05/2014

Public Schools in the Crosshairs: Far-Right Propaganda and the Common Core State Standards

Across the United States, a fierce wave of resistance is engulfing the Common Core State Standards, threatening to derail this ambitious effort to lift student achievement and, more fundamentally, to undermine the very idea of public education.

Developed by the National Governors Association and an association of state school superintendents, the standards were conceived as a way to promote U.S. competitiveness, increase educational equity, and resolve problems created by the No Child Left Behind Act. 

Now being implemented in 44 states, the standards do not mandate the use of any particular book or course of study. Instead, they identify the literacy and math skills that children in every public school should master at each grade level. 

But to the most extreme critics of the Common Core, the standards are something quite different—a plan to indoctrinate young children into “the homosexual lifestyle,” a conspiracy to turn children into “green serfs” who will serve a totalitarian “New World Order.”


The Florida Stop Common Core Coalition (Facebook)

To the propaganda machine on the right, the Common Core—an effort driven by the states—is actually “Obamacore,” a nefarious federal plot to wrest control of education from local school systems and parents. Instead of the “death panels” of “Obamacare,” the fear is now “government indoctrination camps.” 

The disinformation campaign is being driven by the likes of Fox News, the John Birch Society, Tea Party factions, and the Christian Right. National think tanks and advocacy groups associated with the Koch brothers, whose father was a founding Birch member, have taken up the cause.

By raising the specter of “Obamacore,” activists on the radical right hope to gain leverage against their real target—public education itself.


Members of the Alabama Tea Party gather outside the Alabama Statehouse in January 2014 to protest the state’s adoption of the Common Core State Standards. Tea Party factions across the country have been among the most vocal grassroots critics of the standards, dubbed “Obamacore” by many opponents on the right. AP IMAGES/DAVE MARTIN
The Christian Right is reprising themes from earlier battles over the teaching of evolution, school prayer, sex education, and more recent efforts to stop the bullying of LGBT students. Their moneyed allies seek to privatize the education landscape.

To be sure, education experts of all political stripes have raised important questions about the Common Core. Are the standards too rigorous? Are they rigorous enough? Should children and teachers be evaluated on standardized testing? Has there been ample time for implementation and teacher training? 

These and other issues should be the focus of robust debate—one rooted in the facts. Unfortunately, the issues are being obscured by a cloud of overheated hyperbole, misinformation and far-right propaganda.  

We must do better.

America’s 50 million schoolchildren and the dedicated educators who teach them deserve a sober, well-informed discussion that will help determine the richness of the education afforded children in public schools—as well as what kind of country we become.

Political leaders and policymakers at all levels must reject the extremism that has polluted the debate and focus on the real issues.

Equally important, they must stand up for public education, one of our nation’s greatest accomplishments and a linchpin not only of our prosperity but of the American ideal of equality for all.