The “Nothing in Common” Anti-Common Core Struggle

the state bred/corporate fed beast

(the State-bred/corporate-fed monster)

In recent months debate, opposition, and divisiveness have been ramping up over education reform policies, and more specifically the Common Core state standards (CCSS). For me, the confusion began over a year ago when after having spent diligent hours identifying the myriad of ways that I believed that ALEC had its hand in promoting the common core I was informed by a friend whose opinions I trust implicitly that ALEC was opposing Common Core. How could that be?  I saw their finger prints all over it! It seemed as if they had simply erased their prints from the scene of the crime and were now framing people, or groups who are ideologically “left,” for the Common Core fiasco.

Not being a member of ALEC I cannot speak to their strange Janus-faced double speak on this matter. But facts are facts. And I still see their finger prints whether “the lady doth protest too much” or not. However, since that time a year ago it seems that more and more individuals or groups of all political and ideological stripes have been coming out vocally against the common core. Anyone visiting certain Face Book sites devoted to these issues for example can see the passionate and fervent disparities of opinions regarding “who supports what and why.”  There is ongoing debate over whether or not folks from such diverse philosophical or political backgrounds can find “common ground” against the common core. I think the jury is still out on this matter. But dialogue, even rabid debate, is sometimes good. We’ve had enough of being silenced. Rip it open. And move forward. Somehow.

I’m not serving as an arbitrator of this phenomena. I offer no set opinion or conclusion. I’m acting here as an observer. Here is what I’ve surmised so far from my ongoing observations: There are four (and I’m sure grossly over-generalized) groups of people operating in the sphere of debates around education reform policies, in particular the CCSS.

1)  First there are two forms of the PROFITEERS: PRO common core/reform a) neo-liberals or conservatives AND b) Democrats (liberals) who see schools/kids as PROFIT but pretend theirs is the cause of social equality when in fact their efforts are a way to privatize public goods (I think we all pretty much despise them)….We know who they are: Billionaire’s Boys Club (aka Eli Broad, Bill Gates, Walton, anything involving Michelle Rhee, inBloom, hedge fund investors, Achieve, CCSSO…ad infinitum). These are usually “venture philanthropists” and the people they’ve bought out and keep in their back pocket like small pets (i.e  Arne Duncan).

2) The second group I’ve encountered recently are ANTI CCSS folks who self-identify as libertarian, Republican, Tea Party or otherwise Conservative. These groups or individuals largely oppose CCSS and high-stakes testing because of their personal beliefs about states “rights” and freedom from federal government intrusion (this includes folks who may wish to see religion more in schools etc etc), and oppose the threats to privacy via the new online testing and data collection apparatus. Many of them mis-perceive CCSS as a socialist or communist plot….which, when you look and see who has developed, funded and support CCSS, nowhere does it mention the “United Socialists of America.”  Who does the list of supporter and endorsers include? A whole host of neo-liberal corporations and “non profits” who have a strong ideological leaning toward anti-Unionism, corporate- style of school “management”, data ownership, and privatization of public services (including education). While many members of group #2 oppose CCSS, they may not necessarily oppose other methods of education reform such as vouchers and charter schools. Many of them have very strong religious, moral, and social views on other matters (both related to and unrelated to education). Some of them see CCSS as an indoctrination of curricula which does not support or reflect their own values. However, speaking to that issue I’d like to suggest that whether or not you personally find anything in the standards objectionable, it was not a plot by any group on the left to put them there. People from the left have been rallying against overly invasive federal regulations of testing and curriculum long before it was the “in” thing to do.

3) The third group are PRO- CCSS folks who might self identify as “liberal,” democrat, or left-leaning. These individuals see CCSS as way to protect public schools from group #2.  Many of these individuals live in states where they feel they struggle already against the strong influence of staunchly conservative (aka Tea Party) values. They see CCSS as a way to defend public school curricula against what they feel are prominent but singular religious views that might include creationism, homophobia, racism, or narrow definitions of God. One way they may differ from #2’s is that many #2’s are in favor of eliminating public education- seeing it as a federal intrusion while #3’s support the continuance of public schools.

4) The fourth group (with whom I self-identify) are ANTI–CCSS, high stakes testing, and education reform folks from liberal or left-leaning philosophy who see CCSS and education reform as full on assault by groups 1a and 1b with an aim to dismantle/control public education for profit and other forms of social control. Whether or not any of the CCSS standards are “good”, #4s believe that “finding the good” in CCSS, or accepting them for their possible benefits, is akin to admiring the handiwork of the carpenter who built the Trojan Horse. Sure, it might have some redeeming qualities, but we can pretty much predict what’s gonna happen when you wheel it in. The CCSS is a package deal that comes with a host of other harmful policies and agenda, from which it cannot be detached.

