Interchangeable parts; ‘common core’ reform sees kids as abstractions

Local researcher Karen Bracken tells Chattanooga tea party members why common core is a threat to the thin vestiges of local control of public schools.

Eli Whitney is famous for creating the cotton gin, which pulled seed from cotton. Up until his gin hit the market, seeds were teased from the fiber with great effort and labor. Mr. Whitney also devised the idea of interchangeable parts in weapons. If a line of rifles is made according to specifications, a part of one weapon will fit in another.

The idea of interchangeability of parts, following the rise of industrial economy, is one that readily is understood in the common mind to apply to human beings. The latest reform in public schools makes no break from that conception. The reformers have occupied themselves with fresh arrangements among bureaucracies, organizations and state executive agencies such as the Tennessee department of education.

To a common mind like mine, education reform should focus on the point of interaction between student and teacher. But we are used to people of our times, and letting the framework of public discourse see a wider field.

State government in Tennessee, apart from any act of the general assembly, has brought these standards into the state. Gov. Phil Bredesen agreed to common core standards in January 2010, before they were issued. No one in the state had a glimmer of their contents until three months later, in March. The inhalation of math and language arts standards of the unknown type came as part of its begging for  federal millions under the Race to the Top program of President Barack Obama.

“Gov. Bredesen agreed to new standards sight unseen. Would you buy a house without seeing it?” asks Karen Bracken, a Tennessee researcher into the subject who is gaining a larger audience in recent months. “Would you buy a pair of shoes without seeing them or trying them on?”

Literary debacle

Does it really matter how good or how bad the content of the program is, since education of any particular child is not in view and failure is often anticipated to precipitate a crisis solvable only by more dramatic intervention? “I don’t believe it’s education of our children that’s behind it,” Mrs. Bracken says. She says it’s about administration, she says.

Common core excludes types of study that heighten Excluded from the core is cursive writing, memorization of multiplication tables, use of calculators. “They feel that is good enough or learning mathematics.”

Literature is downgraded. David Coleman of the College Board holds that students should read less literature, and more documents such as regulations, rules and technical material, she says. “As the child gets older, they’re reading less literature and more of these technical manuals and documents, which to me is an agenda that supports teaching a child to be a worker, not a dreamer, not building a vast vocabulary *** which teaches children how to dream.” One wonders: what about Fyodor Dostoyevsky or William Faulkner? What about Emily Dickinson or the seafaring novels of William Conrad?

The free will obstacle

One obstacle of common core theory, she says, citing German pedagogical theory of the 19th century, is free will. She cites Johann Fichte (1762 to 1814) who said free will must be destroyed by sound education. The best schooling is able to teach students that black is whie, she said. Uniformity will be the rule of the day. “It’s going to be one set of standards, one set of curriculum throughout all the states across the United States, where all the children will be learning exactly the same thing at the same time in the same way. You talked about entrepeneurship. Competition is a good thing. Competition in education is a good thing.  And common core doesn’t allow for any competition between states. Every state, every school is going to look and function the same.”

In an interview, I ask Mrs. Bracken why it is supposed common core will work as a reform, since no other reform has brought about its stated goals and public school, as measured by standardized tests and reputation, continue their decline. “It won’t work. It can’t work. The only thing that’s going to work is for our states and our local education facilities to take back the educational system. As long as the federal government and the department of education exists, I don’t think we will ever see education flourish.”

The system succeeds from their perspective, she says. “Their goal is to create workers and obedient servants.” In other words, interchangeable parts.

Common core shares much with other systems of credit-based industrial economy in its power to subsume local economy and make it disappear at every point it touches.

Karen Bracken answers tough questions from David Tulis on’s show weekdays 1 to 3 weekdays at 1240 Copperhead AM radio.

My interview with Mrs. Bracken, “Reflex toward Centralization,” is here.

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