A Common Core-aligned elementary school homework assignment in a Jefferson County, Colorado school district tells children that by 2512, Kansas will be an oceanfront state, that the “Smokey” Mountains [sic] will become the “Smokey” Islands [sic], and that a sharp decline in the human population will take place, all due to man-made global warming.
According to Complete Colorado, the assignment, labeled as “Common Core Comprehension Grade 5,” given at the Fremont Elementary School, is identified as a science fiction exercise in reading comprehension, but in “no part of the material, including a sheet of follow-up questions” is there “any critical thinking ‘pushback’ against the narrative provided in the exercise.”
The observation raises an irony, given that proponents of Common Core state that one of the main features of the new standards is that they encourage “critical thinking” over mere memorization of facts.
Priscilla Straughn, Executive Director of Educational Research and Design at Jefferson County Public Schools, told Complete Colorado, “We have district policy around controversial materials we expect all schools to follow.”
However, when asked whether global warming was a “controversial” topic, Straughn reportedly responded, “I think the topic of global warming would be considered controversial. That was not the intent of this assignment. This assignment was around comprehension, with the science fiction genre.”
According to the report, a school district official said that the workbook containing the assignment was purchased individually by the classroom teacher without the use of district funds.
The assignment, published by Newmark Learning in a Common Core-aligned reading comprehension workbook, has the premise that a student from the year 2512, “Gif,” must create a hologram image of a student from the 21st century. Upon his arrival, the hologram student is shocked to see an oceanfront Kansas, and the explanation given by “Gif,” the “real” student from the future, is:
Well, by the early 21st century, people knew that the massive use of fossil fuel was heating up the planet. But people didn’t stop their destructive lifestyles. They just kept using up Earth’s resources. The ice sheets melted, and Earth’s crust shifted. Volcanic pressure burst through in places that never had volcanoes.
“Gif” adds, “In 2130, the oceans began to rise over farmland and cities. In 300 years, most of the eastern United States was covered with water. All that remains are the Smokey [sic] Islands – formerly the Smokey [sic] Mountains.”
The reading comprehension questions following the story include:
- What caused all the problems on Earth?
- What were the Smokey [sic] Islands before?
- How could the problems have been avoided?
Complete Colorado states that it obtained the assignment after a listener to KOA’s The Mike Rosen Show submitted a copy from his child’s homework to the host. After it was read on the air, Complete Colorado requested a copy from the school district and an opportunity to review the entire workbook.
Psychologist Dr. Shawn Smith reviewed the assignment and told Complete Colorado:
Children who complete this assignment are not being asked to consider a viewpoint and make their own decisions, they are instead surreptitiously instructed to parrot that point of view. Regardless of the assignment’s intent, this is a potent form of indoctrination because humans have a well-documented drive to bring their beliefs in line with their actions.
When children, who are trusting and vulnerable, find themselves transcribing the political message at the core of these stories, they are likely to accept those ideas in order to establish consistency of behavior and belief. Add to that the fact that children routinely learn by way of fantasy, and these stories begin to look like an insidious form of coercion.