The Common Core of Being, Part Five


Tod Desmond and Boyce Brown I Education I Theory I June 30th, 2015



Part Five in a series of inquiries on "the philosophical foundations of 'Common Core' in Education." Read Part One, Part Two, Part Three, and Part Four.




In the Republic, Plato suggests a model of five types of government and how they evolve from one to the other. In chronological order of succession these are aristocracy (rule by the philosophers), timocracy (rule by the warriors), oligarchy (rule by the wealthy), democracy (rule by the majority of the people) and tyranny (rule by the vicious tyrant). Clearly, no Weberian "ideal type" can ever perfectly describe reality and not even a philosopher as great as Plato can escape this fact. The succession may not always happen precisely in this order and many political systems exhibit qualities of more than one type at any given time. It could be argued, for example, that the present day American government demonstrates an amalgamation of all five.

Plato's feverish city is not really his conception of an ideally just city. His ideal is more likely some combination of the original healthy city with aspects of the feverish society. The Orphic imagery of the healthy city (the vegetarianism, the wreathes of ivy, the singing of gods, and wine) point to the god Dionysus. The feverish city culminates with the image of the idea of the good, which corresponds to the way the Orphics worshipped Dionysus. The implication is that you can open the mind's eye to a vision of the idea of the good by congregationally singing to the cosmic God understood in an Orphic-Pythagorean way. The Pythagorean aspects of the feverish city and the agriculturally and economically self-sufficient Orphic city that preceded it could conceivably be combined to form a transformational society true to Plato's vision. The other three images of the future - continued growth, collapse, and disciplined - can be correlated to the other regimes Socrates describes in Book VIII.

As mentioned above, America today seems to contain elements of each of the five regimes Plato describes. Although they are not necessarily philosophers in the Platonic sense, a self-perpetuating, interrelated elite in politics and business could be seen as an aristocracy. Timocracy, a settler colonial warrior caste imposing its will on subject populations, fairly describes its disastrous foreign policy, what Beard and Vidal (2002) have called "perpetual war for perpetual peace." The long-standing facade of democracy is rapidly collapsing to expose the oligarchy that was always there, as indicated (for example) by ever-increasing inequalities in the distribution of wealth. Tyranny stands waiting in the wings and would be greatly empowered at the tactical level by the information that could potentially be made available by big data associated with Common Core.

The most important social and political context in which big data operates is the military-industrial complex Eisenhower warned America about in his 1960 farewell address. It has metastasized into a timocratic and oligarchic empire. This empire uses the military (and soft power as well) to socialize the costs and privatize the benefits of transnational corporate socialism. Arguably, the most important education policy context in which big data operates is Race to the Top and its mandate of the creation of state longitudinal data systems. Although these systems are still in development and their final outlines remain to be seen, the leading models track students from P-20 on hundreds of data points, in ways that encourage intrastate comparability. This data would typically be held in the cloud. Anything held in the cloud is vulnerable to compromise by hackers or state actors (acting illegally or through national security state laws).

To begin our conclusion, we must ask, "What is the nature of the good according to Plato's Republic?" It is the eternal source of visible and sentient light. According to the Big Bang theory, the source of all visible light (electromagnetic radiation) is the gravitational singularity, which must also therefore be the source of consciousness, according to Socrates' definition. The progressive standards Socrates set for the curriculum in the Republic, aimed at discovering the mathematical forms underlying the ascending dimensions of space and time, has historically unfolded into the academic cosmology of today. This culminates in the most fundamental concept of a gravitational singularity. This conundrum forces physicists to unite the opposing physics of the very large (general relativity) and the very small (quantum mechanics) into a single mathematical language that describes the cosmos on every scale. That is what holographic string theory is supposed to do. That theory bears a strong ancestral resemblance to its original forebear, Plato's Republic.

If the source of sentience is the same as that of light, we are perhaps poised to realize the original academic dream of the Republic. If we train our students to mentally climb the pyramid of mathematical forms that describe the three ascending dimensions of space and the fourth of time, we may be able to coax the eye of their souls away from the outer world to the eternal forms imprinted on each soul. The source of all eternal forms is the idea of the good, a vision of which with the eye of the soul is the prerequisite for justice in the individual and society. According to Socrates in the Republic, the ultimate goal of education is to facilitate that inward vision.

What is the good according to Common Core? College and career readiness. The Common Core State Standards Initiative calls an individual college ready who is prepared for all entry-level, credit-bearing, academic college courses in English, mathematics, the sciences, the social sciences, and the humanities. The objective is for all students to enter these classes ready for success (defined for these purposes as a C or better) (Common Core State Standards Initiative 2014).

Furthermore, the Common Core State Standards Initiative defines one as career ready who is ready to succeed. . . in workforce training programs [in] careers that 1) offer competitive livable salaries above the poverty line, 2) offer opportunities for career advancement and 3) are in a growing or sustainable industry (Common Core State Standards Initiative 2014, para. 5).

In its simplest form, education is how humans are taught and teach themselves to survive. This has enabled homo sapiens, an opportunist omnivore, to fan out from the Great Rift Valley in Africa to virtually every ecological niche on the planet. Ever since the beginning of sedentary urban civilization in the late Neolithic era, an alliance of kings, theocrats, and merchants has had as its primary objective the expropriation of the surplus value created by the coerced labor of the masses. Much of the history of mankind since then has been a history of the refinement of this model, from slavery to feudalism to capitalist wage labor.