By: Dr. Duke Pesta, university English professor and academic director of FreedomProject Academy (www.fpeusa.org)
Why does it always seem that those most vigilant in exercising forethought and taking responsibility, end up on the hook for everyone else? This, of course, is true across contemporary culture, from the ever-burgeoning welfare state to the heavy regulatory and tax burden placed on entrepreneurs and small business owners. It is especially true in education, and as usual, the homeschool parent must remain acutely aware of developments in public education, for as history has far too often shown, today’s public school bad dream has a tendency to become — in short order – a nightmare for homeschooling. And so it is with Common Core.
The impulse behind Common Core is not new. It has been intensifying since the creation of the superfluous federal Department of Education in the late 1970s. Once public education fell under the umbrella of yet another byzantine beltway bureaucracy, it was just a matter of time until the feds bought, bribed, coerced, and threatened their way to greater and greater centralization and control. For forty-five years the process has proceeded apace, with standardized testing a key tool in the battle to strip away state and local control of schools. The bigger, more complex, and expensive the tests become, the more impossible it is for states—let alone local school districts—to conform without massive federal help. And the more behemoth the exams, the less relevance they possess for the teachers, parents, and children who must take them. In essence, a vicious circle perpetuates a needless and cynical cycle of failure: Mandating ever-broader tests, designed to facilitate data-gathering and centralization of control at the Department of Education (but which have no real impact on actual student performance) forces states to depend more and more on federal dollars, leaving local districts and individual schools at the mercy of money-starved state governments and a federal bureaucracy happy to trade dollars for control.
There are two principle reasons to be worried about Common Core, and both have serious consequences for homeschooling: First, the “standards” represent the most serious consolidation yet of federal power over educational freedom. Second, the federal government—in conjunction with textbook publishers and testing corporations—is using this increased access and control to further politicize how America’s children are being taught and evaluated. I use scare quotes around the word “standards” because it is absolutely clear that they cannot be viewed in a vacuum: they are inseparable from the pedagogy, the curriculum, the textbooks, the worksheets, and, importantly, those tests that form the roots that sustain this noxious weed. Proponents of the standards insist they are merely benchmarks, simple guideposts that teachers can follow (in an infinite variety of ways, they tell us) to improve student learning.
But this is nonsense. The only way we have to measure the standards is the tests. As both Common Core architect David Coleman and Common Core financier-in-Chief Bill Gates have asserted: When the standards are aligned to the tests, the curriculum will line up as well, and the teachers will have no choice but to teach to the tests. Given that the only real way to measure the effectiveness of Common Core is the exams, it is beyond obvious that whoever controls the tests controls what happens in the classroom. And despite six-years-and-counting for the Common Core era, that alignment between tests and standards did not begin in earnest for most states until Spring, 2015.
This long postponement of the tests is by design: The engineers of Common Core knew exactly how arbitrary, stressful, and transformative the tests would be, and therefore delayed them until the elaborate and expensive infrastructure was set firmly in place (and well-nigh impossible to remove). Given this carefully orchestrated timeline, it is not surprising that some teachers and school administrators claim not to have experienced the worst aspects of the Common Core scheme: Because of the methodical implementation schedule, we are only now entering the phase when the real aims and ambitions of those who created Common Core begin to surface. In a way, this directly parallels the route taken by the planners of “Obamacare,” who postponed the worst and most egregious regulatory aspects of the healthcare law until 2016—after Obama’s tenure in office expires.
Initially, the standards were sold on the seemingly benign premise that students in every classroom in every state should be learning the same thing at the same time every day. Wouldn’t it be nice if a child whose family moves from Arizona to Maine could walk into his new classroom and pick up exactly where he left off, without missing a beat? But the statistical actuality of such transfers is so staggeringly small that even hardcore advocates almost never make the argument any more. But look past the utilitarian feint and consider the premise: An education system so hyper-regulated and cookie-cutter-mass-produced could only be managed, monitored, and made compliant by a massive federal machine that must—by definition—eliminate any meaningful control of education at state and local levels. How can state and local school boards—let alone individual moms and dads—have any meaningful say in what goes on in the classroom under such a paradigm?
And does anyone actually believe that scores of millions of kids from radically-different geographies, diverse cultural, ethnic, and economic demographics, and myriad family circumstances will be held to higher standards when the endgame is parity, not excellence (or even competency)? It does not require the convoluted processes of Common Core math to recognize that when the educational mandate for upwards of 60 million American school children is uniformity — not achievement — the new educational regimen will ultimately lower overall expectations, not enhance them, and inhibit, if not repress, high-achieving students. As with all such unworkably-complex schemes for standardization, the ultimate result inevitably settles at the lowest-common-denominator, not the highest. And what parent can take seriously the argument that our kids are all ultimately the same kid when it comes to educational outcomes? That despite the differences in aptitudes, attitudes, resources, intellectual curiosity, self-discipline, and family support, we are better off forcing all children into the same educational mold, rather than allowing them to find their own levels through actual achievement and ability?
