College & Workforce Readiness Opinion

Trouble in Common Core City: Too Many Music Men, Not Enough Librarians

By Anthony Cody — July 29, 2014 3 min read
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Last week Glenn Beck brought parents to 700 theaters nationwide to warn them of the perils of the Common Core, and the dangers of government brainwashing. Andy Schmookler has written a post comparing Beck’s fear-mongering with Professor Harold Hill of the musical play and movie, The Music Man. The funny thing is that Common Core itself is being sold by yet another version of Professor Hill, in the form of billionaire Bill Gates.

To start with, here is how Schmookler connects Beck and the River City con man:

Beck's move here reminded me of "The Music Man," the con man in the musical of that name who comes to an Iowa town to fleece the good people there. What Beck and the con artist in "The Music Man" have in common is that to accomplish their own hidden aims they tap into the anxieties that parents have regarding their children. What the Music Man was selling were fictitious musical instruments and band uniforms, and he did it by playing on parental fears of corrupting influences on their children (fears aroused by the arrival in town of a Pool Hall, which starts with 'P' which rhymes with 'T' which stands for 'trouble'). Beck's pitch against the Common Core is selling a different fear: that the federal government is seeking to take control of their children away from their parents for purposes of indoctrination.

True enough. But I part ways with Schmookler in two regards. First, while Beck is not a reliable source of information, I share some of his concerns about the use of data collected on children, and other aspects of his critique of the Common Core are valid as well. That does not mean I consider Beck an ally, because his vision of education is quite frightening in other ways.

But my major difference is with this statement by Schmookler:

...I do know enough to feel sure that there is nothing nefarious about the proposed national standards. The Common Core seems to be a good-faith effort -- wise or not -- to address a genuine national problem of educational attainment that lags behind that of many other advanced democracies.

As has been well established, there is little evidence to support the idea that the lag in our educational performance is due to “low standards,” or any other flaw within our schools. Rather there is abundant evidence that widespread poverty is the culprit.

If poverty and wealth inequality is the culprit, then a focus on standards and tests is a misdirection, a deceptive ploy to take our eyes off the prize, which is real educational and economic opportunities for our students. Therefore, the Common Core project itself is also an exercise in fear-mongering about the future of our children, and has its own version of Professor Hill in its chief promoter, Bill Gates.

While Beck warns about the dangers of big government, Gates has been warning us about another bogeyman - the supposedly broken public school system. He warns that our kids are going to wash out in the international race for the jobs of the future, which supposedly will only go to those prepared for college and career by the new rigorous standards and tests.

Those who recall The Music Man will remember that Professor Hill wanted to sell the town on the idea of a band, so that they would purchase musical instruments and uniforms, on which he would make a tidy profit. That sounds a bit like the new Common Core-aligned curriculum, tech devices, tests and professional development which must be bought in order for the project to succeed.

Beck’s claim that Common Core is a progressive plot to turn our children into socialists is way off base. Likewise, Gates’ claim that the jobs of the future depend on preparing ever more students for careers in technology and math is shown to be without support. Just this week, an oped in USA Today pointed out that at the same time Gates proclaims the need for more skilled workers, Microsoft has laid off 18,000 of them, and stagnant wages show a lack of real demand. Furthermore, three out of four graduates with STEM degrees are not even working in jobs that require these skills, making it hard to believe there is any real shortage that would support Gates’ push for larger numbers of people prepared for such careers.

In The Music Man, the fast-talking con artist was ultimately redeemed by an unlikely savior - the town’s librarian. Unfortunately neither Glenn Beck nor Bill Gates seem to pay much attention to librarians - or their friends in the teaching profession. Professor Harold Hill’s downfall was when he fell in love, and wound up sticking around to make his promised band a reality. Sadly, this seems the unlikeliest of outcomes for either Beck or Gates.

What do you think? Can the librarians and teachers rescue us from the fear-mongers?

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The opinions expressed in Living in Dialogue 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.