One of Hillary Clinton's first campaign appearances was this week at Kirkwood Community College in Monticello, Iowa. There was a roundtable of hand picked questioners, one of whom lobbed this softball: (minute 50 on this C-SPAN video).
Diane: I think we are very blessed to live where we do. Where education starting very young through high school, this community college, college. We have all these opportunities and we are fortunate here. I worry that not all of America gets to experience this treasure we have. And I think the Common Core is a wonderful step in the right direction of improving American education. And it's painful to see that attacked. I'm just wondering what can you do to bring that heart back to education? What can we do so that parents and communities and businesses believe in American education and that teachers are respected and our schools are respected and our colleges are respected? And we offer a quality education to all Americans throughout the United States?
Hillary Clinton responds:
Hillary Clinton: Wow. That is really a powerful, touching comment that I absolutely embrace. When I think about the really unfortunate argument that been going on around Common Core, it's very painful, because the Common Core started out as a bi-partisan effort -- it was actually non-partisan. It wasn't politicized, it was to try to come up with a core of learning that we might expect students to achieve across our country, no matter what kind of school district they were in, no matter how poor their family was, that there wouldn't be two tiers of education. Everybody would be looking at what was to be learned and doing their best to try to achieve that. I think part of the reason Iowa may be more understanding of this is you've had the Iowa Core for years, you've had a system, plus the Iowa Assessment tests. I think I'm right in saying I took those when I was in elementary school -- the Iowa tests. So Iowa has a testing system based on a core curriculum for a really long time, and you see the value of it, you understand why that helps you organize your whole education system. And a lot of states, unfortunately, haven't had that, and so don't understand the value of a core, in the sense of a common core that then -- yes of course you can, y'know, figure out the best way, in your community to try to reach.
But your question is really a larger one. How did we end up at a point where we are so negative about the most important non-family enterprise in the raising of the next generation, which is how our kids are educated. There are a lot of explanations for that, I suppose. Whatever they are, we need to try to get back into a broad conversation where people will actually listen to each other again, and try to come up with solutions for problems, cause the problems here in Monticello are not the same as you'll find in the inner cities in our biggest urban areas -- that's a given -- we have to do things differently. But it should all be driven by the same commitment to try to make sure we do educate every child. That's why, I was a senator and voted for Leave No Child Behind (sic) because I thought every child should matter.
It was interesting to watch Clinton's emotional state, since she began by describing the issue as "painful". She seems most genuinely animated when describing how the a testing system based on a core curriculum "helps you organize your whole education system." That is exactly why macro-managers like Clinton (and Bill Gates) are so fond of these tests. Those of us whose lives are being organized and sorted out for us have a different perspective on these tests.
We also might not be surprised to find other reasons Clinton might be fond of the Common Core. Here is the list of the biggest contributors to the Clinton Foundation, and the first on the list is the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. (Eli Broad is a longtime supporter as well, as he backed Hillary Clinton back in 2008.)
Clinton has struck a populist note recently, much as Barack Obama did in 2008. But those of us whose hopes were kindled by Obama seem to finding it harder to light the fire this time. And if this statement about Common Core is any indication, we are not going to hear much in the way of populism where education is concerned. Common Core tests? Essential for "organizing your whole education system."
It would be great if politicians like Clinton were forced to go beyond the pitying dismissal of concerns as unfortunate "politicization." It is almost like they think we should just be quiet and let them organize everything for us, with their handy tests.
The numbers of students opting out has caused a bit of a disturbance in the force. Critics of testing have been given a rare moment to air concerns, so we can make sense of children engaged in acts of civil disobedience across the nation. Hillary Clinton may need to school herself a bit more on "Leave No Child Behind," and the real story of the Common Core, if she wants to move teachers, students and parents off the sidelines.
What do you think? Do you feel Clinton's pain?
This post originally appeared on Living in Dialogue.