U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan told a group of state schools superintendents Friday that he found it “fascinating” that some of the opposition to the Common Core State Standards has come from “white suburban moms who — 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.”
There’s this funny thing that happens when you become a mom. Every kid is suddenly your kid. You wince when a baby cries, when another kid falls on the playground. Your heart breaks when you read the newspaper, every day. You can’t read certain books, watch certain movies or shows. And you start having a lot of pesky opinions about things—like, say, education policy. And not just for your own kid.
And then someone stands up to defend policy and he wants the criticism against it to sound ridiculous, so he ascribes it to moms. Specially white suburban moms—and we know how THEY all are—who want their little Timmy to look brilliant. (Apparently moms who live in the city or are of color don’t have the same concerns.)
Yeah, we moms—I would posit that this includes moms regardless of place of residence or color— want our kids to be brilliant, though perhaps in not the sense of the word he means. At least we want our child to be given every chance to have the brilliance—emotional, creative, empathetic, intellectual, or whatever other form this brilliance takes— inside him nurtured. And we want it for other kids too. We have this weird idea that an educational system should value our kids as individuals rather than bits of data. And we have this funny opinion that standards and testing and everything else that privileges surface learning over critical thinking and creativity and empathy and the skill of and hunger for learning itself isn’t the best way to foster brilliance in our children. We are skeptical of guys like this ignoring the concerns of the educators who have devoted themselves to taking care of our kids, and deeply skeptical of policies that turn our kids into numbers, try to quantify achievement, and impose one size fits all systems on our schools crafted by the boneheads who think this sort of thing is a good idea in the first place.
Why exactly do we talk about moms this way? There’s soccer moms, mommy porn, mom jeans, and Mommy bloggers (the 21st Century equivalent of a damned mob of scribbling women.) And in this case the word “mom” is being used, essentially, as a cheap slur—a signifier for someone who we all agree is petty and silly, someone who can and should be ignored.
To have the Secretary of Education reduce and deride the concerns of parents who happen to be female is appalling. To have him imply that only white moms are so invested in their children’s education is deeply problematic. To have him take the voices of all of the educators and parents and scholars who have raised concerns about Common Core and silence them by using “moms” as a straw man, to have him take the word “mom” and use it as something to devalue and sneer at for political gain and to is disturbing at every level.
I would say that a person who would use women in this way does not belong in the job.