The Common Core “Standards” are the Global Competition Warriors’ “Product Specifications”

One common criticism of the English Common Core Standards revolves around Core advocates’ dismissal of the value of personal prose (and fiction more generally). Core architect David Coleman captured the ideological spirit of the Core and education “reform” more generally when he emphasized that business doesn’t care what you f-ing think. How true! But this signifies a change in the basic premise of Anglo-American thought — the claim to defend the individual, individual property, individual choice, individual will, etc. While this individualism can and should be critiqued, the point here is to study the change now taking place. Individual rights, choice, citizen empowerment, etc., are being eroded. The human conscience defended by the bourgeois revolution that lead to the framing of the U.S. Constitution is now under attack. The ARRA (which gave Arne RTTT) and Patriot Act, etc., confirm that the only rights now guaranteed are those claimed by monopolies and the Security State. They think they alone are the Public, just like the kings of feudal Europe. Education “reforms” now taking place are part and parcel of these arrangements.

The Core Standards Reflect The Aims of the Global Warriors

Standards reflect the aims and outlook of those who established them. The Core were crafted by representatives of the monopolies and key state and federal executives. The Gates Foundation alone has spent more than $800 million between 2009 and 2011 on building and imposing the “Career and College Ready” machine. Educators and the public were actively excluded. These are standards of the global warriors, and they reflect the way these warriors view and vision the world.

A key feature of the Core is the manner in which they attempt to eliminate aim, or purpose, among those who are the object of the Core (students, teachers, administrators). The Core is premised on a model that views human beings as things to be exploited by the global warriors in their quest for the domination of markets, natural resources and peoples (this is called “human capital”). These warriors cannot recognize or even tolerate the existence of the human will, or conscience; things make no claims on that which the monopolies believe is theirs, and theirs alone.

Thus I think the Core (and the so-called standards movement that has led up to them) can be best understood as product specifications. “The lightbulb will illuminate 1500 lumens of white light for 1000 hours.” In this scheme, students are products to be manufactured according to specifications in the Core (with production standards for each stage along the production line) by the workers (teachers). Principals are the production managers held accountable for the productivity of their unit in the production process. Developmentally appropriate educational practice does not align with the warriors vision: if you don’t meet the standard, too bad for you. They do not give a … if Johnny is not ready to read at age 4; like a production manager, the inputs are carefully reviewed before production begins (this is why KIPP, etc., has parent contracts); raw materials not meeting the production specifications are returned or thrown out. Don’t believe the talk about problem solving and creativity and perseverance. It is the kind of problem solving and creativity and perseverance that comes from a machine, an algorithm. And there is no curriculum anymore, only the assembly line, the series of steps of the manufacturing process.

Thus, students are to be made “career and college ready” — that is, market ready, ready to be consumed. The act of their consumption by “business” or the “education” industry (even non-profit Colleges are succumbing to the business model of education) is redefined as “opportunity”. In this scheme, those not meeting the standards are junked or listed as “B” stock. Concretely this means even more poverty and even more prisons. It also means more canon fodder available to the global warriors for their endless criminal wars.

For those who look at the world this way, humans are no different from natural resources, ready to be exploited as the global warriors see fit. Humans also become, in this model, reduced to a conduit for the exchange of capital, as various monopolies hedge their bets on the “value added” at any point in the production/consumption process. Some warriors make money off of the production line itself, while others hope to benefit from future exploitation of the product. Some use the crisis they create to simply steal from the public treasury. Political authorities hope the product is compliant, eschewing the very notion of “public”. Products are not empowered; they are managed, bought and sold.

The notorious (and not even very entertaining) movie “Waiting for Superman” thus advocates teachers open up students’ heads and pour in “the” “knowledge” and “skills”, a job they are increasingly turning over to the corporate charter camps. This is why “reformers” are shutting down public school districts. They are not reformers; they are destroyers and robbers of public assets and smashers of public opinion. The KIPP’s (and Green Dot’s and Imagines and Uncommon Schools, etc.) “No Excuses” (read: “I don’t f-ing care what you think”) pedagogy is just what Wall Street ordered for the mainly black, brown and working-class contingent of youth. The fact is, traditional public schools were built for a different purpose from that of the charter camps, and while they are also implicated in the reproduction of social inequality, they cannot exist absent the public and democratic ideals so violently attacked by “reformers”. In their failure to fully acquiesce, public schools must be removed (especially in those “urban” areas). They must be destroyed in the eyes of the global warriors.

Standards Are Not Aims

Fictional literature and personal narrative is often the place where questions of one’s outlook are entertained (issues of identify, purpose, ethics, etc.) and in this sense, Core advocates emphasis on information and “facts” is central to their outlook. Computers can generate facts and even discern patterns; now we are told they will grade essays. But these machines have no purpose. No aim. No will. No conscience. And as a result, they have no demands, no concerns, no worries. They have no individual or collective will to be. They do not organize to defend their collective interests. They do not call in sick. They cannot read Shakespeare, or Malcolm X; they can only process. There is no meaning.

In his unimpressive book designed to win support for the Common Core, Robert Rothman (who does not mention Bill Gates once) writes:

Standards also represent high aspirations. Selective universities, for example, set stringent admissions requirements, and if they admit students who do not meet those requirements, they are often accused of lowering standards. In that sense, standards or goals that not all students can meet, but rather aspirations that all can strive for.

