A Chat With Leader of ‘Don’t Send Your Child to School’ Protest

By Andrew Ujifusa — November 20, 2013 4 min read
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Last week, I wrote about Nov. 18 as a significant day for some anti-common-core activists who planned to keep their children home from school as a “Say No to Common Core” protest. As of a week ago, just over 4,000 people had announced on Facebook that they were planning to protest in this way. U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan’s controversial remarks on Nov. 15 about “white suburban moms” opposed to the common core, while not substantively new comments, theoretically might have given additional juice to the protest day.

But what about the person who rode herd on these common-core protests? That would be Janet Ward Wilson, who maintained the Facebook page and other social media that pushed the protest.

A New York mother of public school children who until recently identified as a Democrat, Wilson said the roots of her common-core opposition are based in what has been called a “common-core aligned” assignment for 3rd graders that deals with marital infidelity. I can’t verify that this activity is in fact common-core aligned or intended to be so (the story appears to originate from a right-of-center website with a New York focus, the Independent Sentinel). But Wilson, who said she got this lesson from parents who told her this was a common-core lesson activity, told me this age-inappropriate lesson angered her enough that she started doing more research into the standards. Because tea party politicians are the only ones she sees fighting the common core, she said, she’s now switched her political allegiance and will be supporting them.

Wilson told me that her anti-common-core website has received tens of thousands of visits since she began pushing back on the standards. She said people have been “duped by the federal government” into the standards, and that the U.S. Constitution does not grant Washington power over education to the extent that they could offer incentives for states to act in certain ways: “Common core violates our 10th amendment rights.”

When I asked her if there was any specific standard she didn’t like, or what she would say to people who say non-federal organizations were behind the common core’s creation, she cited her opposition to The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison (which is a reading exemplar accompanying the English/language arts standards but not a standard itself), but also stressed that at this point she wasn’t “worried about getting into specifics. I’m worried about repealing it.”

In her fight against the standards, Wilson also told me, “I don’t work for anybody other than God.”

Her next step, she said, is to educate parents about the legislative process in states so they can lobby to get the standards repealed. “The battle has just begun. It’s only just begun. People need to be empowered,” she said. (On Nov. 18, Wilson appeared on MSNBC to discuss common core.)

What about the opt-out day itself? MSNBC gave more exposure to “Don’t Send Your Child to School Day” when host Chuck Todd interviewed a South Carolina legislator, GOP Rep. Lee Bright, about the protest. But the chat got off to a somewhat clumsy start when Bright had to explain to Todd that he wasn’t keeping his own children out of school to protest the standards, even though he’s opposing common core in the state.

There was also a 100-person common-core protest in Columbia, South Carolina’s state capital, regarding the standards, although in the video from The State newspaper’s report, the main (in fact only) audio is the chant “Stop common core.” So there isn’t really a context identified for the protest.

In New York state, “dozens” of students joined their parents in a common-core protest at the state education department in Albany, the local ABC affiliate reported. The news report focused on students specifically who spoke out against the standards for being too restrictive, for example.

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On the other hand, a news report from the State Island Advance minced no words when it said the keep-your-children-home protest “fizzled” in the New York City borough, even though some parents there are pretty sour about the common core.

There’s now also a “Moms Against Duncan” group with its own Facebook page, which says it got started because of Duncan’s Nov. 15 remarks. As of Nov. 20 it had about 3,200 members, and stated that it was mobilizing to take back “local control” of education. The group also stresses that the front lines in the battle against the standards is at the state level, and urges its members to contact state lawmakers and others in order to be effective in rolling back the common core.

Meanwhile, in Indiana, the only state officially reevaluating the common core at this point, Republican lawmakers appear to be wishy-washy about whether they want to ultimately keep the standards. This StateImpact NPR story seems to be saying they’re backing away from it, with GOP Speaker of the House Brian Bosma saying the standards are now a “distraction.” But he also told reporter Brandon Smith that he wouldn’t rule out legislation “for or against” the common core.

That phrase leaves a great deal open to interpretation. But the story does highlight that ultimately, common-core opponents, however well-organized they are and however cleverly they wield social media and megaphones, will need to convince state lawmakers to drop the standards in order to be judged successful, a fact that “Moms Against Duncan” recognizes. We’ll have to see how many states entertain repeal-common-core legislation and how each bill progresses in 2014. Will the elections in many states warp or somehow change the debates over those bills? Remember, many of the current governors were elected after their states adopted the common core.

A version of this news article first appeared in the State EdWatch blog.