A Florida state lawmaker argued that new Common Core tests have a more sinister goal: to "attract every one of your children to be as homosexual as they possibly can."
"I really hate to bring you that news," Rep. Charles Van Zant, a Republican, added at an anti-Common Core event in March.
To be clear: There is nothing in the Common Core state standards about being gay. Nor are students going to be tested on where they rank on the Kinsey scale of sexual attraction.
But how Van Zant came to believe this — a story that starts with Florida changing its testing system, takes a detour into a rumor far more interesting than reality, and ends with the argument that the Common Core will turn kids gay — is a tour through the origin of a conspiracy theory.
- The Common Core state standards are a list of what students should know and know how to do in reading and math each year. Along with the standards themselves, states are adopting new standardized tests to evaluate what students have learned.
- Florida was once part of a group of states working together to create Common Core assessments. But as the Common Core got more controversial, Florida dropped out of the state consortium and decided its students wouldn't take the shared test after all.
- Instead, Florida's education commissioner picked the American Institutes for Research to develop its new standardized tests.
- The American Institutes for Research uses scientific and social science research to measure the impact of policy change. It's analyzed everything from factors contributing to rising college costs to the effect of sentencing changes in Indiana. It's also working on Common Core assessments for Utah, as well as developing technology for another Common Core test that many states will use.
- It's hard to imagine a group less likely to end up at the center of a red-meat conspiracy theory. Even by nonprofit standards, AIR's work is pretty unexciting — it focuses on data and analysis and can seem impenetrably boring.
- One of the many other topics AIR researches is at-risk kids, including LGBT youth. Its experts have written guidelines for how schools can support LBGT students. Among them: promote "healthy peer connections," "enforce nondiscrimination policies," and provide appropriate training for staff members.
- This is a very small portion of the work AIR does. Fewer than 10 reports, toolkits and other resources deal with LGBT youth, of the hundreds of projects the nonprofit has worked on. It's also separate from AIR's work on assessments.
- One AIR researcher who studies social development recently wrote A Guide for Understanding, Supporting, and Affirming LGBTQI2-S Children, Youth, and Families. The guide, produced as part of a contract with the Department for Health and Human Services, provides an overview of the coming out process and suggests ways that teachers, social workers and others can support young people who are LGBT, questioning, intersex, or two-spirit, a Native American term for an alternate gender identity.
- Van Zant — as well as Common Core critics in Utah in 2012, who made the same accusations about AIR — misinterpreted the nonprofit's advice on supporting LGBT youth as gay advocacy, or even as encouraging children to become lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender.
This alternative gender status offers a range of possibilities, from slightly effeminate males or masculine females, to androgynous or transgender persons, to those who completely cross-dress and act as the other gender. The emphasis of Native Americans is not to force every person into one box, but to allow for the reality of diversity in gender and sexual identities.