In the 1980s, in the wake of the report, a nation at risk, which warned of a “rising tide of mediocrity,” educators began to talk of standards has aspirations. Yet they also began to express the belief that high standards could apply to every student. Invoking the mantra “all children can learn,” educators develop standards that they expected all students to me. They represented a profound change in American education. In contrast to traditional practice, in which some students learned that high levels one almost learned basic skills, the new standards were aimed at making sure that all students, regardless of their backgrounds or life aspirations, would have the same educational opportunities. (p. 15)

There are several things to point out here. Most important is the thesis that standards are aims. Standards are not aims, but rather, standards embody aims. The aim of turning human beings into products is reflected in the Core standards and the “curriculum” offered up to help meet the product specifications. Standards are concrete things used to assess, compare or measure something; they exist; they are not “aspirations.” Children don’t simply “hope” to “grow taller,” they strive to become active members of the society and to contribute to that society. They want to participate, to play and to work. Education is the process by which society assists the young in doing just that. To render standards as aims serves to eliminate aims; it eliminates purpose and hope. It reduces the territory to the map. It gives directions, but refuses to articulate a vision of where we are going and why we are going there. It refuses this because that vision is against the public interest.

An expression of this problem is “teaching to the test.” The problem with teaching to the test is not simply that it narrows what is taught. The problem is that it is an act of philosophical suicide. It is to accept and socialize people to accept acting without purpose. “Why are we engaged in teaching and learning,” a teacher asks? “To raise test scores,” retorts the reformer, or more commonly, “to close achievement gaps” — that is, you teach in order to reduce the gap between test score averages of different groupings of students. Wow, now I’m fired up! Where do I sign up! But seriously, why should we want to raise test scores or close gaps between test scores? What is the purpose of all this? To be globally competitive? Sure, but no reformer actually explains in concrete terms what that actually means, what it assumes and what it has and will yield. Such rhetoric is devoid of purpose for those who are the object of the rhetoric. At best, we are to be satisfied with policy objective. “We will work to reduce unemployment by 5 percent.” This may be a policy goal, but it is not an aim that will animate human action. Education worthy of its name must serve to animate and generate purpose and reflection upon purpose within the total human condition. The purpose must reflect the interests of those being educated. Education worthy of its name must unleash and serve to further develop “human-ness”; it must give rise to conscious human action and reflection, the forming and evaluation of aspiration. “Career and college-ready” is not a philosophy and cannot guide or animate human purpose in schools. “Oh mommy, I’m so eager to go to school so I can be prepared to be sold on the labor market so that global capital can be further enriched!”

We must reject this aim and envision a new one.

Another feature of this argument is the subtle but powerful way in which the notion of equality is transformed and repurposed for the global arena in which the global warriors act. Equality does not come about through political struggle in society, but submission to the standardization required by the global market place. Equality is not material; it originates in the ideas (standards as aspirations) in peoples heads. By rendering the ideas in peoples heads as the source of the problem (soft bigotry), equal opportunity also becomes an idea which will be solved by fixing standards as aims (ideas) — if we all believe that all can learn the same things the same way and demonstrate the same learning on the same test, equality will be achieved. This is ultimately the “separate but equal” model wrapped in the octopus of global capital. We are to ignore the increasing segregation by social class and race — “Excellence for All” as the champions of human capital say. Thus, meeting the measure of the market is the aim. There is no other aim. There is not other purpose. There is no alternative.

It’s a good thing Orwell is classified as fiction.

In short, then, the Core should be opposed because it and all that it is tied to (RTT, PARCC, “Value Added” etc.,) is premised on eliminating the human factor from the education of human beings.

4 Comments The Common Core “Standards” are the Global Competition Warriors’ “Product Specifications”

  1. Lennie Hay May 4, 2012 at 8:11 am


    I’m so glad that you will be posting your writing here. This piece is provocative and very, very important. Your discussion of understanding purpose in public education can not get enough attention these days. As educators and as concerned members of our society we must pay attention to policy and its implications, analyze the underlying assumptions, and face the tough decisions that follow.

  2. Mark Garrison May 4, 2012 at 11:02 am

    Thanks Lennie: The purpose of blocking educators and parents and students from the decisions about education is to block them from developing purposes that do not align with the purposes of those now in control; theses forces — whether the Business Roundtable, Achieve, NGA, Gates, etc. — cannot win public support for their aims and plans, and in the absence of this they have seized power and are now building new institutional forms (e.g., PARCC) to exercise that power; the public itself becomes a target and is excluded. It is excluded and attacked because the aims for education that serve the general interest do not serve the global warriors. I think a key part of the work you do with your center is to create space for educators to work out their aims, to become conscious and reflective of their purpose, and to do this in a manner that affirms the public forming role of education.

  3. Inverness (@Inverness) May 11, 2012 at 6:57 pm

    I just attended a common core meeting, and was troubled to hear that fiction would only account for 70% of the reading curriculum for 12th graders. The remaining texts would be “informational.” That last term sounds Orwellian. I mean, what kind of writing doesn’t provide information? Moby Dick can teach you an awful lot about whales, and through Dickens, one discovers much about Victorian England. Many of these “informational texts” provided were actually persuasive essays covered in our social studies curriculum. Which means they won’t be reading much fiction and poetry, and getting more of the same essays which will be included in the history classes I teach.

    Could it be that fiction challenges students to think in new ways? To dream? To consider worlds beyond their own? Certainly, fiction can be very challenging, contrary to the claims of the person leading our workshop, who posits that character studies, etc don’t encourage college readiness. That makes no sense: Novels like Middlemarch are plenty challenging.

  4. Inverness (@Inverness) May 11, 2012 at 6:59 pm

    By the way — I appreciate this nuanced response to the common core. You have deconstructed “standards,” and why they are not something to which one should aspire.

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