What Is American Education?

Today, though it is certainly by now an “old” debate, our Sunday paper has an “opinion” piece about Common Core State Standards. The Errant has posted before on this (here, and here–the collusion of “divergent” interests) but I want to try to elaborate a bit on what I think are the things that are not said when discussing these issues.  First, my response to the column “Voices raised in opposition to adoption of Common Core” (I’ve copied the column over in full at the end should you wish to read it as it’s behind a pay-wall–it’s pretty short).


It must be concluded that there already are “common” standards in education as developed and implemented by Pearson Education. What is a testing regime if it has no standard?

The frustration for many of us who must endure the endless logorrhea of local, state and national “pundits” (and to call Neal even to so low an office as “pundit” would be saying too much) as they hold forth on “reform” is that there is nary a word said about children and the realities of learning and living in this bisected society. What we hear and read is rather simply a call to arms as to WHO gets to say what we must do. Better, the argument is about ideology and what MASTER we shall allow to shackle us.

Common Core is LIBERAL–in that the liberal elite will say, “this” is what is important and learning this material will make the nation stronger, wiser, more open, etc. This is arguable of course and “calcified” into standards must be admitted to no longer be “progressive” but “statist” or “governing.”

Common Core is Conservative–but for the “who” deciding it–a common core is exactly what fundamentalists want as well. It’s just that the “core” differs.

Common Core is our new “Values” politics. Will we read Bill Bennett’s Book of Common Virtues (or any “Heritage” fund book–like The Fountainhead) or will we embody Whitman’s singing (Leaves of Grass for all you “conservative” core proponents–surely you just discovered my own bias.)

But this is an absolutely worthless argument. Texas OWNS our textbook industry. What is that “common core” when it comes out of the Houston Areas School Board’s decision to elide particular historical facts? That is just one example of the truth that is larger than this faux debate. Texas appears to be the Walmart of our textbook industry–too big to say “no” to. Likewise, this bit of GOP prevarication is at base only about money. It’s only ever about money because money is power and power tells us what to read and think.

I believe that the freedom to read AGAINST the state ideology is the only freedom you can have. So that to read Ayn Rand and say amen is finally just an indication of your acceptance of that ideology fo selfishness. Ayn Rand offers ONE message. To read Melville is to find out that the world is full of ideas and that perspective is truth and THAT is ever-moving. Acknowledging the mystery is acknowledging that you will never know the truth but instead will be mastered by an ideology.

And regarding IN Governor Daniels’ claim that adopting Common Core is not losing state control–who wants the STATE to have control anyway? LOCAL means city/township level. On the ground, in the streets and squares, where we meet each other is where we can have this discussion without the PUNDITS and OWNERS providing the very narrow framework of VALUES (which is ultimately ONLY about where the money goes–who gets the “no-bid” contracts to inundate our children with the hive mind of ideology).


Further–an explication of the photo choice for the post.

As to the derision, fear, worry (?) about creating a “national, one-size-fits-all” curriculum: So?  What I mean to say is, that this country is “nationalist” in the first place, right?  We have allowed the government to codify the “Patriot Act” already–is that not a kind of national curriculum in itself?

Also, I’m not sure I can think very clearly about this on such a massive scale.  First, I’m sure most GOP and Free Market proselytizers are focused on two things: Money and God.  (These turn out to be the same thing frequently.)  I no longer am able to discern those who pander to believers and those who are believers.  The truth is a lie.  That is their lies are truths.  That is, who can tell?  Often the “obedience” to  the ideology of  “the Fathers” serves the ideology of “the Market” and so believing in the one transmogrifies into the belief of the other.

School in this framework comes down to obedience training–as many frame parenting as well–and also their call to religious life.  The content in school can be anything as long as the mind of the student is not allowed exegetical freedom outside that framework.   Common Core then is just another struggle over what Master we will serve.  But it is not a struggle about the freedom of “NO.”  In any context in America, Common Core or “local control,” there is no struggle, there is obedience to the state and the state’s handmaidens.

This is the truth of our commodified existence.  A student might think broadly, deeply, unorthodoxly…until she realizes her goal/role in life is to make money.  Then her mind must of necessity narrow and focus within that primary frame.  Once that is accomplished all of her former broadness, her quest for understanding, her questioning, must be diminished or forgotten or be described as the “idealism” of youth.  This is the place where America is for sale, and the best way to secure the “hope” of Jesus.  The redeemer and the market–our American Answers.

I feel that voucher proponents and “choice” proponents are only really interested in one thing: keeping themselves “pure.”  Reducing the “equal opportunity” of public education to a battle over privatized standards that use testing as segregation is just a way to separate further the citizens who will side with the haves and those who will side with the have-nots

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.  You see, the haves will need their “members” to back them as THE AMERICAN IDEAL.  That is almost certain to be the the White Christian Market Ideal.

