It was with deep and increasing sadness that I read the steady stream of emails coming in real time from my colleagues attending New York State Commissioner of Education’s John King’s Common Core “listening tour” which set up base in Brooklyn last night. The sadness did not stem from the fact that my colleagues were essentially silenced by a calculated maneuver by Michelle Rhee’s Student First NY organization to ensure no voice but theirs was heard by bussing people in early in order to gobble up all of the speaking slots, even as they reportedly repeated the same lines over and over again.
I expect such anti democratic machinations from all corporate education reform front groups, that much the more from anything associated with a ruthless monster like Rhee. What saddened me was the conscious injection of race into what us is ostensibly meant to be an airing of pedagogical policy. The line of thinking I read about again and again and again was that if you opposed the Common Core Standards – presented somehow as a matter not of pedagogy but of civil rights — it was because you are a racist and you did not want children of color to succeed in school.
This is very, very ugly and purposely divisive stuff. Indeed, it could scarcely get uglier or more divisive.
But in a way it makes sense: an ugly, brutal and suicidal sense but sense anyway. It is a kind of toxic combination of cynicism and desperate hope, one in which you have the city systemically starving schools in impoverished and minority neighborhoods and the predatory cunning of the corporate education reformers of which Common Core is a crown jewel preying off of that poverty.
For when you ram into existence, by some of the most insidious and antidemocratic processes possible, a billionaire backed experiment on the children of an entire nation; an experiment created by some of the most arrogant and ruthless souls on earth (Bill Gates, David Coleman); an experiment based on nothing but endlessly repeated rhetoric and slogans (“making kids college and career ready”) and one that that has been greeted by parents and teachers alike with incomprehension and disgust, you would do well to have evidence of the amazing success you claim such an experiment brings.
But since the creators of the Common Core — in an act of unprecedented and unconscionable hubris — did not even bother to field-test the thing, there is no evidence to be had of anything anywhere.
So what do you do when people start asking questions? How can you defend the indefensible? How do you support something with no evidence to support it with?
But you can try to change the argument. Ergo: the problem with the Common Core is not with the Common Core (which is perfect at conception) but with anyone and everyone who opposes it for any reason, no matter how sound. According to the New York Times, people oppose the Common Core is because they are Tea Party nut jobs or left wing conspiracy nut jobs. Or because they want teachers to coddle their kids. According to Arne Duncan opposition stems from the fact that suburban moms just can’t handle the reality that their kids are dumb and their schools sucks as badly as they really do.
All of this is ugly but it also silly. To introduce the element of race into this discussion in a nation where racism has been its most disgusting and perhaps most permanent reality is anything but silly.
Such a move is meant not to promote dialogue but to end it. No decent person wants to be called a racist or to be accused of promoting racist policies, which is what many at last night’s “forum “ apparently claimed opponents of the Common Core are doing. This line of thinking has no more credibility that those of Arne Duncan or Joe Bruni or Bill Keller and it should be given no more credibility. What is credible and what must be heard is the very real anguish and near despair that produced such thinking. It did not come out of nowhere.
In a few hours John King will hold another “forum” in downtown Manhattan.
I have no idea if Students First NY or some other billionaire backed front group will attempt to pull a similar stunt but this time around I will be in attendance, as will many of my friends and colleagues and I hope to speak to the issue at hand and not be drowned out by confusion and ugly corporate sponsored obfuscation.