Open Letters from KISS Grammar
The Fallacious Common Core

—Dr. Ed Vavra

     A fallacy is a gap between what we are asked to believe and the evidence that we are given to support that belief. In essence, the study of fallacies provides one with time-tested questions to ask before we believe. A search for fallacies (“fallac”) in the Common Core results in four hits. Two of them state: “identify false statements and fallacious reasoning.” The third is “Evaluate a speaker’s point of view, reasoning, and use of evidence and rhetoric, identifying any fallacious reasoning or exaggerated or distorted evidence.” The fourth is an item on a reading list: “The Fallacy of Success” by G. K. Chesterton. Unfortunately, the Common Core is a fallacious failure. 

     There are dozens, if not hundreds, of fallacies, but the Core does not name even one specific one. For example, a Hasty Generalization is a conclusion that is based on insufficient data (examples). The Core wants us to believe that we (they?) can test students’ ability to identify “fallacious reasoning.” How is a national test going to be able to do that if teachers do not know which fallacies? A testable standard, for example, would be “Seventh grade students will be able to identify Attacking the Person, Prejudicial Language, and Hasty Generalizations.” Test questions could simply give students a sentence that contains one of these three, and students would fill in the bubble for the correct choice. Because the Core does not include any specifics, we can conclude that the Core itself is fallacious because it consists largely of untestable hasty generalizations.

     The Core can also be charged with the Style over Substance fallacy. In this fallacy, we are asked to accept something because of how it looks, not on its substance. In several letters in this sequence I have noted the repetition, and the senselessness of many of the individual “standards.” They make the Core look impressive, but when we look at many of the specifics, they lack substance. I suggested above a possible standard of three specific fallacies for seventh graders. A substantial set of standards could include two or three specific fallacies that students would be responsible for each year, starting in seventh grade. 

     Including specific fallacies in the Core would greatly improve the health of our country. Read the letters to the editor in any local newspaper (and in many major ones), and you will find examples of Attacking the Person, Prejudicial Language, Appeals to Popularity, Appeals to Pity, and a variety of causal fallacies. Although some fallacies are very difficult to understand, many of them are not. But many of my college students tell me that they never even thought of questioning what they read, and they thanked me for giving them some tools with which they can do so.

     In The Outline of History, H. G. Wells notes that the Roman Empire started to decline after its first two hundred years because its leadership failed to educate the general population on issues of citizenship and political policy. As a result, the citizens became disassociated with what we would call “national questions.” Wells makes a similar statement of several other civilizations that he discusses. The U. S. is between its 200th and 300th year—and many people (liberal and conservative) feel that our country is in decline. 

     Unlike Rome, our civilization is truly global. Within minutes we receive news of events happening anywhere in the world. Our problem is not the receiving of information (as it was in Rome). Our problem is what to believe and what not to. The very purpose of studying fallacies is to gain tools for making those decisions. The fallacies themselves are neither Liberal nor Conservative. There is no good reason for not including a more specific set of fallacies in the Core.

Dr. Vavra has been teaching writing at the college level for almost forty years. He is also the developer of the free KISS Grammar site, a curriculum design and instructional materials that present clear objectives and standards. Additional open letters on the Core are available at You may publish or share them in any way you like.