THE BLOG
01/05/2015 12:47 pm ET Updated Mar 07, 2015

Koch Brothers Do Common Core

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Koch (sounds like coke) is highly addictive. In this case, not the powder or the crystals, but the money. Bloomberg News puts the combined wealth of right-wing financiers and "do-badders" Charles and David Koch at over $100 billion. The Koch brothers like to throw their money at everything to buy influence and goodwill, and just about everybody seems anxious to take some, no matter what the consequence to society, their organization, or their souls.

At least thirty-six colleges and universities including prestigious schools like Harvard and MIT receive Koch dollars, as do major American cultural institutions such as Lincoln Center, the American Museum of Natural History, and the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City and Smithsonian Institute in Washington, D.C. Liberal friends of these schools and institutions somehow are comfortable socializing with the astronomically wealthy brothers who also fund right-wing think tanks and advocacy groups fighting against social policies they claim to believe in.

Koch money is behind the Heritage Foundation, the Manhattan Institute, the Federalist Society, Americans for Prosperity, and of course, ALEC, the anti-union, public education, environmental protection, gun control, government regulation, and health care American Legislative Exchange Council. Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont, one of the last liberals holding high office in the United States, charged, "The Koch brothers are worth $85 billion. You might think that's enough to get by, leave a couple of bucks to your kids. But apparently they feel an obligation to destroy Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid."

In Tennessee, the Koch brothers, operating through Americans for Prosperity (AFP), have launched a major battle to stop implementation of the national Common Core standards. Last summer, AFP spent a half a million Koch dollars to elect anti-Common Core candidates to local office. Nationally, Koch-backed organizations and foundations are at the forefront of the anti-Common Core campaign, which is not surprising.

What is surprising is that Koch money is going to the other side in the Common Core war as well, as the Koch brothers try to cover all bases buying up American advocacy groups. Bill Bigelow, an editor at Rethinking Schools and co-director of the Zinn Education Project, documented Koch influence at the National Council for the Social Studies (NCSS) annual conference through one of their front groups, the Bill of Rights Institute. According to Bigelow, "In its materials for teachers and students, the Bill of Rights Institute cherry-picks the Constitution, history, and current events to hammer home its libertarian message that the owners of private property should be free to manage their wealth as they see fit." Its goal is to infuse Koch anti-government propaganda into the school curriculum.

The NCSS has generally been supportive of Common Core, fighting to expand it to include citizenship education and social studies, what they call the C3 curriculum (College, Career, and Citizenship), rather than opposing it for marginalizing content and conceptual learning. However, the group's latest bulletin, Teaching the College, Career, and Civic Life (C3) Framework (NCSS Bulletin 114), was a basic sell-out of all principles. Desperate for Koch dollars to subsidize its convention and publications, the NCSS actually had agents for the seemingly anti-Common Core Koch brothers design one of the fifteen Common Core aligned lessons.

The Bill of Rights Institute (BRI) Common Core aligned lesson for grades 9-12 is on the "necessary and proper clause" of the Constitution (39-46) and its goal, rather than to promote inquiry, is to convince students that the current interpretation is too broad because it allows a national health insurance plan and the regulation of companies like Koch Industries that destroy the environment in the name of profit. Its phantom civic action is a debate "Resolved: The Necessary and Proper Clause is not necessary or proper because it makes the principles of federalism and limited government obsolete."

The lesson, developed by the anti-Common Core Koch brothers team at BRI, mirrors all of the Common Core proposed classroom practices. It is adapted from an advanced placement American History lesson on the McCulloch v. Maryland case decided by the United States Supreme Court in 1819. The original lesson is available on the Bill of Rights Institute website.

The NCSS version of the lesson starts with typical Common Core standards performance indicators for students based on close reading of text. The indicators include "determining the kinds of sources that will be helpful in answering compelling and supporting questions," considering "multiple points of view," developing "claims and counterclaims," and constructing "explanations using sound reasoning."

The lesson itself focuses on Bill of Rights/Koch questions and a reading designed to call into question the use of the "elastic clause" provision in Article 1 Section 8 of the United States Constitution that makes it possible for the federal government to respond to a changing world by building highways, supporting public education, providing health insurance, and regulating rapacious companies like Koch Industries.

The lesson provides the primary reading material for students on the McCulloch v. Maryland case. It is a secondary source without attribution so I can only assume it was written expressly for this lesson by the BRI. The final paragraph makes the points the Koch brothers presumably want included, that the unanimous Supreme Court decision placing federal interests above state interests and allowing the federal government to stretch its authority in order to insure its mandated responsibilities, "was not a blank check for assertions of federal power," that only "legitimate" means and ends are "within the scope of the constitution," and that the "proper scope of the federal government's authority continues to be a subject of serious debate."

As a final summation document before the debate whether to end federal overreach, students read an excerpt from a Supreme Court minority opinion written in 2010 by right-wing activist judge Clarence Thomas and supported in part by another right-wing judge, Antonin Scalia, although in the bulletin and on the website, their names are inexplicably left off of the document. In their dissent Thomas and Scalia assert that while the power of the federal government is sharply limited by the Constitution, the power of states is not similarly constrained. In their view, and evidently that of the Koch brothers, "no matter how 'necessary' or 'proper' an Act of Congress may be to its objective, Congress lacks authority to legislate if the objective is anything other than 'carrying into Execution' one or more of the Federal Government's enumerated powers."

In other words, as the Koch brothers read this the decision, since the Founding Fathers did not know about the Keystone pipeline, Canadian tar sands, or Common Core, the federal government cannot regulate Koch operations or impose national educational standards. In Koch world Common Core is used to trump Common Core so the Koch brothers can do anything they want and nobody can stop them. Apparently, even for people who fundamentally oppose what they stand for, Koch (sounds like coke) money is very addictive.