The Public/Private Partnership: The Institutionalization of Child Abuse
"I have an idea. I really want it to work. Let's use children to experiment on them and go from there to see what happens."
--Dr. Quentin VanMeter
Dr. Quentin VanMeter is a pediatric endocrinologist. The quote above came from a 2018 talk he gave in Sydney, Australia on the history of "trans" medicine. Although he was talking about the experimental nature of "trans" medicine, the statement could apply to anything from education reform to the public health response to COVID. It was initially somewhat surprising how little the COVID advice for children matched the evidence. It eventually became a reminder that this is how it always is for our children. It's seldom about the evidence rather than the goals of the usually public/private initiative we use our children to support.
I have written previously about the way that adolescent "trans medicine" contradicts the evidence and have noticed parallels to the COVID response for some time. More recently I have found myself reflecting on how I struggled with a similar dynamic as a kindergarten teacher. The academic expectations had risen with the implementation of Common Core counter to what we have known for decades about child development and the needs of young learners. The predictable result of solutions based on goals that contradict the developmental needs of children is often the opposite of those goals. For example, more damage from the COVID response than from the disease against which the response was supposed to protect. It has happened so often and so extensively that we must begin to ask if the negative impact on our children by these public/private initiatives is a feature or a bug. The fact that the harms are never addressed in real time, merely regretted after the fact, provides an important clue which.
I often find myself reflecting on the last interview I had for a kindergarten teaching position. In the weeks prior I had read several reports evaluating Common Core which noted that rather than shrink the distance between the highest and lowest achieving students, the gap had widened. The standards were implemented in 2010. By 2015 it was apparent that any gains, as measured by difference between states that adopted the standards or didn't on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), were modest in math and statistically insignificant in reading. Fourth grade reading scores for the lowest performing students had dropped.
Tom Loveless is the author of Between the State and the Schoolhouse and one of the few people who evaluated the evidence for Common Core yearly for the Brookings Institute. In 2020 he said, "[i]n short, the evidence suggests student achievement is, at best, about where it would have been if Common Core had never been adopted, if the billions of dollars spent on implementation had never been spent, if the countless hours of professional development inducing teachers to retool their lessons had never been imposed. When will time be up on the Common Core experiment? How many more years must pass, how much more should Americans spend, and how many more effective curricula must be pushed aside before leaders conclude that Common Core has failed?" Massachusetts had long had a reputation for excellence in education with some of the highest standards in the country before adopting Common Core. Yet, students were performing worse on the NAEP than before Common Core had been introduced.
I mentioned the drop in 4th grade reading proficiency in my interview to ask what I thought was a smart and relevant question. I wanted to know if there was to be any modification of curriculum to account for the drop. I had never experienced anything like the principal's response until I talked to people about how ineffective masks are at stopping COVID or the reality of two immutable sexes. I don't think the reaction would have been as extreme if I had said I was a proponent of corporal punishment. It would have been problematic, but not nearly as blasphemous as suggesting the possibility that the scripture of Common Core was failing its purpose. I had thought until recently that her reaction represented an organic belief in the efficacy of Common Core. What is more likely is a similar process to that which has left doctors committed to the COVID health response of masking and vaccines long after it became obvious that it has failed.
The guiding principle, at least in part, seems to be the central idea of a quote attributed to Upton Sinclair. "It is difficult to get a man to understand something when his salary depends upon his not understanding it." It's not necessarily conscious and deliberate. With both education reform and COVID it started with a large enough investment by the Gates Foundation to essentially purchase the power to influence the entire direction of the field. With Common Core the central premise was his preferred focus on uniform education standards and teacher evaluations. With COVID the focus was on universal inoculation. Both initiatives are predicated on the idea of a monolithic humanity. All students should reach the same end point, regardless of where they begin. It no longer matters what we know about child development. Everyone should receive the same number of shots and boosters, regardless of how much of a threat COVID is to them. It no longer matters what we know about immunology. The premise behind the new initiative essentially becomes the guiding philosophy for the field. As a practitioner or leader in the field it is not only difficult to hold onto two conflicting paradigms, it's difficult to maintain your position if you do. Even if the new initiative will fail in predictable ways for predictable reasons, you are still evaluated based on your adherence to the new initiative.
It has been accepted for nearly 20 years that there is a major word gap between children of a lower and higher socioeconomic status beginning school. It is accepted that students in the highest socioeconomic groups may know as many as 30 million more words. Common Core expects all students to reach the same endpoints regardless of deficits and strengths. There is a simple logic behind this standards based reform. To achieve standard outcomes requires standard inputs. The problem is that Common Core standards are just for English/language arts and math. So even for the youngest the emphasis becomes about academic rigor. The National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) worried about this over-emphasis on academic training. This is probably because, based on their interests in the education of young children, they know the research on educating young children. So obviously, the entire field ignored the concerns of NAEYC to reinforce the goals of the Gates Foundation.
Perhaps it has always been true and it has only just now become obvious to me, but the best way to view these public/private partnerships is as state enforcement of private initiatives. The needs of the public are secondary or absent entirely. As a result, so are the consequences, which almost invariably will cause harm to the most vulnerable in predictable ways. A cynical person might wonder if the harm is deliberate. After all, if you have a major investment in education reform, then a continued need for reform ensures continued returns on the investment. If you have a major investment in a new vaccine and giving it to everyone, it makes sense to ignore that the majority of children don't need it. Honestly, the cynical view has weight here.
Going back to the 70s, there have been numerous studies which make clear that academic work for young learners does more harm than good. It's not that the young learners are incapable of learning and applying academic skills, it's that rather than resulting in cumulative growth, the early focus increases future academic disinterest. The COVID health response for children-- school closures, masking, inoculations for healthy children-- similarly caused more harm than good. We locked schools for the better part of two years. In that time there was an increase in child hunger, abuse, suicide attempts, and drug overdoses, and a decline in mental health and academic preparedness. Although there is no evidence to support them we forced students to wear masks. Even as the mask mandates disappear for adults, places like New York City continue to force children 5 and under to carry on masking. To protect the health of children we made their health worse.
We have known since early 2020 from data from Italy and China that the impact of the virus was highly age stratified. Healthy children largely have mild symptomatic COVID. Studies from Sweden and Germany show no healthy children died at all from COVID. These government mandates and prohibitions, which should be viewed as an attack on our children, exist only to increase pressure to inoculate our children. Since children have such a high degree of natural protection, the inoculations are not about increasing protection, but compliance with the initiative of universal inoculations. One estimate of risk to benefit found that due to the high number of adverse events from the inoculations and the low risk of COVID for 5-11 year olds 117 lives would be lost for every 1 life saved. California is considering a bill to mandate these inoculations for all children, despite the increased risk of harm with no significant benefit. It creates a strange hostage scenario where doing what the kidnapper wants may kill the hostage.
Screencap of new Orange County athletic requirement
The extreme risk of harm to our children from the COVID response is only made possible by the success of prior initiatives like Common Core. The success of which isn't marked by increased academic readiness, but by the ability to maintain it long after its failures were obvious. The risk of death from a shot that offers limited benefit is only possible because prior attacks on our children were less obvious as direct assaults. As trust in our public institutions crater as it becomes obvious how much industries control the institutions meant to regulate them, this will not remain true. It almost makes me miss the days when public/private meant public investment for private profit. At least there was a chance it might bring a professional sports team to your city. Now it just leads to forced masking and vaccination of children to calm the fears of adults addled by the propaganda used to sell the public/private partnership. Even if the team was a loser we weren't outright sacrificing our children.