Recently, anti-Common Core activists in Florida and Georgia (and other states) were treated to the nugatory charms of the “listening tour.” State education officials carefully concealed the piles of crumpled twenties that Bill Gates shoved in their knickers and turned out to quote listen to the public unquote.
In other words, they pretended to give opponents of Common Core little snippets of time to speak on a vast, all-encompassing education reform that they, the elected officials in charge of education policy, have been laundering like illicit meth profits behind closed doors for years. And so of course the activists sounded outraged and often emotional: how on earth do you address a sweeping, transformative, mostly-concealed program that touches every aspect of the education system and have been foisted on the public through backdoor methods we still only barely understand — all in three minutes or less?
The real objective of the listening tour, of course, was to shut up opposition to Common Core by claiming they have listened to us and heard what we had to say so they can get back to doing politics without any more interference from the little people. I’m not saying that all the officials sitting on the dais acted that way. If you know your elected official, then you can gauge the spirit in which he or she participated. And frankly, the only way to even register our opposition to Common Core is to turn out for such events.
That’s why it is so important to get to know your elected official and give them a chance to prove themselves to you.
Bad politics exist everywhere, but good politics are usually local politics.
The lesson of the listening tour is that we will need to work together better in the future if we are going to be effective against a highly-coordinated coalition made up of wealthy foundations, professional poverty activists, elected officials, education bureaucrats, ed school professors, PBS, Chamber of Commerce boosters, and teacher’s unions.
We have taken on a very large task: we are demonstrating the audacity of asking an entire bureaucracy to behave as if it actually works for the people. So as they’re wiping the tears of mirth from their eyes, we need to be ready with a well-coordinated offense. For this fight, we need parents, taxpayers, our own education professors, home-schoolers, retired teachers, researchers, lobbyists, organizers, and, most importantly, effective foot soldiers in every corner of every state.
It will take a village to take our villages back. For some reason this makes me think of the fight scene in Anchorman (the first one, not the highly disappointing sequel). Remember, PBS were the bad guys in that, too.
Listening tours are dog-and-pony shows that always entail a certain measure of showmanship and deception. How could we have done better, with just three minutes each to speak? If we had coalitions in place, it would have been easier to meet beforehand to coordinate a series of responses — small pieces adding up to a larger response. A coalition also commands more media attention, and with that we could issue press releases in response to the listening tour format itself. The education bureaucracy does not want to be put in the position of having to fight on an even playing field — this is why they have been resistant to agreeing to public debates while presenting the “listening tour” they control as their solution for public input.
Like the fight scene in Anchorman, the Common Core fight is a fight among interested parties — the public is largely sitting this one out. Maybe they’re traumatized by childhood memories of WholeLanguage learning or just too busy working that second job to pay for somebody else’s healthcare — I don’t know. But the Common Core advocates have made this a difficult fight by making the Common Core materials themselves difficult, if not impossible to access, and there are only so many hours in the day. That’s another reason to put some energy into working together more efficiently.
Despite being a veteran of many public hearings, I came away from the Common Core listening tour surprised by the degree of contempt some (not all) elected officials involved felt comfortable heaping on their audiences . . . also known as their constituents . . . also known as their employers. We are facing a situation the ancient Greeks referred to as catching your elected official with his hand stuck in the cookie jar, so feelings are understandably running high. But that is no excuse for some of the behavior I witnessed.
In Dawsonville, Georgia, State Representative Brooks Coleman (R – 97), Chairman of the House Education Committee, set a particularly dismissive, hectoring tone.
And that was before he began grabbing people by the arms and berating them.
At a meeting that started in the evening after most attendees had clocked a day of work, Coleman played every time-wasting, status-asserting game in the book. He delayed the meeting to indulge in obsequious, long-winded praise for the public college officials who gave him use of a school auditorium (in other words, state employees who work for us opened up a room that belongs to us, for our use). To their credit, the officials looked embarrassed at Coleman’s faux fervent gratitude. Then, he could barely contain his ire throughout the event. Afterwards, as he worked the crowd, he actually grabbed my arm and shook it while hissing that I was wrong about Georgia accepting Gates funding to implement Common Core.
Of course, I was right and he was wrong. What’s more interesting is that we both knew it, yet he hung onto my arm and stuck with the lie, too.
Prove it, he said.
I just did. Again.
Moments like these can tell you everything you need to know about a political fight. Here are some of the things I observed:
- They know the gig is up, and sunlight is pouring in. Both Brooks Coleman and I knew that we were standing in an auditorium built with my tax dollars, at an event subsidized by my tax dollars, and that he, an elected official paid with my tax dollars, was lying to me about money the state Department of Education had received from an unelected, unaccountable third party: Bill Gates.
