Ed Mystery: Why Don’t More Democrats Like It?

I understand why more Democrats don’t like the Ed Department right now, governed as it is by Michigan’s Evil Queen Betsy. But I’m surprised to find out that the Ed Department has garnered only minority support during the last ten years. There’s one obvious explanation, but are there more reasons?Pew fed agencies EPA or ED

Here’s what we know: New results from Pew show us that the Ed Department is one of the federal government’s least favorite agencies, with 48% of respondents feeling favorable and 48% unfavorable.

No surprise there. Ever since Jimmy Carter instigated the department it has been the target of conservative fury. Reagan’s first appointed secretary, Terrel Bell, was given the unusual mission to dismantle the department which he headed.

More recently, conservatives such as Texas’s Rick Perry have remembered that they wanted to eliminate the Ed Department, even if he couldn’t remember the other department he wanted to get rid of.

So there’s no surprise for the department’s low favorability among GOP respondents. But why do so many Democrats dislike it? Was something happening in 2010 that led a majority of Democratic respondents to say they didn’t like the Ed Dept?

Here’s my hunch: Back in 2010, teachers and schools were still trying to cope with the strictures of the No Child Left Behind act and the unmanageable requirements NCLB mandated for high-stakes testing. By 2015, those testing requirements were tamped down. Among Democrats, at least, the popularity of the Ed Department went up (in fits and spurts) until the ascension of Queen Betsy.

Is there another explanation I’m missing?

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The Right Historical Question about Busing

Ever since Senator Kamala Harris accused Vice President Joe Biden of cozying up to segregationists, the issue of busing has been back in the headlines. Instead of asking why busing failed or why it worked, the right question should be about where busing worked. The lesson from the twentieth century is clear: When reformers try to use schools to ram through social change, even with the purest of intentions, it won’t work.

What biden was trying to avoid

What Biden was scared of in 1975:

Vice President Biden’s political problems about busing came about long before Senator Harris’s accusations. Months ago, the Washington Post ran an exposé about Biden’s leading role in the 1970s as an opponent of court-ordered desegregation. Biden 2020 has been forced to defend decisions made by Biden 1975, and it hasn’t been easy.

Since the debate, historians and commentators have skewered the notion that busing did not achieve its aims. As Nikole Hannah-Jones pointed out, the issue was never about busing itself, but about stark racism. The problem was not that busing didn’t work to integrate students of different races and backgrounds, but precisely that it did.

Historically, the politics of school integration are part of a broader pattern of school reform. Whenever reformers have tried to use schools to change society for the better, they have discovered the difficult truth. Namely, whatever the issue—racial integration, socialism, or progressive education—when reformers fail to enroll community support, their efforts at social improvement have been crushed. When they do, however, the results can be surprisingly effective.

In the late 1930s, for example, textbook author Harold Rugg came under fire for his popular textbook series. The series had been adopted by schools nationwide and the books were used by millions of American schoolchildren. As World War II heated up, however, conservative groups such as the America Legion came to believe that the books had a subversive, anti-American intent. The books, conservative critics charged, hoped to transform American society into a socialist state.

Professor Rugg protested that he was no socialist; he claimed a “deep loyalty to the historic American version of the democratic way of life.” Yet he admitted that he really did hope to transform society. In Rugg’s vision, decisions about proper curriculum should not be left in the hands of the ignorant community, but rather decided only by “competent experts” like himself. He dismissed protesters as irrational ignoramuses and their impassioned rallies as mere “Wednesday-evening testimony meetings of Holy Rollers.”

A generation later, a similar textbook controversy roiled Kanawha County, West Virginia. Protesters in 1974 and 1975 worried that a new textbook series derided traditional American values. In part, the protesters were right. As one editor of the books later recalled, he really had hoped the books would inject the “progressive energy” of 1960s radicalism into classrooms nationwide. The books took a “strong stand for pluralism and multicultural expression” that the editors hoped would overthrow the “conventions” of traditional schools and classrooms.