This forces me to look at all the Vacation Bible School placards in our town with a visible shudder: this is the training of the coming Christian Soldier and these little boys and girls will not need to march off to any war as it will be here at home that they will stand up for their “beleaguered” (though the overwhelming majority) brothers and sisters in arms.  The infidel is among us, is your neighbor, is your classmate, is brown, is yellow, believes in Allah and not Yahweh (though I would almost guarantee no modern Xtian soldier knows Yahweh is the name of their “father God”), believes in Krishna, believes in no god at all…the infidel is ANYONE else defined as other.

I have run off the rails…it is easy to do in this context, in this America.  Has there ever been any other America?  Is this not our true Common Core?


Andrea Neal, “Voices raised in opposition to adoption of Common Core,” Bloomington Herald-Times (June 24, 2012)

A battle is brewing on the education reform front over Indiana’s embrace of Common Core — a set of math and English standards being implemented across the country to govern what is taught and tested from kindergarten to grade 12.

Leading policy experts on standards and curriculum have questioned why Indiana would abandon its previous standards, which were ranked among the best in the country.

The Thomas B. Fordham Institute, a champion of Common Core, has called Indiana’s English and language arts standards “clearly superior” and our math standards of comparable quality. Nationally known reform expert Sandra Stotsky says Indiana traded in a “silk purse for a sow’s ear” when education officials adopted the Core’s high-school English standards.

And yet, Gov. Mitch Daniels and State School Superintendent Tony Bennett are among Common Core’s staunch supporters.

Bennett insists the new standards are an improvement over what Indiana previously had because they are “fewer, clearer, deeper.” He rejects the notion of a federal takeover calling the Core a collaborative effort by the National Governors Association and Council of Chief State School Officers. “We didn’t give up state control,” he says.

Further, Bennett says, Common Core finally makes it possible for Indiana to see how students stack up against peers from other states. Beginning in the 2014-15 school year, the English and math sections of ISTEP (Indiana Statewide Testing for Educational Progress) and End-of-Course Assessments in high school will be replaced by a new test called PARCC (Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers) being developed by a consortium of 26 states.

To critics, this smacks of national curriculum.

All but four states have adopted Common Core. Alaska refused because of concerns about costs and federal mandates. Minnesota officials opted out because they felt their own math standards were superior. In Texas, Gov. Rick Perry wouldn’t obligate taxpayers “to unfunded federal obligations or to the adoption of unproven, cost-prohibitive national standards and tests.”

Supporters can argue until they’re blue in the face, but they will not convince critics their initiative is anything but a one-size-fits-all national curriculum.


photo credit:

Dawn Wolf:  The very reason many of our young people embrace Islam is based on this fact: Muslims prepare for war without apology. They recruit and train on the streets, and in prisons without fear, and an admirable resolve Christians are unable to muster and match.” -Gregory E. Woods, Keeper of the Sacred Medicine Wheel teachings

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  1. SS June 24, 2012 at 12:10 pm

    We are addicted (hate this buzz word, but couldn’t think of an appropriate synonym) to change. ANOTHER standardized test to replace iStep already? The educational master must keep us on our toes! Or was the iStep simply a stepping stone to this national curriculum, national testing, national standards.

    I’m not really sure how to think about education anymore. The best education will simply create curiosity in the minds of its students, in whatever form/interest that may mean for each of us as individuals.

    The ironic thing is that as things homogenization occurs real education becomes a more personal and more individual thing. National, public education is becoming more like a routine exam – your mental teeth cleaning, check-up, PAP smear. Of course, I’d argue that these exams aren’t really true barometers of our health either, like our “education” seems to not be a measure of true intellectual pursuit or understanding.

    Nevermind the fact that this national curriculum idea really undervalues teachers as caring people, intellectual people in their own right. I’d really like to hear more from teachers on all this. When did school stop being about teachers? I know, I know. Corporations, blah blah blah.

    Everyone should take the time to watch this documentary: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0318202/ (To Be and To Have)

    A heartbreaking portrayal of what education should really be!

    1. Douglas Storm June 24, 2012 at 1:20 pm

      Change is an economic necessity. We fear it as organic beings–in truth we are creatures of habituation for a reason–yet it is necessary in the economic system of Capitalism. Into this we thrust the “stabilizers” of religion, patriotism, jingoism, tribalism…so that within the continual change there is an “idealized” safety.

      Where does the institution of school fit there? Once, as a port in the storm of uncertainty (be true to your school), but since we have no economic loyalty and our economic frame is taking over education we are no longer “moored” to a stabilizing structure like local schools.

      This will only prove to be a further “destabilization” human community.

      We might argue education failed the challenge of “growing minds” but we as likely need to admit that this was not its focus. Rather, stabilizing communities in the face of a “change” economy was.

      This will no longer be true.

      Common Core is an attempt to create an “umbrella” of stability that might serve as stability to replace the traditional idea of institutional education.

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