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The Twinkification of American Education

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There’s a famous story (whose source I cannot track down) about a French education minister explaining his country’s schooling system to a visitor. At one point, he looked at his watch and told the visitor: “I know exactly what subjects are being taught and in what manner in every classroom in France right now. From Brittany to Provence, it is all exactly the same.” That kind of rigid centralization has a long history in France: the kings imposed it to stomp out the various local dialects and suppress religious heresy, and after them the revolutionaries used it to crush monarchist sentiment and religion. Our political ancestors in Britain defeated such centralizing monarchs, and our Revolution was fought in defense of local liberties, of the rights of each state and its citizens against the claims of a single, exacting sovereign. Currently, thousands of school boards across the country impose a wide array of quite different curricula, while myriad private schools and homeschooling parents march to the beat of many different drummers—to the frustration of a certain kind of big-city elitist, who’s embarrassed by all the yahoos he must share a country with (they “cling to guns and religion”), folks for whom he feels constrained to apologize when he chats with his friends from Europe.

Most of us like things this way. We like the fact that our country is more like a gumbo than a gruel. But there is a powerful movement afoot to homogenize high school education in America, and impose on our nation’s schools a narrow, blinkered, biased set of standards. Proponents of the national “Common Core” use the slogans of “economic competitiveness” and “higher outcomes,” but in fact what they’re trying to foist on the rest of the country is a system much more like France’s, where ideas can be comfortably piped down from the power centers and fed to the rest of the country. This movement is partly funded by donations from influence-hungry population crank and billionaire Bill Gates. The Common Core was insinuated into President Obama’s economic stimulus bill, and has even gained support from big-government Republicans like Gov. Jeb Bush. The Common Core has already been adopted by 47 states. How did that happen? As Michelle Malkin wrote:

'The administration bribed cash-starved states into adopting unseen instructional standards as a condition of winning billions of dollars in grants. Even states that lost their bids for Race to the Top money were required to commit to a dumbed-down and amorphous curricular “alignment.”

'In practice, Common Core’s dubious “college- and career”-ready standards undermine local control of education, usurp state autonomy over curricular materials, and foist untested, mediocre and incoherent pedagogical theories on America’s schoolchildren.'

More dangerous than the actual content of the standards in the Common Core is the precedent it sets by creating a centralized, federal curriculum for every student in the country. This politicizes education, and hands the power over what gets taught in Tuscaloosa, Alabama and Nome, Alaska, over to whoever won the last presidential election. If I might strike a partisan note, conservatives haven’t been doing too well in those, you might have noticed. Not that it would matter if we had: by their very nature, national standards will tend to favor the lowest-common-denominator mode of education, just like “No Child Left Behind”—which sparked a wave of cheating by teachers and administrators desperate to hold onto federal funding.

As educational reformer Diane Ravitch observed, another effect of the Common Core has been the abandonment of liberal arts education in favor of grimly, short-sightedly pragmatic training. Ravitch’s fears seem already to be coming true. Prof. Anne Hendershott reports: “Rather than giving English teachers the freedom to teach literature, the Common Core mandates that a far greater percentage of classroom time be spent on ‘fact-based’ learning…. For example, one teacher claimed that she had to give up having her students read Shakespeare in favor of Malcolm Gladwell’s Tipping Point because it was ‘fact-based’ and Shakespeare was not.”

Private schools and even homeschoolers must adhere to the rules of their local districts, and abide by their state’s laws. If these laws and standards are to be synchronized from Washington, D.C., what will result? Phyllis Schlafly warns:

'Common Core means federal control of school curriculum, i.e., control by Obama Administration leftwing bureaucrats. Federal control will replace all curriculum decisions by state and local school boards, state legislatures, parents, and even Congress because Obama bypassed Congress by using $4 billion of Stimulus money to promote Common Core.

'It’s not only public schools that must obey the fed’s dictates. Common Core will control the curriculum of charter schools, private schools, religious schools, Catholic schools, and homeschooling.'

In France, the educations received by students in every region are as identical as hundreds of thousands of Twinkies. The most ambitious graduates do not go into business but apply to a tiny circle of elite polytechnic institutes where they will be trained as bureaucrats. Virtually every college is owned or controlled by the State, and infused with the official ideology of secular multiculturalism. If that is the kind of future you favor for America, by all means sign on and support the Common Core. It will make things much simpler, once every student in America has memorized the same set of “facts” approved in Washington. Elections will run much more smoothly, as we all learn how to vote alike—for different shades of technocrat who vie for the chance to implement an ever-narrower range of “acceptable,” “mainstream” ideas. If on the other hand you have an inexplicable attachment to liberty or religion, or if your own views about the world do not fit comfortably within the confines of what’s printed in national editorial pages, you might want to contact your state's governor and raise a stink. Americans still know how to do that. They haven’t beaten it out of us yet.

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