A laudable goal, but like Harold Rugg’s vision of “expert”-centered educational reform, the top-down reformism of the 1970s textbooks failed. Protesters in Kanawha County boycotted their schools; they convinced their Parent-Teacher Association that the new progressive textbooks were “literally full of anti-Americanism, anti-religion, and discrimination.”

The same lessons apply to the history of 1970s school desegregation—“busing”—that Biden and Harris have brought back to the headlines. On one hand, the policy of busing students to mitigate segregation often worked to improve both racial integration and educational outcomes.

On the other, busing policies often met ferocious political backlash from outraged white parents and activists. Most famously, as historian Ron Formisano described so powerfully, in Boston anti-busers rejected the attempts of Judge W. Arthur Garrity to impose more racial equality in schools.

All cities were not Boston, however. In Charlotte, North Carolina, for example, the simple black-and-white politics of busing looked different. When President Reagan trotted out his anti-busing rallying cry in 1984, it fell on deaf ears. Busing, Reagan charged,

takes innocent children out of the neighborhood school and makes them pawns in a social experiment that nobody wants, and we found out that it failed.

What Reagan didn’t realize, and many people in today’s revisit to the 1970s busing debates seem to have forgotten as well, was that some white people embraced busing. The crowd in Charlotte met Reagan’s dog-whistles with stony silence, and the next day the Charlotte Observer insisted that the city’s “proudest achievement is its fully integrated public school system.”

reagan in charlott

White voters hate busing, right? …right?

Certainly, North Carolina was no racial utopia. But the differences between Boston and Charlotte serve as an important reminder of the real question in school segregation and busing. They are reminders that go back long past the 1970s, to Harold Rugg and before.

Whatever the issue, when social reformers hope to use schools to effect wide-ranging improvements in society, they can only hope to succeed if they enlist the support of at least a portion of the local community. Harold Rugg did not realize that people outside his college would not simply cede control of their textbooks to his “expert” hands. Protesters in West Virginia were not willing to accept books thrust upon them by editors fueled by the “progressive energy” of the radical 1960s.

The successes of busing, too, were not limited to improvements in integration and educational success. When integrationists managed to line up local support, as with Charlotte’s Democratic Party, busing also achieved significant political support. When they didn’t, as with Boston’s aggrieved segregationists, busing failed.

The Future of Liberty’s Love Affair with Trump

With university commencement season approaching, it’s time for a new round of culture-war outrage.  Schools scramble to secure the most famous names as markers of their higher-ed cachet.  And, predictably, some invited speakers will be shouted down, provoking a new round of hand-wringing over the parlous state of campus free speech.

The news from the world of evangelical colleges tells us that the traditions of Fundamentalist U are alive and well.  Here’s the nail-biter: Can we assume that the twentieth century will repeat itself?  Read on.  Your humble editor will make some predictions that he can be held to.

Trump at liberty

I Love You, Man

But first, the news.  It won’t come as any surprise to SAGLRROILYBYGTH.  According to the Washington Post, Trump is heading back to Lynchburg, Virginia to speak at Liberty University.

As your humble editor has argued elsewhere, Liberty has come up the big winner in this presidential election.  Its second-generation Falwell, Jerry Jr., has bragged about his appointment to a top-level super-secret Presidential commission on higher ed.  And at least one Liberty student is starry-eyed with the news of Trump’s upcoming visit.  What does Trump’s speech mean?  To one gun-toting Flame, at least, it means “That’s how you know my school is better than yours.”

But Trump’s appearance at Liberty’s commencement is more than just payback to one of his loyal evangelical supporters.  By acting chummy with Liberty, Trump scores big.  As I argue in my upcoming book about the history of evangelical higher ed, in the 1970s Liberty and other fundamentalist schools came to represent one-stop shops for politicians seeking evangelical approval.

If nothing else has been clear or predictable about Trump’s presidency, his courtship of the conservative evangelical vote has been steady and unimaginative.  It’s not just Jerry Falwell Jr.  By surrounding himself with folks such as Ben Carson and Betsy DeVos, Trump has sent unmistakable signals about his support for America’s fundamentalist traditions.

