Who Said Life Ain’t No Crystal Stair?

Severan_Basilica_01The CCSSO explains: Education is Stairmastery

The Council of Chief State School Officers, or CCSSO, has a new design for its website on the Common [sic] Core [sic] State [sic] Standards [sic]. The previous design was cleaner and more attractive, but who cares? Let’s get to what really matters: How good is the PR? Well, Bernays would be proud. For those with short attention spans, the new Parteizentrale for the Common Core-ing of the United States sports a nifty little propaganda video for the standards [sic]–a piece prepared by one of the innumerable CC$$ shill organizations funded by Gates, a group called “The Council of Great City Schools.” And what a little masterpiece this vid is! I’d say that it reeks right up there with the German Volk gymnastics exercise videos of the late Helene Bertha Amalie “Leni” Riefenstahl. The new vid is called “Learn about the Common Core in 3 Minutes.”

This slick RSA Animate-style piece of PR features an African-American female voice using a “tellin’ it like it is” tone to describe the new standards [sic] prepared by that highly experienced educator and profound learning theorist (LOL) Lord David Coleman–the standards [sic] paid for by a plutocrats so that he could have a single national list to which to tag oh-so-lucrative computerized assessments and computer-adaptive curricula–the ones forced upon the formerly independent states of the United States by a program of blackmail called the “Race to the Top” carried out by our Secretary for the Department for the Regimentation, Narrowing, Distortion, and Privatization of U.S. Education, formerly the USDE. The oh-so-folksy but frank and no-nonsense voiceover says, and I quote:

Beginning: “Like it or not, life is full of measuring sticks:
“how smart we are,
“how fast we are,
“how well we can, you know, compete.

“But up until now, it’s been pretty hard to tell how well kids are competing in school and how well they are going to do when they get out of school.

“We like to think that our education system does that, but when it comes to learning what they really need to be successful after graduation . . . is a graduating senior in, say, St. Louis, as prepared to get a job as the graduate in Shanghai?

“Well, it turns out, the answer . . . is ‘No.’”

Middle: [Blah blah blah. A lot of talk about how education is a staircase, and the Common Core is one big staircase for everyone, and each standard is a landing on that staircase. A graphic showing little boxes being checked off below each stair, all the way up. Some kids gloriously at the top. Some slipping and falling, barely hanging on.]

End: “The world’s getting more and more competitive every day, but now, when our kids get to the top of their staircase, they can have way more options. . . . Clear goals. Confident, well-prepared students. That’s the Common [sic] Core [sic] State [sic] Standards [sic].”

Why the folksy African-American female voice? Call me cynical, but this seems like a piece of cultural appropriation by the Council of Great City Schools and the CCSSO of precisely the kind that Disney is so infamous for. One of the stock memes of racist films of the 1940s and ’50s is the wise, older woman of color who sits those crazy white folks down and talks sense into them: “Why, young Mr. White, it’s time you figured out the difference between wantin’ and doin’.”

And, of course, the video is directed at middle-class parents and plays upon the fears created in them by the recent and continuing economic downturn and the general theft of middle-class prosperity by the U.S. oligarchy: You have to have these standards if your kid is going to be able to get a job in the future. The video also employs another kind of subtle racism: If we don’t have these standards, those kids in Shanghai are going to take your kid’s job.

So, the Common Core Stairway to the Big Bucks video has me thinking, reevaluating.

You see, weirdly, I always thought that education was

a. An enormously rich, varied, and community-creating hand-off whereby many, many older individuals passed on to many, many younger individuals what they knew and cared about in art, music, literature, history, science, mathematics, philosophy–you know, in culture; and

b. A garden of many, many forking paths for young people to explore so that they might discover and follow those suited to their disparate talents and interests–differing paths leading to enormously varied adult roles in a highly complex, highly diverse, highly pluralistic society; and

c. Lighting a fire, not filling a bucket; and

d. A delight, an adventure, a satisfaction of innate curiosity, and a great, good time.

Turns out I was all wrong.

Education is competing in a race up a stairway. It’s a Race to the Top. (The dummies always go for the sports metaphors.)

And it’s invariant. The same boxes are checked off for everyone as he or she races up that stair. What does an extraordinarily diverse economy in an extraordinarily diverse, pluralistic society need? Absolute uniformity. All students identically milled, as though they were screws.

Here I thought that education was some sort of humane undertaking. But actually, you see, it’s about beating those kids in Shanghai to the top and leaving the pathetic loser underachievers struggling to hang onto the landings below.

