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.

Brown Bear is still known to more people from ages one to one hundred than David Coleman or Arne Duncan.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.

Standardisto David Coleman (above) doesn't give a shit about what children have long enjoyed about reading fiction and poetry, since he wants to make schools a Boot Camp for the global economy via the "Common Core Standards" he is helping the U.S. Department of Education push like crack cocaine across the USA. Ironically, schools like Sidwell Friends in Washington, D.C. (where the children of Barack Obama go to school) and the University of Chicago Lab School (where the children of former White House Chief of Staff and now Chicago's Mayor Rahm Emanuel go to school) reject straight jackets like the "Common Core" and promote the reading of children, young adult, and real literature.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.

Boo Radley and Scout from the movie version of the novel "To Kill a Mockingbird." Millions of readers — and viewers — have been brought to tears by the words "Hey, Boo..." which will soon be banned by Common Core. The power of the lines can only be understood in the context of the power of the novel, but Common Core's David Coleman wants to ban imaginative literature in favor of a Power Point version of reality promoted by the likes of Bill Gates and Arne Duncan — for other peoples' children, while theirs get everything.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.”

Michelle Obama reads "Brown Bear" to children. The Obama daughters attend Sidwell Friends, a private school in Washington D.C. that prides itself on a full curriculum, including children's literature, art and music. Common Core, promoted by Barack Obama's Education Department, would deprive most working class children in America's public schools of the same experience.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.

Bill Gates recently at Davos, where the one percent discuss how to rule the world.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.

Will it soon change from "...goodnight comb and goodnight brush, and a quiet old lady whispering 'Hush'..." to The Department of Education orders you "Hush..." [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


October 20, 2011 at 10:41 AM

By: Leonie Haimson

Coleman's speech

where does he say "[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.”

Can't find it in the transcript and can't bear to listen through whole video. thanks,

October 20, 2011 at 5:54 PM

By: Susan Ohanian

Answer to where to find Coleman remarks

At the url below you'll fine a transcript of the pertinent part of Colman's 2-hour speech on how New Criticism on steroids will work in everybody's classroom:

October 20, 2011 at 7:22 PM

By: Yvonne Siu-Runyan

Ohanian article is revealing...

WOW! This is revealing.

October 20, 2011 at 10:19 PM

By: Tracey Douglas

The Crocodile in the Common Core Standards

How about I don't give a sh!t about what Coleman thinks or feels?

October 21, 2011 at 1:48 PM

By: Stephanie Dingman

Ohanian is right on...

Once again, Susan Ohanian tells it like it REALLY is!!

October 22, 2011 at 8:03 PM

By: Beth Doolittle

Coelman's views

As a middle school librarian, all I can say is the last 6 years of my teaching career are going to feel longer than the preceding 31. We have always had students read historical fiction in ELA that is tied to the period being studied in Social Studies. And the last 2 years we have had a Holocaust survivor as a guest, to help students understand that period. But since no one cares about feelings, I guess SHE won't be invited back!

October 25, 2011 at 9:01 AM

By: Kevin Kellis

Common Core

Yes, it does scare me when few people are in control of what is taught in the classroom. Especially when those people have little experience in the classroom. However, these standards are what IS best for learning. I think that Susan Ohanian is over-reacting to the suggestion that there be a "balance" of fiction and informational texts. There should be a balance. Before we all knee-jerk react to another mandate forced onto our schools (and we have had many), let's take some time to really analyze the common core and realize what is embedded in its standards.

December 17, 2011 at 11:55 AM

By: Diane Kepus

Trash CCS and RTTT

This is nothing but a build up for the Gates and all other's like them to educate our children in preparing for the New World Order and at the same time blame teacher's for the failure of the Education System. I am not a teacher nor have I ever been one, but common sense and a whole heck of a lot of research will back up what I am saying.

My suggestion - is throw the CCS and RTTT in the trash and ask for and receive the CCS from Texas which has been rated the highest in the country (by a comparison report paid for by Gates)and it will be given to you freely. They had the initial English and Science done and now they have just completed the Math. It's free and written by educators for educator's and those they are teaching. No unions involved, no Bill Gate's funding - just educators!

