It first appeared as an impassioned—if invented—attack on the Common Core State Standards. But at this point, “Common Core Syndrome” is really a description of the the truly bizarre politics surrounding the standards. Or, if that term doesn’t quite suit you, try this: the standards have been thoroughly captured by what David Brooks recently called “the ideological circus.”
Just how weird have things gotten? Very weird—even in an era where “freedom” loving ranchers are driving news cycles with their ruminations about the good old days of slavery.
Here’s a small sampling:
Last month, in Arizona, a state senator (and gubernatorial candidate) called the standards “pornographic.”
Similarly, Tennessee’s Daily Roll Call discovered that the standards are actually part of a Muslim Brotherhood plot.
By contrast, Virginia activists believe that the United Nations’ “Agenda 21” is behind the standards. Opponents in Georgia agreed. Oklahomans agreed, but wondered if it might also be “a plot by the New World Order.”
Still others, like conservative activist Phyllis Schlafly’s Eagle Forum has decided that the standards—which were endorsed by Jeb Bush and other prominent Republicans—are part of a federal effort at left-wing indoctrination. (They also found a list of suggested readings pornographic.)
Other Floridians threatened online retaliation against the state’s school board members.
With that sort of zaniness at the heart of the anti-Common-Core movement, it almost makes it seem pedestrian that the state representative trying to stop their implementation in Kansas hasn’t actually read them. And hey, if you’re looking for those risqué suggested readings, here they are.
Look, lots of education reforms are often seen as challenges to the country’s core ideals. The United States’ view of itself has long been tightly tied to national myths about individual self-determination that rely heavily upon access to effective educational institutions. Declining social mobility and a yawning wealth gap between the country’s masses and elites have done little to diminish public faith in the hard-studying, hardworking path to success. As a result, to touch the nation’s education system is to touch a particularly sensitive American nerve.
But the incandescent public outcry over the Common Core still stands out.
At base, Common Core is just a way to raise expectations across the multiple levels of governance in our fractious, chaotic education “system.” Strip away the furious rhetoric, and the standards are relatively pedestrian. Avert your eyes from the fearmongering and you’ll see that states can withdraw from (or ignore) this “federal intrusion” consequence-free. For a bunch of UN-sponsored Nazi-Marxist pornographers, officials supporting the Common Core are pretty easygoing.
Perhaps this is because, for the most part, the standards’ supporters have been paralyzed by the intensity of the blowback. That said, proponents in the Missouri House win the prize for most creative response. In February, they added an amendment to the state’s budget proposal to purchase tinfoil hats for Common Core skeptics. Specifically, it would appropriate funds for “two rolls of high density aluminum to create headgear designed to deflect drone and/or black helicopter mind reading and control technology.”
Which is pretty clever trolling, if you ask me. But at a deeper level, it probably just feeds the three-ring circus of Common Core politics.
There are serious implementation concerns about the Common Core. In particular, there are serious questions to ask about how the standards fit with state teacher evaluation systems. But we’re never going to get to those so long as we’re entertaining ourselves with conspiracy theories.
Conor P. Williams, PhD is a Senior Researcher in New America’s Early Education Initiative. Follow him on Twitter: @conorpwilliams.
Photo: Shutterstock/Suzanne Tucker