August 3, 2021

Dr. Esolen to Archbishop Listeki: “Common Core Can No More be Made Catholic Than Human Sacrifice Can be Made Catholic”

Dr. Esolen to Archbishop Listeki: “Common Core Can No More be Made Catholic Than Human Sacrifice Can be Made Catholic”

Dr. Anthony Esolen, Providence College


(Editor: Dr. Anthony Esolen responded to Archbishop Listecki’s patronizing letter to Catholic parents opposed to Common Core. Dr. Esolen is currently a Professor of English at Providence College, and one of the 132 Catholic scholars who signed the letter opposing Common Core. Dr. Esolen states that he is not singling out Archbishop Listecki in his letter. Dr. Esolen graduated summa cum laude from Princeton, and earned his Ph.D. from the University of North Carolina).

1. We need very much NOT to accept the terms of the discussion as laid out by educational utilitarians.  The Common Core is rotten NOT simply because it fails to teach children the rudiments of arithmetic and the more sophisticated operations of algebra.  It is rotten because its whole approach to education is wrong; it is based upon a wrong understanding of the human person.  That is why it has no real place for the humanities, reducing them to occasions for scrambling up “skills,” rather than for opportunities to grow wise, to learn how to behold and cherish what is beautiful, and to build up the intellectual / moral virtues of reverence, gratitude, honesty, clarity, and humility.  It can no more be made Catholic, while remaining itself, than human sacrifice can be made Catholic, or cloning, or eugenics, or any other fundamental offense to the very being of man.

2. So we cannot say we are waiting for “evidence” and “tests”.  In mathematics — perhaps, but only perhaps, with the grave caveat that tests are very good at finding what they are looking for, and very bad at finding what they are not looking for, or whose existence they do not even suppose.

3. The idea that “educational experts” — meaning, superintendents, principals, and teachers — with their degrees in Teaching Administration, and Education, are going to be the most learned, the wisest, and the smartest people in any room is complete nonsense.  James Koerner long ago described the willingness to endure fatuous courses in education as a “kind of negative intelligence test.”  But there are other reasons why teachers themselves cannot be the final judges of what they are doing.  The first is that no man should be judge in a case to which he is a party.  The teachers will always have a vested interest in promoting and justifying what they are already doing; that is only human.  The second is that the teachers are the employees or delegates of the parents.  If I hire a carpenter to do work that I do not have the skill to do, or that I do not have the time to do, that does not mean that I am not still the final arbiter of what he will do and how well he has done it.  I can very easily compare his work with the work of other carpenters, even though I am not myself a carpenter.  These days it is an easy and terribly painful thing to compare the work of our current educational carpenters with those of past generations.  You can find old textbooks.  Those alone should crush us with shame.  The third is that education is not in fact a techne like carpentry after all.  It is the formation of a human soul.  That, of course, is denied by the Common Core promoters.  But parents surely are not only competent to judge the formation of the souls of their children; they are by far the most competent, because they know those children far better than anyone else does, and they see most clearly the results of their schooling.  Finally, parents who are not teachers are free of the prejudices that come from any insular setting.  The age-segregated, community-isolated school, a new thing in the world, is something of an island.  The teachers see what goes on inside; but other people are in a better position to evaluate what kinds of people come out.

4. How many times does a man have to be punched in the belly, have his hair torn out, be spat upon, be ridiculed in public, have his clothes smeared with mire, and be beaten over the head with a club before he concludes that his opponent DOES NOT LIKE HIM?  They’ve been using rat poison for sugar for fifty years, and now we are supposed to believe, without ANY demonstration of a change of heart in our opponents, that this time it’s going to be sugar really and for true, cross their hearts and hope to die?  Why do our bishops have to be such easy marks?