Kruse-ing to Conservative Schools

For those of us who follow conservative education policy and ideology, Dennis Kruse of Indiana has been one to watch lately.  Senator Kruse chairs the state senate committee on education and career development.

In December, Kruse attracted our attention with his promise of a new “truth-in-education” bill.  This bill would allow students to question their teachers on any controversial subject.  Teachers would be legally responsible to provide evidence supporting his or her classroom content.

Recently, we discovered a helpful way to track the legislative ambitions of this conservative leader.  The Indiana State Senate website allows anyone to view legislation introduced or sponsored by any legislator.

A review of Kruse’s 2013 activity shows us the educational vision of this particular conservative, at least.  For example, this busy senator has authored bills to support prayer in charter schools, to declare that parents have supreme rights concerning their children, and even to mandate the teaching of cursive in Indiana public schools.

Of course, many of these bills will never see the light of day; many are simply political discussion starters.  But even as such, the vision of America’s schools demonstrated by Senator Kruse’s ambitions can tell us a great deal about what conservatives want out of education.  If somehow Senator Kruse became Supreme Emperor Kruse, we can imagine an education system in which religion played a leading role.  It might also be a school system where students learned traditional skills such as writing cursive.  Parents might be empowered to insist on curricula friendly to their religious backgrounds.

Kruse’s 2013 legislative record also demonstrates the tight connections—among conservatives like Senator Kruse—between educational conservatism and a broader cultural conservatism.  In addition to his school bills, Senator Kruse has supported bills to have mandatory drug testing for all state assistance recipients and to provide every abortion recipient with explicit information about the dangers and risks of abortion.

This tightly bundled conservatism demonstrates, IMHO, the need to understand conservatism broadly.  Too many commentators focus on high-profile issues such as creationism or school prayer in isolation.  By instituting better science standards, for instance, some progressive types think they can derail conservative policy.  Such one-issue reforms will not have much impact unless they recognize that educational conservatism is bigger than any one issue.

So what do conservatives want out of America’s schools?  In the case of Senator Kruse, at least, outsiders like me can see an explicit legislative program.

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