Just to make sure that what sounded like nonsense really is nonsense, I called William Teale, director of the Center for Literacy, an educational policy institute at the University of Illinois at Chicago.
Is it at all possible, I asked, that the nationwide teaching standards known as Common Core will allow the federal government to mine the DNA of unsuspecting students?
"Oh my gosh, no," Teale said, after doing what people usually do when they hear nonsense. He laughed.
You could say this is cherry-picking on my part, selecting an outlandish criticism of Common Core Standards from an extreme source; it was in an email that Hernando County tea party gadfly Hamilton Hanson sent to School Board members last week.
Except that most criticisms of Common Core are outlandish and extreme. The gem about DNA mining was included in a report by the Florida Stop Common Core Coalition that also included claims that the program — being implemented across the state — will psychologically profile children and predetermine, among other things, what career they should enter and "whether they are suited for gun ownership."
And though most of this foolishness has been directed at people in Tallahassee who can actually influence the adoption of Common Core, a fair amount of it has filtered down to local administrators and board members. That's one reason why it will be discussed next week at the Hernando School Board meeting and why Pasco County administrators have met with parents and a tea party group.
Among the administrators' messages:
Common Core, though encouraged by the federal government, was created by coalitions of state governors and education commissioners.
Though not all teachers are eager to have more outsiders looking over their shoulders, a lot of them think Common Core Standards reward good and imaginative teaching.
In math, students will be expected to learn why formulas work, not just memorize them.
Kids will read more difficult texts at earlier ages; there will be more emphasis on analysis and less on the cramming of facts.
If it sounds tough, that's the idea — to turn out high school graduates in this country as skilled and informed as those in Finland or South Korea.
And to do this across the U.S.
That's why attacking this program in relatively remote, resource-poor districts such as Hernando and, to a lesser degree, Pasco is especially misguided.
It's why I disagree with the liberal teaching group that has criticized Common Core. It's why the most foolish phrase in Hanson's very foolish email was this:
"My overriding cry is for all education to be LOCALLY controlled," Hanson wrote.
The educational strategies of Common Core are far more ambitious and sophisticated than anything that could be developed in his home county.
It's an opportunity for us to make sure kids in Hudson, Dade City and Brooksville are getting an education that's on par with kids in suburban New York or Chicago. Or, for that matter, Finland.