Now, amid all the backlash, an unlikely subculture appears to be emerging in the anti-Common Core world: suburban parents. Even U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan has taken note of the trend, who last November told a group of superintendents that “white suburban moms” were resisting the implementation of the Common Core. His theory? “All of a sudden … their child isn’t as brilliant as they thought they were, and their school isn’t quite as good as they thought they were.”
I happen to live in a middle-class suburb outside of New York City—one that could easily be considered the capital of “white suburban moms.” And I’m realizing Duncan was on to something: Their wrath is real, and it’s based largely on misperception and widespread fearmongering perpetuated by the Tea Party skeptics and anxious state policymakers…
So, why are suburban parents suddenly taken with test anxiety? Duncan reasoned that “white suburban moms”—and, presumably, dads as well—fear their children will perform poorly on the Common Core tests. But based on my conversations with parents and school administrators, as well as my observations of local school-board meetings, I believe parental fears are broader and more complex than Duncan made them out to be.
A typical suburban parent, like all parents, has an intense, natural instinct to protect his or her kids. We parents are hard-wired to protect our babies from the unknown—and for the most part, this is a good thing. After all, protection of offspring and suspicion of outsiders have kept the human species alive for millions of years. But this instinct sometimes takes parents in the wrong direction. Just look at the anti-vaccination movement: Though the instincts of anti-vaccination parent activists are pure, their actions have resulted in what’s arguably a public-health crisis in the country.
Many parents view the Common Core and the accompanying tests as a threat to their ability to keep their kids safe in a hostile world. Suburban parents, who are known for being particularly involved in their kids’ education and traditionally enjoy a good deal of influence on district policymaking, are frustrated by not being able to convince their local school boards to alter the standards or testing requirements. They worry that they won’t be able to help kids with homework, because the new learning materials rely on teaching methods foreign to them. They worry that, ultimately, their kids will be unemployed and living in the basement in their 20s…
Tea Party conservatives and suburban parents might not have a lot in common, but they seem to increasingly share a distrust of bureaucracy, so-called experts, and federal rules. The sources of their opposition, of course, are entirely different: For Tea Party conservatives, it’s about ideology; for parents, it’s about protection. Politics makes for strange bedfellows, indeed.
Does that mean urban and rural areas are the ones supporting the Common Core? Here is why this argument without much evidence bothers me: it sounds like the decades-old suburban critiques that haven’t changed all that much since the mid-1900s. It is easy to stereotype all the suburban population as white, conservative, individualistic, unable to see past their own interests. There is some evidence that would seem to fit with this argument: the exurbs tend to vote Republican, wealthier suburban communities (those likely with better schools) tend to be whiter, American suburbs have been all about raising children for a long time, and suburbs idolize local control in all sorts of areas. Yet, the suburbs were never that monolithic and certainly aren’t now with increasing non-white, poorer, and immigrant populations. Do inner-ring suburban parents view the world the same way as exurban parents?
If this story wanted to be more accurate, it might go a few directions:
1. Use some data. There certainly has to be some survey data regarding opinions on the Common Core. Many national surveys include a measure for living in urban/suburban/rural areas.
2. Don’t paint all suburbanites with broad strokes and instead limit the claim to certain groups. Perhaps the author is really talking about wealthier parents. Or moms. Or suburban conservatives.