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Here’s why Common Core is just one symptom of a much larger illness in our education system

As 2016 rumors begin, the possibility of a Jeb Bush candidacy seems more likely than ever.

This is a terrible idea for many reasons, but one issue which has stood out to supporters of limited government is Jeb’s continued defense of Common Core, a math and language curriculum and testing standards program which has been at least partially adopted in 44 states plus the District of Columbia.

Libertarian and conservative antipathy for the program stems from a number of sources.

At a practical level, the way Common Core teaches math seems confusing. At this point, you’ve probably seen photos like this one, which depict a math problem worked out per Common Core requirements:

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Pretty wonky, right?

(Thankfully, it may not be so wonky after all: Common Core’s curriculum is designed to help students develop greater understanding of how math works, instead of just making them memorize a meaningless process. Of course, if you’ve spent your entire school career learning math the old way, getting suddenly dumped into this new method would be confusing at best. Thus the many cases we’ve seen of disastrous implementation of Common Core.)

But for most Common Core critics, it doesn’t stop there. Other objections include:

  • Some states have relatively good public school systems; some have relatively bad systems. Common Core may force some of the bad systems to improve, but it also will lower the standards of the good systems to bring them down to the national goal.
  • Like President Bush’s No Child Left Behind program, Common Core ends up forcing teachers to “teach to the test,” which research shows “has a ‘dumbing’ effect on teaching and learning as worksheets, drills, practice tests and similar rote practices consume greater amounts of classroom time…time spent on test taking often overemphasizes basic-skill subjects and neglects high-order thinking skills.”
  • The Common Core curricula were written by education trade associations and businesses. Their interests show up in the focus of the lessons, too, as informational texts gain ground against literature. In fact, by high school, students will only read 30% literature compared to 70% informational texts, even in English class. I’m not a teacher, and maybe my perspective is biased as a writer, but that seems very unbalanced.

Some critics of Common Core have also argued the program implements a new national database on American students. Unfortunately, they’re only half right: The government has already been tracking this kind of data for years. The database(s) is invasions of privacy, to be sure, but it’s not an invasion of privacy caused by Common Core.

Yet the biggest objection to Common Core I’ve seen is that it’s a top-down, unconstitutional, federal education monolith.

This is true—and expecting every child in a nation of more than 300 million to learn the same way, with the same methods, is both foolish and dangerous.

Different students have different learning styles; different teachers excel with different lesson plans; different communities have different educational needs.

Particularly, in a country as large as ours, bigness is not a virtue in education. With Common Core, the strain of attempting to force a whole nation of schools into one mold is showing.

But public schools were already subjected to national control long before Common Core came on the scene; and while Common Core continues and expands that trend, it certainly doesn’t pioneer it.

Supporters of limited government are inherently distrustful of Common Core because it is a national education standard. Like No Child Left Behind, Common Core runs roughshod over the needs and differences of local schools. But we must equally recognize that, regardless of its merits or lack thereof as a teaching system, Common Core is simply a new gloss on the same old problem of too much government in our educational system.

Malcolm X said that, “Only a fool would let his enemy teach his children.” Whatever you may think of the rest of his politics, he hit on a principle that opponents of big government would do well to take to heart: Letting the government educate our children isn’t going to foster a healthy skepticism of the state.

Think about it: What motivation would the government have for teaching negative facts about itself? Or that the state can’t solve all our problems? Or that lively disagreement is a valuable part of a free society? Or that patriotism doesn’t mean compliance?

Likewise, if we recognize the government’s incompetence in just about every other area, why would we let it take charge of our children’s learning? Education is vital to liberty—which is exactly why government shouldn’t play teacher.

But these important objections aren’t really about Common Core, which is simply a new symptom of a much larger illness in our education system: a rampant infection known as government.

Indeed, an end of the year poll found that government topped even the economy as Americans’ single greatest cause for concern in 2014. That instinct is solid for a lot of reasons, but it’s especially accurate when it comes to education.

Common Core probably should give parents some reason to worry—but anyone whose children are being educated by the government had plenty of reasons to worry already.

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