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The Crocodile in the Common Core Standards

“[A]s you grow up in this world you realize people really don’t give a shit about what you feel or what you think.”  Thus, Common Core Standards architect David Coleman delivered[1] the core pedagogy of the Common Core State Standards (CCSS)  to educators gathered at the New York State Department of Education in April 2011.  Listen to a few more of Coleman’s proclamations and you have to ask yourself if this is a man of deep experience and rectitude or just a cuckoo bird let loose on a hapless bunch of educrats who don’t know how to voice dissent. Coleman was on stage one hour 59 minutes  in Chancellor’s Hall decreeing the new reality of teaching in public schools across America.  No one in the audience  challenged his bizarre declarations.

Maybe they were in a state of shock.

Or maybe the hall was silent because Coleman is billed as “a leading author and architect of the CCSS, and our professional organizations have already caved in on the Common Core—without a shot being fired. As premier standards entrepreneur, Coleman is a busy man, having already co-written the Common Core State Curriculum Standards and the Publishers’ Criteria for the Common Core State Standards in English Language Arts  and Literacy[2]) . Coleman insists that teachers must train students to be workers in the Global Economy. In his words, “It is  rare in a working environment that someone says, “Johnson, I need a market analysis by Friday but before that I need a compelling account of your childhood.” Translation to the classroom: No more primary grade essays about lost teeth or middle school essays about prepubescent angst. Instead, students  must   provide critical analysis of the “Allegory of the Cave”  from Plato’s Republic, listed as an “exemplary informational text” in the Common Core State Standards for Language Arts.[3] If that’s judged as over the top for 12-year-olds, there’s always Ronald Reagan’s 1988 “Address to Students at Moscow State University.”

As though literacy is to prepare children only for a working environment. And as though personal opinion isn’t vital in a working environment.

Coleman  is on a  mission to slash  both the amount of personal narrative in writing  and the amount of fiction in  reading. This is based not on any experience teaching –except at the University of London-but because, he insists, readers gain “world knowledge” through nonfiction, which he calls “informational text.”  Listening to Coleman evokes  Kafka’s The Castle: “You have been in the village a few days and already think you know everything better than everyone here.” The difference is that Coleman provides no evidence that he’s been in the public school village even a few days.

Skeptics who might doubt that replacing  Brown Bear, Brown Bear  with a Wikipedia entry on Ursus arctos  will stave  off our nation’s economic woes  might wonder: Why, if fiction is no more vital than leftover turnips, is there a Nobel Prize in Literature and not  in lawyers’ briefs or material from the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco’s Web site (listed as a Common Core  exemplary text). For more on the prescribed  informational text, the reader is advised to do what not more than fourscore in the country have done: Read Appendixes A and B of the Common Core State Curriculum Standards. Surely Appendix A will frost your toes ( and then Appendix B will freeze your heart. David Coleman and his Common Core Standards cohorts decree that once teens get through  Ovid’s  Metamorphoses,  they can  move on to an article from Scientific American about the Higgs boson. (English/Language Arts Literacy Examples ELA-1 and ELA-2: Focused Literacy, Extended Constructed Response Type, p. 684  (

Text That Informs

Here’s  how Michael Dirda  opens his new book[4]   On Conan Doyle: Or, The Whole Art of Storytelling

Graham Greene famously observed that only in childhood do books have any deep influence on our lives

How many adults first learned about moral complexity from the final chapter of Beverly Cleary’s Henry Higgins,

when the dog Ribsy must choose between two equally kind masters?

Who, at any age, can read unmoved the last pages of Tarzan of the Apes when the rightful Lord Greystoke,

deliberating sacrificing his own hope for happiness, quietly says, “My mother was an ape. . . I never knew who my father was.”

In her New York Times Magazine blog,[v] Ilene Silverman writes of her three favorite books as a teenager: The Chocolate War, Separate Peace, and My Darling My Hamburger. For the teen Silverman, these novels were filled with informational text, providing important information about the world.

