“Just as it is gravely wrong to take from individuals what they can accomplish by their own initiative and industry and give it to the community, so also it is an injustice and at the same time a grave evil and disturbance of right order to assign to a greater and higher association what lesser and subordinate organizations can do. “
— Pope Pius XI, Quadragesimo Anno (1931)
In my two decades in education, I have heard many cockamamie ideas. Recounting all of them would not only take more space than I have here, but would also cause you to think that I am exaggerating. But trust me: however bad you think the Academic Left and the American Educracy are, they are worse. Common Core is the culmination of many decades of work by people who have political agendas—not education—as their aim.
The origins of Common Core date to the early 1980s, when, in the first years of the newly-formed U.S. Department of Education, activists moved quickly to turn that agency into a vehicle for federal control over education. Keep in mind that the federal government has no authority to be involved in education, in the first place. And yet the Department of Education has spent $88 billion since its inception in 1979.
During that span, the effect of increased federal control has not been improved educational quality—in fact, if anything, the United States has regressed in all international metrics. For those of us who understand the factors that must be present for excellent education—stable families, involved parents, well-educated teachers (that is, experts in their fields, not in pop-educational psychology), and curricula that have as their basis the foundational literature, documents, and ideas of civilization—we know why American education is declining. By turning local control over to the federal behemoth, we have allowed our kids to be sacrificed at the altar of technocrats and relativists.
Unfortunately, some well-intentioned people find Common Core appealing because of the ostensible focus on improving education. This was the aim, apparently, of a number of governors whose involvement in the early days of Common Core is cited by proponents as “evidence” that states’ rights are not being infringed. If anything, that is evidence that more governors are products of an American educational system that values self-esteem and identity politics more than the substantive content that once was a hallmark of American schools.
Others have been duped by the mantra that Common Core is not a curriculum but a set of standards. Even some of my conservative friends have fallen for this twaddle. They fail to realize two important facts. First, for anyone who works in education, we know that “standards” beget curriculum, which in turn frames lesson plans. The notion that the Common Core is merely standards, and therefore preserves state and local control, is utter nonsense. Just talk to a local teacher or school district official to determine how little influence teachers and local districts have under this ruse. Second, the architects of Common Core—the College Board, which stands to be enriched exponentially by its implementation; the Gates Foundation, which has poured $160 million into it; and the Chicago political machine that propelled an undistinguished state senator to the presidency—knew well that they could dupe the American populace with the standards vs. curriculum distinction, however artificial it is.
So let’s call a spade a spade: the aims of Common Core are to control, not educate; to increase federal influence, not to improve student achievement; and to advance a nefarious sociocultural agenda, not to preserve what has worked for millennia in education, the cultivation of all that is good, beautiful, and true.
So what can you do?
Start with your local school board. Attend meetings. Ask questions. Cultivate friendships with board members who share your concerns, and educate those who turn a deaf ear to those concerns. All across the country, where just a few, committed citizens have organized, they have won. As frustrating as this project is, it is also a reminder that citizens still have power.
As St. John Paul the Great wrote in 1997, the American Founders “clearly understood that there could be no true freedom without moral responsibility and accountability, and no happiness without respect and support for the natural units or groupings through which people exist, develop and seek the higher purposes of life in concert with others.” The irony, of course, is that if more citizens do not stand against Common Core in their locales, then the very means by which we transmit this understanding of freedom, responsibility, and limited power of the government will, in fact, be lost.