Common Core: Separating Wingnut Hysteria From The Facts

1182592Back in the 1990’s, during the Clinton years, there were conspiracy stories circulating in conservative homeschooling and religious groups that the Clintons, Donna Shalala, and the UN were going to force children to learn communism and be subjected to the “gay agenda.” As a child, I wasn’t even allowed to own a library card because child literacy campaigns were seen as attempts by Hillary Clinton to brainwash young minds with liberal propaganda. In fact, I was a sad victim of the conservative homeschooling movement spearheaded by the HSLDA in the late 1980’s and through part of the 1990’s. To this day, I still cannot do mathematics beyond entry level algebra as a result of the dysfunctional, religion before-everything-else education I received.

Not all of the people involved in the homeschooling movement were religious or anti-government fanatics. In the beginning, it was more secular but the wacko-bird demographic certainly gained pretty significant clout as the campaign rolled along.

The Christian home schoolers brought new legal problems to the home school movement, but they also brought some Christian attorneys who were willing to dedicate their time to protecting home schoolers. These included Michael P. Farris and J. Michael Smith, who founded the Home School Legal Defense Association (HSLDA) in 1983. Membership in HSLDA was open to any home schooler regardless of religious affiliation or lack thereof, but HSLDA employees were required to sign a Christian statement of faith. Home schooling had become legal for some families in some states; but HSLDA shouldered the task of making home education legal for every family in every state. By 1989, there were only three states (Michigan, North Dakota, and Iowa) that still outlawed home education. By 1993, home education was legal in all 50 states.

HSLDA was open to all home schoolers, but the rising tide of evangelical home schoolers began to change the face of home education. The original state home school organizations had always been willing to accept any home schooler, regardless of his reason for teaching a child at home. Christian parents who fled the public schools to escape secular humanism were understandably shocked by the lifestyles of some of their fellow home schoolers. As home education began to spread through local churches, explicitly Christian support groups began to spring up at the local level. (Source)

Once the Clinton administration got underway, the combination of fundamentalist Christianity and conspiracy stuff really got out of control. The stories of FEMA or reeducation camps circulated on Infowars and copycat sites are nothing more than the same old fears from the 1990’s dusted off and updated for the current Democratic administration. As the SPLC reports, much of the concerns with Common Core tie into the same old extremist delusions:

But to Christian Right, Tea Party and antigovernment activists, the state-driven effort to lift student achievement is actually “Obamacore,” a nefarious, left-wing plot to wrest control of education from local school systems and parents. Instead of the “death panels” of “Obamacare,” the fear is “government indoctrination camps.”

Many Christian Right activists claim the Common Core will indoctrinate young children into “the homosexual lifestyle” and instill anti-American, anti-Christian values. Their fight has been joined by radical antigovernment groups like the John Birch Society, which claims the standards are part of a global conspiracy to create a totalitarian “New World Order.” Glenn Beck, meanwhile, describes the Common Core as “evil” and “communism.” U.S. Sen. Rand Paul has called it “dangerous.”

What’s more, it’s clear that some of the opponents, including national groups associated with the billionaire Koch brothers, are exploiting the Common Core in their broader fight against the public education system in an effort to promote school privatization measures. (Source)

One legitimate criticism of Common Core is that it places too much emphasis on attaining certain test scores and not teaching children. That is a reasonable position to take, but haven’t we been conditioning our kids to succeed at tests ever since college placement tests came about? And do you think it would be any different under the private charter school systems that these national private education lobbyists are pushing? The Daily Beast presents this take on it:

Legitimate arguments against Common Core include the fact that the program is overwhelmingly funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation; that the short timeline for implementation is unrealistic and amplifies the high-pressure testing culture of No Child Left Behind; and that, while the program is completely optional, only states that have adopted “internationally benchmarked standards and assessments that prepare students for success in college and the workplace” are eligible for the Obama Administration’s Race to the Top competitive grants—and states that adopted Common Core standards by August 2010 received extra points on their Race to the Top applications. (Source)

So let’s say that the implementation of Common Core and the standards are perhaps faulty. Yes, maybe this does put additional and undue emphasis on passing standardized tests and perhaps we do need to fix that. Like any national program from healthcare to education, or anything else, it’s going to have bumps in the rollout and there’s always going to be the few lunatics running about talking about mind control and communist reeducation camps. For me, the fact that the radical right types like Phyllis Schlafly (who I met back in those homeschooling days) and the most uninformed commenters on our local TV station’s Facebook page are the most vocal in their opposition to it leads me to think that Common Core is probably not as bad as everyone makes it out to be. It may be a flawed system and it may place too much emphasis on passing tests instead of learning. However, Common Core isn’t the “OMG, the gubbermint is trying to teach little Mary to be a lesbian in kindergarten” conspiracy drivel posted all over the internet and painted on protest signs. We can have a rational discussion on the issue, but first we need to remove the crazies from the conversation.


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