David Coleman’s Plan to Cultivate Madness In Our Schools

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A few months ago, I had the great pleasure of meeting  and speaking with Associate Professor Nicholas Tampio of Fordham University at a gathering of advocates in New Paltz.

Professor Tampio and I discussed our concerns about the trajectory of education in New York State with many esteemed advocates. At one point, I shared with him an essay I had found written by David Coleman, “Cultivating Wonder,” which sparked his interest.

Professor Tampio recently authored an excellent critique of  Coleman’s essay Cultivating Wonder that I would like to bring to your attention. Of Coleman’s vision,  Prof. Tampio writes:

In the summer of 2008, David Coleman changed the course of American education. For decades, reformers had argued that the country needed a national standards-based model of education to ensure economic prosperity. He helped make that a reality by convincing Bill Gates to support the Common Core State Standards initiative, to the tune of over $200 million.

In part because of his experience supervising the writing of the standards, Coleman became the head of the College Board, where his philosophy of education will further shape how U.S. high schools prepare students for college.

He has expressed this vision in an essay published by the College Board, “Cultivating Wonder.” With this document and the early results of the Common Core, it’s easy to see where his grand plans fall short.

Cultivating wonder

In “Cultivating Wonder,” Coleman unpacks several Common Core standards, shows how students may decipher classic works of literature and reflects on appropriate questions to ask students, revealing the philosophy of the Common Core and the College Board.

As a professor of political philosophy, I agree that education ought to cultivate wonder. The first book of political philosophy, Plato’s “Republic,” begins with Socrates experiencing wonder at a remark made by one of his interlocutors. Wonder is what compels us to keep investigating a question using every resource at our disposal.

Yet Coleman’s pedagogical vision stifles this kind of wonder by imposing tight restrictions on what may be thought — or at least what may be expressed to earn teacher approval, high grades and good test scores. He expects students to answer questions by merely stringing together key words in the text before them. This does not teach philosophy or thinking; it teaches the practice of rote procedures, conformity and obedience.

The first standard is the foundation of his vision. “Read closely to determine what the text says explicitly and to make logical inferences from it,” it reads, and “cite specific textual evidence when writing or speaking to support conclusions drawn from the text.” According to Coleman, the first standard teaches a rigorous, deductive approach to reading that compels students to extract as much information from the text as possible.

Throughout the document, he reiterates that students need to identify key words in a text. He analyzes passages from “Hamlet,” “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn,” the Gettysburg Address and an essay by Martha Graham. There is minimal discussion of historical context or outside sources that may make the material come alive. For instance, he suggests that teachers ask students, “What word does Lincoln use most often in the address?” rather than, say, discuss the Civil War. In fact, he disparages this approach. “Great questions make the text the star of the classroom; the most powerful evidence and insight for answering lies within the text or texts being read. Most good questions are text dependent and text specific.”

You can read Professor Tampio’s piece here.

There has been alot of interest in Cultivating Wonder since Coleman’s essay was brought to the public’s attention by Prof. Tampio and rightly so. Many people find Coleman’s vision and common core flawed and disturbing. Professor Tampio brought these concerns to light.

But, apparently, Coleman’s vision and hyperbole on the  Common Core ELA standards does not stop at this one essay. His plans go beyond standards, curriculum and SATs in fact that man seems to want to  expand this so called vision to rule the world.

In fact, Coleman has hatched a plot dedicated to advancing the madness he refers to as  “Cultivating Wonder” into public schools and communities all across the nation.

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Registered under the College Board’s name just recently, is Coleman’s website dedicated to advancing the flawed ideology he preaches about in Cultivating Wonder: You can visit David Coleman’s Cultivating Wonder website here. 

Imagine the fear and disgust I felt when I went online to re-read Coleman’s Cultivating Wonder  essay only to find that there is now a website and plan of action attached to Coleman’s original essay.

Looks like this website is relatively new, I tried to register to access the balance of the site but am unable to open the contents. Apparently, Coleman intends to launch the site, along with more of his madness, very soon.

Meanwhile, what Coleman has to say in the  Cultivating Wonder video and the manner in which he speaks follows the tone of his essay and raises eyebrows:

“The purpose of this site is to develop a community of educators that turns to texts they love to read because nothing matters more than asking questions worth answering. It’s the only chance we have got to allow students access not just to the great teachers that are in front of them but the other great teachers, those who live in the text that they are reading. Only by paying attention line by line to what Martin Luther King writes that we begin to take a leap and inhabit his mind to begin to see the choices he makes of one word over another. we begin to see not only his ideas but how his thoughts develop and that’s the closest thing we have to having a conversation with Dr. King himself. .

In “David Coleman’s Plan to Ruin Rducation”, Professor Tampio offered insight into Coleman’s ideas and some sage advice. He said::

Coleman’s vision will end up harming the U.S. economy and our democratic culture.

Democracy depends on citizens’ treating one another with respect. In perhaps his most famous public statement, Coleman told a room of educators not to teach students to write personal narratives, because “as you grow up in this world, you realize that people really don’t give a shit about what you feel or what you think.” This statement expresses, albeit more crassly, the same sentiment as his essay on cultivating wonder. He demands that students do what they are told and not offer their own perspectives on things. Ideally in a democracy, by contrast, citizens have a sincere interest in what other citizens have to say. As John Dewey argued in “Democracy and Education,” the purpose of the schools is to create a democratic culture, not one that replicates the worst features of the market economy.

A recurrent defense of the Common Core is that the standards are good but the implementation has been bad. Even if Coleman’s educational vision is perfectly actualized, it is still profoundly flawed. Under Common Core, from the time they enter kindergarten to the time they graduate from high school, students will have few opportunities to ask their own questions or come up with their own ideas. It’s time for Americans to find alternatives to Coleman’s educational vision.

I breathe  a sigh of relief to know that there are parents and educators who see right  through Coleman’s distemper of intellect.

Thank you for speaking the truth, Professor Tampio.

Parents and educators, please take heed and listen: David Coleman’s  plan to “cultivate wonder” falls short. David Coleman plans to cultivate madness in our schools. He must be stopped.

You can listen to the whole video on Coleman’s website Cultivating Wonder here: https://cultivatingwonder.org/


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