Are You Smarter Than a Fifth Grader?

Are You Smarter Than a Fifth Grader?
By Jessica Harvey  
March 29, 2015


     “Add 26 + 17 by breaking apart numbers to make a ten.  Use a number that adds with the 6 in 26 to make a 10.  Since 6 + 4 = 10, use 4.  Think: 17 = 4 + 13.  Add 26 + 4 = 30.  Add 30 + 13 = 43.  So 26 + 17 = 43” (Farmer).  Believe it or not, that is a third-grade mathematical equation.  Since its release in 2010, Common Core has standardized K-12 academics in English language arts and mathematics.  Rather than excelling in “literacy, proficiency, or increased graduation rates,” the Common Core strives to make students “college- and career- ready” (Home School Legal Defense Association).  According to a poll conducted by Gallup in May of 2013, only 62% of Americans claimed to have heard of the Common Core (Reid).  With the realization of America’s startling lack of awareness, I decided to further educate myself on the issues within Common Core.  After all, in addition to shaping students, the new standards affect parents, educators, and taxpayers alike.  Therefore, the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) should be removed from public schools.  In order to present a convincing case against Common Core, one must understand where it came from (the development), why it’s a problem (math standards), and how to fight it (advocate for reform).

     As I said, the first part of understanding the problems within Common Core, is understanding the background of it.  Common Core’s origin can be tracked all the way back to the United Nations-sponsored “World Conference on Education for All” in 1990.  During the event, world leaders from 150 countries discussed various educational goals—one of which was approved by George W. Bush: “Outcome-Based Education.”  The ultimate appeal to “Outcome-Based Education” is federal control over schooling (McManus).  Several years later, President Bush and the Department of Education released the “No Child Left Behind” (NCLB) act.  Essentially, “No Child Left Behind” sought to equalize education in classrooms by lowering the standards—a kick-starter for Common Core.  By the time 2007 rolled around, the Gates and Board Foundation had pledged $60 million towards the campaign (Pullmann).  Approximately three months after Barack Obama’s election, he bribed states through the “Race to the Top” (RTT) competition.  Before the standards were even written, “Race to the Top” offered $4.35 billion in federal grant money (in other words, our tax dollars) to any school willing to implement Common Core standards.  As author William P. Hoar of The New American put it, “The feds know how hard it is for state politicians to turn down ‘free’ money, especially in times of recession” (Hoar).  Unsurprisingly, 45 states including Washington D.C. signed the deal and took the grant money (Beck, The Whole Story on Common Core).  Since no congressional input was given, when it came time to write the new standards, there was no Congressional repeal (McManus). 

     Together, the National Governors Association (NGA) and the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO), along with Achieve Inc.—“a non-profit that received millions in funding from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation” wrote the Common Core standards (Young).  Of the thirty members on the Common Core validation committee, only two were academic specialist: Sandra Stotsky—former Senior Associate Commissioner in Massachusetts and Jim Milgram, a mathematician and Stanford professor for 45 years.  According to Stotkey, they were “expected to say, apparently, that these standards were internationally benchmarked, they followed procedures that were appropriate, and a few other things . . .” (Reid).  Both Dr. Stotkey and Dr. Milgram, along with five other committee members, refused to sign-on.  By June 2010, the Common Core standards were officially adopted by the majority of states.

     With a fuller understanding of Common Core’s background, we can now observe some of the problems with a “one-size-fits-all” system.  Of course, the Common Core State Standards sound quite promising: “Research and evidence based,” “Clear, understandable, and consistent,” and “Based on rigorous content and the application of knowledge through higher-order thinking skills” (Common Core State Standards Initiative).  However, over the past several years, the CC Initiatives’ claims have not proven to be true.  Although Common Core certainly is “consistent” in dumbing down America, it is neither clear nor understandable.  Brian Farmer, a researcher for The John Birch Society and writer for The New American, went as far as to say, 

Three philosophical ideas appear to be an integral part of Common Core: statism, moral relativism, and progressivism. First, the statist goals of Common Core are implicit in the lockstep uniformity that is the central thesis of the program. There is a clear intention to mold people through schooling, to overthrow accepted custom and traditional values, and to weaken parental influence (Farmer).