Photo: Stairs inside Septimus Severus Basilica, Leptis Magna 2nd century A. D. (Libya). Photo by Sasha Coachman. This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.Copyright: 2014, Robert D. Shepherd. All rights reserved.

For more pieces by Bob Shepherd on the topic of Education “Reform,” go here: https://bobshepherdonline.wordpress.com/category/ed-reform/

For more pieces on the teaching of literature and writing, go here: https://bobshepherdonline.wordpress.com/category/teaching-literature-and-writing/


About Bob Shepherd

interests: curriculum design, educational technology, learning, linguistics, hermeneutics, rhetoric, philosophy (Continental philosophy, Existentialism, metaphysics, philosophy of language, philosophy of mind, epistemology, ethics), classical and jazz guitar, poetry, the short story, archaeology and cultural anthropology, history of religion, prehistory, veganism, sustainability, Anglo-Saxon literature and language, systems for emergent quality control, heuristics for innovation
This entry was posted in Ed Reform, Teaching Literature and Writing, Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

11 Responses to Who Said Life Ain’t No Crystal Stair?

  1. Pingback: Who Said Life Ain’t No Crystal Stair? | Educational Policy Information

  2. kindergeek says:

    Great post!

    The ridiculous video was posted on YouTube by the DC Public Schools in 2012 (http://youtu.be/5s0rRk9sER0).

    Council of the Great City Schools is listed at the end. Apparently, they produced it, whoever they are (http://www.cgcs.org/). They have a Spanish version and 30-second sound byte versions, too. http://www.cgcs.org/Page/380

    The comments below the video are mostly negative, which, of course, is a positive. Apparently, the Common [sic] Core [sic] State [sic] Standards [sic] folks found it and loved it so much they put it front and center on their awful, “official” new front page.

    Such nonsense. Pure propaganda.


  3. It’s amazing how ethnocentrism and (not so) subtle racism is pervasive throughout the neoliberal corporate education reform project. At the end of the day ideology matters, and the ownership class has their ways of forcing theirs on everyone else.


    • Bob Shepherd says:

      Well said, Robert!


    • John in Tennessee says:

      If you haven’t already done so,read Stephen J. Gould’s ‘The Mis-measurement of Man’. It explains, in detail, the nature of psychological testing and the racist (at least in the USA) social order that it supports. Today’s SAT, PARCC, and Common Core balderdash are simply an extension.

      Gould’s masterpiece is a bit of a slog, but summer is coming, and this would be one of the most rewarding ‘professional development’ projects you could possibly engage in.

      Gould was born only 2 years before me, yet he’s been dead for almost ten years. As the song says, ‘the Good, they die young’.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Bob Shepherd says:

        Oh yes, read it many years ago, and shared it widely. Other great work on subjects raised by Gould in that book:

        The Big Test: The Secret History of the American Meritocracy, by Nicholas Lemann

        Intelligence and How to Get It, by Richard Nisbett

        Left Back: A Century of Failed School Reforms, by Diane Ravitch

        Reading Educational Research How to Avoid Getting Statistically Snookered, by Gerald Bracey

        War against the Weak, by Edwin Black

        Evolution in Four Dimensions: Genetic, Epigenetic, Behavioral, and Symbolic Variation in the History of Life, by Eva Jablonka , Marion J. Lamb, and Anna Zeligowski


      • John in Tennessee says:

        Thanks for the summer assignment, Bob. I read your top suggestion (The Big Test), but the rest are new to me. My comment was actually directed at RobertD.Skeels, so now both he and I have a bit of reading to do.


      • Bob Shepherd says:

        Thanks for mentioning Gould, John. A great book. How I wish he were still with us!!!

        These are all REALLY good. The Edwin Black book is mind blowing. Did you know that the U.S. government and the Carnegie Foundation established a eugenics center on Long Island that issued a report recommending that the bottom 10 percent of the U.S. population, as measured by early IQ tests, should be euthanized? Mind blowing. This was the Cold Spring Harbor Eugenics Laboratory. The Nazis held up the U.S., before the war, as a model to the world for its race quotas for immigration and its eugenics policies, including widespread sterilizations of “defectives.” Fascinating reading. And chilling.


  4. On the “staircase” the “top step” according to the video is “knowing how to manage a budget.” Really? The “top step” in the CCSS for math is advanced mathematics that hardly anyone ever uses in everyday life! The video is blatant lie. But I’m preaching to the choir here…


  5. Bob Shepherd says:

    One of the issues with an invariant set of standards for all is that the top level is way below the requirements for entrance to top-ranked colleges, including top-ranking public universities.


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