Last Wednesday, I addressed a lawyers’ group in downtown Chicago about the new Common Core educational standards. One of the conditions for giving my talk was that it would be open to members of the broader community, and not merely to those in the legal profession. So in addition to many attorneys, there were people in attendance who were teachers, school administrators, and just plain folks, as Mr. Obama likes to say. The topic turned out to be of such great interest to so many that it was standing room only. I don’t think that the interest was because I was addressing the group, but rather because parents and those interested in education want the very best for our children.
In my talk, I presented various points of view, but in essence, I was skeptical about Common Core, and its attempt to improve the success of students’ education. (I have previously written the same on these pages about Common Core.) I urged those present to do their own homework about Common Core, and to pray and think about what they had learned. The next day one of the attorneys in the audience emailed me with information that the Southern Poverty Law Center (“SPLC”) had just issued a report that condemned opposition to Common Core as a propaganda effort by “far-right extremists” to destroy the public schools. (Who knew? I just thought that in a democratic republic, educational policy imposed by education bureaucrats in Washington, D.C., and funded primarily by corporate interests (The Gates Foundation and others) might be a proper topic of interest to the citizenry.) I did know, however, that the SPLC also labeled the Boy Scouts, the Illinois Family Institute, and the Family Research Council as “hate“ groups. The report, “Public Schools In the Crosshairs: Far-Right Propaganda and the Common Core State Standards,” is available here. The report declares, “Across the United States, a fierce wave of resistance is engulfing the Common Core State Standards, threatening to derail this ambitious effort to lift student achievement and, more fundamentally, to undermine the very idea of public education.” The SPLC report further insists that opposition to Common Core arises out of fears that it will “indoctrinate young children into ‘the homosexual lifestyle,’” and “turn children into ‘green serfs’ who will serve a totalitarian ‘New World Order.’” Of course, I don’t think that Common Core will do that because many government schools have been trying to do that very well for years without Common Core.
SPLC mentor Saul Alinsky Rule 11 for radicals states, “Pick a target, freeze it, personalize it, polarize it. . . . Identify a responsible individual.” In keeping with this rule, the SPLC report shows photographs of some of the people utterly despised by Progressives and Leftists: the infamous Koch brothers (I have now finally seen their photographs, and the brothers look nothing like I expected. I expected to see spitting images of Emmanuel Goldstein, the principal enemy of the state in George Orwell’s novel Nineteen Eighty-Four), Phyllis Schafly, historian David Barton, Glenn Beck, Michelle Malkin, Cal Thomas, Senator Rand Paul, tea party patriots, and just plain, regular American folks expressing their views in opposition to Common Core. Why the report even included a photograph of a good friend to Touchstone, Salvo, and Mere Comments, Professor Robert George of Princeton University. The report states that Professor George “echoes the conspiracy theories of the radical right, warning that the Common Core advances the ‘utopian, grandiose planning for a managed global economy.’” Say, it ain’t so, Professor George!
Having read the report, I noticed that the SPLC report ignores critics on the American political left, including the Chicago Teachers Union, whose president is likely to challenge Rahm Emanuel for mayor of Chicago in 2015. Novelists Judy Blume and Maya Angelou, and actor Matt Damon, have also issued critiques on Common Core. Several weeks ago, the so-called “comedian” Louis C.K. tweeted to his 3.3 million followers: “My kids used to love math. Now it makes them cry. Thanks standardized testing and common core!” He followed that with several pictures of third-grade math problems that he deemed incomprehensible or just plain dumb. Within a day, his original protest had been retweeted more than 7,000 times. One of the prophets of our age, Comedy Central’s Stephen Colbert showed a segment in early April that ridiculed befuddling Common Core math questions. Colbert aired a series of clips of parents explaining how the tests had rattled and stressed their children. His wry conclusion: “Common Core testing is preparing students for what they’ll face as adults – pointless stress and confusion.”
In my talk, I sought to show that Common Core’s educational standards are, at best, of mediocre quality, and for many of us who care deeply about our children and grandchildren’s education, disappointingly so. They rest on questionable philosophies, and are completely untested by any empirical studies. (In fact, I would like to read the empirical peer-evaluated studies that show how reducing the study of classic literature, which Common Core does, or how asking befuddling math questions help students.) Professor Sandra Stotsky, one of the Common Core Validation Committee members who refused to sign on to the standards, and went on to testify in state legislatures and other forums against Common Core, succinctly criticized “that the Common Core choice of novels for grades 9/10 are on average at a 5th grade readability level, and the novels used in grades 11/12 are at a readability level of 8th grade, with the exception of The Scarlet Letter and Pride and Prejudice.” Moreover, given that the Common Core standards apply to all students, including those in parochial and private schools, and to homeschoolers, it also intrudes on student and family privacy. And in addition to the weakness and academic illegitimacy of Common Core, it eliminates state and local autonomy in educational matters, and forces states and their taxpayers to incur large costs (estimated to be over $16 billion) to implement Common Core. The route to an excellent education goes towards universal school choice that provides high standards, accountability, and flexibility. In summary, the Common Core “educational” standards only make matters far worse to the detriment of our children and our nation’s future. So unbeknownst to me, I have now officially been designated, according to the SPLC, a Christian right-wing extremist. But I am honored to be in the same company as Professor Robert George.