Perdido 03

Perdido 03

Friday, July 4, 2014

The Hubris, Arrogance And Authoritarianism Of Common Core Proponents

Some of the comments on Jay Greene's Common Core Political Naivete and the Enemies List post get at this:

"The main problem has not been intention, I think, but strategy. I have no doubt many Core supporters really think national standards are educationally important. The problem is, to get what they thought was good, they adopted a strategy that was — and is — highly destructive: Drive adoption through stealth and federal coercion, likely to avoid the ignominious fate of open national standards efforts in the 1990s. Demean opponents, as Jay so rightly points out, as kooks and extremists worthy only of derision, not engagement. Perhaps worst of all, refuse to forthrightly acknowledge crucial facts once the public was fully confronted with the Core, including that Core-ites wanted federal coercion, got federal coercion, and that the Core intentionally has a major influence on curricula. 

People may think I am obsessed with the federal role in Core adoption because I constantly repeat the facts about it. And, of course, by itself the federal role is a crucial issue, invoking major constitutional questions, legal questions, and federalism concerns. But what is especially disturbing about the federal role is that Washington’s coercion essentially ensured that we would never get to have a substantive debate — a debate I, I think among many people, would like to have — about the merits of national standards, national tests, etc. Instead, the goal seemed to be to stick the public with nationalization without any public debate. In other words, we never got to have the more substantive national standards discussion because the federal government, at the urging of Core supporters, made having it irrelevant." -- Neal McCluskey

"I don’t agree with the notion that the Common Core advocates were ever naive. They were simply never honest about what they were trying to do–and didn’t think honesty would get them most of the K-12 system, public and private (remember, they went after Catholic parish schools right away–and Christian Day schools). They wanted control–the power to push buttons as they saw fit–because they thought so highly of themselves–with nothing to show for it in education (which is a good part of the problem.) Duncan didn’t accomplish anything in Chicago, Fordham has never accomplished anything in education that’s been academically effective. And Gates couldn’t discern the difference between third-rate minds in education and first-rate minds in technology, which is why he ended up with hiring third-rate minds for his Foundation. I doubt he ever read a book by Jacques Barzun, for example or reflected on the questions raised by Great Books writers to develop some insight into human behavior.

The first draft of the “anchor” reading standards that came out (sneaked out in July 2009 but changed before its official September debut), the membership of the standards development work group in sprint 2009 (mostly in test development), and the first draft Jim Milgram ever saw of the math standards with Algebra I as the “college readiness level” revealed designer intentions to anyone spending time pondering what was going on. The intentions behind CC were never academic–to upgrade the public schools in K-12 for all kids–even though that was what was needed, and still is. It’s not a “trahison des clercs” for most of them because that would credit Gate, Duncan, Finn, Petrilli, et al with more intelligence than they have. It’s a kind of hubris, but not of the Greek tragic mode." -- Sandra Stotsky

Both McCluskey and Stotsky make important points here.

The people behind Common Core believe they're geniuses and everybody else are morons - you can see that in the arrogance of David Coleman and Arne Duncan, the certitude of Bill Gates.

They decided that only their genius could save the country from the rest of us morons and decided to "save us" without actually asking us if we wanted to be, you know, saved.

They devised their strategies in secret and decided that their plans would be need to be implemented as quickly and as quietly as possible for maximum impact.

Previous incarnations of national standards died when there was pushback from states and localities - so this time, the geniuses decided the whole thing would happen so fast, there would be no time for pushback.

The '08 financial collapse became a convenient cover and excuse to push through what they wanted to push through - national standards connected to national tests that would be used to evaluate teachers, thus ensuring the standards were taught (and driving curriculum as well, since what gets tested is ultimately what gets taught.)

Race to the Top was the carrot, No Child Left Behind waivers were the stick and the USDOE was the driver of it all.

It's all falling apart for a number of reasons, not least of which are, the CCSS standards themselves are half-baked (because they were rushed and not tested anywhere), the ancillary testing that goes with CCSS is facing a mounting opposition from all political sides and the data programs that were supposed to track all the stats are under assault from parents and privacy advocacy groups.

But perhaps the biggest reason it's all falling apart is the hubris, arrogance and authoritarianism of the people behind the movement itself - this coterie of oligarchs and their functionaries thought they could get what they wanted quickly and quietly, with no muss and no fuss, by developing it in secret, pushing it through while everyone else was paying attention to the financial crisis of 2008/2009 and attacking anybody who criticized their genius as crooks or kooks.

They've created the pushback themselves through the strategies they developed to push through their agenda.

Greene calls that "naivete," though Stotsky disagrees and calls it "dishonesty."

I think it's a little of both.

At the core, the Core proponents are dishonest people - Gates, Duncan, Coleman, et al will lie and cheat to get what they want, the last few years shows that quite clearly.

But they were also naive to believe that there wouldn't be a significant counterattack to their agenda and they've been amateurish (as Greene notes in his post) in their own pushback.

Witness Duncan's ill-advised "Soccer moms are pissed to find out their kids are stupid" comments or Gates whining in the Washington Post about how he's just trying to save the world if only people would let him.

Instead of engaging critics and opponents on point, CCSS proponents attacks and dismiss.

They've sowed the seeds of the demise of their agenda themselves, first through through the authoritarian way they pushed it through, then through the amateurish way they've tried to deal with critics and opponents.

As Stotsky notes, this isn't hubris on a grand, Greek tragedy scale, but it is hubris.

And in the end, it's what's going to do the Common Core and the ancillary other reforms that came with them in.


  1. Along with "dishonesty" (doubtless) and "naivete" (more accurately described as arrogance), add greed and the will to power.

    1. Indeed.

      Here's hoping this ends like Greek tragedy for some of these oligarchs...