Interviewed for the film Hey, Boo: Harper Lee and to Kill a Mockingbird, in which a range of people—from Roseanne Cash to Tom Brokow- talk about the important world knowledge gained from reading Harper Lee’s novel. Ph.D. Pulitzer Prize winner Richard Russo says, “Masterpieces tap into something essential to us—at the heart of who we are and how we love.” James Patterson says, “You’re suspecting something about Boo—which should tell you something about yourself.”

Of course David Coleman insists we’re supposed to convince students that nobody gives a shit about how they feel or their need to find out something about themselves.

Writing in The New Yorker, Louis Menand says[vi], “When I read a poem I relate it to all the other poems I have read. . . past poems condition my response to any new poem. And the really new poem conditions my response to all the poems that precede it. After “Prufrock,” the Inferno is, ever so slightly, a different poem. Thus text informs text backwards and forwards. Sarah Bakewell says the same thing in How To Live: A Life of Montaigne,[vii] insisting that readers approach Montaigne “from their private perspectives, contributing their own experience of life. . .  a two-person encounter between writer and reader.”

In his introduction to Poet’s Choice[viii], MacArthur Fellowship winner and award-winning poet Edward Hirsch  advises that biographical, literary, and historical info provides readers a context for their reading. The teacher decides which kind of information is most relevant for each work. The reader decides too. But in presenting his notion of a  model lesson for teaching Martin Luther King Jr’s “Letter to a Birmingham Jail,”  David Coleman snidely rejects out of hand such  approaches as  providing any biographical, cultural, or historical context for the letter—just as he rejects reader response theory which focuses on the reader as an active agent in the work’s meaning. Instead, Coleman champions what amounts to New Criticism on steroids, insisting that the reader’s  sole focus must be  only on the words in  the text

Although  a multitude of expert readers  show that the emperor of the Common Core Standards is naked,  as long as such professional organizations as the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE) and the International Reading Association (IRA) remain silent, David Coleman seems safe in  shouting his absurd declarations from the rooftops. Instead of offering any informed  resistance, NCTE and IRA are occupied with  figuring out how they can make money from embracing the Common Core—and staving off dissidents in their own ranks. Last year, NCTE resorted to technical  excuses for squashing a proposed resolution against the Common Core. But the resolution proposers are back:  See Resolution Sent to NCTE (

Money Talks, Money Legislates, Money Delivers Classroom Lessons

The Common Core State Standards exist because the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation wanted them. To help their aide-de-camps, the  president and the U. S. Secretary of Education, pretend that these are state and not national standards, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation  sent buckets of money to  the National Governors Association and Council of Chief State School Officers to act as sponsors.  More tons of money to the National PTA to spread the good word and so on. As I revealed in an article in Extra![ix] very few media have pointed to the money source. Of course very few media even bother to mention anything about the Common Core.


I’d like to introduce David Coleman, Bill Gates, Arne Duncan—and all the rest of the Standardistos- to Chris, who found handwriting very difficult but insisted on laboriously copying out  Beatrix Potter’s  Tale of Squirrel Nutkin in his notebook.  Every word. Dougie asked him, “Why are you doing this? Miz O gave us all our own copy of the book.” And Chris answered, “I know.  I just like the way the words feel.” This from a boy who entered third grade loudly complaining about how much he hated both reading and writing. This is the boy who ended the year exchanging letters with his favorite poet, Jack Prelutsky.  I’d like to introduce this motley school deform crew to Chris’  classmate Leslie, who contacted me 25 years later, to talk about the importance of Amelia Bedelia in her life.

This Common Core den of thieves who are stealing the literary rights of our students should read Arnold Lobel’s lovely little fable, “The Crocodile in the Bedroom.”[x] A crocodile who loved the neat and tidy rows of the flowers on the wallpaper in his bedroom was coaxed outside into the garden by his wife, who invited him to smell the roses and the lilies of the valley.  The crocodile couldn’t  stand the “terrible tangle” of freely growing flowers, and went to bed, preferring to stare at neat and tidy wallpaper. There, “he turned a very pale and sickly shade of green.”