Since the standards were initiated, many CC math problems have gained national attention.  Michael Snyder, a journalist for, wrote, “Unfortunately, these ‘standards’ are doing to public education what Obamacare is doing to our health care system – absolutely ruining it.  Just look at how basic math instruction has changed.”  He goes on to display several images of Common Core textbook questions that are utterly ridiculous.  For instance, in a video posted at the end of his article, an Illinois Curriculum Director explains that “under Common Core, it is okay for children to say that ‘three times four equals eleven’ as long as they can give the reasons for their answer…” (Snyder). 

     Although the program promises to be “rigorous” and teach “higher thinking,” one concerned mother stated that, “it just looks tedious” (Rich).  In his co-written article, “The Common Core Math Standards,” Ze’ev Wurman, a former U.S Department of Education official and coauthor of “Common Core’s Standards Still Don’t Make the Grade,” wrote: 

No state has any reason left to aspire for first-rate standards, as all states will be judged by the same mediocre national benchmark enforced by the federal government . . . give it some time and, as sunset follows sunrise, we will see even those mediocre standards being made less demanding. This will be done in the name of “critical thinking” and “21st-century” skills, and in faraway Washington D.C., well beyond the reach of parents and most states and employers (Wurman).

In addition to confused and frustrated parents, teachers are also speaking out against Common Core.  One teacher in particular wrote, “I am teaching the traditional algorithm this year to my third graders, but was told next year with Common Core I will not be allowed to . . . I am so outraged . . . my child is not going to public schools until Common Core falls flat” (Garelick). 

     The question is, what can be done about it?  How can we advocate for reform in our state and ultimately, our country?  First of all, before change can be implemented, further education is absolutely necessary.  Be sure to study the standards carefully, along with the “connections among corporations, politicians, and education reformers” (Beck, We Will Not Conform: Action Plan).  Furthermore, share the information gathered; nothing will happen if people don’t speak up against Common Core.  Many online outlets such as social media or blogs can aid in promoting a cause.  Shane Vander Hart, an administrator and frequent writer at Truth in American Education, composed a series of steps to fight the Common Core.  Along with learning and sharing information, Vander Hart notes the importance in contacting local school boards and state legislators: “Do not assume they know what is going on.  Encourage others to do the same.”  In conclusion to his article, Vander Hart suggests one final step: Find like-minded groups.  As an example to illustrate his point, Vander Hart stated that the Indiana anti-Common Core bill passed because two moms mobilized their local tea party groups (Hart).  As Glenn Beck, a conservative political commentator, once argued on The Blaze, “If we don’t save education,” so goes the country: “parents will need to stand up and challenge their school districts and even change school districts to enact change” (Gabbay).     

     Beyond a shadow of a doubt, Common Core State Standards should be removed from public schools.  From its inception at the 1990 “World Conference on Education for All,” to its official adoption in June 2010, Common Core has nationalized mediocre, federal-led standards.  Of the 30 members on the Common Core validation committee, only 25 signed-on—none of which were academic specialist.  Evidently, Common Core never kept its promoted promises.  In addition to dumbing down America, the new math standards are neither “clear” nor “rigorous”—as the Common Core State Standards Initiative claims.  Now is the time to fight back.  People need to educate themselves, speak out against Common Core, contact local school boards, write letters to state legislators, and find like-minded groups to connect with.  Above all, parents must be directly concerned with and involved in their children’s education.  As quoted in the forty minute Common Core documentary, “Building the Machine” from the Home School Legal Defense Association (HSLDA), “Decades of research show that the single most important element in a child’s education is parental involvement. So, regardless of which side you support in the reformation of America’s schools, be involved” (Reid).   

Nothing Is Hidden

Nothing Is Hidden
By Jessica Harvey  
February 25, 2015

 The above image is the result of looking up 13 different government ran agencies on Google Maps.

     Imagine for a second, a private place: the bedroom, car, backyard, or perhaps the office?  How can one be absolutely certain a particular place is one hundred percent secure?  Simply put, they cannot.  Since the twin towers fell on 9/11, the “War on Terror” has rapidly progressed.  Similar to “Big Brother” in George Orwell’s 1984, the U.S. Government has invaded every facet of privacy possible.  From Law Enforcement, to the FBI, NSA, CIA, and beyond, countless federal agencies and private companies have invaded privacy with the use of technology.  In addition to the infringement of civil rights, the data collected can and will be held against American citizens.  After all, the central government determines what’s right and wrong—not the people (Binney).  Of all the technology available, there are four major tools used to collect private data:  Mobile phones, Global Positioning Systems (GPS), the Internet, and Video Surveillance.

