It’s an evening some of us are only too familiar with. It’s Tuesday night, and you are surfing YouTube watching grainy, pirated, reruns of Judge Judy episodes, and the next thing you know, 6 hours have passed. Now you’re engrossed in number 2 of a 3 part web documentary that provides conclusive evidence that lizard-people do indeed inhabit the center of the planet. You have reached the fringe. The Great Beyond. Anything goes out here, and when it comes to reliable information, it’s every man for himself.
Last night, I found myself perusing this strange realm and soon stumbled upon a video with an intriguing title:
Obviously I was excited, because anything to do with wizards this deep into the web had to be fascinating. I was soon disappointed however, when at only 7 minutes into the video, all I had heard was a boring build up to an even more boring conspiracy theory. But as I continued to watch and did a little further digging, I realized I had stumbled upon something far more serious, and far more dangerous than I presumed.
Meet Oak Norton.
And no, although he looks nearly identical, he is not the guy who tried to sell you a vacuum on your front porch last year as he traveled door to door. Oak is the leader of a rag-tag group of radical extremists called the “Utahns Against Common Core,” a group hell-bent on fighting the Common Core and its devastating influence on helping children learn math and reading.
For those of you who do not know what the Common Core is, let me give you a brief explanation directly from the source:
“The Common Core is a set of high-quality academic standards in mathematics and English language arts/literacy (corestandards.org)
Thats it. Standards. Standards like this one for third graders:
“Represent and solve problems involving multiplication and division.”
Or this one for sixth graders:
“Solve real-world and mathematical problems involving area, surface area, and volume.”
Needless to say I was confused by the sentiments in Oak’s video regarding the “evil” behind these basic math requirements. Wasn’t this addition and subtraction we were talking about? How did we get from an educational standard to a conspiracy to indoctrinate our children with dystopian values?
In the corresponding blog post to this video, Oak gives us the answer to that exact question.
That’s right folks. It’s not about the standards. It’s about one man’s quest to expose the ancient, unholy agenda of the federal government to destroy God and the family, one multiplication problem at a time.
You may laugh. I know I did. But as I read the comments on his videos and on his website, it became less and less amusing. These people weren’t laughing with me. These people were embracing Oak-soaking up his anti-government rhetoric and lauding him as a crusader. Whole masses of terrified parents were flocking to worship at the altar of Oak and receive his rambling instructions. His message of fear had slowly permeated through an unwitting audience, and without resistance had diffused into the hive consciousness. A following had been born.
This wasn’t the first time I had encountered these individuals, however. I had seen them spew their paranoid gospel on social media, and even spoken to some in person. Each shared common traits such as an inability to reason, and a complete disregard for fact. Each interaction I had with them usually ended in a similar fashion: an angry reaction to the realization that the truth they clung so dearly to was fiction, and that their paradigm was one not fixed in reality. But overall, this seemed like a small and innocuous sector of the general population, and I was just as pleased to discontinue the conversation as they were.
But recently, it was my paradigm that was shattered. Last Saturday at the Republican State Convention, for the first time, I witnessed the true nature and scale of the Cult of Oak. Over 2000 of his disciples filed into the crowded Salt Palace to fulfill their destiny. No longer exiled to fringes, these zealots had covertly infiltrated one of the most crucial political gatherings in the State of Utah and they would not be satisfied until a complete victory had been obtained.
This was no longer the rag-tag band of internet trolls I had largely ignored for so long. These people now had power. And although Oak Norton had seemingly brought his followers to the promised land, they now had found a Savior.
Promising to “get Utah out of the Common Core” Jonathon Johnson, this election’s “Libertarian” gubernatorial challenger, pounded his fists on the podium to the deafening adulation of the crowd. Worshipers stood and cheered as he swore to eliminate the evils of higher math and reading standards. As the votes were counted, and the dust settled, it became clear that the madness had reached a tipping point. Fear had won, and what started as one man’s misguided and nonsensical journey to have his way had quickly become a revolution.
And that is why we have decided to fight back. To “pull back the wizard’s curtain” if you will. For too long, this sore has been left to fester in the heart of Utah, and has become infectious; endangering the future of Utah’s schools. To be clear, the education of our children is a non partisan venture; one whose outcomes should not be decided by an elite few who hate public education as much as they do the thought of vaccinating their kids. It’s time to get fringe politics out of our education. It’s time to let math and reading be just that. It’s time to stand up for the Utah Core.