December 29, 2011 at 1:03 PM

By: Dea Conrad-Curry

Don't throw the baby out with the bath water

I personally heard David Coleman deliver the now infamous line: "...people really don’t give a shit about what you feel...." Perhaps the room fell quite because he said what many people already know. On the whole, people don't give a shit how you feel about a text or piece of knowledge or a skill. However, teachers are smarter than David Coleman when it comes to doing the job they are trained and experienced at that Coleman has never held — teaching juveniles and adolescents. I agree with many that there are issues incumbent to the way the Common Core Standards were written, by whom they were written, and how that work was funded. However, what teachers need to do is deconstruct those standards to understand that even if David Coleman doesn't give a shit about what young people think or feel, embedded in his own writing of the standards are opportunities to inquire about personal reflection and experience. Standard 1 at grade 2 reads: "Ask and answer such questions as who, what, where, when, why, and how to demonstrate understanding of key details in a text." The same standard at grade 5 reads: "Quote accurately from a text when explaining what the text says explicitly and when drawing inferences from the text." The grade 2 standard allows for questions and reflections both about the reader's personal feeling: What emotion does the text evoke in a reader and how does the author evoke emotion in the reader? The grade 5 standard based in inference requires that the reader think on their own, make a connection, and provide an inference that comes from how the mind puts literally stated or implied ideas together. Inferences are not made by the text. I'm not defending David Coleman. He is a big boy who chooses his own words. Perhaps he should be more thoughtful and consider the implications of his words. However, what I am proposing...or more strongly, what I am pleading with educators to do is to read the standards and determine what they mean for their instruction, their content, their students, and their schools. Don't throw the baby out with the bathwater.

January 12, 2012 at 8:59 PM

By: Thomas Armstrong

Fascist Education Now Coming to a School Near You

My hat goes off to Susan Ohanian for this eye-opening piece. If we're going to be the good text-dependent readers that David Coleman wants, then we ought to begin by engaging in a close reading of his common core standards, and the articles and speeches he has made about it. We might begin by examining Coleman's use of the word "shit" in the text of his speech, for example, and engage in a hermeneutic exploration of the diverse range of conclusions and inferences that might be made from it. Charles Dickens is rolling over in his grave somewhere.

January 13, 2012 at 9:44 AM

By: M. G. Crawford

Did the author even READ the standards?

The author of this commentary illustrates a key point of the Common Core: Students have to be taught to cite evidence from the text to support their ideas, not just spout feelings. Had the author actually read the standards and the appendices, she would have seen that the Common Core is about balance. It isn't banning literature and reflective writing; it's attempting to give kids a fuller education by ensuring that they read and write well-crafted informational texts as well as the genres that are currently overemphasized. Most laughable is the notion that To Kill a Mockingbird would be banned: It, along with much other beloved fiction and poetry, appears on the text exemplar list. It's fine to voice legitimate objections to the Common Core, but this inflammatory piece isn't even factual.

March 1, 2012 at 3:23 PM

By: S. Badiner

Standards Read...

Yes, I do believe the author "Read" the standards... the point being made is that, when looking at the major focus of the CCS, there is an overwhelming emphasis on "informational text." Knowing that--at the secondary level--many students have between 12-18 weeks in a course, it is not possible to study a novel while still emphasizing all the informational texts and skills that go along with them.

March 2, 2012 at 7:52 AM

By: Chris Walker

Check your sources

Footnote 3 is an invalid citation. The "Allegory of the Cave" is not listed an an exemplar text in the document you cited, nor is the Ronald Reagan speech. You are totally misrepresenting these standards and taking most of what Mr. Coleman is saying completely out of context. This is an egregious and erroneous example of reporting.

March 2, 2012 at 11:02 AM

By: Bob Busch

The City

Happy Birthday Chicago 175 years old and still going.