     As I previously mentioned, the government gathers information through hand-held devices such as mobile phones.  As of 2006, the George W. Bush administration began tracking and storing all phone calls made within the United States (Dilanian).  In addition to the “Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act” (FISA), the “Telephone Records and Privacy Protection Act of 2006,” confirms in section two article four that, “Telephone records have been obtained without the knowledge or consent of consumers. . .”  Not only has the government gathered information via phone calls, but they also collect data from phone companies and “unauthorized Internet access to account data” (Telephone Records and Privacy Protection Act of 2006).  After the Boston Marathon bombings in 2013, Katherine Russell, the wife of Tamerlan Tsarnaev—one of the bombers—was held liable for a conversation she had over the phone with her husband before he died.  In fact, former FBI counterterrorism agent—Tim Clemente admitted to Erin Burnett on CNN, “We certainly have ways in national security investigations to find out exactly what was said in that conversation” (Payton 187).  Another method called “pretexting” is commonly taken advantage of by government agencies and spies.  According to, “Pretexting is a form of social engineering in which an individual lies to obtain privileged data” (Rouse).  As a matter of fact, the very definition of pretexting suggest false motivation.  In this case, the false motivation is called the “War on Terror.”  Over two and a half years ago, a former federal contractor—Edward Snowden—released top secret documents from the FBI.  One such document revealed the government’s alliance with Verizon to download and record all mobile communications (Payton 106).  Moreover, the NSA uses a program called Dishfire to intercept with over 200 million text messages daily (Ball).  The evidence is overwhelming and blatantly obvious: the government is storing phone calls regardless of whether or not they suspect suspicious behavior.  
     Another primary tool used for collecting data is the Global Positioning System (GPS).  Geolocation tracking is an efficient way to keep tabs on the whereabouts of every U.S. citizen under the sun.  Even if a smart phone’s GPS is supposedly turned off, preloaded applications such as the weather app, can send out signals that leave GPS fingerprints (Payton 98).  Thus, a person’s location can be pinpointed through the pinging of cell towers.  In a report conducted by Wired, they discovered that researchers can identify a target within four “data points” (Zetter).  An Investigator can also use pen registers—a tool that tracks phone signals—to locate a target without a warrant or probable cause.  Furthermore, they can simulate cellphone towers with stingrays, which “locate a phone even if it isn’t making a call” (Valentino-DeVries).  With the advancement of GPS technology, one can easily determine an individual’s private affairs.  As explained by the federal appeals court in Washington, D.C.:

A person who knows all of another's travels can deduce whether he is a weekly church goer, a heavy drinker, a regular at the gym, an unfaithful husband, an outpatient receiving medical treatment, an associate of particular individuals or political groups — and not just one such fact about a person, but all such facts (United States of America, Appellee v. Lawrence Maynard, Appellant 30).

     Another means of geolocation tracking is through the GPS devices installed in cars.  Though, it is debatable whether or not a warrant should always be required in order to track a car via GPS (Payton 135).  According the Fourth Amendment, the protection against unlawful searches and seizures is a fundamental right.  However, that hardly prevents Policemen and Investigators from using geolocation tracking without a warrant.  While the Geolocational Privacy and Surveillance Act (H.R. 1312) was under consideration, ACLU’s Chris Calabrese stated,

Police routinely get people’s location information with little judicial oversight because Congress has never defined the appropriate checks and balances . . . Under the GPS Act, all that would change. Police would need to convince a judge that a person is likely engaging in criminal activity before accessing and monitoring someone’s location data. Innocent people shouldn’t have to sacrifice their privacy in order to have a cellphone (Zetter).

In certain cases, Law Enforcement will ignore the law entirely.  For instance, in January of 2012, the FBI secretly attached a GPS tracker to a man’s car, then proceeded to track him for 28 days (DesMarais). 

