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The Common Core and America's foundational documents
MONDAY, MARCH 30, 2015 11:22 AM

The Common Core State Standards have received some criticism because of a false perception that they require teachers to focus on specific instructional materials, rather than classic fictional literature. In reality, although the State Standards place an emphasis on instructional texts across all disciplines, English/language arts teachers can still focus on the literature that's been taught for decades, including such classics as "The Great Gatsby" and "1984." 

In fact, in the entirety of the Common Core State Standards only four specific texts are actually required, and that isn't until the last two years of high school. In 11th and 12th grade, students must study four foundational U.S. documents: the Declaration of Independence, the Preamble to the Constitution, the Bill of Rights and Lincoln's Second Inaugural Address.

Foundational U.S. documents
The Common Core's ELA Standards are meant to give states the opportunity to select or create their own aligned curricula surrounding the informational and literature texts that they believe to be most effective. However, in the final two years of high school, students are required to study the themes, purposes and rhetorical features of four specific foundational U.S. documents. So why the emphasis on these texts in particular? The Standards state that these documents have both a historical and literary significance that makes them valuable for all American students to learn. Not only do they provide a foundation for a genuine grasp of U.S. history, but they also use the English language in a complex and unique way that students will have to work to analyze.

Foundational documents and educated citizenship
Students are expected to comprehend and analyze these U.S. foundational documents, but they should also be able to apply them to a greater knowledge of the U.S. government as a whole. Another 11th and 12th grade ELA Standard states that students should "Delineate and evaluate the reasoning in seminal U.S. texts, including the application of constitutional principles and use of legal reasoning (e.g., in U.S. Supreme Court majority opinions and dissents)." 

In this way, the Standards aim not only for college or career readiness, but for helping every American student become an educated citizen of the country. Students' knowledge of the foundational documents and the purposes behind them will lead them to better analyze current sociopolitical issues and the surrounding discourse. They'll be able to view specific social, economic or other political issues in an educated light, and decide for themselves the ways in which each issue connects with American history, government and the current social climate of the country.