When the National Governors Association Center for Best Practices and the Council of Chief State School Officers unveiled the Common Core State Standards in June 2010, no one predicted the torrent of right-wing fury they would release.
On the contrary, the standards, a set of recommendations for English language arts/literacy and mathematics devised to improve American students’ competitiveness in a global labor market and increase equity and continuity across school systems nationwide, were widely lauded and quickly adopted by 45 states, the District of Columbia, four territories, and Department of Defense-operated schools.
Four years later, the standards are under attack. In a major report released on May 7, the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), which publishes the Intelligence Report, outlined the wave of resistance to the Common Core, driven by conspiracy theorists from the antigovernment “Patriot” movement, the Christian Right, and extreme factions of the Tea Party and libertarian movements.
The John Birch Society, a far-right outfit best known for claiming that President Dwight D. Eisenhower was a communist agent, describes the standards as a “fiendish” plot by “globalists” to turn American children into “green global serfs” who are “ready for the coming ‘green’ and ‘sustainable’ world order.” Similarly, the ultraconservative Eagle Forum claims the “ultimate goal” of the Common Core is to set up “internment or re-education camps.” Media personality Glenn Beck, who can always be counted on to beat the drum for the far right’s paranoid fantasies, joined in enthusiastically. “It is communism,” Beck said of the Common Core. “We are dealing with evil.”
Opposition from the Christian Right has been no less hysterical. Echoing fears generated by national “traditional values” organizations, Alabama Tea Party activist Terry Bratton claimed that the Common Core will teach young children that “homosexuality is OK and should be experienced at an early age and that same-sex marriages are OK.”
Such claims are utter nonsense. The Common Core does not dictate a specific curriculum or reading list; rather, it outlines a set of competencies children should have at different grade levels, leaving local school districts to decide what materials and lesson plans will best promote these goals.
While experts of all political stripes have raised important questions about the standards, it is not these legitimate concerns that animate the right-wing forces that oppose them. Instead, the SPLC’s report concludes, resistance to the standards is merely the latest iteration of conservative opposition to public education that has grown in strength over the decades as both courts and public opinion have rejected prayer in school, enforced desegregation, and embraced diversity.
Libertarian thinker C. Bradley Thompson denounces public schools as “the most immoral and corrupt institution” in the U.S., and says they should be “abolished for the same reason chattel slavery was ended.” Influential televangelist Rod Parsley says Satan “has turned our public schools into cesspools of godless propaganda” and adds that “it is time to take a stand against the devil.”
Noting that the destruction of public education would be devastating to underprivileged children, the report urges policymakers and political leaders to take a stand of their own by forcefully countering right-wing propaganda about the Common Core State Standards and making sure that educating all children remains a priority. “We must do better,” the report concludes.