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Common Core: It Will Take A Village to Fight Their Village

Recently, anti-Common Core activists in Florida and Georgia (and other states) were treated to the nugatory charms of the “listening tour.”  State education officials carefully concealed the piles of crumpled twenties that Bill Gates shoved in their knickers and turned out to quote listen to the public unquote.

 

In other words, they pretended to give opponents of Common Core little snippets of time to speak on a vast, all-encompassing education reform that they, the elected officials in charge of education policy, have been laundering like illicit meth profits behind closed doors for years.  And so of course the activists sounded outraged and often emotional: how on earth do you address a sweeping, transformative, mostly-concealed program that touches every aspect of the education system and have been foisted on the public through backdoor methods we still only barely understand — all in three minutes or less?

The real objective of the listening tour, of course, was to shut up opposition to Common Core by claiming they have listened to us and heard what we had to say so they can get back to doing politics without any more interference from the little people.  I’m not saying that all the officials sitting on the dais acted that way.  If you know your elected official, then you can gauge the spirit in which he or she participated.  And frankly, the only way to even register our opposition to Common Core is to turn out for such events.

That’s why it is so important to get to know your elected official and give them a chance to prove themselves to you.

Bad politics exist everywhere, but good politics are usually local politics.

The lesson of the listening tour is that we will need to work together better in the future if we are going to be effective against a highly-coordinated coalition made up of wealthy foundations, professional poverty activists, elected officials, education bureaucrats, ed school professors, PBS, Chamber of Commerce boosters, and teacher’s unions.

We have taken on a very large task: we are demonstrating the audacity of asking an entire bureaucracy to behave as if it actually works for the people.  So as they’re wiping the tears of mirth from their eyes, we need to be ready with a well-coordinated offense.  For this fight, we need parents, taxpayers, our own education professors, home-schoolers, retired teachers, researchers, lobbyists, organizers, and, most importantly, effective foot soldiers in every corner of every state.

It will take a village to take our villages back.  For some reason this makes me think of the fight scene in Anchorman (the first one, not the highly disappointing sequel).  Remember, PBS were the bad guys in that, too.

Listening tours are dog-and-pony shows that always entail a certain measure of showmanship and deception.  How could we have done better, with just three minutes each to speak?  If we had coalitions in place, it would have been easier to meet beforehand to coordinate a series of responses — small pieces adding up to a larger response.  A coalition also commands more media attention, and with that we could issue press releases in response to the listening tour format itself.  The education bureaucracy does not want to be put in the position of having to fight on an even playing field — this is why they have been resistant to agreeing to public debates while presenting the “listening tour” they control as their solution for public input.

Like the fight scene in Anchorman, the Common Core fight is a fight among interested parties — the public is largely sitting this one out.  Maybe they’re traumatized by childhood memories of WholeLanguage learning or just too busy working that second job to pay for somebody else’s healthcare — I don’t know.  But the Common Core advocates have made this a difficult fight by making the Common Core materials themselves difficult, if not impossible to access, and there are only so many hours in the day.  That’s another reason to put some energy into working together more efficiently.

Despite being a veteran of many public hearings, I came away from the Common Core listening tour surprised by the degree of contempt some (not all) elected officials involved felt comfortable heaping on their audiences . . . also known as their constituents . . . also known as their employers.  We are facing a situation the ancient Greeks referred to as catching your elected official with his hand stuck in the cookie jar, so feelings are understandably running high.  But that is no excuse for some of the behavior I witnessed.

In Dawsonville, Georgia, State Representative Brooks Coleman (R – 97), Chairman of the House Education Committee, set a particularly dismissive, hectoring tone.

And that was before he began grabbing people by the arms and berating them.

At a meeting that started in the evening after most attendees had clocked a day of work, Coleman played every time-wasting, status-asserting game in the book.  He delayed the meeting to indulge in obsequious, long-winded praise for the public college officials who gave him use of a school auditorium (in other words, state employees who work for us opened up a room that belongs to us, for our use).  To their credit, the officials looked embarrassed at Coleman’s faux fervent gratitude.  Then, he could barely contain his ire throughout the event.  Afterwards, as he worked the crowd, he actually grabbed my arm and shook it while hissing that I was wrong about Georgia accepting Gates funding to implement Common Core.

Of course, I was right and he was wrong.  What’s more interesting is that we both knew it, yet he hung onto my arm and stuck with the lie, too.

Prove it, he said.

I just did.  Again.

