When I was in middle school (roughly ages 10–13 years old) in the US in the early 1970s, they combined English—or what might now be called language arts—with social studies into a single class that was called Core. Even (or particularly?) as adolescents we found the name curious. Nor could we have formulated a decent guess as to why one might have collected what seemed such heterogeneous subject matter into a single class. As far as I have been able to gather, this was a fairly idiosyncratic quirk localized to our county in Maryland, or even just to our school.

Although I would love to know the pedagogical motivation for this practice, that question would be off topic here. So I limit myself to the terminological facets. How widespread (synchronically or diachronically) is/was the label Core for such an amalgam of topics and what is/was the thinking behind the choice of label? By the time our kids hit that same middle school (two and a half decades later) it seemed the authorities had come to their senses because that material had been split back apart into two classes with discipline-specific names.

I presume that the name Core has to do with someone’s conception of what constitutes the core of the curriculum critical to the formation of young minds, so—roughly speaking—an education school’s dead-earnest analog of The Three R’s. But that would reflect a greatly impoverished notion of What Kids Today Need To Master compared to, say, the later-arising Common Core.

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    "Core", in this sense, was a common term when I was in school (in the Louisville Ky area), back in the 60s. There was another term, but I'm not recalling it.
    – Hot Licks
    Commented Nov 6, 2023 at 14:05
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    I'm afraid the thinking behind the choice of label is awfully similar to the pedagogical motivation for this practice. Basically, it is the beloved euphemism of bureaucracy. Commented Nov 6, 2023 at 14:10
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    It's short for core knowledge. What we used to call the basics.
    – Lambie
    Commented Nov 6, 2023 at 14:16
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    No, but it's everywhere. core knowledge and core curriculum.
    – Lambie
    Commented Nov 6, 2023 at 15:25
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    This use of the term belongs to the jargon of some educational bureaucracies; I doubt that anybody uses the term this way in ordinary conversations. The answer to the question will thus, as Mr. Baskin has pointed out, be more a matter of reconstructing the operation of these bureaucracies that led them to create the term, than a matter of analysing some spontaneous developments of the language. People at large are, however, often exposed to the term and influenced by it, even if they don't use it much themselves, so the question is still within the scope of this site.
    – jsw29
    Commented Nov 6, 2023 at 15:34

3 Answers 3


"Core" in an educational context, is a reference to a "Core Curriculum", the fundamental concepts that provide the foundations of all subjects to be taught and which often includes civil responsibility.

The earliest reference I can find is "[Curriculum Practices in the Junior High School and Grades 5 and 6"1 by James Madison Glass (pub University of Chicago, 1924) that mentions the concept of a "Core Curriculum"


When it comes to schooling, "core" usually means the main, basic subjects all children must learn, the main two core subjects are English\language arts and math, but sometimes science and social studies are considered core subjects as well.

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  • You don't seem to be engaging with the question, which discusses a core comprising English and social studies.
    – Stuart F
    Commented Mar 7 at 14:22

In my school district (Midwest USA) a "core class" is used as an (unofficial) term to mean the main four courses, namely Language Arts/English, Math, Science, and Social Studies. The opposite were known as 'specials', 'exploratories', or 'electives'. Possibly this was a word being used in similar contexts or already associated with education at the time, and whoever was in charge of classes at your school thought English and Social Studies were similar and combined would be an essential base of learning.

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