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You’d Better Smile When You Call Us That

It’s no surprise that New York’s Education Commissioner John B. King, Jr., bailed on a public hearing in Garden City last week regarding the Common Core curriculum following an upstate event at which the public was noisily outspoken. It’s also no surprise that the uproar over the cancellation led to the sudden announcement of a new series of events. This time, however, the forums won’t be quite so open, and the commissioner will be buffered by local state legislators to insure, as King put it, a “respectful, direct and constructive dialogue with parents.” Like so many “public servants,” King indignantly recoils from vociferous public disagreement. Or even tough questions.

• “Isn’t New York State moving too quickly to implement and begin testing our kids on a ‘standard’ that hasn’t proven to have any more educational substance than what you might step in behind a bull?”

• “What happens if parents refuse to let their children take the tests?”

• “Couldn’t all of the pressure of the exams associated with the Common Core turn our schools into test-prep factories? Especially in districts that are not academic powerhouses — isn’t it likely they will turn to constant drilling and practice-testing to hit their numbers?”

• “Test prep isn’t the same as education, is it, Commissioner King?”

There are many more questions that would like to be asked by parents, teachers, superintendents and taxpayers — or, as King labeled them when he called off the hearings, “special interests.” Yikes!

Senator Jack Martins (R-Mineola) summed up the consternation so many of us feel about King’s reign when he wrote, “At the moment New York needs a caring pragmatist willing to address real concerns raised by caring parents and educators who see a system being manipulated from above to the detriment of their children. Unfortunately, we have John King. He should immediately reschedule these forums or he should immediately resign.”

If prayer were allowed in school, I’d say “Amen.”

With other legislators joining Martins in a King-bashing pile-on, the commissioner quickly adjusted his schedule.

What I find so Orwellian about King’s “special interests” statement is that the Common Core really is all about “special interests.” The curriculum was designed at the behest of business leaders who have a notion that our kids aren’t learning enough or the right things to be good employees. The unsaid message is that unless we shape up, they are going to continue shipping our jobs to China, India and Mexico, where the children are, we assume, properly educated. (“Lesson 1: Work for $8 a day.”)

Believing that CEOs who will be golden-parachuted into palaces in Palm Beach by the time today’s kindergartners graduate from high school know precisely how our children should prepare for the future is just plain stupid, and wealth worship of the worst kind. These guys don’t know! If they were that smart, we’d all be pulling down big paychecks at Lehman Brothers, Enron and myspace.com, and I wouldn’t be cursing the clumsy, slow, often-incompatible operating system on my PC. But wait, isn’t Bill Gates an “educational visionary”? Actually, no. He is just rich.

The special interests that have the most to gain immediately from the Common Core are Pearson and other large companies that provide curricula, textbooks, test-prep material, exams and grading. Being a “consultant” to school districts on the Common Core is another quick-cash career path that has recently arisen.

Outfits with specialized software, computers and all manner of whiz-bang that will most assuredly produce higher “student achievement” at far lower cost than our current system (take that, teachers’ unions!) also are lining up for the Common Core gravy train. (Hey, isn’t that Rupert Murdoch and his in-house Mr. Burns, former New York City Schools Chancellor Joel Klein, at the head of the queue?)

Yet, those of us who have nothing to gain from our children’s education other than educated children are “special interests.”

That’s as ridiculous as calling King a “public servant.”

John Owens is editor in chief of Anton Community Newspapers and author of Confessions of a Bad Teacher: The Shocking Truth from the Front Lines of American Public Education.

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