Standards Opinion

Drawing a Line on Common Core

By Guest Blogger — May 13, 2014 5 min read
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Author and advocate Mike Klonsky again writes to Deborah Meier today. The two are currently co-blogging on Bridging Differences.


Your last post took me all over the world in time and space. But there’s no time or space here to discuss the rise of fascism in Europe or Stalin, Hitler, Ribbentrop, Chamberlain (not Wilt), or any of that good stuff. Isn’t it funny how so many discussions end up using Hitler to make a point?

It’s difficult enough to bridge differences when we are arguing about the same point. Is this about engaging people, like the conservative couple you met at a dinner party? Or is it about allying with right-wing groups like those backed by the Koch Bros. in order to oppose the common core? If it’s the former, I’m right there with you. As a gregarious human and as a political activist/organizer, I love the give-and-take with lefties, conservatives, and independents alike, as do you. I suppose that’s the reason we’re on this blog together.

But the question I raised (and don’t want to beat this thing to death) has to do with anti-CCSS activists, with Bill Gates and the corporate reformers attacking on one side, allying ourselves with right-wing, Tea Party, or racist and anti-immigrant groups, who also happen to oppose common core. From what I can tell, you are OK with such an alliance and even think it’s necessary because of the dire and dangerous times we’re in. I understand your argument, but I’m not OK with it.

The groups I’ve mentioned are not just against common core, but against public education period. They also come down on the wrong side of the ongoing battle for racial and gender equity and immigrant rights, just to name a few. In short, they are against us. Trying to block with them means discrediting ourselves and our main fight on the education front, which is not just against testing, but the defense of public education, equity, and democratic rights.

There are many strong, reliable allies out there for us without blocking with the far right. Here in Chicago that would include the Chicago Teachers Union and its 30,000 teacher members who last week voted to oppose common core. After passing the resolution, union members agreed to lobby state legislators to pass anti-CCSS legislation. I’m sure that marching to Springfield together with the Tea Party or Sarah Palin would not only not help matters, but would discredit them completely.

I admit, though, that the Chicago experience is unique, as it is in New York and other big urban areas where right-wing groups aren’t much of a presence, even if one wanted to ally with them. That’s why I’ve raised this as a general question of strategy, leaving room for different tactics as required by local conditions. But at the state and national level, you have a host of Tea Party govs like Scott Walker in Wisconsin, Rick Snyder in Michigan, and Mike Pence in Indiana all opposing the common core. Then you’ve got right-wing organizations and even possible presidential candidates like Rand Paul and Bobby Jindal, who oppose common core, Obamacare, and anything else that smacks of big gummit or Obama.

You say: “We’ll need to win over people we very much disagree with. So that means one has to ignore some of their unsavory views in order to move them to better understand their own self-interest ...”

And here: “Yes, there are racists who ought to be on my side, and whose prejudices blind them to their best interests. Do we want to cement their racism or make them a little more uneasy about it? Do I want to push them further into the arms of their real enemies?”

No, of course not, although the Koch Bros., Jindal, Michelle Malkin, and their affiliated groups ARE real enemies. But I wouldn’t hesitate (doubt I will ever be invited) to sit down and argue with them against their “unsavory,” to say the least, views, any time. As far as making common cause with any of them or taking money from them—no way.

While you and I share a healthy suspicion of government programs and share a strong opposition to NCLB and Race To The Top, I’m not against government. There are even times when I wish the government would act more forcefully, like it did 60 years ago this week, when the Supreme Court “forced” racial desegregation on our public schools. I was stunned when Secretary of Education Arne Duncan announced that he was opposed to “forced integration” and when he wouldn’t back up Attorney Gen. Eric Holder’s suit against Jindal’s voucher program, which according to the suit, “impeded racial desegregation.” I’m angry that the feds haven’t moved against the UNO charter school hustlers here in Chicago, who have used their connections with the mayor and his political machine to rip off $98 million in state school construction grants.

I was also surprised, by the way, to see how little was said in the progressive media last month, or by the President himself, about Michigan’s Schuette Decision, which pushes us back toward the days of Plessy v. Ferguson.

You argue that if your house is on fire (a metaphor for your estimate that we are approaching ’32 Germany), you wouldn’t turn away help from right-wingers to put it out. Hell, neither would I. Although my first thought would be to call the big government fire department. I fear that if I called the CATO Institute all I would get would be an anti-tax lecture about the benefits of privatizing fire extinguishing companies. By the time that’s over, the house is burnt down.

While such metaphors are fun and at times useful, in this case, they beat around the (burning) bush. The discussion about alliances is real and immediate. Take for example, this interesting piece, Common Core vs. the Koch Bros. Agenda, by Opt-Out leader, Morna McDermott, which I read as an attempt to draw a line of demarcation between her group and the right-wing anti-CCSS forces. The fact that she felt compelled to even post such a piece shows how concrete the issue is.

Civil rights groups like the Southern Poverty Law Center and Teaching Tolerance have just published a report showing that these right-wing groups have an education agenda that goes far beyond common core. In a phone conversation I had with SPLC’s Teaching Tolerance Director Maureen Costello, she made it clear that the report doesn’t indicate tacit support for common core.

What it does indicate to me is that we have to distinguish our opposition from that on the far right.

‘Til next time,


Michael Klonsky teaches in the College of Education at DePaul University. He is the co-founder and director of the Small Schools Workshop and is a co-author of Small Schools: Public School Reform Meets the Ownership Society. He blogs daily at Mike Klonsky’s SmallTalk Blog, at//michaelklonsky.blogspot.com/. You can follow him on Twitter @mikeklonsky.

The opinions expressed in Bridging Differences are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.