With David Coleman as their spokesman out on the stump, the National Governors Association, the Council of Chief State School Officers, and the U. S. Department of Education, acting in concert with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, prescribe a very pale, sickly shade of green future for our vibrant and deliciously messy classrooms.  Certainly, Lobel’s moral, Without a doubt, there is such a thing as too much order, applies even more to the classroom than it does to wallpaper. And letting our corporate school reformers steamroll our schools into a neat and tidy standardized product puts our children in great peril.


[1] David Coleman, “Bringing the Common Core to Life”, New York State Department of Education, April 28, 2011

[2] David Coleman and Susan Pimentel, “Publishers’ Criteria for the Common Core State Standards

in English Language Arts and Literacy, Grades K–2”

[3] National Governors Association and Council of Chief State School Officers, “Common Core State Standards,”

[4] Michael  Dirda, On Conan Doyle: Or, The Whole Art of Storytelling, Princeton University Press, 2011

[v] Ilene Silverman, “The 6th Floor, New York Times Magazine blog, Sept. 21, 2011

[vi] Louis Menand, “A Critic at Large,” The New Yorker, Sept. 19, 2011, 81

[vii] Sarah Bakewell, How to Live: A Life of Montaigne,  Other Press 2010, 9

[viii] Edward Hirsch, Poet’s Choice, Harcourt Inc. 2006

[ix] Susan Ohanian, “’Race to the Top’ and the Bill Gates Connection,“ Extra! September 2010

[x] Arnold Lobel, “Crocodile in the Bedroom,” Fables, HarperCollins 1980

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About The Author

Susan Ohanian is a longtime teacher whose articles on education have appeared in publications ranging from Parents to The Nation. Her book One Size Fits Few: The Folly of Educational Standards introduced the term "Standardisto." She has maintained a website of resistance since NCLB was signed into law in 2002:

Number of Entries : 11
  • Tutucker

    Great article.  I don’t understand how Coleman can have so much clout.  My 4 year old daughter goes to preschool 3 times a week and can’t believe her good fortune in being able to go to school every day of the week next year.  Mr. Coleman, your ideas will kill her love for learning. 
    Keep up the good fight, susano.  Do it for all the children who have lost the love of learning and who have yet to lose it.  I’ll fight right beside you.

    • Susano

      I don’t understand it about Coleman either. Some years back, he sold his consulting  company to McGraw-Hill and he stayed on as an executive, but that’s about all I know.
      Thanks for the good words. And keep your daughter’s love for learning alive. We desperately need parents to join us in this fight.

    • Susano

      I don’t understand it about Coleman either. Some years back, he sold his consulting  company to McGraw-Hill and he stayed on as an executive, but that’s about all I know.
      Thanks for the good words. And keep your daughter’s love for learning alive. We desperately need parents to join us in this fight.

      • Jedelich

        Susano: I believe the McGraw-Hill connection provides quite a deal of information about Coleman.

  • www.Marion

    …And letting our corporate school reformers steamroll our schools into a
    neat and tidy standardized product puts our children in great peril.”

      We’re long overdue for a class-action suit.

  • Tutucker

    Will they be standardizing parenting anytime soon?  Is that next?

  • Abigail Larrison

    I think there is a misconception by most educators about the necessity of standards.  There is a fear that somehow teachers aren’t competent enough to be able to teach without having someone dictate to them what they should be doing each moment of the day.  The issue here is the way standards are implemented take away the autonomy of schools and communities do do anything even the slightest bit different.  I believe communities should decide how they want their children educated not politicians!

  • Urbanlad

    Brilliant write up. If it weren’t true, it would make a great sci-fi novel on how to destroy a creative and vibrant society. Maybe that is the purpose after all. Too many people, make them complacent and docile. You might learn from literature. Yup. Makes perfect sense. Now I see it.  I hope people will soon see the folly of this. If not, we’ll be sitting on the porch waxing about the good old days and how they weren’t that bad after all.