March 2, 2012 at 11:47 AM

By: Susan Ohanian

Crocodile comment by Chris Walker

Although technically you are correct about the footnote, I think YOU are trying to mislead the readers by carefully stating that the items cited don't appear in the document cited. But they did--and do--exist as Common Core Exemplary Text. The draft document of Common Core included "Allegory of the Cave." I guess it got laughed out of the water and they removed it, as they removed Wordsworth's Preface to Ballads.

Appendix B Text Exemplars and

Sample Performance Tasks, p. 128 includes Exemplar Text Reagan's 1988 speech at Moscow State.

Somehow, I don't think a footnote error invalidates the points I make in the piece. I stand behind them--as a teacher and as a reporter.

March 7, 2012 at 5:00 PM

By: Tom Fiala

Looking beyond the Crocodile comment by Chris Walker

It would probaly behoove us to ignore the Chris comment. Let us all just look at what the current exemplars consist of. Ohanian is right on! It is also particularly laughable when we see youtubes of Coleman presenting what seem to be examples (see below) of how a person might go about teaching the exemplars. It would be wonderful to be able to teach in this way, and have the normal high school student sitting like Ann of Green Gables absorbing the wisdom of the teacher. Maybe he is just explaining what should happen in a classroom, but does not have the ability or "stones" to actually teach in a public school classroom. see:

If this link does not work - google Coleman, common core, martin luther king.



December 25, 2012 at 10:03 AM

By: Richard Kogen

David Coleman

Who can argue with high expectations? It is an effective platform because whatever is done in the name of higher outcomes has to be good right? I support this blog because it creates a space for people to question something that is being taken as the great solution to the "crisis" we always seem to be having in education.

March 7, 2013 at 5:53 PM

By: Chrstine Kepler

Wonderment and confusion and this article

I am the oldest child of twelve. Same mother, same father (!) Grew up poor, poor, poor! Mother HS education, father, eighth grade. I was lucky that Mom loved to read. We drew on the backs of grocery bags, knew fairy tales, and I received my first cookbook at age six. (It was a necessity!) No library in our little town, but I became a reader through the "free time" browsing in my elementary classrooms. My greatest joy was when the teacher told us we could read. I read secretly during class- basal on the desk-my book in my lap. Was it a manifesto? A politician's speech? No, it was Dr. Seuss, Christina Rossetti, Robert Louis Stevenson, Johanna Spyri, and later, Pearl S. Buck. Primary factors in this? Availability of books, a kindly first grade teacher who was also a librarian, and, get this! Literary imagination! I currently hold a permanent Ohio teaching certificate, a reading endorsement, a MAT degree, AND, at 58 years old, I am back in school pursuing a second Master's degree in reading curriculum and instruction. Do I read nonfiction? Of course! I read everything including toilet paper packages, nutritional guides on food packaging, cereal boxes, and articles like this one. I, following the advice of Lucy Calkins, choose to accept the CCSS as if they are gold. Yes, there are areas - like this article and the secrecy regarding the authors the and money behind the CCSS - that anger me. But, I think there needs to be increased rigor in how we educate our students. While Ohio is one of the states adopting the CCSS and I am thereby mandated to use them as the basis to measure growth of my students and use them as guidelines for what I teach, I don't think they are expecting much ore of me or my students than I already expect. Back to the point? I learned to love reading through good (and bad) literature. Not informational text.

March 29, 2013 at 2:24 AM

By: Lauri Jon Caravella

Common Core not for Obama's Daughters... but good for your kid...

I am suspicious of anything people in power say my child should have but don't sign their children up for. Why isn't Obama's daughter's private school instituting Common Core Standards if it's the Bees knees? When my daughter's public school said the whole state of California is going Common Core I didn't think twice... but now I'm discovering articles that are making me investigate just what is Common Core? Is it really the best education? And if the answer to that is yes, well, then, why wouldn't Obama take his daughters out of that expensive private school and put them in their local public school teaching Common Core Standards? And if you need help answering that question... well...

