While the Washington state news coverage about education and high stakes standardized testing has focused mostly on the Garfield High School parent/teacher/student boycott of the Measures of Academic Progress (MAP) test, there has been little reporting over the Common Core State Standards, a curriculum guide for public schools to “ensure” that our “broken” public school system can once again be the best in the world. What may be surprising is the speed by which it has become the official education policy in more than 45 states.
But it’s easy to see why. We need to back up a bit.
The previous federal program, George W. Bush’s No Child Left Behind Act, has created a nightmare. Teachers — even those who had been recognized as the best teachers — have been ridiculed, fired, and in some cases, publicly humiliated into committing suicide because their students had not achieved higher test scores.
After No Child Left Behind fizzled, Arne Duncan, U.S. Secretary of Education, had a much better idea. “Let’s have a competition,” he said. The Race to the Top (RTTT) Fund, which pits school districts against each other for big federal dollars, had some conditions. Districts had to implement, among other things, Common Core standards, charter schools and a test-based teacher evaluation. It didn’t guarantee any RTTT grant money, but districts received extra points in their application if they did. Most of the states fell in line.
Everyone knows competition breeds excellence. That’s what coaches say. That’s what a lot of business leaders say. What do the rest of us say? Competition breeds nothing but a few winners (the 1 percent), a lot of cheaters and many, many losers.
What a waste of human potential. And it’s almost impossible to win, because the 1-percent-winners control the rules of engagement.
Teachers and educator who are much more informed than I have been writing about the attack on the public school system, the corporate greed and the utter absurdity of it all. (If you want more comprehensive information check out Rethinking Schools’ education materials, Wayne Au’s lectures, Diane Ravitch’s “Reign of Error,” Stan Karp and Jersey Jazzman).
But I don’t think enough has been written about “knowledge,” who controls the “knowledge bank” in the U.S. — and the whole world for that matter — and how that all connects to jobs, health, environment and quality of life. It bugs me.
The knowledge bank of a boy born to poverty in Hawaii is vastly different than the knowledge bank of a boy growing up in Chicago’s far South Side. But both have knowledge banks equally as important as the child of a $70 billion man who is now telling us what we need to know in order to ”just maybe possibly” work for him.
When there is so much concentration of wealth and high unemployment in this country, it’s very tiring to hear the 1 percent continue to place the blame on the schools or teachers. They never hold themselves responsible, despite the great inequities that exist today. That they can dictate the terms in which our children our educated — 25 percent of whom are living in poverty — is really offensive.
That they can claim they will help us reach their status by doing what they want us to do is laughable when they’ve been consolidating and accumulating wealth and power for the last 40 years.
And when we ask that they pay a fraction of the wealth they have stolen from workers’ pension funds, obscene government contracts and shutting down factories and schools so that they can build expensive high rises, they scorn us and say, “Tough sh@$. Learn our culture. Only then can you join our country club.”
I don’t want these robber barons deciding what should be taught, what should be tested and what the correct answers are.
We don’t want to live by silly mantras and value statements as “competition breeds excellence,” and “let’s teach the poor how to live like us by adding value to their lives.”
We know that corporate greed left unchecked will destroy us. It is destroying us already. It’s time for the 1 percent to learn how the rest of us deal with our basic needs, and how poor folks (especially poor kids) can blossom if given the opportunity.
If we allow the 1 percent to establish their monoculture as the “correct” one, all of our cultures will die and, hence, so will theirs. It’s time to fight back, embrace our cultural values and common sense, and reject Common Core.