How will it end for him?  If history is any guide—and we all know it usually isn’t—President Trump is in for a rough ride.  Back in 1980, President Ronald Reagan pioneered a cynical courtship of conservative evangelicals.  He palled around with Jerry Falwell Sr. and other fundamentalist school leaders such as Bob Jones III.

Once in office, though, Reagan disappointed them and their wrath was Biblical in its proportions.  The most pressing issues back then were racism and tax policy.  Reagan and the GOP had promised to throw out Jimmy Carter’s persecution of racist fundamentalist schools.  Once in office, however, Reagan realized that the segregatory policy of schools such as Bob Jones University was politically impossible.  So Reagan punted.  He reversed himself.  The reaction of Bob Jones III was immediate and ferocious.

Reagan, Jones III ranted, had proved himself a “traitor to God’s people.”  It was time, Jones threatened, for fundamentalists to “stay away from the polls and let their ship sink.”

The full story of Jones III’s relationship with the Reagan White House had some complications, and you can read the full story in my upcoming book.  However, the general drift was clear: Politicians could court the fundamentalist vote by appearing at evangelical and fundamentalist colleges, but the demands of those fundamentalists might not be politically palatable.

And no one is quicker to resent political compromise than fundamentalists.

So what do I predict for the Trump/Falwell love affair?  First, let me offer a few nerdy qualifications.  YES, I understand that Liberty today has worked hard to shed some of its fundamentalist trappings.  And YES, I understand that Falwell Jr. is not Falwell Sr., and neither of them shared the shoot-first-ask-questions-later fundamentalist style of the Bob Joneses.

However, with all that said, I will go on record as predicting a blow-up between the Trumpists and the Flames.  The existing anti-Trump vibe on Liberty’s campus will grow into an irresistible force.  Falwell will eventually come out against his current BFF, when the conservatives and (relative) liberals in the extended Liberty community unite against Trumpism.

Hold me to it!

Could It Work?

Conservatives love to threaten it. But could they pull it off? Business Insider looked recently at the nuts and bolts of what it would take for a conservative president to make good on his threat to eliminate the Education Department.

Rand Paul is the most recent candidate to threaten. As the sophisticated and good-looking regular readers of I Love You but You’re Going to Hell (SAGLRROILYBYGTH) are aware, my historical look at this question ran recently in the pages of Time Magazine. Conservative candidates since Reagan have pledged to eliminate Education. No president ever has.

What’s their beef? As Rand Paul explained in this 2010 speech, many conservatives assume that federal control increases the left’s culture-war power in schools.

The assumption—for electoral purposes at least—is that federal power means less local ability to say no. As Paul put it in 2010,

I would rather the local schools decide things. I don’t like the idea of somebody in Washington deciding that Susie has two mommies is an appropriate family situation and should be taught to my kindergartner at school. That’s what happens when we let things get to a federal level.

Business Insider asked law guru Laurence Tribe to explain the president’s power to make good on this threat. Obviously, Tribe explained, no president can simply eliminate a federal government department by fiat. But there are things presidents can do. They can encourage legislators to push legislation to that effect. And they can strangle government agencies by cutting funding.

In a 2012 budget proposal, Senator Paul suggested an 83% cut to the Education Department. Only the popular Pell Grant program would remain. Indeed, in that proposal to save $500 billion, Education took the biggest hit at $78 billion. The National Science Foundation would face big cuts, too, along with huge cuts (78%) to the Interior Department and the utter elimination of the Departments of Energy and Housing and Urban Development.

Paul’s bluster raises a new question, one I didn’t consider in my historical commentary. If so many conservatives threaten the Education Department, why don’t any of them actually get rid of it? As Catherine Lugg described in her history of Reagan’s early efforts, it is easier to malign the Education Department than it is to eliminate it.

Part of the reason might be seen in Senator Paul’s 2012 budget proposal. The Education Department hosts several extremely popular programs, including the Pell Grant program. Even conservatives like to win elections, and it is difficult to win when you take money away from voters. This is why we still have Social Security and Medicaid, in spite of conservative ideological disgust.

