Twitter’s Anti-Common-Core Picture Show: Sauron, Big Macs, and Zombies

By Andrew Ujifusa — July 23, 2015 6 min read
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Is a picture about the Common Core State Standards worth a thousand words—or even 140 characters?

When you have a free moment, check out the steady flow of tweets featuring the #CommonCore hashtag. What may strike you is the images people use to try to make their point about the common core. Sometimes it’s not clear what point they’re trying to make with the pictures that include everything from fast food to a mythical multi-headed beast.

Earlier this year, the Graduate School of Education at the University of Pennsylvania released a study of how social media impacted the debate over the common core. That study found, among other things, that the online debate about the standards has come to be a proxy for broader disagreements about where American education should be headed.

But whatever the quality of the common-core arguments you see on Twitter, tweets using images can often get a lot more attention than tweets without them. And if you check out #CommonCore tweets, you’ll see many of the images tweeted and retweeted over and over.

So what are the pictures people use on Twitter to highlight their feelings about the common core?

An informal and unscientific survey of the images over several days reveals that images accompanying common-core tweets are largely (and sometimes virulently) negative about the standards. However, sometimes the tweets and the images often don’t have a substantive connection to the common core, or else they bring up other K-12 policy issues beyond the common core. Data-mining, for example, isn’t a part of the standards.

My Precious ... Testing

Pop culture references abound. There’s this tweet comparing the testing company Pearson to Sauron, the villain of J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings trilogy who has an all-seeing eye:

And here, the Three Stooges have been “rebranded” to air three major complaints about the standards and the aligned assessments:

Sometimes the images match up nicely with education themes. This anti-common-core image pays homage to the classic excuse for not turning in homework:

In fact, animal images abound. Below, for example, is a tweet featuring a frog that evokes instant pity, as well as, perhaps, instant ramen:

Here’s an image of the common core frightening this poor cat, as well as students:

And finally, it’s not an animal per se, but the Lernaean hydra from Greek mythology has been revived here to demonstrate the many supposed ills of the standards:

Is Common Core a Big Mac, Gruel, or Three Fried Eggs?

Many of the tweets appear to be conservatives trying to rally other conservatives to oppose the standards; as such, GOP presidential candidate Jeb Bush, a high-profile supporter of the common core, gets a lot of Twitter criticism through images like this one:

Here’s an image arguing that the common core is advertised as healthy for kids even though it’s an artery-clogging menace:

Speaking of advertising campaigns, if you enjoyed the “This is your brain on drugs” push, here’s an anti-common-core Twitter image for you:

Zombies Trumpet the Common Core

Then there are the many images of children, often in distress or under some malign influence. Here’s a “Children of the Corn” reference for fans of the Stephen King novel and subsequent horror film:

And the creativity of a child being obscured by standardized tests is the subject of this “then and now” image about musical skill:

But some of the tweets ... well, I haven’t seen anyone yet explain how this is connected to the common core:

Meet My Friend Obamacare

Waiting for an image from a tweet that’s positive about the common core? Here’s Carrie Heath Phillips of the Council of the Chief State School Officers, which along with the National Governors Association oversaw the common core’s creation:

You may notice that most of the tweets I highlighted are directed at members of Congress. In the version of reauthorized federal education law passed by the House of Representatives, members adopted an amendment clarifying that states could drop the common core with no penalty from Washington. But if anti-common-core activists behind these and other image-heavy tweets were hoping for a federal ban of the standards, they were left very disappointed.

At the state level, common-core repeal efforts have also fallen completely flat this year. Of the 46 states that originally adopted the standards, just three have backed out so far. To the extent the tweets really target testing and other K-12 issues, they might find a little bit more solace.

So what do we make of these images? Maybe one conclusion is that it’s a really difficult, if not impossible job to try to capture a complex policy issue like the common core in a single collar-grabbing Twitter image, whether you like the policy issue or not. Perhaps some of these images are worth a thousand words, but it might take a lot more than that to have a nuanced, substantive debate about the common core.

Of course, #CommonCore doesn’t have a monopoly on these attempts at powerful political imagery. Here’s one final Twitter image. This one is about health care, not education. But it’s expressing opposition to a major policy initiative. And like many of the common-core tweets with images, it also involves a student:

Have I missed any particularly eye-catching images on Twitter about the common core? Point me to them in the comments or let me know at my Twitter handle below.

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