Extreme conservative attacks on the Common Core State Standards—including claims that they will indoctrinate students into becoming "green serfs" in a "New World Order"—are really part of a broader attempt by various far-right groups to undermine public schools, according to a report published May 7 by the Southern Poverty Law Center.
The center, an advocacy and research organization that tracks hate groups and discrimination, discusses the conservative backlash against the common core in detail in "Public Schools in the Crosshairs: Far-Right Propaganda and the Common Core State Standards." Various players in conservative media and policy, the SPLC says, are determined to undermine the standards in over-the-top attacks so that the U.S. Department of Education can be dismantled, public schools are starved of revenue through the growth of vouchers and tax-credit scholarships, and teacher tenure is ended.
I've written about right-wing attacks on the standards before, and how (for example) claims from conservative groups that the standards are linked to facial-recognition technology are off-base. Among the attacks that the SPLC says is part of a right-wing "unified field theory" about the common core:
• Eagle Forum founder Phyllis Schlafly blasts the standards for their supposed "active promotion of gay marriage" and their intent to put students through "internment or re-education camps" that will indoctrinate them in the same manner as Nazis.
• Conservative media figure Glenn Beck says the common core promotes communism.
• U.S. Sen. Rand Paul calls the common core a "dangerous curriculum."
"It should be called out for the ridiculous and insidious propaganda that it is," said the SPLC's Heidi Beirich in a conference call with reporters.
Responding to a more sober critique, the organization says that the Obama administration didn't strong-arm states into adopting the standards, since it didn't spell out that states had to adopt them in order to obtain federal Race to the Top grants or No Child Left Behind Act waivers.
In fact, SPLC says the standards are in many ways conservative—regarding the recommended reading, for example, the SPLC's Maureen Costello said, "It's full of dead white guys." And far-right attacks stand in contrast, SPLC says, to legitimate concerns from teachers and others about the standards' implementation and the new regimen of high-stakes testing associated with the common core.
I asked SPLC about whether the group is anxious that far-right attacks could overwhelm other concerns in the public sphere, and Beirich said that she's worried that the far-right would simply co-opt these real issues.
"You see attacks on the common core first to eventually destroy public education," she said. "The attacks are not benign."
SPLC's other work involving public schools includes its "Teaching Tolerance" project. This initiative takes place in schools nationwide "with lessons to counter the bigotry and extremism that children hear in the media and even from people who are supposed to be role models." The project is designed to show students that they are "global citizens in a diverse society."
As it happens, in the SPLC's home state of Alabama, a new political action committee, Stop Common Core, has been formed by conservative activists opposed to more mainstream GOP politicians in the state. It's reportedly collected over $700,000 in donations to put to work in elections.
Read the SPLC's full report below: