Public schools

Even Arne Duncan's "Apology" for Insulting Common Core Opponents Is Condescending

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Arne Duncan
United States Department of Education

Arne Duncan, the U.S. Secretary of Education, had a moment of brutal honesty the other day. He immediately walked it back, of course, because when politicians occasionally let slip the impatience and contempt they feel for their constituents, it's usually a good idea to fake a little contrition lest their careers suffer. But he condescendingly lashed out at "white suburban moms" for rebelling against Common Core education standards, saying it's because their feelings are hurt when their kids don't score as well as they once did. Thanks for letting the mask slip, Arne, and revealing your disdain for anybody who might insist on leeway in educating their own kids.

Duncan spoke to a meeting of the Council of Chief State Schools Officers Organization, and said:

It's fascinating to me that some of the pushback is coming from, sort of, white suburban moms who — all of a sudden — their child isn't as brilliant as they thought they were and their school isn't quite as good as they thought they were, and that's pretty scary. You've bet your house and where you live and everything on, 'My child's going to be prepared.' That can be a punch in the gut.

Not surprisingly, Duncan's remarks were reported and pissed off pretty much everybody. Even Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teacher, and a Common Core supporter, objected that "The 'father knows best' attitude for our kids, which is the sentiment it conveyed, had no place in the 1950s, much less 2013."

In fact, as I've written, there are a variety of good reasons to object to the imposition of rigid standards on a nation populated by people of varying philosophies, backgrounds, and abilities. My wife, a pediatrician, is among those objecting that younger children are pushed beyond their developmental abilities. Can some kids work at that level? Sure. But to set it as a standard is a recipe for disappointment and failure.

Advocates of alternative educational approaches, including Montessori and Waldorf, find their approaches severely hemmed-in by the rigid benchmarks imposed by Common Core—and which apply even to charter schools, compromising their advertised independence.

And the standards are test-heavy, which doesn't play well with those who prefer lower-stress education. They're also wildly centralized, for a system nominally initiated by state officials.

Duncan has previously peddled that top-down rigidity as a feature, saying in June of this year, "Today, the child of a Marine officer, who is transferred from Camp Pendleton in California to Camp Lejeune in North Carolina, will be able to make that academic transition without a hitch, instead of having to start over in a widely different place academically."

Sounds handy—except that such plug-and-play education is possible only if schools are so tightly structured that textbook pages are turning in near unison. We're not all looking for plug-and-play education—many of us have our own plans for our kids.

I wrote earlier that Duncan apologized for his comments. That's not exactly true. On the Department of Education blog, he basically slapped himself on the wrist for calling out one group instead of everybody who objects to top-down standardization.

As a parent of two children in public school, I know no one enjoys hearing tough news from school, but we need the truth – and we need to act on it. The truth is we should be frustrated that as students, parents, and citizens, we've been hiding the educational reality, particularly as other countries are rapidly passing us by in preparing their students for today and tomorrow's economy. However, we should use this passion to say that the status quo is not acceptable and that we want more for all students.

That's still control-freak condescension from a a man who has almost single-handedly put the lie to the idea that Common Core is a state-led effort with his federal prodding in favor of the standards. Maybe we can let him have his condescension if he'll let us control the education of our own children.

Enjoy the video below of a New York teacher accusing officials imposing Common Core of "child abuse."