Common Core: In pursuit of the new Soviet man

Glenn Jacobs Co-Founder, The Tennessee Liberty Alliance
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The Common Core State Standards Initiative is a federal initiative designed to homogenize diverse state educational curricula.

It is also the latest example of destructive federal overreach into the education system.

Like its predecessor No Child Left Behind, Common Core will not produce vibrant, inspired thinkers eager to tackle the world.

Instead, Common Core is designed to churn out young people who will be educated enough to work, consume, and pay taxes, but who are not encouraged to be creative, or to use critical thinking, or to develop anything remotely characteristic of those who possess superior minds and the ability to achieve great things.

Common Core proponents seem more interested in producing what Russian communists called “New Soviet Men” — people who are selfless, moderately educated, and stripped of all nationalist sentiment — than they are in delivering the next Thomas Jefferson, Thomas Edison, or Steve Jobs.

David Coleman is the architect of the Common Core standards. According to Coleman, supplanting classic literature with mind-numbing material such as government documents, court decisions, and technical manuals is necessary because informational texts are “what will give students the world knowledge necessary to compete as workers in the global economy” (emphasis mine).

Of course, there is nothing wrong with being a worker if that is what one chooses. However, it should be students, not bureaucrats, who determine what path their lives take: be it as workers, scientists, entrepreneurs, engineers, architects, artists, or whatever.

Like most government education programs, Common Core sets a very low bar for students. Its language arts component is so lacking that Dr. Sandra Stotsky, a professor emerita at the University of Arkansas and a member of the Common Core Validation Committee, refused to approve the program.

Common Core’s mathematical component is no better. The Validation Committee’s Dr. James Milgram, a professor emeritus at Stanford University, also refused to sign off on Common Core, saying that the math standards are “as non-challenging as possible. … The Core Mathematics Standards are written to reflect very low expectations.”

Unfortunately, since the mid-1800s, the object of government education in the U.S. has not been enlightenment and diversity of thought, but indoctrination and conformity.

In 1843, Horace Mann, the father of American public education, traveled to Europe to investigate the Prussian education system. Mann thought that American youth were unruly and needed a dose of discipline.

The highly regimented Prussian system provided the answer.

The Prussian model of education included compulsory attendance laws, teachers who specialized in specific subjects, a national curriculum, and national testing standards.

The autocratic Prussian government was not concerned about educating citizens, but controlling them. What better way to produce compliant people who think the same way than to take children away from their parents, limit their exposure to “inappropriate” information, encourage unquestioning obedience to authority, and discourage critical thinking?

In its mission to stunt intellectual growth and standardize diversity, the Prussian system was a spectacular success — a success which Mann and other early education reformers brought to our shores.

In 1852, Massachusetts, with Mann spearheading the effort, passed the nation’s first compulsory attendance law. By the early 1900s, the rest of the country was following suit. Although the federal government was not yet in the picture, many schools were being consolidated and school boards were losing their local flavor.

The Progressive Era brought us John Dewey and his idea that schools should not only be places of learning, but instruments for social reform, i.e., social engineering. Dewey thought that independent people were a danger to the collectivist future he envisioned. Students should only learn from “experts,” and not pursue knowledge for themselves. It was Dewey who advocated replacing the phonics method of teaching reading with “whole word” reading, a technique that Dewey himself admitted was much less effective.

This was a deliberate strategy to dumb down students.

Another progressive, Woodrow Wilson, clearly stated the goal of government education in a 1909 speech to the New York City School Teachers Association: “We want one class of persons to have a liberal education, and we want another class of persons, a very much larger class of necessity in every society, to forego the privilege of a liberal education and fit themselves to perform specific difficult manual tasks.” So much for the egalitarian myths about the American public school system.

By the late 20th century, the federal government was insinuating itself in the education system by bribing the states with grant money in return for more standardized testing and a greater say over the curriculum. In fact, Common Core began with a $4.35 billion program called “Race to the Top.” RTTP, which received its funding as part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (the stimulus bill), awarded the participating states grant money for satisfying certain criteria, including complying with Common Core standards.

Autocrats have long understood that if one controls the minds of its citizens, particularly the youth, one controls the future. Ultimately, the goal of the Prussian education system — the model for our own — was to create a docile populace that wouldn’t cause the ruling class too much trouble.

Sadly, the American education system has been following this same path for quite some time.

In 1889, William Torrey Harris, the U.S. commissioner of education, told railroad baron Collis Huntington that American schools were “scientifically designed” to prevent “over-education,” thus ensuring Huntington content workers who would never be tempted to better their station in life.

While Harris wanted to produce workers for private interests, Karl Marx — who also advocated free, universal government education — wanted to produce workers for the state. Either way, the happiness of the youth is subordinate to the will of central planners.

Instead of further centralizing our education system with programs such as Common Core, the education of our children should be returned to where it belongs: the family and local communities.

Common Core instructs our children not to grow, achieve and reach for the stars, but to keep their heads low, and their expectations even lower. “Lowest Common Denominator” is a far more apt name for it.

Glenn Jacobs is an entertainer and liberty activist. He is the co-founder of the Tennessee Liberty Alliance, a free-market educational organization.