STUCK IN THE MIDDLE WITH YOU
Yes I’m stuck in the middle with you,
And I’m wondering what it is I should do,
It’s so hard to keep this smile from my face,
Losing control, yeah, I’m all over the place,
Clowns to the left of me, Jokers to the right,
Here I am, stuck in the middle with you.
There’s been a lot of confusion over what the Common Core is or is not. That’s understandable given its lack of transparency and back-room corporate involvement, misuse of “social justice” rhetoric and outright denials of its attachment to other corporate model reform policies which seek to privatize schools. Even some well-intended advocates for Common Core believe they are fighting for equity in otherwise underfunded and disenfranchised communities, hoping to provide students with quality education and a leveled playing field. In absence of more publicly available truths about Common Core, I empathize with them … though I disagree that Common Core will do anything to help these same communities, or help our children in general. So naturally teachers and parents feel boondoggled and unsure about how or why to support it.
But what’s even more confusing is the landscape of opposition to Common Core.
Ohanian’s recent blog listing the ABC’s of Common Core Resistance really struck me. Per usual, she leaves me thinking! She notes that most opposition is from the politically conservative right wing. It would seem that the largest most vocal opposition to CCSS is coming from the right. She states, “It makes me wonder: Where are the progressives? I fear they talk only to each other and don’t make much effort to bring others into the anti-Common Core fold. I hope some progressives will study some of the sites below and maybe find some ways to spreading the message.”
If that’s the case, either in fact or in appearance, it leaves me to wonder, why IS it that the uber-conservative effort to fight this, largely in favor of their own ideological viewpoints, is outweighing the voices of progressives many of whom have been fighting education reform ever since NCLB? Some of us have been fighting hard. I know this. But if we don’t start making more noise, more public impact, I worry about what will result from that. I don’t wish to diminish the efforts or voice of any group opposed to the Common Core-more power to you. But I am calling to progressives against Common Core here to increase our battle cry. As Elbow illustrates, “While the tea party mounts its well-funded, organized attack on Common Core educational standards, the attack from the left has been kicked to the sidelines.”
As a progressive who is opposed to Common Core I struggle with the overgeneralized notion that any and all collaborative resistance is good resistance. I must state emphatically here that while I believe that collaborative efforts between “the left” and “the right” (defined in a myriad of ways) are both possible and necessary, I do not agree with the idea that in order to do so we must put aside our differences. I am not talking about differences in our “labels.” Names like Democrat or Republican mean very little in identifying what one’s personal values are either for or against education “reform.” Of course, alliances can be formed across the political aisle! Our differences need not be an obstacle to our efforts. If Michelle Rhee and Jeb Bush can make strange bedfellows, then why can’t we?
However, whether or not we can cast aside our “differences” depends on what those differences are.
For me, this depends upon the differences upon which we agree to disagree. In order to move forward with any real and sustainable alliances, I think we have to put our differences on the table and be transparent about what we identify as the problem and what we identify as alternatives or solutions. Rather than “cast aside” differences for the time being to defeat Common Core, only to face each other as “opponents” once CCSS is eliminated, I’d rather forge sustainable and transparent alliances now that can not only defeat the foe but collectively agree upon “what happens next” and work toward that as well.
If you are a “progressive” (ignoring that I’m using a descriptor as a noun here) like me, opposed to the Common Core I wonder, how can we, or should we, negotiate the following differences:
1) Identifying the causes and problems: Some, of course not all, conservative oriented criticism of the Common Core blame a “progressive indoctrination” as the effort which spawned the Common Core. Michelle Malkin criticizes the Common Core for its “progressive designs to measure and track children’s ‘competencies’ in ‘recognizing bias in sources,’ ‘flexibility,’ ‘cultural awareness and competence,’ ‘appreciation for diversity,’ ‘empathy,’ ‘perspective taking, trust, [and] service orientation.’”
Regardless of one’s interpretation of it from a personal POV, anyone versed in the history of curriculum and policy knows that Common Core was spawned from the roots of the “Core Knowledge” ideology of decades past which aims to get away from “progressive” values of “education theorists’ like Paulo Freire, William Ayers, and Jonathan Kozol.”
According to Porter-Magee and Stern :
“The goal of the Common Core is to expose… all children to …a strategy grounded in what education scholar E. D. Hirsch has shown: a broad, content-rich curriculum can reduce the achievement gap between the middle class and the poor.” In fact, Hirsch is highly critical of a curricula championed by John Dewey and other Progressives.
So which is it? Is Common Core a piece of “liberal propaganda” as criticized by the right, or is it a “back to basics” conservative curriculum as criticized by the left? Or have we all been boondoggled?
And in my efforts to fight back, can I work collaboratively with folks who blame folks like me, progressives, for the problem- one which ironically I have been fighting against for decades?
2) In keeping with item #1, there are numerous progressive voices that have been vocally opposed to federally mandated top down policies, forewarning us back in the 1990’s of what was going to happen if we didn’t fight to stop them. I’m pleased that opposition to the Common Core has finally been addressed more publicly in the mainstream media, but largely supported opposition is recognized as “Conservative” or from the Tea Party, while progressives like Michael Apple, Alfie Kohn, Maxine Greene, and Peter Taubman were fighting similar policies even before the Tea Party was in existence. In the absence of a louder or more visible presence in the resistance movement, many people in the general public automatically are beginning to assume that any opposition to Common Core is grounded sole in a conservative ideology.
Take for example the following statement:
“It is hard to conceive of a set of educational purposes that does not include a concern for human freedom and sense of agency in the face of a more and more controlled and administered world.”
Does this criticism of a national curriculum come from Glenn Beck circa 2013? No, it comes from “liberal” scholar Maxine Greene written in 1995 (Releasing the Imagination).
3) Motive. Can I work with anyone who refers to CCSS as “ObamaCore?” Yes, it’s driven by Obama’s administration. But what about Republican CCSS pimps like Jeb Bush (a member of ALEC), free-market loving Walton Foundation and Broad Foundation, and Rupert Murdoch (owner of Fox News)? Working off a shared set of facts, any alliances must be grounded in the concession that CCSS is promoted by both Dems and Reps. My fight against Common Core is not an attempt to discredit the entire Republican party nor to gain influence for my own party (which, by the way, I have none). My fight is against what Ohanian refers to as “the corporate party.”
4) Do we have agreed upon alternatives? Progressives like myself are not only fighting Common Core (whether it be because of the data tracking, crappy and developmentally inappropriate standards, the corporate profiteering, or all of the above). We are fighting the bundle package of reform of which Common Core is just one facet. We are also fighting against the corporate takeover of public education and attempts to privatize it through ALEC- driven legislation to destroy unions, and use vouchers and charter schools as public school replacements. Even if, or when, CCSS is gone, will my allies still fight with me to promote a sustainable and equitable PUBLIC education for ALL children? Or are you one who believes that “government run” schools should be abolished?
If Texas is any example of what exists in a Common Core vacuum, my choices appear to be either — choice A: Common Core, or choice B: a curriculum of creationism, book-banning, and content that also chooses to deny the history of slavery and the existence of climate change, Thomas Jefferson and a Black President.
I’ll hold out for Choice C.