The question “Whose Core Knowledge?” was the chief question (or implicit accusation against Core Knowledge) that ran through the 1990s on up to the present.
But gradually the fundamental needs of good schooling have tempered those concerns. Both the current U.S. Secretary of Education and the current head of the American Federation of Teachers have called for “national standards,” recognizing the technical need for commonality if we are to educate everybody to a reasonably high standard.
The word “whose” in the “Whose Core Knowledge?” implies that the topics we teach belong to some sort of essential identity and ethnicity that defines a person and transcends what it is to be a functioning American.
But an alternative view is that the ability of all these multifarious ethnic identities in the USA to live in peace (a great legacy to the world) can do so only because we separate the public (American) from the private (ethnic) spheres. This was Jefferson’s thought, and that of other founders. In the private sphere everybody can be what he or she wishes; in the public sphere, everybody is an American. The best-known example of this is the “separation of church and state, where we may have our own religious identities, but temper it in public to enable everyone to get along. Another example is the separation of family ethnicity, which may be anything at all, as distinct from the publicly shared assumptions of the public sphere where we can interact and connect with each other.
Core Knowledge has taken the view that the schools need to promulgate this public culture (all public cultures are artificial inventions) in order to enable everyone to communicate and learn in the public sphere. The paradox of those who wish to save us all from the imperialism of some dominant school curriculum is that when the disadvantaged children they wish to protect are not able to learn and communicate in the public sphere–especially in the public language and its associated knowledge–they become the very students who are most harmed by our anti-cultural-imperialism.
Our position has been that we need to agree on some defined public sphere sustained by the schools, CK has always said it would be happy to go along with ANY widely agreed-on common core that enables students to understand and learn from newspapers, blogs, and the books in the library. Critics of CK have not yet come up with specific well-thought out alternatives, nor with any plausible argument against the need for a common core in the public sphere.
People would certainly not pay attention to such an alternative argument unless it were couched in the common language and its shared knowledge, both of which the schools have a duty to teach. This very thread is an example of public speech based on that shared knowledge and convention system. Alas, many disadvantaged students now being turned out by our schools and protected from coherent knowledge by the guardians of their identities cannot participate effectively in this thread, nor learn from it.