Last year, Anthony Cody, a prominent NEA member and author of an Education Week blog titled, "Living in Dialogue." wrote more than 80 posts in 2013 about the Common Core, and others specifically about Bill Gates. Diane Ravitch will use any story on her blog to sensationalize the facts and rally the NEA troops, whether or not the facts have been verified or not. Others like Paul Thomas regularly write in such an adversarial, unprofessional tone that it comes as no surprise why the mainstream media won't respond the his verbal volleys. He, like all of the NEA bloggers who the NEPC republishes to try and amplify their perspectives to the base NEA membership,
Why am I highlighting and giving acknowledgement to certain bloggers who are fundamentally opposed to any meaningful change in public education and who regularly lobby personal attacks on those who oppose their views? Because it is important to understand your opponent in any type of debate. And it's clear that the mob mentality is alive and well in many of the camps involved in the Common Core policy debate.
I have posted contrarian views on some of these blogs. What you will find is a mob mentality in full effect. Teachers (mostly retired I suspect or using an unidentifiable alias) will preach the words of these authors as the holy gospel and verbally bully anyone who is opposed to their views, immediately claiming that those views do not matter, especially if you are not a member of the teaching profession. And if you are not a member of the teaching profession, you are immediately characterized as a profiteer who seeks to profit from public education and are lumped with the so-called "privatizers" of public education: the triumverate of Gates, Walton and Broad who in the minds of the NEA and AFT are the education equivalent of the "Axis of Evil."
But what fascinated me about the conduct of these people is that their behavior has been diagnosed. I recently read a blog post about a book that is next up on my reading list: You Are Now Less Dumb: How to Conquer Mob Mentality, How to Buy Happiness, and All the Other Ways to Outsmart Yourself by David McRaney. We're not only seeing the mob mentality with the NEA, but also with the Tea Party which is also trying to derail the Common Core. The Common Core has not been implemented well, that I will readily confess. However, what it has exposed is the fundamental tension in our republic (we are not a democracy - remember that) which is a tuggle between Federalism and state control. Because the Common Core is being supported by the U.S. Dept. of Education although a state-led effort, states are forgetting about the advantages of a common set of academic standards and instead feel it is an assault on their state rights. We will never be able to choose a side - the inherent tension between these two philosophies is here to stay and will always make education reforms very difficult to enact in the United States.
The mob mentality is everywhere, especially in public education policy discussions. Facts are ignored, research is regularly twisted to meet the needs of the argument, conclusions are taken out of context, all in the name of unionism. Self interest groups cannot support anyone who disagrees with their platform and they will use whatever tactics are necessary to cut them down to size. You can look at the comment threads on nearly every Ed Week blog or the blogs of the specific authors I mentioned above if you do not believe this to be the case.
One of the articles I alluded to above was from a popular blog called "Brain Pickings," by Maria Popova. Dubbed "The Benjamin Franklin Effect," Maria talks about Franklin's mastery of human psychology and how to handle "haters." McRaney gives valuable advice to those who want to try and win over their opponents instead of disparaging them further:
For many things, your attitudes came from actions that led to observations that led to explanations that led to beliefs. Your actions tend to chisel away at the raw marble of your persona, carving into being the self you experience from day to day. It doesn’t feel that way, though. To conscious experience, it feels as if you were the one holding the chisel, motivated by existing thoughts and beliefs. It feels as though the person wearing your pants performed actions consistent with your established character, yet there is plenty of research suggesting otherwise. The things you do often create the things you believe.
Cognitive behavior therapy is something that the self interest group "bullies" should prescribe to. As McRaney adds:
The Benjamin Franklin effect is the result of your concept of self coming under attack. Every person develops a persona, and that persona persists because inconsistencies in your personal narrative get rewritten, redacted, and misinterpreted. If you are like most people, you have high self-esteem and tend to believe you are above average in just about every way. It keeps you going, keeps your head above water, so when the source of your own behavior is mysterious you will confabulate a story that paints you in a positive light. If you are on the other end of the self-esteem spectrum and tend to see yourself as undeserving and unworthy [and] will rewrite nebulous behavior as the result of attitudes consistent with the persona of an incompetent person, deviant, or whatever flavor of loser you believe yourself to be. Successes will make you uncomfortable, so you will dismiss them as flukes. If people are nice to you, you will assume they have ulterior motives or are mistaken. Whether you love or hate your persona, you protect the self with which you’ve become comfortable. When you observe your own behavior, or feel the gaze of an outsider, you manipulate the facts so they match your expectations.
Will Common Core survive? It's clear the mob is gaining the upper hand right now, but the question remains, "how do you tame it?" We are in uncertain times. The Common Core has forced the hand on public policy. Even if the end result is that many states create better standards, even if not uniform, it is still unlikely that public education will take the bold steps necessary to fix a dysfunational system that has not been fundamentally altered in more than a century.