     Outside of hand-held devices, desktop computers and other digital communications can be used to track people via the Internet.  The World Wide Web plays a fundamental role in the invasion of privacy.  Supposedly Google, Apple, Facebook, Microsoft, Yahoo, and other online companies, have assisted the government in their PRISM program.  At its core, “PRISM is a system the NSA uses to gain access to the private communications of users of nine popular Internet services” (Lee).  Indeed, no social media platform is secure.  In an article published by Computerworld, writer Jay Alabaster shared that, “The Library of Congress is now storing 500 million tweets per day as part of its efforts to build a Twitter archive, and has added a total of about 170 billion tweets to its collection” (Alabaster). 

     In addition to the NSA and Library of Congress taking advantage of the Internet, the FBI shares a similar interest in gathering online data.  According to a CBS News report from 2001, the FBI uses a system called “Magic Lantern” to decrypt messages outside of encryption programs with keystroke-logging (FBI's Secret Cyber-Monitor).  Stored information includes: Photos, videos, emails, social media communications, online purchases, government transactions (i.e. taxes), and traveler data (Payton 42).  Every once in a while, federal judges meet for a special court gathering called the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISA court), in order to review millions of phone and Internet records. Generally, all the information discussed in the FISA court is kept confidential (Quigley).  If our lack of privacy wasn’t infuriating enough, the NSA decided to create a program called XKeyscore—a program that files information from all internet sources.  When an NSA official wants information about a particular person, they can access an unlimited amount of Internet data right at their fingertips.  As a matter of fact, the NSA boast that XKeyscore is the “widest-reaching” system for collecting data from the internet (Greenwald).

     The final means of collecting data is done through video surveillance technology.  Currently, the most common type of video surveillance is through street cameras and license plate readers.  In fact, policemen can take advantage of video cameras to “monitor people walking down a city street—or record the actions of people protesting at a demonstration” (Introduction to Are Privacy Rights Being Violated?: At Issue).  Moreover, facial-recognition technology is already being used to identify citizens in real time, for security purposes.  As the American Civil Liberties Union stated in their article, “National Security Tools Should Not Infringe on Civil Liberties”:

Government data mining is now being replicated in a variety of other programs at the federal, state, and local levels, to spy on Americans in virtually complete secrecy. So-called "suspicious activity reporting" programs, for example, maintain that innocuous and commonplace behavior like photography and note taking about public buildings could be preparation to conduct terrorist attacks, and that the government should collect and retain information about Americans who engage in these activities (American Civil Liberties Union).

How does the government identify these suspicious people?  They record them using security lenses.  If having street cameras on every corner wasn’t bad enough, the U.S. government decided that unmanned aerial drones should be patrolling the skies as well.  These remote-controlled machines can be equipped with advanced features including (but not limited to): Heat sensors, motion detectors, and license plate readers (Boghosian).  Furthermore, these drones possess high-tech cameras for spying on people walking public streets or residing on private property.  In fact, a surveillance drone weighing less than an AA battery is already in the making (Healy).  As author and attorney John W. Whitehead wrote, “In 2007, insect-like drones were seen hovering over political rallies in New York and Washington, seemingly spying on protesters.” He continues with an eyewitness’s report of the drones: “[They] looked kind of like dragonflies or little helicopters” (Whitehead).  With technology that small, recording data in private places would be nearly effortless.  According to a 2010 report from the Department of Defense, they plan to have drones patrolling the entire country by 2015 (The Monitoring of Our Phone Calls? Government Spooks May Be Listening).  Since then, “Congress has provided the drone industry and law enforcement with $64 billion” (Boghosian).  Imagine the implications of having thousands of domestic surveillance drones roaming America’s skies.    

     In conclusion, the government is—without a doubt—invading the rights and privacy of all U.S. citizens.  Through hand-held devices such as mobile phones, the government has been wiretapping, recording, and storing calls and text messages.   Furthermore, Global Positioning Systems (GPS) have been used to pinpoint an individual’s location through satellite signals.  A target can be indemnified, simply by pinging them as they pass cell towers.  Other than phones themselves, the Internet is a key tool for collecting private data.  By allying with major online corporations, key-logging, and using advanced programs such as XKeyscore, the government can access oceans of online data.  Finally, the use of surveillance cameras has swept the nation.  On the corner of every block, video recorders are constantly rolling.  If that wasn’t enough, now surveillance drones are preparing to patrol the entire country.  Clearly, nothing is hidden.  How long can we allow the government to continue in their unlawful schemes?  Will America ever take their loss of privacy seriously?  As Benjamin Franklin once said, “They who can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety.”