From 2010 to 2014 – for four consecutive years – I researched and wrote about, lobbied against, designed memes until my hard drive nearly crashed, and crisscrossed virtually the entire state on speaking tours, appealing to as many people as I could to stop the implementation of the Common Core State Standards in Oklahoma. Ultimately our little Common Core is not OK band ‘won,’ and the Standards were repealed from state law in 2014 during a campaign that captured national attention.
Today the simple lack of time (stemming from homeschooling four kids, teaching Chem 1 and Pre-Algebra at our Co-Op, running a small farm and needing at least 6 hours of sleep) has pared my education policy involvement down to research and writing on the side. When I saw an article loudly proclaiming “New Research Shows How Common Core Critics Built Social Media ‘Botnets’ to Skew the Education Debate,” listed in my daily “Common Core” Google Alert, however, I stopped everything I was doing to absorb each condescending word.
Imagine my surprise when I learned from ‘The 74′ – a “news site covering education in America” partially ‘supported’ by the premier Common Core Apologist Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, that a study was done at the Consortium for Policy Research in Education (CPRE – adding ‘education’ was necessary; otherwise it just would have been CPR, which, come to think of it, the study badly needs) at the University of Pennsylvania, “…suggests public animosity toward Common Core was manipulated – and exaggerated – by organized online communities using cutting-edge social media strategies.”
I have to admit, the story intrigued me – none in our group were savvy Twitter users, yet we had been able to put the kibosh on Common Core in Oklahoma – so I clicked the link to the study in the article. Immediately I was sent to a website so slick it took over a minute to load (shocker here, the study was underwritten in part by….wait on it….Bill Gates) which told me I could use it interactively to “tell the story of the Common Core debate on Twitter.”
Gates-Funded Echo Chamber Amplifies Meaningless Mantras
Unwilling to sit twiddling my thumbs while the website loaded, and pretty much knowing what I would find when it did, I went back to finish reading the 74 article. To my amazement, I discovered that a group of ‘right-wing’ conservatives had banded together to take over Twitter and riddle it with ‘Twitterbots.’ I imagine this must look like a massive infestation of the terrifying Tooth Fairies from HellBoy 2 – spewing out ‘fake news’ messages against Common Core into the Twittersphere, ‘drowning out’ and ‘supplanting’ messages from the likes of ‘teachers and think tank experts.’
Thanks in no small part to the fact that the Bill Gates Common Core echo chamber has underwritten so much of today’s American education policy network, the #CommonCore study hit the news cycle with force. It found its way back to me numerous times through such venues as EdWeek (also partially Gates-funded) Huffington Post, and Phi Delta Kappa International (who recently took money from Gates to “support analysis of media coverage pertaining to the ESSA“).
After discovering how ‘botnets’ ‘skewed’ the education debate, I was not surprised to find that, by the next article, they had evolved into ‘sophisticated’ Common Core influencers. The opening sentence of that one gave me chest pain.
If you have only read about the Common Core State Standards on Twitter or fringe blogs, you might think that they were designed to indoctrinate kids against Israel, promote homosexuality and turn children into tools of the federal government.
Good GRIEF I HATE THAT! I can’t even guess at the number of times our well-documented and policy-grounded research was marginalized and I was treated like a know-nothing because some legislator (or other policy makers) found a blog on the internet where a parent accused The Common Core of making their kid grow 3 heads (or be sold to the UN as a slave, or become a proud Hitler youth). Yes, there are people out there who have their very special ideas about Common Core. This kind of thing does not even come close to characterizing me or the vast majority of Common Core fighters across the country (mostly other moms) I have become acquainted with over the last seven years.
Though I couldn’t help but add a snarky (but very unfake) comment blasting Alexander Russo’s Phi Delta Kappan, “Common Core, Automated Advocacy, & Media Coverage” piece, (as did several other CC warriors I know) I abandoned further reading to make phone calls directly to the accused Tweeters themselves.
Clueless Crybaby Losers Assert Fake Common Core News
It must take some unbelievable tone deafness, massive doses of cognitive dissonance – or both – for a bunch of Gates-Funded writers and researchers to kick a group of anti-Common Core Tweeting moms to the curb by implying THEYare Astroturf, but then, the Common Core warfare started on a battlefield entirely one-sided.
In fact, early in our fight, my friend Lynn Habluetzel and I sat down one weekend and created a diagram to trace the money and organizations flowing through the Common Core Initiative (helped by a spreadsheet of Gates Foundation grants Joy Pullmann had collected and assembled). So the tax-paying public could more easily understand the lopsidedness of the fight.
On one side – with their galaxy-sized artillery bank of lettered names, big bags of money and condescending posturing – stand education policy wonks, Chamber of Commerce devotees, teacher’s unions and their associated cling-ons, billionaire philanthropists, non-elected government groups and their lackeys in the media.
On the other side are parents, their fierce dedication to the well-being and futures of their children, and their ability to connect to grassroots and policy groups with a heart for parental rights, their only real weaponry.
As pro-CC factions blather on and on endlessly about how the standards are ‘rigorous’, ‘state-led’ and promote ‘critical thinking’, clueless media members have never been able to reconcile why simple, run-of-the-mill parents would, like David, fight such enormous Goliaths for benevolently trying to make their kids as smart as they.
In May of 2014, while Oklahomans were waiting for Governor Mary Fallin to decide whether she would sign or veto the Common Core repeal bill sent to her desk, I was interviewed by New York Times‘, Motoko Rich.
I wrote this excerpt of the conversation into our blog just the way I remembered it so I’d never forget because it personifies this cluelessness so excellently well:
MR: So, Jenni, how do you support ROPE?
JW: Out of our own pockets.
MR: Oh, so you have corporate sponsors.