Moments like these can tell you everything you need to know about a political fight.  Here are some of the things I observed:

  • They know the gig is up, and sunlight is pouring in.  Both Brooks Coleman and I knew that we were standing in an auditorium built with my tax dollars, at an event subsidized by my tax dollars, and that he, an elected official paid with my tax dollars, was lying to me about money the state Department of Education had received from an unelected, unaccountable third party: Bill Gates.
  •  At that moment, Coleman felt indebted to Bill Gates in ways that he does not feel indebted to the actual citizens and taxpayers of Georgia — the people he is legally sworn to represent and is being paid to represent.  Coleman felt indebted enough to Gates to lie to hide the fact that Gates and his cohort are calling the shots within our education system.
  • Coleman keeps saying — and his counterparts in Florida say the same — that opponents of Common Core don’t know what the real curriculum looks like.  This is true — because they are doing everything in their power to keep the public from perusing it.  So we should follow his lead: the first thing we should do is demand access to all curricular materials.  Then we can have the debate about what is being taught in the schools that should have preceded the adoption of Common Core in the first place.  Thanks, Brooks.  Great idea.
  • Elsewhere, Coleman fibbed to the incurious mouthpieces who pretend to be political reporters at the Atlanta Journal Constitution.  To the mouthpieces, he said that the public at the speaking tours had delivered the following message to him: “Stick with the national set of academic standards called Common Core, superintendents, teachers and parents have told them.”  Of course this is not true.  The superintendents and teachers  may have said so, but during them time set aside for the public to comment, the attendees were overwhelmingly anti-Common Core.

    Coleman also told the story that Common Core was actually the invention of southern governors — and he was in on it — and so, he scolded, we don’t know what we’re talking about when we oppose it and talk about involvement by the federal government.  “Bet’cha didn’t know that” he challenged.  Since Mr. Coleman did not listen to my response that night, let me offer it again here:  Yes, I do know about the educational standards envisioned by the southern governors.  I also know about E.D. Hirsh’s admirable efforts to introduce dense, traditional content in K – 12 classrooms in New York City, efforts which are similarly cited as inspiring Common Core.

    But there’s a catch.  Neither the southern governors’ nor E.D. Hirsch’s vision are much in evidence in Common Core today.  They may have had a good idea at one time, but that good idea is not the thing that plops into your child’s hands from the pricey, jargon-laden textbook program firing up on Bill Gates’ donated tablets.

    The southern governors invented the idea that became Common Core.  That doesn’t make the current boondoggle more palatable: it just makes them more culpable for it.  Culpable for the Boondoggle is my idea for a slogan for this movement, by the way, but I’m flexible about that.

    So the listening tours were a colossal waste of time.  That was a feature, not a bug: they wasted your time and put you down and wore you out, and when you didn’t fall in line anyway, they simply lied to the media about what you said, and the media broadcast their lies for them.  Oh, and they made certain everyone saw the armed security guards at the entrances so they could make it seem as if we were a dangerous bunch.  That’s a strategy too.

    You still have to go back if there is another listening tour.  Just know what they’re going to pull this time, and be ready.

    The really exciting thing about the Common Core listening tours was that people showed up who don’t even participate in the anti-Common Core movement, and they had interesting arguments against Common Core.  There were professors of education and parents and retired teachers and principals.  No matter how hard the media works to make the movement seem like a fringe group, they are failing because that is a lie, too.  They will keep trying, and they will keep failing.

    Now is the time for us to assess who is with us and what we have to offer to each other.  In Florida, the Florida Stop Common Core Coalition is holding a coalition-building meeting on January 11.  If a representative from your group wants to attend — FSCCC is a coalition of groups, not individuals — contact Chrissy Blevio at their website, or contact this blog, tinatrent2@yahoo.com.  I will be running the training.

    Even if you aren’t in Florida, read Dr. Karen Effram’s essential analyses of Common Core legislation.  If you are in Georgia, the good ladies at the Educational Freedom Coalition are doing amazing work (order their bookmarks), as is Jane Robbins from the American Principles Project; Mary Grabar at Dissident Prof, and researcher extraordinaire Robin Eubanks at Invisible Serfs Collar — buy her book, Credentialed to Destroy:

    The Story Killers out in the Selous Foundation magazine.  She writes:

    Every concerned parent, grandparent, and citizen should read this, for Moore cuts through the obfuscation to reveal Common Core as “a complete consolidation and nationalization of a public education in America.” It’s the final step in a 50-year process of the progressive takeover of education.

    I concur: it’s an amazing book.  Read Mary’s review, and check out the Selous Foundation’s other education reports.

