Tuesday, January 21, 2014

John King Really Did That

John King yesterday managed to score a bank shot of marketing opportunism by using both Martin Luther King Jr and Abraham Lincoln as props for one more tired CCSS sales pitch.

In the NY Post, king (to avoid confusion, let's call Martin Luther King "King" and John King "king") hitched his sales-pitch wagon to King's 1962 speech commemorating the centenary of Lincoln's Preliminary Emancipation Proclamation. Let me break this down for you.

He actually starts out with a few harmless paragraphs. Historical context. Link to audio file of original speech (pretty cool, that). Then we get to the lede:

It is also, for me, a rallying cry for us to continue our efforts to transform our public schools.

That's your takeaway from King's speech? Public school reform? Please explain.

king proceeds to note that while progress has been made since the speech (which came even before the Civil Rights Act of 1964), there is still much work to do. Here comes the pivot, where we are going to staple together our two main threads:

Yet despite that progress, true equality of opportunity remains elusive — in no small part because we as a country have not yet found a way to provide all of our children with an education that prepares them for success in college and careers...

...while we cannot ignore and indeed must address the challenges posed by economic hardship, inadequate access to healthcare, housing and the like, the single best tool we have to advance opportunity is education

Got that, folks? Poor folks would have access to better health care and housing if only they had better economic opportunity, and that will happen primarily through education.

There are two problems here, one obvious, one not so much.

Obvious problem has been stated many times. Greater education of individuals will not make good jobs appear. Go grab any number of stats about the under- and un-employed college grads out there.

Less obvious problem is this-- the assumption here is not that we must make healthcare, housing and economic opportunity to the lowest parts of our society, but that people who are stuck down there must somehow lift themselves up. This is not a call for the US to provide, say, decent health care for the poor-- it's a call for the poor to get busy, get a good job, and get themselves some decent health care. We can argue the wisdom of that some other day-- all I want to ask today is "Does that sound like anything Dr. King said, ever??"

From there, king descends into standard boilerplate from the "Lies About CCSS" playbook.

It will be rigorous and use close reading and other cool buzzwords.

It was created by teachers. (Do people still buy this one?)

It was created with backwards scaffolding. Supporters keep saying this like it's a good thing. I always explain it this way: You want a high school senior to be able to run a ten minute mile. If you allow for getting one minute faster each year, that means you just need to make five year olds run a twenty-four minute mile. Or twenty-seven when they're three. Or a thirty-minute mile when they're newborn. Makes perfect developmental sense. That's how well backwards scaffolding works.

The Common Core offers a path to the precise reading, writing and thinking skills that will help propel their children and children across the state to success. Yet some now want us to delay, or even abandon, our efforts to raise standards.

I say no. As King said in that speech a little more than fifty years ago, “We do not have as much time as the cautious and the patient try to give us.”

So, in closing, Dr. King wants CCSS to be supported, and right now.

So let us all pledge today — Dr. King’s birthday — to do whatever we can to make real the promise of the Emancipation Proclamation, the promise of King’s words and the promise of equal educational opportunity for all.

Don't be distracted by king's mistaken placement of King's birthday (it's the 15th) Note the really important part. The Emancipation Proclamation and Martin Luther King's great speeches are equal in importance to the Common Core. Abraham Lincoln, Martin Luther King, Jr., and David Coleman all belong chiseled on the side of a mountain somewhere. It's only January, but I am all ready to award John King the Biggest, Brassiest Balls Award for 2014.


  1. king (John) redefines chutzpah here. Thanks for this, Peter

  2. " we as a country have not yet found a way to provide all of our children with an education that prepares them for success in college and careers"

    There isn't a country on the planet that's achieved this at any time in history, and this guy thinks shutting down the public schools in the US and turning education over to a private sector owned by billionaires is going to make a difference?

    Lincoln also said: "You can fool all the people some of the time, and some of the people all the time, but you cannot fool all the people all the time."

    I don't think he knows that one.

  3. I would just like to point out, just in case any decent English majors haven't already, that this close-reading BS is a hold-over from a type of literary theory--New Criticism--that hasn't been in vogue since the 1960's. Why, one might ask? Because close-reading, done in a vacuum (like CCSS demands), is actually nihilistic to the reader's experience and does not take into account the individual lenses or contexts one might bring to a text. In addition, there is the whole discussion of whether we should or need to address the historical/political/social contexts a work was written in--and not just the mainstream contexts, but the marginal ones as well. Good English, Drama, Art, and generally speaking all Humanities teachers will deal with these issues when discussing any kind of text, but only offering up close-reading as if it was some kind of cute-all for all of the educational ills of our society is not only misguided, it's dangerous, and I'm really tired of this man attempting to make intelligent-sounding claims that are smoke and mirrors when our kids continue to suffer.