Rotten to the (Common) Core: Public Schooling, Standardized Tests, and the Surveillance State by Joseph P. Farrell
Get ready for a wild ride! In ROTTEN TO THE (COMMON) CORE, Dr. Joseph P. Farrell presents a wide-ranging criticism of the current trend in standardized testing. This book is sure to ignite lots of fiery debate. In presenting his case, the author writes passionately, and offers up enough to probably offend a lot of establishment figures.
The author is clearly a brilliant man, and this book reflects his genius. One should not be too quick to just discard these ideas as some fringe ramblings, because they are not. Dr. Farrell has an Oxford Ph.D in Patristics (the study of the early Christian Fathers.)
Much of the first half of this book is dedicated to documenting the motivation of those who advocate standardized testing. The author quotes at length from books critical of the process. I found these sections not easy going. The point is, the testing industry has a blemished--and sometimes self-serving past. Dr. Farrell cites the case of the test grader who gave EVERYONE a "2" and got away with it.
I thought at first that the author was objecting to the Common Core standards--but that's not his point. Rather, it's the EVALUATION process that is suspect. The author argues that the outcome can only be as good as the test evaluators. Even if it's computerized, that simply means it's a reflection of the programmer's opinion: "The problem with Common Core, once again, is the assessment process behind it, and the further empowerment of un-accountable 'experts' designing its adaptive assessment process."
The author cites several cases where brilliant students are actually at a disadvantage, since they know more than the test preparer. Then, it becomes a game of what answer is WANTED by the question-maker, not what answer is truly correct. In other words, the tests serve to "dumb down" the student--not advance critical thinking.
The author laments the demise of critical thinking, replaced by a drone-like recitation of what the answer is SUPPOSED to be. We are creating a student body of test-takers and internet copy-and-pasters, not thinkers: "Critical thinking, once the aim of education, is as passé as chalk and student chalkboards. The student brain is trained by ritual and practice in the art of mental submission; the student’s brain is a modern servant collecting and recycling the superior electronic brain’s information."
I found the last part of the book the best part. Here, Dr. Farrell critiques suggestions on how to improve the state of education. Very few ideas (actually, zero) pass muster. Should we extend the school day to get better numbers? The author suggests no: "We must ask, as a society built on the family at the core of instruction in formal education and morality, whether time at the table with the family for dinner or time together on weekends, or setting aside a day for worship, is to be replaced by a child sitting with an open book for hours after school, on weekends, and more often than not falling asleep without having had family time, personal downtime, and mental rest?"
I found the writing style tough to follow, not helped by awkward section titles. I think the author's quick intellect is not always helpful to the reader. For example, one section is titled, “The Business Model of Billionaire Busybodies: Foundations and the Educational-Industrial Complex." I think I sort of know what the author had in mind, but perhaps a more concise title would be more helpful to the reader trying to follow the line of reasoning.
All, in all, I found ROTTEN TO THE (COMMON) CORE to be a wild ride indeed. Despite all the harsh criticism of the establishment teaching structure, the author is really a kind man at heart, who really wants the best for students. Nevertheless, reading ROTTEN TO THE (COMMON) CORE takes a lot of effort. The author's genius for education, and passion for students comes through loud and clear. I don't know if Dr. Farrell is still teaching. If he is, I would be the first in line to send my kid to study under him.
Advance Review Copy courtesy of Edelweiss Book Distributors.