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.