The Conversation

Advertising the super-State

I don't have children myself, but my friends with kids have very little good to say about the weird Common Core system.  An awful lot of it strikes me as an attempt to move educational metrics away from results to process - it doesn't matter if kids come up with the right answers to something absolute like a math question, or that it takes them a long time to grind their way to a solution, provided they can show they followed the "right" problem-solving methods, and avoided damage to their fragile self-esteem.  This has the convenient, and probably not coincidental, side effect of allowing the educational establishment to give itself high marks for teaching those "right methods," even as the number of students coming up with the wrong answers would ordinarily make them look pretty bad.

Michelle Malkin, unquestionably one of the leading critics of Common Core, has a new look at where the money to promote the program is coming from:

They’re everywhere. Turn on Fox News, local news, Animal Planet, HGTV, The Family Channel or talk radio. Pro-Common Core commercials have been airing ad nauseam in a desperate attempt to persuade American families to support the beleaguered federal education standards/testing/technology racket. Who’s funding these public relations pushes? D.C. lobbyists, entrenched politicians and Big Business interests.

The foundational myth of Common Core is that it’s a “state-led” initiative with grassroots support that was crafted by local educators for the good of all of our children. But the cash and power behind the new ad campaign tell you all you need to know. For parents in the know, this will be a refresher course. But repeated lies must be countered with redoubled truths.

She goes on to follow the money trail in great detail.  There's a lot of money being spent on promoting Common Core, and of course a lot of money being made from it, coupled with the infusion of political power, which is particularly unpleasant when looking at education as a government-protected near-monopoly.  Competition in education is one of the most provocative ideas in America today.  Much of the bloated costs and subpar results we've grown sadly accustomed to would evaporate if parents could vote on the results produced by competing institutions with their dollars.

This story provides examples of two other noteworthy subjects, beyond education: the role of lobbyists, and the huge amounts of money government uses to advertise itself.  On the former note, it's always interesting how political biases alter public perceptions of who should be treated as a vile "lobbyist" or selfish "special interest," and who gets to parade around as a noble crusader for the public interest.  If people have a right to lobby the government, then the concept of lobbyists and special interests should be inherently value-neutral - it matters what they do, not what their P.R. materials and media cheerleaders portray them as.  But in reality, it's remarkable how aggressively political players seek to portray the interests they support as absolute saints, or render them invisible, while pointing accusatory fingers at all the hellish, vaguely unpatriotic "special interests" they oppose.  (Or explicitly unpatriotic, if you've heard the latest rant by billionaire-supported Democrats against the billionaires they don't like, the Koch Brothers.)

And then you've got all the money government spends to advertise itself, from the education issue to the even more eye-popping sums spent to push programs like ObamaCare.  Every few months, an outrageous story blows along about the money Uncle Sam spends to push various social-welfare programs, generating a certain degree of unease at the spectacle of Big Government actively recruiting dependents for its programs.  Defenders of these efforts can make reasonable arguments about the public's need to know about what the government is doing, or the futility of having a social welfare initiative nobody knows about.  But sometimes the sheer scale of these efforts, or the venues where Washington spends its advertising money, raises eyebrows.  

Private corporations spend big bucks on advertising as a vital element of competition.  Why should the anti-competitive government be playing so vigorously in the advertising arena?  Sure, this is all part of the pricey battle of political speech... but in other circumstances, the supporters of Big Government have serious problems with the idea that money equals speech.  


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