  • Catherine

    I, too, as an educator was mystified as to why so many people are against National Standards.  This article illustrates very clearly the dangers.  I think it is all part of the corporatization of the American school system.  Students are seen as widgets and the more widgets we can turn out every year in identical rows of pre-established patterns, the “better” our system is.  Students are measured on how close they can come to pre-determined criteria, mostly involved in reading the mind of an absent test creator and correctly bubbling in a to e.

  • AdamHeenan

    Standards belong in the workplace, and not the classroom.  I don’t mind having standards placed upon my instruction, but put them on my curriculum and the students learning them and I get riled up.

    It is STANDARD that teachers have HIGH EXPECTATIONS of all their students.  Period.

  • Maria Harris

    I cannot imagine being a teacher for over 30 years without the many marvelous books you mention in the article.  Thank you, Susan.  Good luck with the distribution of your article to many, many people.  I am forwarding it to my friends who are still teaching.  As a retiree, I thank my lucky stars that I did not have to conform to so many standards.  Loving teaching included my choices to suggest what books a student might get “hooked into reading”; so I always was on a lookout for the perfect book for “Johnny” or “Susie” or ….  Rather than trusting teachers who know best, potiticians and money continue to make bad decisions as to what kind of an education our kids should have.  :(

  • Annie

    I want to thank my lucky stars, every single one, shining outside my window tonight, for Susan Ohanian, a person who knows and understands the greatness of childhood, and who dedicates herself to trying with all her might to stop the ugly corporate monster from devouring every single glimmer of good intention and hope away from our public school classrooms. 

    Schools are where we grow children. Children thrive in joyful and flexible environments. If only every teacher who ever teaches a child could be free again to teach with such devotion and intuitive grace.

    What a wonderful world it could be….

    Instead we have misguided waivers, RTTT, and Common Core Standards. Instead we have places of failure, and shame, and poor quality. 

    Thank you Susan. And many thanks to the teachers who still try their hearts out in this toxic atmosphere…

  • Skrashen

    I strongly recommend Susan Ohanian’s website,, which has become the center of gravity for the resistance movement against the common core standards and national tests. (Very few people have any idea of what Arne Duncan has in store for them, more testing than we have ever seen on this planet, far more than the already excessive amount required by No Child Left Behind.) 

  • Dmace8

    Thank you for this article! I hope more noneducators will come to realize the “reasons” behind Common Core Standards and join our efforts to avoid traveling any further down this path!

  • Sarah Puglisi

    The teachers I work with will line up and comply.  At some point years ago they lost something vitally important-their agency-and it never returned. Last year county office training in writing at our site was all this. The marvel of taking a piece of non-fiction and writing-and though they did not say “no one gives a shit” about narrative, and the literature the message has been clear for quite some time. No one uses it. If you go after the writers, the imagination the danger is in the totalitarian aims. This is not about making a better 21st century worker, this is about an artless, idea less, compliance. You need only see the training I got and it’s implementation along with a behavior program a la Skinner in CHAMPS to get what’s going down. They’ll live in this formation, with only a monied elite who is given “a shit” about. Sad.

  • Ed Hitchcock

    Absolutely, get rid of fiction. There’s no future or money in fiction. Just ask J.K. Rowling…

  • Lifesabeach48

    Bill Gates needs to devote his Billions to wrap around services and get out of the curriculum/ policy part of education. He is damaging generations of children through his Philanthro-pirateering actions! He has partnered with Pearson, Rupert Murdoch and is well on his way to yet another Monopoly of the field of education! He runs the Office of Innovation & Improvement through his former employee, James Shelton III who controls ALL EARMARK $$ (from Gates, Koch’s, Walton’s, etc.) which in turn control NCLB & Race to the Top! Thus he controls both policy & product along w/ Pearson! Huge conflict of interest at work! Must be stopped!

    • Citizen

      You are so right!

  • Ann Warnecke

    O heed Ohanian’s warning! It’s the corporate ed reformers who “don’t
    give a shit” about what children-or their teachers and parents-feel or think. They’re squelching childhood wonder and natural curiosity, imposing what is really a massive social engineering project aimed
    at steering young people as early as possible into what these overlords deem to be suitable job slots. 

