Nobel Prize Economist Refutes David Coleman’s Crackpot Literacy Theory

Common Core Curriculum Standards entrepreneur David Coleman is barnstorming the country claiming that schools need to de-emphasize fiction and obliterate any semblance of reader response. No feelings, no imaginations, no speculations: Just the facts, kid.

What children need, asserts Coleman, whose connection with what US public schoolchildren need is a masters degree from Oxford, is a close reading of “informational text.” That’s what he calls non-fiction. No opinion, no flights of fancy. No creation of new worlds. The teacher’s job is to make sure kids stick just to the text. Informational text, pronounces Coleman, is what will give students the world knowledge necessary to compete as workers in the Global Economy.

When there’s no evidence on your side, just talk about the needs of workers in the Global Economy.

Coleman insists that informational text is what gives readers “world knowledge.” As though Ramona the Brave and Diary of a Wimpy Kid don’t deliver world knowledge. In an interview in The Browser: Writing Worth Reading, Nobel economist Paul Krugman handily pulverizes Coleman’s nonsense by talking about the text that gave him world knowledge as a 16-year-old. And he’s NOT talking about reading material from the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco’s Web site, listed as an exemplary text for 16-year-olds in the Common Core Curriculum standards for literacy. Brought to you by the Council of Chief School Officers and the National Governors Association with the help of buckets of money from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

Paul Krugman on Inspiration for a Liberal Economist

The Browser:  The first book you’ve chosen isn’t about economics at all; it’s a work of science-fiction, Isaac Asimov’s Foundation trilogy. But was it part of what inspired you to become an economist?

Paul Krugman: Yes. This is a very unusual set of novels from Isaac Asimov, but a classic. It’s not about gadgets. Although it’s supposed to be about a galactic civilisation, the technology is virtually invisible and it’s not about space battles or anything like that. The story is about these people, psychohistorians, who are mathematical social scientists and have a theory about how society works. The theory tells them that the galactic empire is failing, and they then use that knowledge to save civilisation. It’s a great image. I was probably 16 when I read it and I thought, “I want to be one of those guys!” Unfortunately we don’t have anything like that and economics is the closest I could get.

Indeed: This is the world knowledge the right book at the right time can deliver: “I want to be one of those guys!” Teachers know this. That’s why they encourage readers to take in more than the facts, why they encourage young readers to pour themselves into the books they read. That’s why we must fight the Common Core Curriculum Standards. These standards travel with a very high price tag, and public school students will be the ones paying the price.  Opinion and speculation and dreaming will be for private school students. For public schoolers, starting in kindergarten, it’s “Just the facts.”

These school are our schools.  From California, to the New York Island. From the redwood forest, to the gulf stream waters, these schools were made for you and me. Let’s take them back!  For starters, you can write the folks who, with those buckets of money from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, are pushing these rigid and restrictive standards into  public school classrooms across the country: The Council of Chief State School Officers and the National Governors Association.

Council of Chief State School Officers
Margaret Reed Millar
Senior Program Associate
Standards, Assessment, and Accountability

Carrie Heath Phillips
Program Director
Common Core State Standards

National Governors Association

Write YOUR governor.

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  • Urbanlad

    So wiping out any freedom of thought or creativity is next up on the agenda. Wow this is starting to look and feel like a sci-fi novel.

  • Susano

    It is happening faster than I can keep up with it. And I spend a lot of time “keeping up.”

  • Robert Brady

    If Common Core Curriculum Standards is the direction we are headed, then Marion Brady/Howard Brady’s curriculum is desperately needed to help sort and organize “the facts”. With such an overwhelming idea of “just facts” then they will need to be mentally stored in a way that makes sense. Ooops, that won’t work because that would take imagination, creative intuitive thought. Well, that settles it-Common Core Curriculum Standards will not sustain scalable knowledge.

  • Susano

    I have great admiration for Marion Brady’s work. He is on target, no question about it.

  • Teach22112

    Technical writing will make good workers.It will teach them to follow.

  • Ian Carmichael

    1984? But, we won’t be reading that stuff any more, so well all be safe from critique - which is often fashioned in fiction. 

  • Marianne

    I read the The Browser interview. Krugman says nothing about the Common Core standards. He says he was inspired by Asimov’s Foundation trilogy. It is not a rational conclusion to say that since Krugman was inspired by those books, he “refutes” the Common Core standards.

    Have any of you people even looked a the Common Core standards? I teach in California, and these standards are such an amazing improvement over our current standards. The algebra standards we have now are basically a list of which algorithms a student should memorize. the first math practice standard in Common Core is “Make sense of problems and persevere in solving them”  I was on the subway  when I first read that and I started crying from joy. 

    Please, someone, explain to me what you see as the problem with these standards. be specific. And PLEASE do not claims such as “Paul Krugman opposes common core.” unless you have some actual evidence to support that claim. 

  • Datobra

    Yes, “workers for the Global Economy”! They shouldn’t think, just go along like robots and do what they’re told. I say ENOUGH already.

  • Mark

    There’s some major problems with this “critique” of David Coleman’s “crackpot” theories. First of all, Krugman may have been inspired by a science fiction book, but he most certainly did not gain the background knowledge that enabled him to become academically successful from simply reading fiction books. He was fortunate enough to be raised in a household where he had access to books, was spoken to with words that raised his vocabulary, and gained the background knowledge that has been proven by research to be essential to any type of reading and academic fluency.

    Second of all, “informational text” is how we transfer content knowledge, such as science and social studies. Coleman is acknowledging this critical need for content knowledge in order for students to have the requisite background knowledge to understand academic concepts. This isn’t just something he’s pulling out of thin air, Susano. E.D. Hirsch, Jr., has been arguing for decades about this very concept. Students need systematic build up of domain specific knowledge in order to gain academic fluency. It doesn’t just happen magically from reading fiction books.

    This dichotomy between fiction and informational texts that you have prescribed to Coleman is also a false one. He is simply making the case for a 50-50 split in the type of texts students are reading. Makes sense when you consider that around half (or more) of a student’s time is spent in the content areas of social studies, science, and math, doesn’t it?

  • Phillip A. Rudolph

    Crap! it’s just crappity crap crap crap! No imagination? no fiction? no flights of fancy?
    What in the name of all the writers in the history of the world does this loon think gets kids to read????
    It sure as hell isn’t D A T A
    As a well rounded person I read everything I can get my eyes on, not just facts, but fiction, news papers(well, same thing in many cases),
    What we need more than anything is creative thinkers!
    you don’t get them from Dickension rote teaching!

  • Mark

    Have you read the standards?


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