Common Core versus the Koch Brothers agenda for education: An untenable choice? Keep the billionaire corporate interest out of our opposition!

Arne Duncan’s trying his darndest to cloak resistance to education reform as the mantle of either “crazy Tea Party” people or privileged “suburban moms” (his words, not mine). Nice way to deflect Arne, but it won’t work. You see, here in the trenches we are not all Conservatives. And we are not all privileged white soccer moms. While I welcome potential alliances, Arne wants us to forget that scores of people and groups who hail from the “progressive” side, you know, lefties … radicals… are pretty pissed off too. And while they may not have socioeconomic clout that wealthier zip codes may have, there have been some pretty pissed off mom’s in black and brown urban communities too, fighting this long before white soccer moms were on the scene.

For some of us, the fight for our children– Yours, mine, theirs…is enough to unite us. I support any parent fighting against corporate reform. Shared growing opposition to these reforms gives me hope.

And resistance to the Common Core (CCSS) in particular has received exceptional levels of national attention. Again, a good thing. Mostly. I say “mostly” because some voices in opposition to Common Core may not also be fighting against other facets of reform-some groups or individuals might even be in support of other reform policies which are as destructive to public education as CCSS itself. For me, the fight against CCSS is a fight against the whole bundle package of reform efforts.

I speak frequently with parents whose political opinions might differ from mine-but in our shared effort we have created new spaces to discover more about one another. We arrive at moment where “it’s about the children” and that is what matters most. Working together on an united front advocate for a viable, sustainable and meaningful public education system for all children is often good and necessary. I don’t believe that ALEC’s agenda reflects the values of my conservative friends any more than Bill Gates (touted as a supposed “progressive”) reflects mine! It’s not about party affiliation. It’s about values.

But will the Agenda of Koch Brothers overshadow alliance-building opposition?

Outside the scope of sustainable bi-partisan alliances, there are others who are also opposed to the Common Core, including the Koch Brothers. 

And unless we begin advocating clearly, vocally and visibly for real public education solutions to replace CCSS and other reform policies, we might just wind up with an education system led by the ALEC agenda.

ALEC’s agenda, led by the Koch Brother have had power and influence behind the scenes, which shape polices on climate change, “Stand Your Ground” laws, and “Citizens United” should be enough to give any of us pause and take their ability to influence public thinking on education very seriously. See for brilliant yet frightening details of the “Kochtopus.” According to The New Yorker:

From 2005 to 2008, the Kochs vastly outdid ExxonMobil in giving money to organizations fighting legislation related to climate change, underwriting a huge network of foundations, think tanks, and political front groups. Indeed, the brothers have funded opposition campaigns against so many Obama Administration policies—from health-care reform to the economic-stimulus program—that, in political circles, their ideological network is known as the Kochtopus.” 

In previous blogs I have examined more deeply the roots of ALEC’s founder’s (Koch and Weyrich) ideology. It’s some scary shit. Read more here. 

According to Salon: “The Koch brothers have decades-long connections with ALEC, which gave the brothers the Adam Smith Free Enterprise Award in 1994.” 

And their influence in shaping the narrative of opposition to the Common Core, and what might take its place when it’s been abolished, must be noted.  ALEC- driven monetary and ideological influence can be found in the organizations funded by the Koch Brothers such a Heartland Institute and Heritage Foundation.

Sure they’re against the Common Core. That’s great. But before I align forces with anyone I always ask–what are they for?

It is tempting to ally with such vocal and well-funded organizations to fight CCSS…. but know well their alternatives: ALEC members advocate for the elimination of public education. ALEC members might claim to oppose CCSS in spite of the numerous ALEC corporations who have funded it, but they are also the originators of legislation to bust unions, and to turn public schools into someone’s stock market portfolio. Of course the obvious motive for some ALEC members to be “for reform” and CCSS (i.e. Jeb Bush and Walton) is profit.

But think about it: imagine helping create a system that you know is going to be such an appalling shit show that it will DRIVE parents (esp white affluent parents with privilege) to take their kids out of public schools and place them in private schools and home school them. Isn’t that what the agenda of ALEC (and its founders Weyrich and Koch) want?

I am not sure that this influence is any better than Gate’s multi-million dollar intrusion via the Common Core. And I am NOT defending Gates. Shoot me first. But I don’t see more billionaire ideological influence to be the better solution we are advocating for. David Koch even admitted: “If we’re going to give a lot of money, we’ll make darn sure they spend it in a way that goes along with our intent …And if they make a wrong turn and start doing things we don’t agree with, we withdraw funding.” 

Are we going to boot out one billionaires vision of education (Gates) according to their own self-serving whims only to serve the interests of another’s (Kochs)?

One example of a Koch-funded anti CCSS group, Heartland is a huge advocate for the Parent Trigger Act. They support increased student vouchers. 

In lieu of Common Core, the Heritage Foundation advocates for “classical” education which for many (understandably) reads as imposition of Eurocentric curriculum that erases the voices, histories, and perspectives of marginalized and disenfranchised people. It erases the focus on social justice and equity from the curricular landscape. In the words of one author from the Heritage Foundation: “”Conservative leaders can reclaim control over the content taught in their local schools by resisting the imposition of national standards and tests and preventing their implementation.” 

My belief is that ALL parents and community members need to reclaim control…not just Conservative ones.

Heritage Foundation, like their Koch funders, oppose empowering teachers unions. 

According to their website: “Choice in education through vouchers, education savings accounts, online learning, tuition tax credit options, homeschooling—all of these options are changing how education is delivered to students, matching options to student learning needs. It’s the type of customization that has been absent from our education system. Choice and customization are critical components necessary to improve education in America.