In any case, be ready for more. As the 2016 GOP contest gets rolling, the Education Department will be threatened, insulted, and demonized. The one thing it won’t be, it seems, is actually eliminated.

Conservatives and the Common Core

What do conservatives think about the emerging Common Core State Standards?

As with any question, ask a hundred conservatives and you’ll likely get a hundred different answers.
However, some distinct themes have emerged in recent months.

First, many conservative politicians and activists object to the Common Core’s implications for the creeping expansion of government.  Some insist that the standards add another layer of inaccessible, distant, controlling, expensive central control.

Second, conservatives object that the new national standards chip away at parental control of children’s education.  With greater central control, parents and responsive local governments will lose that much more ability to control directly what goes in their local public schools.

Both of these are storied conservative protests against the trends in public education.

Before we examine these themes and their histories, let’s look at the CCSS themselves.  So far, forty-five states, plus the District of Columbia and Department of Defense schools have adopted these standards.  Supporters of the CCSS insist these are not imposed by the federal government, but rather created jointly by state education officials.  The reasons for such standards are many, according to supporters.  In the words of the CCSS Initiative,

“High standards that are consistent across states provide teachers, parents, and students with a set of clear expectations that are aligned to the expectations in college and careers. The standards promote equity by ensuring all students, no matter where they live, are well prepared with the skills and knowledge necessary to collaborate and compete with their peers in the United States and abroad. Unlike previous state standards, which were unique to every state in the country, the Common Core State Standards enable collaboration between states on a range of tools and policies.”    

Conservatives are not the only ones to dispute these claims.  Progressive critics (see one example here) often lament the new standards’ failure to consider adequately individual student situations.  Some progressives call the standards a greedy corporate power grab.  Others lament the goal of squeezing all young minds into a procrustean bed of regurgitative multiple-choice testing instead of pursuing the more difficult goal of authentic learning for real students.  Alfie Kohn, for instance, insisted that national standards would “squeeze the life out of classrooms” by mandating one-size-fits-all education, dictated by self-seeking corporate interests.

When conservative activists and pundits critique the CCSS, it is usually on different grounds.  Writing for the Heritage Foundation, for example, Lindsey Burke warned, “The push for centralized control over what every child should learn has never had more momentum.”  CCSS, which Burke called “national standards,” represented a “challenge to educational freedom in America.”  Implementation of the standards would be expensive, Burke pointed out.  Even worse, these standards reversed the proper structure of education.  Instead of more and more central control, Burke argued, “Education reform should give control over education to those closest to students.”

The Heritage Foundation’s Rachel Sheffield praised state lawmakers who pushed to exit the CCSS.  In Indiana, for instance, conservative state lawmakers have proposed a bill to put the CCSS on hold.  One of the requirements of Indiana’s Senate Bill 193, for instance, will be to include parent members on the standards committee.  Another will be to allow any parent to challenge their children’s standard-based high-stakes test results.

These themes—federal overreach and parental control—have long been central to conservative educational activism.

As we’ve noted, agitation against federal intrusion into the local politics of education has been an important element of conservative educational activism since at least the 1940s.  Though it might come as a surprise to some, before the 1940s many conservatives endorsed increased centralization of education policy, as Douglas Slawson has noted in his excellent book The Department of Education Battle, 1918-1932.

The second conservative worry about CCSS also has a long history.  Conservative pundits have argued for decades that parents need more control over their children’s education.  Back in the 1960s, conservative educational leader Max Rafferty insisted, “Children do not belong to the state. They do not belong to us educators, either. They belong to their parents and to nobody else.  And don’t you forget it.”  (Source: Rafferty, On Education, pg. 9)

Note one protester's button: "Parent Power"

Note one protester’s button: “Parent Power”

These conservative concerns spanned the country and the decades.  As historian Ron Formisano noted in his landmark 1991 history of Boston disputes over forced busing, parents insisted on their fundamental rights to determine their own children’s educational careers.  As anti-busing leader Louise Hicks fumed, “If under a court order a child can be forcibly taken from his parents into unfamiliar, often hostile neighborhoods, then we shall have opened a pandora’s box of new, unlimited government powers” (pg. 192).