    Count on the liveliest young learners to balk,bridle and rebel against the stultifyingly boring rigors of Common Core Standards, getting “the living daylights” knocked out of them for so doing. Only “go along to get along” compliance will count, with oodles of “school bucks” and other rewards lavished upon the most assidous little grade-grubbers who’ve never been encouraged to think for themselves, dream their own dreams, or follow their own lights.     

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  • crazyoaks

    “Reading helped me at times when I was sad; it can take you away from your life.” Meg Cabot.   Wonder how many students who are required to read informational texts like materials from the the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco’s website will be able to say things like this in the future? 
    As an educator I have no objections to standards that are established by someone who has worked with education, real children and learners, not someone who believes they “know” about education because they were in a classroom once or they sell things to classrooms.  Real learning is not easy, but should be enjoyable. 

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  • Richard Moore

    gotta love the footnote numbering: 3, 4, v, vi . . .

  • Dkeikoa

    After giving in to what was the inevitable adoption of the CC in my state, I just shrugged them off as an irritant. A senseless waste that would not work to improve education. After reading this, I now see them as dangerous and disturbing. How sad that fiction has become relegated to second-class status? How sad that our children will not have opportunities to read and discuss the great moral dilemmas presented in literature. How terrifying that their reading will not aid them on their journeys to understand themselves and what it is to be human. I am afraid for the future.

  • Ian

    A focus on non-fiction as strictly informative exposes Coleman’s illiteracy; I agree deeply that nonfiction should be a solid component of any education, as should academic writing about fiction and nonfiction. Fiction, and all creative arts, demand their rightful place in a balanced curriculum for all the reasons articulated in this piece. However, Coleman’s inability to recognize subtext and implicit purpose in “informative” writing means he is blind to one third of nonfiction discourse: persuasion. In fact, writers on non-fiction undertake the enterprise for all sorts of purposes beyond exposition, and students who become critically literate through the study of a multiplicity of texts and the practice of a wide variety of writing (and communication) styles are prepared to identify these purposes themselves. It’s too bad that Coleman can’t understand that is precisely a desire to make people give a shit about our ideas that compel writers to write. Any curriculum that misses this point will cripple students in adulthood, but is likely to result in a compliant herd of worker drones.

  • Jedelich

    I got an email from IRA (even though I won’t renew my membership) about a webinar Mr. Tim Shanahan is providing on these Common Core Standards. In this email, he too was reported to be an influential author of these documents. As past-president of that organization, is this what you refer to as caving in from such organizations?   How might these “Standardistos” justify this effort being matched in Finland, or other countries where they believe we need to catch?  Where is it we are supposed to be being led….after the fiasco of Reading First?

  • Jim~Frank Kimbrough

    Politicians have no business in the classrooms.  Leave education to the teachers.

  • Citizen

    What bothers me about David Coles’s speech iis that it is not theoretically or pedagogically sound.

  • Josh Garnto

    I don’t know if the author of this article did, but I read the two appendicies. To Kill a Mockingbird is part of the standard.  Coleman may be a douche but the standard seems like it might not be a bad thing. 

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  • Dotfeldman

    Brilliant argument! You’ve exceeded the Common Core Standards! Bravo!

  • Ashley Perez

    I agree that the recommendations-especially the slash and burn approach to fiction and personal writing-are disturbing. In fact, they fly in the face of what worked for me as an educator with students most in need of inspiring instruction. And in the face of my values as a writer of books that matter for teen.

    But isn’t there a difference between saying that _these_ standards are misguided and saying that a national set of standards is necessarily misguided? After all, curricular standards themselves are not new; they exist (usually in flawed form) state by state.

    I’m the first to balk at the idea of a high-stakes multiple-choice test that turns third-grade for low-income kids into a year-long drill practice instead of a world of discovery. The first year of TAKS in Texas, there were elementary kids puking in the bathroom because they were so frightened about the tests. Ditto that for the exit-level TAKS test that special-ed and ELL students must take without modifications.