    They’ve had fifty years to break education: we’ve had just a few months to begin to figure this thing out.  We’re at the beginning of a long fight to bring back proven, traditional education.  They’re at the end of the time during which they thought they could get away with anything quietly.  The first public confrontation — the “listening” tours — gave us a lot of ammunition.  We know their excuses and we know what they think of us . . . and of themselves.  Read The Story Killers, get with a group, and get ready for the session.  This fight has just begun.

     

Why Build Permanent Coalitions to Fight the Common Core? Because This Fight is Going to be a Long One.

The fight against Common Core is not going to end with the defeat of Common Core.

Too much damage has been done to education.  The damage emanates from the education schools, which were taken over by radicals back in the 1960’s and then became the stomping grounds for the most intellectually dim and narcissistic domestic terrorists of that era — people like Bill Ayers.    It was clever of the bomb-throwers to pack up their dynamite and turn to their daddies’ rolodexes to score jobs training future teachers, but they alone did not radicalize teacher education, of course.  It was the work of many hands.

I was at a Tea Party meeting in Manatee County and a retired teacher (you meet many retired teachers in the Tea Party) told me an interesting story: when she started in education, the college students who were training to become teachers were among the most conservative students on campuses. A few years later, they had become the most radical.  What happened?   For one thing, the end of the war in Vietnam coincided with the demise of the two-parent household among the poor — so, as activists flocked to education schools looking for new causes, K – 12 classrooms were becoming more chaotic and unstable because of broken homes.  It was a perfect storm.

That was more than forty years ago.

It is hard to quantify the harm that has been done to the discipline of teaching teachers in just a few generations.  Like everything else in higher education, radicalism protected by tenure grows exponentially, blotting out other possibilities for students and teachers, and many teaching schools are now largely irredeemable.  Today, a professor of education who so much as deigns to correct the grammar of his graduate students can face violent shaming and forced re-education at their hands, with full cooperation by the administration.  Few education professors remain who disapprove of such behavior, and fewer still are courageous enough to oppose it out loud.

Radicalism has been rendered so normative in higher education that the Maoist theories of Paulo Friere rank among the most-assigned readings for aspiring teachers throughout the United States.  To get a sense of the crisis in teaching teachers, read this 2009 essay about Paolo Friere and teacher’s colleges, by Sol Stern:

Since the publication of the English edition in 1970, Pedagogy of the Oppressed has achieved near-iconic status in America’s teacher-training programs. In 2003, David Steiner and Susan Rozen published a study examining the curricula of 16 schools of education—14 of them among the top-ranked institutions in the country, according to U.S. News and World Report—and found that Pedagogy of the Oppressed was one of the most frequently assigned texts in their philosophy of education courses. These course assignments are undoubtedly part of the reason that, according to the publisher, almost 1 million copies have sold, a remarkable number for a book in the education field.

The odd thing is that Freire’s magnum opus isn’t, in the end, abouteducation—certainly not the education of children. Pedagogy of the Oppressed mentions none of the issues that troubled education reformers throughout the twentieth century: testing, standards, curriculum, the role of parents, how to organize schools, what subjects should be taught in various grades, how best to train teachers, the most effective way of teaching disadvantaged students. This ed-school bestseller is, instead, a utopian political tract calling for the overthrow of capitalist hegemony and the creation of classless societies. Teachers who adopt its pernicious ideas risk harming their students—and ironically, their most disadvantaged students will suffer the most.

Also ironic?  Sol Stern himself, who with E.D. Hirsh was a strong advocate for returning to the teaching of traditional texts in classrooms, has come out as a staunch defender of Common Core, which he claims will achieve that goal.  Stern is technically right that Common Core standards were first conceived as a way to introduce more traditional content in classrooms that had long ago ceased to teach anything resembling traditional content.  But it is a measure of the damage that has been done to schools of education that Stern’s good intentions gave rise to the Common Core boondoggle we’re dealing with today.  It is also a shame that Stern himself is not able to see this — likely because he was given some latitude under Bloomberg to shape the development of Common Core standards for New York City, so he could develop materials that remain somewhat true to his original vision.

In the rest of the nation, we are not so lucky.  The lesson for the rest of us is that any reform filtered through the highly radical waters of the teaching schools will emerge highly radicalized.  And any reform that concentrates power in the hands of the Department of Education and the teacher-training establishment will only amp up the influence of their Frierian-Marxist, anti-western claptrap.  Common Core is nothing new under the sun: it is merely a non-optional centralized delivery system for all the bad ideas that were planted before it.