Similarly, President Reagan insisted in 1983, “I believe that parents, not Government, have the primary responsibility for the education of their children.  Parental authority is not a right conveyed by the state; rather, parents delegate to their elected school board representatives and State legislators the responsibility for their children’s schooling.”  (Source: Catherine Lugg, For God and Country, pg. 136).

Across the spectrum of conservative belief and activism, we hear similar echoes.  In 1989, for instance, creationist leader Ken Ham warned that “Most parents have left the training of their children to the church, school or college.”  No wonder, Ham argued, that children embraced anti-God theologies.

So when conservatives in 2013 warn that CCSS will undermine parental control, they draw on a rich tradition of conservative thought and activism.  Schools must remain on a tight leash, many conservatives have insisted over the years.  If allowed too much power, centralizing educational authorities will take over.

 

 

FROM THE ARCHIVES: Fundamentalists and Federal Aid to Schools

If only Rick Perry could have remembered what he planned to abolish, he might have won the 2012 Republican Presidential primary.  If he had won, he might really have carried out his threat to get rid of the federal Department of Education, along with Energy and Commerce.  Or maybe not.  After all, Ronald Reagan had also promised to eliminate the Department of Education.  In the end, Reagan merely treated the department shabbily.  These days, it seems every self-respecting conservative insists that the Federal Department of Education is an outrage.  Devvy Kidd of WorldNetDaily, for example, insists the department “must be abolished” due to its “chilling” trend toward “communism.”

This hostility toward federal money for local schools has not always been a bedrock belief of American conservatives.  In the 1920s, as Douglas Slawson’s terrific 2005 book The Department of Education Battle describes, the fiercest opponent of a cabinet-level federal department of education was the Catholic Church.  It follows, then, that one of the fiercest PROponents of such a department was the 1920s Ku Klux Klan.  The 1920s Klan, after all, focused much more intensely than did later Klans on fighting the power of the Catholic Church.  It also focused much of its public activism on defending its vision of the “Little Red Schoolhouse.”  For God and Country, the 1920s Klan argued, the USA needed a cabinet-level Department of Education.

By the late 1940s, however, opposing federal aid to local schools had become an article of faith among American conservatives.                        

Perhaps because the National Education Association fought so fervently for more federal funding for local schools, as we can see with this 1948 NEA brochure, conservatives insisted that such aid would be merely the camel’s nose under the tent.  Such aid would inevitably include more federal control over local schools.

As one earnest Daughter of the American Revolution warned her conservative sisters in 1943,

“The citizens of the United States do not want the Federal Government to supervise education from the cradle to the grave, from nursery school to adult education. . . .  It is not difficult to see another huge arm of the Federal Government in the making, and more chains being forged to shackle the unthinking. . . . socialist-minded educators would use the funds to build ‘a new social order’ and . . . training in fundamentals [will be] neglected.”

Other conservatives in the 1940s and 1950s agreed.  Allen Zoll, a professional right-wing activist and founder of the National Council for American Education, published a couple of hugely influential pamphlets in the 1940s. 

In one of them, “Progressive Education Increases Delinquency,” Zoll warned readers that contemporary education no longer taught students the traditional, fundamental values of American society.  He insisted,

The tragic and terrifying thing about all this is that it represents not merely rebellion against a moral code, but denial that there can be any binding moral code.  It is a fundamental revolution in human thinking of the first order: it is mental and ethical nihilism.  If it goes on unchecked, it will mean not merely tragedy for millions of individuals, it will mean the disintegration and final extinction of the American society.”

In another pamphlet from the late 1940s, “They Want YOUR Child,” Zoll warned that the NEA’s drive to secure federal funding for local schools was a conspiracy of the darkest order, a “conspiracy against the American way of life, against everything that we hold dear, . . . probably the most completely organized, ruthless design against other people ever set in motion in all human history.”