    I did see firsthand that the more rigorous and actually decent TAKS ELA exam in Texas forced educators (who had been passing along students without even making sure they could write a single coherent paragraph using textual evidence) to do what they were supposed to do all along: educate. As in, Educate Every Student. Not just the ones who were easy to teach, already wrote well, and spoke perfect English.

    They finally had to pay attention to students (usually from communities with a history of being underserved) who previously were ignored. They had to pay attention because there was some standard in place, and because the test forced some accountability.

    Students’ education should go well beyond the test and national standards. Certainly it should not be limited to a sterile “information-only” diet. But standardization does draw attention to disparities and offer opportunities to raise the bar for students who are currently getting a sub-par education.

    So my question is, what can we do to get a better set of common core standards into place? How do we use this as an opportunity to readjust our shared compass?

    Sounds like we, as a nation, are in need of some soul-searching far more than we need another informational text.

    Thanks for stimulating the debate.

  • Jbellacero

    It’s interesting to note that despite Mr. Coleman, New York State decided to cling to the outmoded genre of fiction by adding the following to the Anchor Standards: 11. Responding to Literature (applies to ELA standards only)
    Respond to literature by employing knowledge of literary language, textual features, and forms to read and comprehend, reflect upon, and interpret literary texts from a variety of genres and a wide spectrum of American and world cultures.
    I wonder what the other 44 states have changed with their 15% of input?

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  • Tammy A.

    Funny that he mentions “Henry Huggins.”  I just finished reading it to my third grade class.  We stopped and discussed the choice Ribsy had to make and that there was no right or wrong answer, just like many times in life.  They broke into applause at the end and begged me to read the sequel.  Many of them are now checking out other Beverly Cleary books from the library to read on their own.  They not only learned about moral dilemnas, but it has helped inspire a love of reading. 

  • kanna

    I often felt that there was one good way to get a supplemental and nutritious source of the subjects given in school. It would be essential for teachers to enforce writing and literacy into all courses to help further understand concepts. At UW-Milwaukee, there is a system called Honors College in which writing for subjects such as calculus and science courses is required. It is typically helpful for setting aside humanities quickly but also helps connect literacy with a broad horizon of topics and knowledge.

    No, people even in college don’t care how you feel or what you are as well as in the real world unless you’re famous or noteworthy. The only way to become that successful comes with the ability to put your knowledge into the necessary discourse and writing.

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  • dmg

    This is scary and sad.  My son is only in K and he comes home asking me if certain books are fiction or non-fiction.  What happened to just playing in kindergarten

  • May11998877

    it doesnt mean they cannot be taught. just because you have standards does not mean you have to stop there. thats a bare minimum and the problem with our society.we will only do what is required. teach more please always learn and teach more, do more than what is expected, add arts and fiction because it is important

    • crazyoaks

      Believe me no teacher in the schools today want to teach less.  The problem with these standards is that they are developmentally inappropriate, requiring of  kindergarten children what should be in second grade or so limiting because they give specific texts that must be used to the exclusion of all others including those that teachers might want to use because they add arts or fiction.    Teaching these standards and the current testing curriculum leaves no time in the day for arts, physical education, and sometimes science or even history.  
      Respectfully, please look again at “what is required” and see that these are not “bare minimums”.  

  • Cadey

    Eli Broad made his fortune in California real estate-lots of bulldozers and steamrollers out there!  The danger in too much on line tech is that it removes us from being present where we are in the moment, it removes our empathies from the creatures sharing our space, it weakens our bonds with the natural world.  As Chief Seattle warned, “What happens to the beasts will happen to man.”  Clearcut & pave over forests & wetlands and not only get away with it, but make billions in the ruthless process…and nothing is impossible including sprawling out your cookie cutter McEd Deforms all over the intellectual landscape of the country, doing as much damage to the spirit as the BP Oil Spill or Fukushima did to the environment.

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