true Liberalism of the Enlightenment, as defined by our Founders and enshrined in our Declaration of Independence, Constitution and Bill of Rights.

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425 Responses to A Monstrous Story for a Monstrous Curriculum: The Ugly Heart of Common Core

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    • ducksam says:

      Reply to Dana Jackson: Keep in mind the differences between curriculum goals and curriculum content and curriculum tools. This story by Maupassant is simply a tool. Many other stories can illustrate the disparities between preconceived notions and the deeper reality beneath, especially in regard to social class structure–an important element of the theme of that story. But why pick another tool–though I’m sure any teacher can do so–when this story admirably suits that purpose? Is it the purpose itself that bothers you? To help readers see beneath surface appearances? Are we all addicted to platitudes and denial concerning the ugly aspects of society?

      Remember Holden Caulfield and the cynicism that develops in young people when they realize they are constantly being lied to. Literary writers like Maupassant are the “catchers in the rye” who help them find the truth for themselves through their own epiphanies.

  2. ducksam says:

    Reply to Frank Caprio: Are our children important enough to help them understand the differences between surface appearance and the reality beneath? Might give them some savvy in dealing with the con artists. See the links to my two articles below.

  3. ducksam says:

    Reply to Tim Wright: You agree that this lesson involving these two stories is “designed to corrupt essential human decency”? READ MAUPASSANT’S STORY and remember THE FIRST-PERSON NARRATOR IS THE CENTRAL CHARACTER. HIS PERCEPTIONS OF THE TWO EVIL WOMEN, AND THE FACTS THE DOCTOR REVEALS ABOUT THE ATTRACTIVE PARISIENNE, LEAD TO HIS EPIPHANY AT THE END. Hopefully, the reader has the same epiphany: “I tend to make the same mistake.” The theme here involves the disparity between surface appearances and a deeper reality, a subtlety apparently lost on many modern readers. The teacher’s role here is the opposite of corruption–to show us that we often jump to conclusions based only on surface details and preconceived notions, without looking for the deeper reality. Believe me, the irony of situation manifested in many of these replies is NOT lost on me. Shows me that we as a culture are not only losing our literary heritage but accelerating full speed into Orwell’s Doublespeak.

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  9. As a 20-year English teacher I felt I had to point out this blatant inaccuracy about Maupassant’s story “A Mother of Monsters.” This nonsensical attack on the story is based on the most juvenile of misunderstandings. The character “demonstrating individuality” in the face of outside pressure is the narrator, a member of the bourgeoisie himself, not the two evil mothers. I wrote a lengthy reply, “Bourgeois Monstrosities,” for my hometown newspaper, The Democrat Argus of Caruthersville, MO, and it was printed in the Feb 5 issue of this year. Seems Ms. Dana R Casey has been propagating this idiocy all over the nation. Why I haven’t seen more English profs step in to refute her contentions about the associated writing assignment, I don’t know, but I’ve done my research on this story. I also haven’t seen the curriculum designers do any defending of their writing assignment, which in my judgement is actually a good one, not the Pollyanna platitudes I believe Ms Casey might want from her students.

    Check out my analysis (guided by research) of the story:
    http://duckworthsam.wordpress.com/2014/05/06/bourgeois-monstrosities-a-reply-to-dana-r-caseys-a-monstrous-story-for-a-monstrous-curriculum/

      • Dan says:

        Except that you’re wrong ducksam…

        • ducksam says:

          I suppose you’re an expert on Guy de Maupassant, like everything else. I’ve already been credited with setting the record straight on this story, so you’re really too late.

      • Dan says:

        As a 20 year English teacher…. you are a typical liberal know-it-all.

        The narrator in the story doesn’t demonstrate individuality at all, he is representing the reader. He has a perspective shift as he sees the two different women in the same light. We are meant to have the same experience. The characters that “demonstrate individuality” are the two women, as intended by the creaters of the Common Core module.

        • ducksam says:

          The first-person narrator, though unnamed, along with the doctor, who sets the record straight about the attractive Parisienne’s children, are the characters demonstrating individuality, because they go against the “bourgeois norm” in their perceptions–at the end. I do believe that Maupassant hoped the reader would have the same epiphany, but apparently you didn’t. Scout, similarly, the first-person narrator of To Kill a Mockingbird, demonstrates individuality in the face of small-town Southern bigotry.

          I don’t claim to “know it all”, but I do claim to know this. Read the articles on this website and you’ll find the hacks you’re looking for, rather than the experts.

        • ducksam says:

          No human being–like the two women in this story–is “typical” if you look deeply enough.

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