GOP Politics and the Educational F-Word

What are the education words conservatives can’t say without spitting and gnashing their teeth?


History News Network has been kind enough to include an essay of mine about the presidential politics of education among conservatives.

Won't say it...

Won’t say it…

Among the leading presidential candidates in the Republican Party, only Jeb Bush will admit that he likes the Common Core.  And even he denies ferociously that he supports more federal “overreach” in local schools.

Why do conservatives so loathe the federal government’s role in education?  It wasn’t always this way, as I argue in the HNN article.  And there are some signs that thoughtful conservatives are returning to their roots as the party of centralized power.

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  1. Where do you find pro centralist conservative “roots” in the US conservative tradition? The politician you mention in your article is not a significant figure for conservatism.

    • How about William J. Bennett? He likes the Common Core, he is by any measure a leading conservative presence, and he likes to think of himself as a centrist, a moderate. Or, we could mention Max Rafferty, former California Superintendent of Schools and candidate for US Senate.

      • They’re not “roots” figures or very influential in conservative circles. Who read Bennett’s books, and who will keep them in print? I remember him as the purveyor of popular nostrums about virtue who then refused to admit a gambling problem after it came out he had lost millions — on slots and video poker! (

        The Anglo-Canadian conservative tradition doesn’t have such a centralist/decentralist fixation. It’s generally centralist in a communitarian way, and even Chesterton with his distributism was mainly attacking the centralizing forces of the market and industrial production. He’s he probably the canonical British conservative most likely to be read (or simply praised) by Americans after Burke, but Chesterton himself perceived the gulf between him and seemingly sympatico American movements like the Southern Agrarians. When asked to write about this subject Chesterton suggested the Agrarians’ form of decentralism was carrying on the stain of white supremacism.

        For most of our history and still today, at the state and municipal level, local majorities maintain situations of sharp inequality that have tracked ethnic, religious, and enduring racial lines. Because of this history, decentralism tends to be most attractive to people who do not want to be part of a united nation but a divided one where different rights apply to different people in different places.

        Jefferson, who was not on the conservative/decentralist side, said his highest duty as president was not to the Constitution but to preserving the nation. It’s hard to imagine a conservative saying that in any era and unthinkable for a Brit to even pose a choice between national unity and the national constitution.

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