The Myth of Neutrality and the Common Core

The other day I got myself involved in a little Twitter dust-up over the Common Core.  The gist of it was that the other twitteree was arguing for the standards, while I was arguing that, even if you believe the standards are fine, to ignore the political implications of high-stakes testing is naive.  We now have a clear pattern brought to us through the history of high-stakes testing that shows us that Common Core is one more step in the decimation of the common good.  (See more on my stance here.)

Anyway, as it became abundantly clear that each of us was wasting our time and simply using this argument to reinforce our own positions, I quit.  And then I was sent this final tweet that said,

“…sadly there is no one neutral enough to clearly explain the facts.”

I wonder, to what degree does this myth of neutrality feed in to our problem?

If you don’t know who Grace Lee Boggs is, I recommend you find out.  And if you’re not aware of the work of the Boggs Center in Detroit, check them out.

Grace sent out an email today that quoted E.H. Carr from his 1961 essay, “What is History?”   The quote:

“It used to be said that facts speak for themselves.  This is of course, untrue.  The facts speak only when historians call on them:  it is he who decides to which facts to give the floor, and in what order or context.”

It’s pretty to think that facts somehow float above the grounding of the context they work within.  They don’t.  We need to understand that regardless of the way they are presented, facts are always grounded in a story, which communicates a view-point, which is attached to a set of values.  This understanding necessitates certain questions:  Whose story is this?  Who benefits from this story?  Who loses in the story?  And, as Howard Zinn and James Loewen (among others) have pointed out so well, history is told by the winners.

The real problem is that this myth of neutrality occurred not only in history, but as we are creating history now.  And because this myth obscures the values underlying it since it wrongly assumes no values (neutrality),  it continues to serve those who benefit from the way things currently are, those in power and of privilege.

The story of the Common Core as a set of neutral standards that serve all students is simply a myth.  The Common Core exists within a context of values. It is part of a narrative that benefits some, and hurts others.  However, because the myth of neutrality hides the narrative,  it requires some extra work  on our part to dig into the story  behind it.

As citizens, public intellectuals and educators with a stake in this story, our job is to do the homework and unpack the story of the Common Core, to problematize it with our questions, and to determine the beneficiaries of this particular narrative, and to determine those who are hurt by it.  We simply can not accept the myth of neutrality because the pattern of history shows the common good is being destroyed by the values it obscures.

Fortunately, lots of others have laid the groundwork for unveiling the stories underlying the Common Core.

Here are some beginning resources for your homework:

Diane Ravitch’s statement of her stance on the Common Core:  Why I Oppose the Common Core

Susan Ohanian’s page of Common Core resources:  http://www.susanohanian.org/core.php

Mercedes Schneider on the money behind the Common Core:  A Brief Audit of Bill Gates’ Common Core Spending

One of Anthony Cody’s recent essays on Common Core:  Is the Common Core Becoming a Fiasco?

Carol Burris on her change of position on the Common Core:  I Was Naive on the Common Core

Jeff Bryant connecting our testing obsession with the money behind it:  Sorry Michelle Rhee, But Our Obsession With Testing Is All About Money

And Paul Thomas’s call to action:  A Call for Non-Cooperation

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One response to “The Myth of Neutrality and the Common Core

  1. Thanks for aggregating these articles. Here’s my reaction to this excellent post:http://waynegersen.com/2013/12/28/no-common-ground-on-common-core/

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