April 18, 2013 at 4:19 PM

By: Ron Nelson

Do you know Kelly Gallagher?

Perhaps you should. He gave a presentation regarding this very subject. The fact is Mr. Coleman is anti-narrative. According to the CCSS, the amount of narrative reading in language arts goes from 55% to about 30% from 3rd to 12th grade. This fact cannot be denied.

Limited exposure to literature will lead us to be the next great power lacking creativity and civility. Look up Kelly Gallagher. Listen to the man.

August 14, 2013 at 11:29 PM

By: Frederick Miller

What's best for our Students

I entered the world of Education at a much later age than many of my peers. An accountant through my 20s & 30s, I hit the point where I needed to do something that "meant something". I grew up with a love for history, more specifically for American history and this is where I gravitated towards as I entered into the world of being an educator.

I am now in my 2nd full year teaching US/AZ History, Government, Criminal Justice, and Sociology at a small charter school in Phoenix, AZ.

We hit the ground running with Common Core last year, not 100%, but about 50/50 as we got our feet wet making sure we knew what we were doing going forward.

Now, I'm not an English teacher, but I was taught to read by my father at the age of 3. I LOVE to read fiction. In high school, I read practically a novel per week. I attacked books and placed myself into them as the main character and lived a separate life in various cities, states, nations, worlds, and time frames. Reading is very important to me and I take my high school students to task when they tell me they don't like to read or have the time to read.

With that said, I have found that utilizing the Common Core standards and the Informational Texts in my History classroom, the students respond. Last year, as I said, we did not do 100% CC, but we did disect the Declaration of Independence, Washington's Farewell Address, Jackson's 1st Inaugural Speech, the Gettysburg Address, Wilson's 14 Points, Roosevelt's Day of Infamy speech, Kennedy's Inaugural Address, MLK's Letters from Birmingham and I have a Dream, and finally, Bush's Response to the Terrorist attacks of 9/11 & Obama's 1st Inaugural speech.

And what did my students get out of this? A higher vocabulary, an academic question & answer methodology, and something even more important ... 90% of my students have a low socio-economic lifestyle. But as they attacked these documents as I used to attack fiction, they found that they could DO what the Common Core is asking them to do. And they did it WELL. The look on their face when they not only answered a question most of my college colleagues could not answer, but then follow it with an academic question of their own was priceless. Their face said, "Did I just answer that question ... and did I just follow it up with a question that has words in it I had no clue existed three months ago?" And the answer to that was YES and they were praised and they achieved success.

Isn't that the basic core of being an Educator? Insuring our students a chance for Success? And whether it's the old State Standards or the New Common Core State Standards or going back to using the Bible to teach our kids to read as they did in classrooms in 17th & 18th century America ... the bottom line is this - we are Teachers. So we teach.

We do our best. We do it well. And we graduate those that will lead our great nation in the future ...

I will honestly say that I've not looked at the English side of the Common Core House to realize what texts it approves or not. But I do know from speaking to the English teachers here at my school, To Kill a Mockingbird was read last year and it will be read again this year, as well as informational texts and as well as other novels.

Give our kids a chance for success and they will take it. It's what we make of what we have ... or as Teddy Roosevelt once said, "Do what you can, where you are, with what you have." Who am I to argue with the man that delivered a speech even as he was shot?

We're Educators. Go Educate.

September 15, 2013 at 2:20 PM

By: Karen Bracken

The Angry Men of America

It is very apparent that like our President, David Coleman is a miserably unhappy angry man. It sounds to me like he had a miserable childhood (what I read about his mother it is understandable) and now wants to make childhood miserable for every child in the world. People like Coleman should be placed in institutions where they can live out their fantasies and hurt no one but themselves.

May 13, 2015 at 3:25 PM

By: Kathy Jacobs

Common Core

George, you should reprint this article by Susan Ohanian (or ask her if she wants to do an update). Too many commentators think Common Core is such a good thing because "it's just a group of standards for the whole country." And who could object to that? The Crocodile in the Common Core Standards Susan Ohanian - October 19, 2011

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