JW: No, we use our own personal funds.
MR: Ohhhh, so you get grants and loans.
JW: No, whatever we have in our personal bank accounts we spend.
MR: I see, so you have private donors.
JW: Yes, his name is David White.
After that, Rich gave a sort of forced laugh and then set out on the quest for another answer, but I felt like I had been waterboarded. It was entirely clear Motoko Rich had no idea what it meant to be a “We the People.” She only related to ‘politics’ as the process of money and power influencing the course of government.
Terri Sasseville – a Georgia mother who fights for the education of her autistic son with one hand while generating anti-Common Core memes at a singularly astounding rate with the other – knows how it feels to be misunderstood and mischaracterized by the media. One of her Tweets figured prominently in HuffPo’s ‘sophisticated bots’ article. Under it was written:
One of the researchers’ more disturbing findings is that a grassroots group called Patriot Journalist Network came to dominate the Common Core discussion on Twitter by spreading hyperbolic or false claims through the use of sophisticated “Twitterbots”.
Sasseville, who’s been working with the also-vilified Mark Prasek of Patriot Journalist Network (PJNET) since 2012, says in response, “The little girl in the Tweet is a second-grade cancer survivor. She was stressed out about her Common Core math homework at the time her mom – a professional photographer – took the picture. I got permission from her mother to use the picture. Maddie is not a bot. The photo is not hyperbole.”
“Just because the Tweets can be emotional doesn’t mean they’re ‘fake,'” she added with an audible humph.
Barely pausing to take a breath between thoughts, Sasseville lays down a litany of specifics that stream out of her mouth born on a Georgia accent sweet-sassy enough to maybe even make Bill Gates think twice before funding his next Common Core project.
“Kids crying over their homework is real. Kids not getting Common Core math is real. Kids with autism, for example, have to write a paragraph about how they came up with a math answer, but though they can get the math, they have no idea how to write a paragraph about the answer because that doesn’t make sense to them. They’re turning math into English class, so kids struggle and part of the reason we’re seeing behavioral issues in the classroom has to do with the stress generated by not knowing how to do the work.”
Stop the Bullying – #TwitterbotsAreHuman2
Over the years, Terri – a veteran of several PJNET Twitter campaigns – has tried to solicit my help with Twitter campaigns. Unfortunately, my ability to use Twitter is somewhere on par with my ability to rebuild the engine of my Ford Expedition under a tree in my back pasture – at night – so I ask her to explain to me why she likes using it so much.
“In order to make a lot of noise, you have to put out a lot of volume – quantity – so that legislators can’t just ignore us. Twitter is public – Facebook has a lot of protections. When you Tweet to a legislator, there’s no plausible deniability because everyone else knows you’re talking to them and you’re entitled to a response – at least from your own Rep.”, she said.
“Tweeting can be a struggle for some people. It’s only 140 characters, so a lot of people don’t even write their own Tweets, they just find someone Tweeting on a topic and re-Tweet them,” said Mark “Coach” Prasek, founder of PJNET.
Feeling like I was getting a pep-talk before the big game; Coach explained the way Tweets move through the system he invented, smashing the whole mechanized ‘bot’ bologna being blown up by the media.
“We go out and harvest real Tweets from real Twitter accounts on a topic like Common Core, then we aggregate that content in a single place to make it easy for people to go and re-Tweet. We make it to where you don’t need to know anything, just click the mouse.”
“I’m a coach,” he reminds me, “I build teams. Once you come in with a Tweet then people – some with tens of thousands of followers – come in behind you and re-tweet it.”
“This is anything but a bot,” Coach promises as sincerely as if he were recognizing his team for a winning season, “this is real human beings. Not a single Tweet goes out without being volitionally and kinetically instructed by a human user. The characterization that this is a botnet is categorically and emphatically false and could not possibly hold up under scrutiny.”
Clearly aggravated by the #CommonCore study, Coach uses all the passion and precision I would suspect him of using to get his team past a fourth down, touchdown play from the two-yard line to describe why.
“Jenni,” he starts – just as a good coach would, he tends to begin a new paragraph of explanations by calling me by name to make sure I hear his instructions – “I was contacted by a researcher in January and I gave him a tour of the facility. He knew that not a single Tweet goes out that wasn’t instructed by a human user. They were told the truth, and the truth was deep-sixed because it was counter to the narrative of the study.”
We Expected to Be Thrown Under the Bus, and We’re Okay With That
Recently, a Tweet of my daughter with a poster she had made for an anti-Common Core rally we had had at the Oklahoma Capitol all the way back in 2013 has shown up in my Twitter feed and been re-Tweeted to me by a large number of individuals. I asked Terri about that.
“Oh yes,” she said brightly, “that picture was a ‘featured’ Tweet. Mark likes us to use pictures or memes when we generate Tweets because those get the most impressions and more people re-Tweet them.”
“Ironically, we’ve got this very high tech tool, but what makes it really, really effective is the human element,” she added.
Even with the ease of the tech involved, Sasseville describes how hard she had to work to get the first #StopCommonCore rally going.
“Five moms put up 20 bucks each to pay for the 100 dollars it took to pay for the rallies. We expected to be marginalized. How ironic that this billionaire is complaining about moms who had to chip in money to put these Twitter rallies together. He’s spending billions on his propaganda machine, and we’re pinching pennies to get some Tweets out there,” Sasseville says with what I can only imagine is a jaunty little jerk of her head.
Coach simply says, “It’s perfectly okay with me that we are underestimated as a bunch of botnets. I hope those opposing us think we’re not capable of fighting our way out of a wet paper sack. PJNET is running on science, not on passion. It’s competently engineered and ethically motivated. I don’t commandeer people’s Twitter accounts. If I did, there would be a lot more Tweets.”