So…can any or all of these groups band together? (Excluding the assholes in group #1 of course).  I don’t know.

People are people first. I know gun toting pro-life liberals, and pro-choice anti-religious conservatives. We are many and varied. We are all different in our approaches to our politics and personal beliefs.  We are all more than the sum total of our labels.  Sometimes, how we differ is more in our opinions over how to achieve shared values. I need to know someone before I can judge whether or not I will work with them. And likewise other people will need to make that determination of me.

And yet, we each must have, what the show “Sex and the City” (in one episode) called the “non-negotiables.” Each of us must (as individuals or as groups) determine what our non-negotiables are in our fight against corporate education reform. These are the beliefs, values, goals, or social goods that we (as individuals or groups) will not sacrifice, nor compromise for any other purpose. We all have them, whether we self-identify as a #2, 3, or 4 (or none of the above!).  Just because you and I are both opposed to one thing does not mean we can necessarily overcome our differences on something else. If the KKK suddenly wanted to save the whales I’m not sure I’d bring cupcakes to their bake sale (even for the whales). And I respect their right to refuse to work with the likes of me as well.

Much depends on differences in relationship to person, context, issue, and extremity.

The other  thing to bear in mind is that what ALL of us are dealing with is a very different beast than anything we have seen before: The state-bred corporate-fed monster. It’s been growing for decades now, and is finally coming fully out of its cave. It’s not purely a neo-conservative corporate creature. It’s not purely a state/federal machine. To libertarians or conservatives it may manifest itself as “The State.” For someone with little more than a popular culture understanding of communism or socialism it may “appear” to be precisely that. But it’s not. It’s what happens when you breed a PUBLIC state level apparatus with PRIVATE free-market-loving (and “God bless America”) corporate controlled self-serving interest. It’s some freakish hybrid (like a vampire crossed with a zombie) and we are all still struggling not only to name it, but to figure out how best to destroy it without destroying ourselves.

So much of the dissonance and discord (between 2s, 3s and 4s), as well as the unlikely alliances between some of us, are stemming from our internal and inter-relational struggle to understand what this thing is, how it operates, what it will mean, how we see ourselves, and where we will be in relationship to one another… in this place called planet earth which, in spite of everything, we all must share.

Published by educationalchemy

Morna McDermott has been an educator for over twenty years in both k-12 and post secondary classrooms. She received her doctorate in education, with a dissertation focus on arts-based educational research, from The University of Virginia in 2001. Morna's teaching, scholarship, and activism center around the ways in which creativity, art, social justice, and democracy can transform education and empower communities. She is currently a Professor of Education at Towson University.

One thought on “The “Nothing in Common” Anti-Common Core Struggle

  1. The Left-Right Alliance for Education, a Facebook group that is a spin-off of Dump Duncan, brought together folks from across the political spectrum to craft a belief statement that was agreed to by consensus of this very diverse group:

    Left/Right Education Alliance
    Position Statements

    We –

    oppose the philosophy of standardization built into federal education initiatives.
    oppose high-stakes testing.
    oppose national student data systems.
    oppose the use of public/private partnerships to overcome local education goals.
    believe corporate/federal education reform has been detrimental to disadvantaged children.
    support quality public education as an option available to all children.
    support local decision making for public education.


    We oppose the philosophy of standardization built into any and all federal education initiatives, including the Common Core.

    We oppose high-stakes testing.

    It leads to a hyper-focus on a narrow set of quantifiable skills at the expense of the greater characteristics of education founded in a broad curriculum.
    CCSSI High-stakes assessments rely on computer-generated testing and excludes other ways students demonstrate proficiency and progress and ignores the fact that teachers and parents are best able to judge a student’s progress.
    The infrastructure and technology demands divert school and classroom resources away from those components that most impact student success.
    High-stakes testing has transformed schools into centers for test preparation and chip away at a child’s innate love of learning.
    Federal and state mandated high-stakes tests lead to excessive pressure on students and teachers, and to bullying and punitive actions when parents choose to opt their children out of testing.

    We oppose national student data systems.

    a. example: the CCSS initiatives P-20 State Longitudinal Data Systems.

    We oppose the use of public/private partnerships to overcome local education goals.

    We believe corporate/federal education reform has been detrimental to disadvantaged children

    We support quality public education as an option available to all children.

    We support local decision making for public education.

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