The anti-Common Core activists are coming to this fight in the 11th hour.  There is a great deal we must learn about the depth of the crisis in education schools and the maze-like education bureaucracy.

The only solution to the crisis in teaching schools is to create alternative institutions.  Conservative colleges like Hillsdale and Patrick Henry need to start franchising schools of education.  The only solution for the crisis in K – 12 education is to fight against Common Core, defeat it, then keep fighting.  We need to create permanent partnerships to start taking back K – 12 education, piece by piece.  No matter what you think of Sol Stern’s current stance on the Common Core, read his article about Paolo Friere and the education establishment: these are the stakes of the long-term battle to come.

Common Core: The Bluest Eye Debate

I’m coming late to the discussion about the inclusion of Toni Morrison’s novella Bluest Eye on high school reading lists (it is a popular choice for high school and college English classes as well as women’s studies classes, and this popularity predates the relatively new Common Core standards debates).  Some activists who became aware of the Toni Morrison book through their opposition to Common Core are arguing that Bluest Eye endorses child molestation because the book contains a character who is a molester speaking in the first person, and Morrison herself has made comments to the effect that she is trying to get readers to see his point of view, comments that are being taken out of context and misconstrued.  Incidentally, the book is also extremely graphic, more graphic than many people who are weighing in to defend it seem to be aware of — I suspect many of them didn’t actually read the book.

I don’t think The Bluest Eye is in any way an endorsement of pedophilia.  But I also don’t think that it, and other “problem story” books like it, are appropriate for literature classes — nor that they are put on the curriculum for their qualities as literature in the first place.  We’ve turned English and literature classes (excuse me, language arts) into social problem encounter sessions — sessions that often devolve into narcissistic competitions between varying claims of victimization.

This isn’t a new development: when I attended high school in the early 1980’s, Ordinary People was the “problem story” we were spoon-fed.  I remember embarrassing classroom discussions where the teacher seemed to be screening us for The Warning Signs of Suicide Attempts By Nice Middle-Class Kids, and to this day I also remember the general horror when she tried to make us talk in class about references to masturbation in the story.  To make things worse, rather than just being about thinking about Elizabeth McGovern, who played the love interest in the film version, masturbation was presented therapeutically — as the solution to anxiety recommended to the main character by his earthy white-ethnic psychiatrist — so there were layers upon layers of creepy psychologizing and equally creepy racial stereotyping being imposed on us.

I remember thinking at the time that the moral lesson of Ordinary People was the opposite of the moral lesson of Johnny Tremain.  I also thought it might be a sneaky exercise in making us appreciate reading Shakespeare.  For that, at least, it was effective: I gladly embraced the rigors of Elizabethan verse after wallowing in the claustrophobic wimpiness and snide references to female WASP frigidity unleashed by Robert Redford in his unpleasant movie version of that unpleasant, practically anti-literary novel.

Poor Mary Tyler Moore, too.

The Bluest Eye isn’t appropriate for children.  Full stop.  And though it is generally recommended only for 11th and 12th graders, I don’t think it’s appropriate for them, either, because any protracted classroom discussion forces students to engage in a sort of competitive demonizing — whites and child molesters being the targets — while simultaneously forcing discussion of extremely graphic sexual assaults, which is not appropriate for any literature classroom — including college classrooms.

Yet, Bluest Eye doesn’t endorse pedophilia. It accurately depicts the ways pedophiles view their crimes — how they seek tacit approval from society while abusing and grooming their victims.  It’s a powerful book for that, though the ways I have seen it taught have much more to do with creating tension between students of different races based on the child character’s feelings about whiteness.  And the way Morrison conflates “whiteness” with child molestation from the victim’s perception is disturbing.

It might be a good book for a college or graduate-level psychology or criminology course if the purpose of the assignment was learning about the dynamics of sex offenses involving children.  It’s also beautifully written, though I think Morrison cribs an awful lot — pretty much everything stylistic — from Faulkner.

The justification given for such readings — the claims that “social problem” books should be taught to “sensitize” and give voice to victims and help them speak out — is largely just self-aggrandizement by educators.

The activists who became aware of The Bluest Eye through their scrutiny of Common Core materials are certainly on the right track.  Through fighting Common Core, they are gaining an ever-deepening understanding of what academia has become.  The movement is maturing impressively fast, and the deeper they dig, the more evidence they’re uncovering about the ways that Common Core is both a new threat to local control of education — and just the latest iteration of the political and emotional manipulation that took over K – 12 classrooms a long time ago.

But to say that The Bluest Eye is sympathetic to child molesters is not defensible.