And this brings us to the second principle reason homeschool parents must be concerned about Common Core: The purpose of this nationalization and centralization of public education is to further transform the schools into centers of indoctrination and ideological social engineering. By definition, outcome-based education of the type sketched above—and I reiterate that such politicization significantly predates the rise of Common Core—is to inculcate progressive social justice theory at the expense of subject mastery and genuine academic achievement.
According to progressives who occupy the highest positions of power in both the spheres of government and education, public schools are tools for social control and transformation, not an individualized path for growth and personal discovery. The idea that the purpose of education is to teach ABCs and 123s—reading, writing, and arithmetic—is now as quaint as the notion that politicians and judges should be constrained by the Constitution when they legislate or adjudicate.
It is undeniable and commonplace to observe that public education has become ever more politicized, ideological, tendentious—and always and every way in the direction of progressivism. The anti-theistic (read anti-Christian), anti-patriotic (read anti-American), and anti-individualistic (read anti-Free Market) aspects of contemporary education are so tediously obvious as to require no extended explanation here. The key to understanding the great progressive leap forward of the Common Core scheme is to see it as an extension of ideological control, a consolidation and permeation of progressive values—as well as a corresponding isolation, marginalization, and, ultimately, demonization of traditional values—rather than a new invention out of whole cloth, or some isolated growth that can be targeted in a vacuum and removed, like a non-metastasized tumor plucked clean from an otherwise healthy body. Recognizing that Common Core is in one sense culmination, rather than innovation, explains much about the way it has been defended in progressive circles.
Progressive educators and politicians do not see the ideological biases in Common Core (taken here to mean the standards in conjunction with the pedagogy in conjunction with the curricula in conjunction with the tests) because these biases are already so deeply ingrained in university Departments of Education, where almost all America’s teachers must be trained in order to be certified. These biases dominated the textbooks, curricula, lesson plans, and teacher development seminars in our schools long before Common Core was a gleam in David Coleman’s myopic eye.
So it is not simply a matter of politic dishonesty when the venal architects of Common Core deny any ideological bias in the standards, textbooks, or tests. From their perspective, they are merely furthering, deepening, and clarifying what has long been a universally accepted, monolithic, and utterly doctrinaire way of doing business. In effect, public education has operated in a bubble of one-sided politics and ideological conformity for so long that its practitioners and defenders are no longer capable of recognizing their own biases. They cannot understand objections to their social engineering because they are trained by, and associate with, educators whose views are almost entirely like their own. And those educators who think differently are often compelled to self-censor in fear of reprisals, a key refrain of teachers who oppose Common Core, many of who relate the threats and intimidation they face from their schools for daring to think differently.
On such a slanted, un-level playing field—after decades of steadily conditioning parents to accept one-sided discourse and progressive education in public schools—how damning is it that Common Core is the final straw that compelled hundreds and hundreds of thousands of otherwise non-political parents to speak out against the ideological biases in the Common Core scheme?
It would require a series of articles to document and chronicle:
• the creeping tendrils of ideological bias and coercion across the Common Core landscape
• the skewed and politicized questions in textbooks
• the unchallenged assumptions underlying the selection of exemplar texts for English Language Arts
• the tendentious nature of test questions
• the odd and needlessly exclusive math pedagogy
• the intrusive data gathering inherent in the process
And anyone following the Common Core debate even casually has doubtless encountered example after example, or could do so with just a few clicks of a mouse.
Let it suffice for now to conclude by observing that for homeschool parents—many of who opted out of public schools precisely because of bureaucratic over-reach and the growing recognition that government schools seek to supersede parental authority—the move to greater federal involvement is justifiably seen as ominous. Watching the shock, hurt, and confusion of public school parents—who were never consulted about the Common Core takeover, and whose schools were transformed without their input—serves as a dramatic reminder to the homeschool community that a federal government that values progressive ideology over sound and developmentally appropriate pedagogy will not, in the long run, continue to allow educational alternatives that deviate from the collectivist status quo.
As usual, homeschool families must care deeply about the hijacking of public education, and indeed must actively fight such takeovers on behalf of too many public school parents who are still in the dark about the dangers that face them. In the long run, the only way to guarantee the freedom to educate at home is to help prevent public education from ever fully becoming government education. Common Core goes further—and has been dug deeper—than any previous move toward centralization. Homeschool families are one of the few remaining bastions in the fight for educational freedom: As always, they must fight with fewer numbers and less resources. But, as history has also shown, a vibrant, growing, and engaged homeschool community remains the most effective check on educational tyranny. DP