Wow, David Brooks wrote a really smart column. No, I’m just kidding! If ever there were one man who demonstrated the lie of “meritocracy,” it is David Brooks. On Friday, he wrote, When the Circus Descends. And I should be clear: by Brooks’ standards, it is not bad because it is not utterly and completely evil. Instead, it’s boring. He is lamenting that some people are complaining about the Common Core Standards, even though they’ve been approved in 45 states.
But in as much as he has something to complain about, it is still really vile in the way that we have come to expect from him. Because according to him, he knows the truth: Common Core is a great thing. Anyone just looking at the facts (Anyone like David Brooks!) would just see that it’s great. After all, the business community is clamoring for it. And if the business community isn’t selfless, then who is? But the only group he actually quotes for how great Common Core is, is the Thomas B Fordham Institute. And who are they? Just a conservative think take with an ideological ax to grind. See: its the best practical approach to education reform because an ideological group is in favor of it!
I don’t especially have an opinion about Common Core. I don’t mind educational standards. But I expect this will all mean in practice more cookie-cutter teaching, with lots of incentives based upon a lot of tests. My philosophy of education is liberal: train people to love learning and they will educate themselves. Too much, our educational system trains people to know very limited facts and skills, with the added disadvantage of coming to hate education. But there is nothing wrong with having goals. (Although note: it is hard to look at some of the new testing and think it is anything but a joke.)
Brooks would also have us believe that there are crazies on both sides that just can’t get past their ideology. Again: that places him in the mythical center that is beyond ideology. But the two sides in this fight are hardly equivalent. On the right, you really do have loons. Although it is rarely stated, the real fear is that if the government can dictate that kids learn basic math, it can also dictate that they learn evolution. There is no doubt that the concern is about the idea that there might be some objective reality that conflicts with their religious beliefs. They can cloak it all they like in concern for local control, it’s all about religion.
On the left are actually very few people. If it weren’t for those on the right who are making a whole lot of noise, there would be no debate. These are the states not adopting the standards: Texas, Virginia, Alaska, Nebraska and Indiana. They are all red states, except for Virginia, which is a purple state. It isn’t the teachers’ unions who have stopped Common Core from making it into law. But even as much as it is an issue on the left, the people are against it because of its effect on education. It isn’t that they don’t think there should be no standards outside the Bible. They just disagree about what should be expected of the children.
But it’s interesting. After Brooks complains about the teachers’ unions being against the Common Core Standards, he writes, “A large survey in Kentucky revealed that 77 percent of teachers are enthusiastic about the challenge of implementing the standards in their classrooms.” But that’s typical of conservative thinking. No one wants to appear to be against teachers, because all of us remember that at least some teachers were really important in our lives. So he pretends that teachers’ unions are something other than groups of teachers.
I know that David Brooks thinks that unlike other pundits, he just looks at the facts. You can see this if you ever watch him on The News Hour. But as I’m fond of noting: modern conservatism is an ideology in a way that modern liberalism just isn’t. A good example of this is Dean Baker. He’s a liberal. Yet no one—at least, no conservative one—is as dedicated to using the free market for the benefit of society. David Brooks is just a conservative ideologue who talks nice. And occasionally, he pays tribute to “centrism” by comparing school teachers to Glenn Beck and Elisabeth Hasselbeck.