You can’t take politics out of education
Twitter was all abuzz Friday night with common core proponents attempting to stem the tide against the common core state standards initiative. Under the hashtag #ccsstime being led by the Learning First Alliance @LFA, a conversation about how to fix the implementation of Common Core is on going. This little exchange caught my eye.
Debbie says common core is just common sense. First, I must wonder if she has read the standards herself. The language used in the standards is not common sense. They read more like a legal document. That is why so many districts spent big bucks from their professional development budgets to “unpack” them in the last couple years. Teachers did not quickly and easily understand them which they would have done if they were just common sense. If she is saying the concept of having common standards is just common sense I would insist that she justify that statement. The only common standards that I believe everyone could agree on are that our children should be able to read and write, and know some very basic math (the kind that would be taught up through about 6th grade.) Beyond that, there is no real justification, if we are talking about benefiting the children in particular, for them all to learn the exact same thing or even the same skills. Their goal in life will be to be able to differentiate themselves from others in order to better their position in the workforce (I’m using the reformers language here so they can understand.) If we mold them into interchangeable workers who all learned the same things, how will they be able to do that?
But what struck me more was the last bit about there being no politics in education. That caught LFA’s attention too as noted in their response “let’s set politics aside.” I’m not sure what they think politics is that it can be set aside when we are discussing education.
Politics is the act of governance , of control. It comes from the Greek meaning “of the citizens.” Politics is the formal process by which we decide how we will live together and what our culture will be. It defines who is in control of what. Education is the passing on of knowledge and norms from one generation to the next. In addition to basic skills, it teaches the children what the laws are, who is in control and what society expects of them. There is no innate understanding of those things. Politics is the way we sort out what those things are without having to resort to physical violence to settle it. Thus, politics is inherently a part of the education process. It is how we decide collectively what knowledge and norms are to be passed on to our children. Education without politics is merely the mighty (or wealthy) making these determinations without the citizens.
In fact, the problem many people are having with common core is that it was developed and implemented without politics, that is, without the people deciding who is in control. Politics is not mudslinging and name calling. That is just a tactic in the process of politics. Politics isn’t just which party you are in. That is a simplistic sorting tool which we are finding is less meaningful each day. Politics is about who we are as a culture and how we will conduct ourselves in order to be able to live together. If we fail to teach our children these things then we will have failed to give them whatever semblance of peaceful living we have enjoyed.
It is very difficult for the supporters of common core to make the argument that politics is ruining the standards since what most people think of politics, specifically party politics, just isn’t playing out with common core. There is opposition to the initiative on both sides of the aisle and even down ideological lines. I would ask Debbie and LFA “Whose politics are you wanting to keep out of the debate?” What Debbie and LFA seem to be saying is, “Let’s keep you disagreeing with us about common core out of the discussion.” Talk about shutting off debate and declaring yourself the winner!
Sorry, but the skirting of the political process is what got us into this mess and the only way to fix it is to bring the political process, whereby the citizens get to reach a consensus on what to do, back into the debate.