Are Common-Core Conspiracy Theories Drowning Out Real Issues?

By Ross Brenneman — May 20, 2014 3 min read
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America, we’ve had the wool pulled over our eyes.

All this time we’ve been debating the Common Core State Standards, we thought we were talking about lofty ideas like achievement, pedagogy, curriculum, and learning. And there’s been healthy, reasonable cynicism here and there, too.

But suddenly, I realized what a scam it all is: The common-core standards are about profits—the profits of America’s leading butter-alternative companies.

The companies currently field-testing exams aligned to the common core? Smarter Balanced. Come on, people—it’s right there in the name! And oh, yes, there’s the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers, or PARCC. Please—more like Parkay. This plot has been spreading out faster than Land of Lakes on toast, leaving the opinions of the country’s people margarinalized. And it feels like a kick in the dairyière.

Still, some people out there are fighting the good fight, offering a variety of similarly imaginative reasons for why these standards must be stopped. And even though their reasons somehow have nothing to do with butter alternatives, they’ve still got a bee in their collective Blue Bonnet.

There’s Wyoming Against the Common Core, for instance, which believes that common standards are just a way for President Barack Obama to teach children about global warming, a concept some “overwhelming” “majority” of “scientists” “believe” in.

Others, like Florida Rep. Charles Van Zant, are convinced that the common-core exams being developed in his state by the American Institutes for Research will turn children gay, as a new video released Monday by Think Progress shows.

(One of the things he’s basing his claim on seems to be AIR’s January 2014 policy guide about how to support LGBT students in schools.)

(Update: Van Zant said Tuesday that he stands by his remarks, despite a rebuttal from State Education Commissioner Pam Stewart that the tests will not turn children gay.)

Radio show host Glenn Beck, similarly, has his interesting theories about the common core, and asked some important questions of the Obama Administration (which didn’t actually write the standards) on his program Monday as well:

“Why are they dumbing us down? Why are they teaching us not to read Huck Finn? Why are they teaching us not to listen to another point of view? They need to get our critical thinking erased. ... If you can no longer critically think, then they can do whatever they want—this is slavery. They are breeding an entire new generation of slaves.”

You heard that right: President Barack Obama is pro-slavery.

The bigger and, perhaps, more moderate complaints against the common core have generally been related to testing and faulty implementation, and about the developmental appropriateness of the standards themselves. There are additional arguments, too, about whether common standards will or should lead to a common curriculum, or even to a national curriculum. All of these issues directly affect the people tasked with executing the common standards—teachers.

When there are arguments about the standards promoting slavery, homosexuality, science(?), and butter(!), who has time to worry about the minutia of classroom instruction?

In a January 2014 piece, Education Week Teacher opinion blogger Nancy Flanagan made the following point about this topic:

The Common Core is confusing to the general public. Many people who have boldly taken the anti-CC side are confused about the whole idea of curricular frameworks or the purpose of academic standards. They just want to be mad at someone (usually Obama or their state ED or legislators who pushed RTTT policies forward).

So it might be necessary for moderate common-core opponents to ask themselves if it matters which kind of opposition policymakers and the public are listening to, or if the ends justify the means. Even if those ends—the repeal of the common core—don’t ultimately reduce testing, or prevent that testing from being a factor in teacher evaluation, or change federal education policy toward testing. All those issues existed before the common core and still live on in states that don’t have it, after all.

There are a lot of voices speaking for and against the common core. The question is, how much of the debate is about education, and how much is actually just a slab of Country Crock?

Image: An education meltdown. —Steve Karg/Wikipedia

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A version of this news article first appeared in the Teaching Now blog.