Every parent can relate to the endless string of “why’s” that come from the mouths of children shortly after they learn to talk to us. It leads many people down the existential trail that often end at “because I told you so,”  or “it just is.” That parental frustration  may train all of us to avoid asking “why” in the future which is a shame, because you can get so much useful information with that one word.

A majority of Republican Presidential candidates are saying that they oppose Common Core to some degree or another. Even Mike Huckabee, famous for privately asking people not to give up on Common Core while publicly opposing it,  is now strenuously saying he opposes it and is asking for people to endorse his pledge to “kill common core.”

Scott Walker, who himself left college early to pursue a career, eschewing the mantra that one needs a degree to get a job, supposedly opposes Common Core. But just this January he cut funding to the Wisconsin University system and redefined the system’s statutory mission of “methods of instruction, research, extended training and public service designed to educate people and improve the human condition. Basic to every purpose of the system is the search for truth,” to now focus on making sure the system meets the state’s work-force needs.

Eric Kelderman wrote in the Chronicle of Higher Education, “The value of a college degree, in his view, can be measured largely by the job that a graduate gets, and colleges are spending too much money and time on things that do not serve that mission.”  Is this view of the goal of education really any different than those who push Common Core because it is necessary to make our students competitive in the global economy?

Who do you believe?

The best way to answer that question is to ask them a question – why. Why do you oppose Common Core? Their answers will likely tell you whether they will take the Huckabee route to accept it under a rebranding scheme or through some other channel, like a cooperative agreement among the governors because their opposition is based on the negative public perception of Common Core,  or whether they understand that a single utilitarian goal for a public education system will neither meet the public’s needs or acceptance, nor will it produce the promised economic gains and thus must be rejected.

The candidates who are or have been governors face a special challenge in that they have been indoctrinated by the National Governors Association to believe that they, according to then Secretary of Education William Bennett in 1986 “are in charge of schools in [their] states, and when you decide to act you can act.”

Back then, Marc Tucker (whose letter we highlighted again yesterday) was Executive Director of the Carnegie Forum on Education and the Economy. He said this to the National Governor’s Association.

“When the Carnegie Forum Task Force began its work, we knew that the Governors were the key to the necessary revolution in school policy.

The results are clear. The Governors and the members of the Carnegie Task Force are of one mind on the issues and on strategy. The Carnegie Forum stands ready to join with each of you and with the National Governors’ Association in implementation of our common agenda.

We now know that the Governors of this country are solidly committed to a new political compact in education and to a set of powerful strategies for completing that compact.”

Carnegie’s May 1986 report “A Nation Prepared: Teachers for the 21st Century. The Report of the Task Force on Teaching as a Profession” called for a National Board for Professional Teaching Standards.  Wouldn’t having a national set of standards upon which to train all those teachers help make that a reality? The report warned that, “if the United States is to have a vibrant democracy, avert the growth of a permanent underclass, and have a high-wage economy, schools must graduate the vast majority of students with achievement levels long thought possible only for a privileged few.” Wouldn’t a set of standards that promised to make everyone college and career ready help bring that vision to reality?

Guess who was Chair of the NGA in 1986 to receive these messages and take them to heart. Answer:  Current Senator Lamar Alexander of TN who Chairs the Senate HELP committee and is pushing to finish his Every Child Achieves Act (ESEA 2.0) which furthers this decades old agenda for, as Lou Harris and Associates told the governors back then, “a complete and comprehensive overhaul of the entire public education system.” Perhaps he is looking for the outcome Harris predicted of a “grateful nation [who] will give you its thanks for what you have done…”  Don’t hold your breath Lamar.

If a candidate’s goal for public education is to train students with the skills they need to succeed in a job, they will oppose Common Core in name only. A utilitarian view of students as “human capitol” leads to things like scripted lessons, standardized tests and longitudinal data systems to track them like inventory.

However, if they really believe in education as a life long goal, not a destination where your sheep skin is punched once you have arrived, they will not support a nationalized set of standards, curriculum and test.  Do they believe, as Don Don Quixote did, that one should  Study to explain your thoughts, and set them in their truest light, labouring as much as possible, not to leave them dark nor intricate, but clear and intelligible?” Can these see that modern skills based education where one is prepared for a single job leads to what  American philosopher and historian Richard M. Weaver referred to this as the “fragmentation” of knowledge” which produces people “who have acquired only facts and skills and who are thus unable to achieve a general synthesis, that is, to integrate data from various fields into a cohesive whole.”  He contrasted this view of education with the classical education  model with its broad base of topics which produced scholars who, “stood at the center of things because [they] had mastered principles.” Look at Common Core standards which are primarily skills based and ask how one with an appreciation for the benefit of classical education could ever support them, under any name.

Worse case scenario the candidate could respond this way.

Anne Gassel

Anne has been writing on MEW since 2012 and has been a citizen lobbyist on Common Core since 2013. Some day she would like to see a national Hippocratic oath for educators “I will remember that there is an art to teaching as well as science, and that warmth, sympathy and understanding are sometimes more important than policy or what the data say. My first priority is to do no harm to the children entrusted to my temporary care.”

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