Examine some of the well-funded foundations such as the George Mason Foundation which “is the largest recipient of Koch foundation money (3.7 million dollars) since 1985″, and “houses several free-market and libertarian research centers including the Institute for Humane Studies”

The Mercatus Center, at George Mason University, heftily funded by the Koch Brothers advocates for teacher performance pay, competition, charter schools and other ALEC modeled polices.

In many states like Kentucky the battle against CCSS is ideological and reflective of the Koch agenda. The issue is not about private corporate interests feeding the life blood out public education, it’s about making sure that a Conservative curriculum can be put into place.

“In Kentucy, where the debate over science standards have been particularly fierce, Martin Cothran of the conservative Family Foundation claimed the standards exhibit ‘an over emphasis on climate control’ while ‘half of science is left out the science standards.’” 

The Koch Brothers are the biggest proponents of climate change denial, and a “moral majority” reflective of Creationism and Judeo-Christian centered curriculum in classrooms:

“It’s one of those areas where Republican religious and economic values intersect. And it may go a long way in explaining why the likes of the Koch brothers — whose companies, according to the EPA, emitted over 24 million tons of carbon dioxide in 2011, and who have spent countless dollars countering climate change theory — might be interested in nipping school standards in the bud.”

Koch patriarch Frederick made millions building oil refineries for Stalin in the 1930’s, and yet developed a seething hatred for communism in spite of the wealth he accrued from his alliance with Russian leaders. In 1958, Fred Koch became one of the original members of the John Birch Society, the arch-conservative group known, in part, for a highly skeptical view of governance and for spreading fears of a Communist takeover.

The legacy of Koch brothers distaste for Communism since the 1930’s is reflected in criticism by Koch-funded organizations that claim the CCSS is a communist plot. Some claim that the Core curriculum is chock full of socialist indoctrination. This odd narrative, while forcing six degrees of separation game to “prove” this claim, simultaneously completely ignores the role of ALEC-affiliated and largely right wing corporate interests in creating the Common Core.

This is not why I, or many others, are fighting against CCSS, and it’s not reflective of the alternatives I wish to see. CCSS sucks for many reasons—but a communist overthrow isn’t one of them. A corporatist takeover is more like it. My guess is that any narrative against CCSS that has “communist plot” as its argument has the Koch finger prints pretty deeply embedded in it.

We ought to proceed with caution. And better yet, we ought to proceed with a clear, highly publicized and feasible set of ideas to help communities reimagine and build their systems of public education. Without a careful and clear alternative, the Koch Brothers vision for education could easily fill the vacuum left when all the Common Core chaos dust has settled.

I am not so desperate for support in my efforts to fight CCSS that I will fight alongside any group or ideology that simultaneously is working to dismantle everything I stand for in public education.  Do you think simply because Scott Walker is now against Common Core that makes him the friend of activist-educators? 

We cannot place the future of our education system into the hands of the “moral majority” (Jerry Falwell, Paul Weyrich, and co) who would demand we “return” to some romanticized moment in history; as if to do so would set us all upon the stage of a scene from Little House on the Prairie. Our real history is ugly-wrought with racist, classist and sexist agendas that serve only the privileged few. Yet in the midst of this we have witnessed remarkable moments of struggles that have forged civil rights for many.

The future of our society, and the children we are to educate, embody multiracial, poly-vocal realities, children who are confronting a world with ever widening gaps between rich and poor, communities with increasing levels of food insecurity, housing insecurity, and an ecological crisis we cannot evade.  The history of public schooling policies suggests we have never committed ourselves to really creating a space that equalizes opportunity or that empowers the voices and the lives of those whom history has sought to marginalize. Our next historical moment must re-embrace public education, fully funded and fully accessible, to all children; and we must create systems that enable communities to address structural social inequalities.

A society that intends to create a generation of empowered free thinking citizens cannot be built in a schooling structure that demands only one right answer to test questions shaped by the agenda of the corporations whose interests are sole their own.

Is being mutually against something enough to unite us? Should we also agree on what we are FOR? Whose voice will hold the public stage when CCSS and reforms have been defeated in individual states? Will it be the voice of ALEC or the Koch Brothers? What we will be demanding when the times comes?

Right now there are real education advocates running for public office to make real changes, notably Mark Naison running for Governor in NY on the “Recess Party” ticket, Tom Poetterrunning for Congress in Ohio (district 8),  and Barbara Madeloni running for Massachusetts Teachers Associations President.

Here are a few suggested goals for any individual or group to take back to their local community organizers. None of these recommendations listed below are original to me. They encapsulate of the ideas for public education that friends, colleagues, and groups have been expressing for years (if not decades):

See Schools of Professional Conscience ,  Save Our Schools, United Opt Out, BATS, and many others for demands similar to the ones I propose here.

(I, you, we)…. demand PUBLIC schools that are equitably funded, not contingent of property taxes or zip codes; smaller class sizes; schools that include all children regardless of race, (dis)ability, language, gender orientation, religion, or immigration status; adequate infrastructure for all school buildings including enough personnel like nurses, librarians, teachers assistants and resources like healthy food, clean drinking water, air conditioning, and toilet paper; a culturally relevant curriculum that invites perspectives, voices, and histories of marginalized peoples (See People’s History of the United States for example); systems in place within all communities to combat geographic, economic, and social forms of racism, colonialism, or segregation; fully integrated  art, music, PE, library, recess, drama, dance; wrap- around services in the community to address the effects of poverty on children; highly qualified experienced teachers rather than TFA teacher-wanna-be’s; elimination of all high stakes testing replaced with authentic evaluations such as portfolios…

Please feel free to add to my list if I have overlooked anything. I am pretty sure my list doesn’t match the Koch Brothers “to-do” list for public education. But if it matches yours, let me know and let’s make something happen.


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