More on the Clown Car

Since posting on David Brooks’ “When the Circus Descends” yesterday, Stephen Sondheim’s great song “Send in the Clowns” has been going through my head, especially these lines:

I thought that you’d want what I want.
Sorry, my dear.
But where are the clowns?
Quick, send in the clowns.
Don’t bother, they’re here.

What frustrates me so is that all of us should have the same goals concerning education, “I thought that you’d want what I want.” The goal should be real education, described by John Dewey as well as anyone has:

I believe that all education proceeds by the participation of the individual in the social consciousness of the race. This process begins unconsciously almost at birth, and is continually shaping the individual’s powers, saturating his consciousness, forming his habits, training his ideas, and arousing his feelings and emotions. Through this unconscious education the individual gradually comes to share in the intellectual and moral resources which humanity has succeeded in getting together. He becomes an inheritor of the funded capital of civilization. The most formal and technical education in the world cannot safely depart from this general process. It can only organize it or differentiate it in some particular direction.

This is not training for jobs. It is not a competition with other nations. It is a fundamental component of society and the basis for its progress. “Sorry, my dear,” but it also starts with the individual, as Dewey writes, and moves from there into society’s “funded capital of civilization.” It does not work when imaged from the top down, as the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) that Brooks extols tries to do. Structured from the needs of the top and not from those of the students at the bottom, it becomes training, not education

“But where are the clowns?” I would say that Brooks and his group are outside, having barricaded the exits to the big top of education. They think that they know what goes on inside, having long been the show themselves. But they say we’re the clowns, “As it’s being attacked by the talk-radio right, the Common Core is being attacked by the interest group left,” writes Brooks, trying to make clowns of those across the political spectrum who disagree with him.

At this point, if we are going to stop CCSS from continuing the destruction of our schools initiated and fomented by the alphabet soup of NCLB, RTTT and all of the other “savior” programs, we need a few more of the people Brooks (forgetting that he, himself, is wearing the bright red suspenders and the squirt gun masquerading as a carnation) points his seltzer bottle at. The promoters of CCSS like to present it as a done deal, as something that is happening, so we might as well get used to it. The only way it is going to be stopped, then, is by a concerted mass movement in opposition. Call us clowns (though that should bring a laugh, coming from one, like Brooks, covered in greasepaint and wearing an outsized polka-dotted bow tie), but there are more and more of us.

So, I would say, “Quick, send in the clowns.” Send in those who are rising up in frustration against a vision of education based more on international competition than on the needs of American communities. However, and this is the positive point, the very fact of Brooks’ column shows that the promoters of CCSS are already panicking, that they are starting to see that the opposition is coalescing into a real, unstoppable force. So, “Don’t bother, they’re here.” We’re going to stop this thing, this CCSS, be we clowns or not.


One of the smartest and most careful of the opponents of CCSS, Mercedes Schneider, has also chimed in on the Brooks column. She writes on it with a great deal of attention to the details than I do.


2 thoughts on “More on the Clown Car

  1. Pingback: Documenting Fools - The Arab Daily News | The Arab Daily News

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