Inevitably, Zoll insisted, federal aid to local schools would lead to federal control over local schools.  Once schools fell for that trap, they would be controlled by an aggressive mind-controlling educationist bureaucracy.  The scheming of “progressive” educators such as Theodore Brameld, William Heard Kilpatrick, and George Counts would soon lead to a softening of the youth of America, a start of the slide to socialism, secularism, and destruction.

Some conservatives in the 1950s took this fight against federal funding one step further.  Although they never represented a majority conservative viewpoint, some insisted that all public monies for schools represented government tyranny.  One eccentric proponent of this maximalist position in the 1950s was R.C. Hoiles.  Hoiles had earned a pile of money—one journalist in 1952 estimated $20,000,000—with his Western media empire.  In his editorials for his newspapers, Hoiles argued that all public schools implied government tyranny.  In one from The Marysville-Yuba City (CA) Appeal Democrat, February 28, 1951, for example, Hoiles argued,

“Very few people realize to what degree the government has grabbed the authority to indoctrinate the youth of the land.  We cannot reverse our trend toward socialism as long as the youth of the land comes in contact and is trained by teachers who believe that they have a right to do collectively what they know would be immoral if done by an individual.  In short, the youth of the land is coming in contact with men who are communistic in their thinking, if we properly define communism.  Here is a good definition of communism written by David Baxter.  ‘Communism is the conclusion that more than one person, or a majority of persons, have a right to do things collectively that it would be wrong and immoral for one person to do.’  Can anyone improve upon this definition of communism?

            “According to this definition, is not every believer in tax-supported schools a believer in communism, whether he knows it or not?”

Hoiles also issued a standing challenge to debate this issue.  On February 2, 1952, a radio personality took him up on his offer.  Thousands of people crammed into the football stadium to hear the debate between Hoiles and Roy Hofheinz.  Among the rhetorical gems Hoiles unloaded at that debate included the following:

“Every board of education is government; therefore, it is force.  It is not reason or eloquence—IT IS FORCE!  It is a fearful master—it certainly does not seem rational that understanding and education can be promoted by the force of a policeman . . . “

“There are many ideas as to what is a good government.  But only one idea can be taught in government schools.  And that idea cannot be anything unfavorable to existing government institutions.  It would be impossible to find any teaching in government schools unfavorable to government schools.  It would be impossible to find anything taught in government schools unfavorable to existing state administration.  We cannot now find anything taught in government schools really unfavorable to New Dealism.

            “We believe it would be next to impossible to find anything taught that preaches old-fashioned American individualism as against our modern New Deal fraternalism in government.  Thus we believe that government schools’ teaching in regard to government must favor administration policies, whatever they may be.  Hitler and Hirohito used government schools to promote their regimes. 

            “Stalin is using Russian government schools to promote his regime.  Karl Marx made free public schools one of the points in his famous ‘Communist Manifesto.’  Any government delights in having schools to propagandize its doctrine.” ….

“It has often occurred to me that if an overwhelming majority of Americans really favor the present system of education, it should not be necessary to compel anyone to support it.  A system as sound and popular as tax-supported public schools are supposed to be should be well supported on a voluntary basis.” 

Funding of schools will likely always be a contentious issue.  Taxpayers, especially those who have no children or send their children to private schools, have a dollars-and-cents reason to oppose public schooling.  Perhaps the powerful tradition in Fundamentalist America of opposition to federal funding—or even to any public funding—of local schools can be reduced mainly to a desire to keep more money from the hands of the tax man.  But there also seems to be a deeper ideological connection.  Since the 1940s, at least, fighting against federal funding for local schools has become an article of conservative faith among some citizens of Fundamentalist America.

FURTHER READING: Douglas J. Slawson,  The Department of Education Battle, 1918-1932; Public Schools, Catholic Schools, and the Social Order (University of Notre Dame Press, 2005; Madeleine P. Scharf, “The Education Finance Act of 1943,” Daughters of the American Revolution Magazine 77 (October 1943): 635-637.