Fortune has put together a Common Core article package that headlines its New Year’s Day issue. They clearly spent a lot of time on it.
Too bad, then, that after all that reporting they, like their CEO and philanthropist interview subjects, still have no idea why this force-fed brain mush generates the same kind of scorn from ordinary Americans that Trump-dismissers provoke from Twitter trolls.
Business Doesn’t Love Capitalism
Perhaps one should expect this sort of obtuseness from a magazine that targets the corporate set, but Fortune editor Peter Elkind clearly doesn’t get that business man doesn’t at all mean capitalist. In the cover article, he writes: “[Common Core] has seen some of the nation’s foremost capitalists accused of promoting an ‘immoral,’ ‘freedom-robbing,’ ‘socialist agenda,’ aimed at turning America’s children into ‘mindless drones for the corporate salt mines.’”
No. Common Core has seen some of the nation’s foremost cronyists accused of doing what cronies do—which is using government to force their low-quality products on everyone rather than getting their butts out into the market and earning the dollars they get from us through a willing exchange.
It may be telling that Exxon Mobil CEO Rex Tillerson plays prominently in this article as one of the nation’s chief Common Core advocates. Far from being some exemplar of capitalism, Exxon Mobil is very comfortable using government to force taxpayers to subsidize its products, making self-serving use of the Export-Import Bank, and making taxpayers pay part of its legal settlements in pollution cases, and oiling up government officials it wants to approve even more taxpayer subsidies.
This is not at all surprising. In fact, if Elkind were up on his capitalism and not on inaccurate stereotypes, he’d have known that no less a capitalist than Milton Friedman says the greatest enemies of capitalism are businessmen. (h/t to Mark Perry for helping me look up the right Friedman references—I get my regular dosage of Friedman from his blog.)
This is key to understanding why four in five Americans don’t trust big businesses like Exxon Mobil: Because they don’t play fair, and we know it. They use their power to cheat us out of honest government and a level economic playing field. Just witness the recent free-expression nuke big business dropped on Indiana (and the rest of the country) by bullying our legislature into dropping conscience protections for citizens by torpedoing a state-level bill to protect religious freedom mirrored on a national law Bill Clinton signed after huge bipartisan majorities in Congress had passed it.
They’re not satisfied to hold our natural and constitutionally secured rights hostage just once—nope, this coming spring legislative session, they’ll be back for more, to make women and mothers like me and our daughters share bathrooms and locker rooms with any penis-bearing man who wants to waltz in and waggle himself at us after calling himself transgender, all in the name of “equality” and “diversity.”
Gee, thanks, big business. I so love that you “bring jobs” to my state while dangling that carrot in front of what are supposed to be my representatives to get tax carveouts so my children have to pay higher taxes once those bills come due. I so love that you pretend earning one’s bread should be conditioned upon accepting your religious beliefs, which violently contradict my own. It’s totally amazing to have political leaders I didn’t and can’t vote for or against, and who arrogantly abuse their power to degrade my fundamental rights as an American citizen. I really can’t figure out why, despite all the money you throw at PR, pandering, and virtue signaling, your reputation sucks.
Why don’t you try being genuinely brave and selfless for once: get back to your offices and make things I want to buy, and don’t force them or your crappy politics into my home unless I like your widgets and freely agree to pay for them on my own terms. Because that would be capitalism.
Yo, Corporate Jerks: My Kids Aren’t Your Pawns
In the Fortune article, Elkind quotes Tillerson’s remarks on a panel: “I’m not sure public schools understand that we’re their customer—that we, the business community, are your customer. What they don’t understand is they are producing a product at the end of that high school graduation…Now is that product in a form that we, the customer, can use it? Or is it defective, and we’re not interested?”
First, this is horribly offensive to the billions—and vast majority of people—who adhere to any of the world’s major religions, whose ethics all teach that humans have souls and are therefore highly distinct from mere objects that people may flick about like so many chess pieces. As New York principal Carol Burris put it in an open letter to Tillerson responding to this article, “We do not need you to develop [children] as products. They are neither kerogen nor shale.”
Second, Tillerson is displaying a remarkably deficient education. All he needs to do is look up any state constitution (a state constitution, because the national constitution doesn’t touch education, because education is not the federal government’s business, thank you very much). I’ve looked at more than a dozen, because I consult them before visiting a state to testify to its legislature about Common Core.
I’ll quote the original constitution of Indiana, since I live there: “Knowledge and learning generally diffused, through a community, being essential to the preservation of a free Government, and spreading the opportunities, and advantages of education through the various parts of the Country, being highly conductive to this end, it shall be the duty of the General Assembly to provide…for the use of schools…”
This language echoes that of the Northwest Ordinance, one of the four organic laws that created the United States, which says: “Religion, morality, and knowledge, being necessary to good government and the happiness of mankind, schools and the means of education shall forever be encouraged.” I remember standing one day inside the Ohio legislature (again about to testify on Common Core) and feeling a thrill as I read those grand words inside a hallway exhibit.
Notice in both of these documents—which are echoed in nearly every state constitution—the prime reason we have a public school system in the first place is not to “provide products that business will consume,” but to preserve our unique form of free government. Americans rule themselves. That is a very difficult task. It requires a unique kind of upbringing. Our schools are supposed to aid in that difficult task.
Schools don’t do much of this nowadays—American civic knowledge is utterly appalling—and perhaps one reason is that people like Tillerson use their power to make public education serve their selfish personal interests, rather than serve the country. Common Core’s writers bought into this mindset, Elkind writes: “When it came time to draft the provisions, career readiness was a central focus. The writers spent their first two months learning what colleges and businesses wanted high school graduates to know by the time they arrived on their doorstep. From there, the writers ‘back mapped,’ crafting grade-by-grade benchmarks to get them there.”
This man has four children. If he wants to feed them into the grist mill of industry, bully for him. But he has no right to use government to seize mine and chuck ‘em in, too. I’m raising citizens, thank you. That’s one reason I’ll never trust either Common Core or the public schools that celebrate it—neither give a damn about self-government or the public purpose of public education. Common Core doesn’t once mention anything but “college and career readiness” as its aim, and all but a few brave teachers and administrators like Burris are either too scared or too stupid to stand up and object to this outrage.
Government Isn’t Business
Elkind writes that “the executive mind-set on the issue—favoring consistency, efficiency, and accountability—has clashed with the American tradition of local control.” Let’s get one thing straight, big business dudes. You are entirely allowed to be the king of your own business. Inside the corridors of your business, boss away.
But it’s a basic proposition of American government that our bosses are the ones we choose. And ain’t nobody elected these CEOs to pursue the admittedly “efficient” scheme of “let’s just make everyone do what I want.” Even if we had elected you, there are these little things called “laws” and “natural rights enshrined in state and national constitutions” that would restrict your ability to tyrannize us.
I know business leaders often don’t have any particular civic allegiances. They are happy to fantasize about living in a “global” economy, where allegiances can be bought and sold to the lowest cross-border tax-rate bidder. Some of us have ethical codes that include basic things like loving our neighbors, and minding our own business instead of everyone else’s. I’m willing to bet that’s most of America. And we know the difference between a public servant and a high-class prostitute.