The Real Reason Trump Hates the Education Department

It wasn’t hard to predict. As I argued a few months back in the pages of Time Magazine, this round of GOP primaries would be full of threats to the Education Department. In a recent interview, front-runner Donald Trump made the usual accusations. But I wonder if there is another, more obvious reason why conservatives like to take potshots at the Ed Dept.

Don't trust anyone under 37...

Don’t trust anyone under 37…

In his recent interview with Chris Wallace, Trump made the usual conservative noises: The Ed Department is trying to replace local control of schools with control by “Washington bureaucrats.” Trump blasted competitor Jeb Bush as supporting the sinister Common Core. Trump’s solution? Get rid of the Education Department entirely. It is home to egregious “waste, fraud, and abuse.” [You can find Trump’s education comments starting just before the five-minute mark in the video clip.]

Since its birth, the Education Department has been the target of conservative ire. President Reagan wanted it gone. In the run-up to 2012, the Ed Dept was one of the targets Rick Perry could remember.

As I’ve argued in my recent book, things weren’t always this way. Attacking federal influence in education only became the default “conservative” position in the late 1930s or early 1940s. At that time, conservatives horrified by New Deal growth lambasted any exertion of federal influence. Before then, however, influential conservatives eagerly embraced the possibilities of federal control over education. Such control, conservative leaders in the 1920s insisted, could force new immigrants to become Anglicized and “Americanized” at a faster clip. Such control, conservatives hoped, could cram traditional values down the throats of leftist teachers nationwide.

Only after the New Deal equated federal power with progressive politics–in the minds of many conservative activists, at least–did “Big Education” come to be equated with “Left-wing Influence.”

I wonder, though, if there’s a simpler psychological reason why today’s conservatives hate the Ed Dept. The department is a novelty. As education nerds are well aware, the Ed Dept recently celebrated its thirty-sixth birthday.  36!  It was created only in 1979 by President Jimmy Carter.

So here’s my hunch: Conservatives have many reasons to promise to cut the Education Department. In The Donald’s case, he can use the Common Core to attack rival Jeb Bush. He can appeal to voters’ sense of distrust of “Washington bureaucrats.” He can make it look as if he has concrete plans to slim government and eliminate waste.

But he also can imagine a time without such a department. Indeed, neither he nor anyone else of a certain age needs to imagine it at all. The Education Department is so brand-spankin new that conservatives have no trouble concluding that we will get by just fine without it.

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5 Comments

  1. I have long been puzzled that Reagan did not try to dismantle the department of education during his first year in office.

    Reply
  2. The DOE was created by Carter in 1979, widely seen on the right as a gift to the Democrat-aligned NEA and teachers’ unions. Reagan’s 1980 campaign promised to abolish the DOE. In 1985 Reagan admitted this was not going to happen in a letter to Republican Senator Orrin Hatch, then chair of the Senate Labor and Human Resources Committee:

    “I have no intention of recommending the abolition of the department to the Congress at this time. As you know, I have previously recommended the abolition of the Department of Education. This was because I believed that federal educational programs could be administered effectively without a Cabinet-level agency. While I still feel that this is the best approach, that proposal has received very little support in the Congress.”

    At the time Bill Bennett was in hearings to be approved as Reagan’s pick for Secretary of Education.

    Reply
  3. I saw the interview. Trump & others still don’t understand CC or how it’s implemented. They lead their followers astray by painting a false image of Washington “bureaucrats” writing curriculum for the masses. It’s really frustrating.

    Reply
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