- At that moment, Coleman felt indebted to Bill Gates in ways that he does not feel indebted to the actual citizens and taxpayers of Georgia — the people he is legally sworn to represent and is being paid to represent. Coleman felt indebted enough to Gates to lie to hide the fact that Gates and his cohort are calling the shots within our education system.
- Coleman keeps saying — and his counterparts in Florida say the same — that opponents of Common Core don’t know what the real curriculum looks like. This is true — because they are doing everything in their power to keep the public from perusing it. So we should follow his lead: the first thing we should do is demand access to all curricular materials. Then we can have the debate about what is being taught in the schools that should have preceded the adoption of Common Core in the first place. Thanks, Brooks. Great idea.
Elsewhere, Coleman fibbed to the incurious mouthpieces who pretend to be political reporters at the Atlanta Journal Constitution. To the mouthpieces, he said that the public at the speaking tours had delivered the following message to him: “Stick with the national set of academic standards called Common Core, superintendents, teachers and parents have told them.” Of course this is not true. The superintendents and teachers may have said so, but during them time set aside for the public to comment, the attendees were overwhelmingly anti-Common Core.
Coleman also told the story that Common Core was actually the invention of southern governors — and he was in on it — and so, he scolded, we don’t know what we’re talking about when we oppose it and talk about involvement by the federal government. “Bet’cha didn’t know that” he challenged. Since Mr. Coleman did not listen to my response that night, let me offer it again here: Yes, I do know about the educational standards envisioned by the southern governors. I also know about E.D. Hirsh’s admirable efforts to introduce dense, traditional content in K – 12 classrooms in New York City, efforts which are similarly cited as inspiring Common Core.
But there’s a catch. Neither the southern governors’ nor E.D. Hirsch’s vision are much in evidence in Common Core today. They may have had a good idea at one time, but that good idea is not the thing that plops into your child’s hands from the pricey, jargon-laden textbook program firing up on Bill Gates’ donated tablets.
The southern governors invented the idea that became Common Core. That doesn’t make the current boondoggle more palatable: it just makes them more culpable for it. Culpable for the Boondoggle is my idea for a slogan for this movement, by the way, but I’m flexible about that.
So the listening tours were a colossal waste of time. That was a feature, not a bug: they wasted your time and put you down and wore you out, and when you didn’t fall in line anyway, they simply lied to the media about what you said, and the media broadcast their lies for them. Oh, and they made certain everyone saw the armed security guards at the entrances so they could make it seem as if we were a dangerous bunch. That’s a strategy too.
You still have to go back if there is another listening tour. Just know what they’re going to pull this time, and be ready.
The really exciting thing about the Common Core listening tours was that people showed up who don’t even participate in the anti-Common Core movement, and they had interesting arguments against Common Core. There were professors of education and parents and retired teachers and principals. No matter how hard the media works to make the movement seem like a fringe group, they are failing because that is a lie, too. They will keep trying, and they will keep failing.
Now is the time for us to assess who is with us and what we have to offer to each other. In Florida, the Florida Stop Common Core Coalition is holding a coalition-building meeting on January 11. If a representative from your group wants to attend — FSCCC is a coalition of groups, not individuals — contact Chrissy Blevio at their website, or contact this blog, firstname.lastname@example.org. I will be running the training.
Even if you aren’t in Florida, read Dr. Karen Effram’s essential analyses of Common Core legislation. If you are in Georgia, the good ladies at the Educational Freedom Coalition are doing amazing work (order their bookmarks), as is Jane Robbins from the American Principles Project; Mary Grabar at Dissident Prof, and researcher extraordinaire Robin Eubanks at Invisible Serfs Collar — buy her book, Credentialed to Destroy:
The Heritage Foundation, Eagle Forum, and Concerned Women for America are on board, along with hundreds of Tea Party and 9/12 groups around the country.
Mary Grabar has a book review for Terrence Moore's The Story Killers out in the Selous Foundation magazine. She writes:
Every concerned parent, grandparent, and citizen should read this, for Moore cuts through the obfuscation to reveal Common Core as “a complete consolidation and nationalization of a public education in America.” It’s the final step in a 50-year process of the progressive takeover of education.
I concur: it’s an amazing book. Read Mary’s review, and check out the Selous Foundation’s other education reports.
They’ve had fifty years to break education: we’ve had just a few months to begin to figure this thing out. We’re at the beginning of a long fight to bring back proven, traditional education. They’re at the end of the time during which they thought they could get away with anything quietly. The first public confrontation — the “listening” tours — gave us a lot of ammunition. We know their excuses and we know what they think of us . . . and of themselves. Read The Story Killers, get with a group, and get ready for the session. This fight has just begun.