Gary L. Bauer, President
February 8, 1995
Over the years, few subjects have caused me to pen more words than education. Some of the most important people in my live have been teachers. Long before I joined the political world of Washington, D.C., I was blessed, through the sacrifices of my parents and the guidance of my teachers, with excellent schooling. Besides the three R's, I learned about the craft of law and the design of government. But more than anything else, I learned the importance of understanding both history and tradition. Without that knowledge, I cannot imagine how often I might have been bent and broken by the whirlwinds that blow through this crazy city.
Lincoln said that the philosophy of the classroom today is the philosophy of government tomorrow. I thought of these words often during my years as a White House policy maker, and especially as Under Secretary at the Department of Education. It's hard for me to believe that 12 years have passed since Bill Bennett and I published our first report on "What Works" in education. The debate we helped launch back then continues to rage today-- and with good reason.
Over the past decade, spending on education has dramatically increased with the hope of improving the scholarship of our children. Teacher salaries have risen. Educational experimentation has expanded. Private management of public schools has been attempted. The charter school movement has grown. Courts have imposed new statewide funding formulas in the name of equity for poorer school districts. Home schooling has increased dramatically, commanding new respect. School choice proposals have appeared on state ballots. And now, the Goals 2000 project has yielded national legislation and a wave of new national standards.
With all of this recent ferment, why then do I still feel so uneasy? The first answer to that question is simple: in education, there is still much more legislative activity than real reform. The second answer is even more basic: taken together, the educational reforms we have seen fail to put parents back at the center of the decision-making process. The third answer is spiritual: the American people have not lost their sense of what they honor and love, but our educational system has become incapable of teaching our children and grandchildren those things without embarrassment or regret.
There's another reason for my uneasiness, even though in Washington today we have the most reform-minded Congress in a generation. This Congress has very clear ideas about the present and short-term problems we face. On issues from tax cuts for families to cutting wasteful spending and balancing the budget, the new Congress knows where it is headed. But concerning the longer-term challenges, there is far less agreement on Capitol Hill. About issues of culture and character-- the very things that can anchor reforms and make them stick-- Congress has yet to sort out its priorities and to assert positive leadership.
Let me give you just one example. Last year brought us the passage of Goals 2000 and its companion bill, H.R. 6. These sweeping bills did more than any legislation in American history to nationalize education. At a time when the rest of the world is reducing the size of government and decentralizing solutions, our nation-- with bipartisan support-- has lurched into an intrusive education policy that puts the dead weight of Washington bureaucrats into every classroom.
We already have a bloated smorgasbord of federal councils and agencies engaged in muddying the waters of education. Goals 2000 has added a host of new federal bureaucracies including the National Education Goals Panel, the National Education Standards and Improvement Council, and the National Skills Standards Board. For decades, ever since the creation of the federal Office of Education in the 1960s, the federal government has insisted it would not become involved in writing and establishing curricula. Over time, however, that insistence has been repeatedly compromised, until, with this legislation, it was completely overthrown.
Now we see the predictable results and they are even worse than we feared. Late last year the National Center for History in the Schools, a federally funded project at the University of California in Los Angeles, published our nation's first national standards for history. This four-volume set of standards is not just a course outline or suggested reading list. It is not merely a set of recommendations for the nation's schools. These standards determine on a national basis, with the implied threat of the removal of federal funds from "substandard" schools, what every student in grades K-12 should study and know about American history.
The 31 standards are a masterpiece of political correctness. Not one of them even mentions our Constitution. George Washington makes only a brief appearance and is never recognized as our first President. The founding of the radical environmentalist group, the Sierra Club, and the National Organization for Women (NOW) are both described, but not a word is mentioned about the first gathering of the U.S. Congress. It goes without saying that the founding of Concerned Women for America, the largest conservative women's group in the country (larger than NOW), is totally ignored. Robert E. Lee is omitted. So, too, are Thomas Edison, the Wright Brothers and Daniel Webster. Sen. Joseph McCarthy and McCarthyism are mentioned 19 times, the Gettysburg Address but once, Paul Revere not at all.
Lynne Cheney, former head of the National Endowment for the Humanities, has charged that the standards are about to become the nation's "official knowledge-- with the result that much that is significant in our past will begin to disappear from our schools." My friends, when the government tries to define "official knowledge," we have the seeds of tyranny. We cannot, and must not, permit educational elites, who are hostile to the American experience, to define for our children what this great experiment in liberty under God is all about.
Let me share a few more examples with you. Under the new standards, the story of the Americas is presented primarily as a "collision of cultures" that resulted in "catastrophic losses" to the indigenous peoples. Colonial family life is analyzed solely through the lens of modern feminism. Among the first few questions students are told to ask about colonial families are these: "How is patriarchy defined? Were boys treated differently from girls?" The faith and solidarity of colonial families are never mentioned as subjects worthy of discussion and study.
The standards pertaining to the historic development of the United States, during the Industrial Revolution feature just two photographs, a portrait of the environmentalist John Muir and a photograph of women working at clerical jobs at the turn of the century. Students are told to analyze how this period's "emphasis on staple crop production, strip mining, lumbering, ranching and the destruction of western buffalo herds led to massive environmental damage in the late 19th century." Students are also encouraged to hold a mock trial of John D. Rockefeller.
Students of a subsequent historical period are asked to consult the works of so-called major leaders, like Planned Parenthood's founder Margaret Sanger, but not the works of her many critics. Interestingly, the "inroads of women into traditional male- dominated professions and occupations" are deemed worthy of study, but not the contributions of early homemakers and mothers. Their accomplishments, presumably, are beneath history and unworthy of notice.
Let me be perfectly clear. Our nation's history, like that of so many others, is replete with examples of strife and failure. Our children need to learn about our country's faults as well as its triumphs. But if we fail to teach our children about our country's splendid achievements, we are cheating them out of their inheritance. The National Center for History in the Schools does just that when it totally omits the U.S. victory in the space race. That's right, they completely missed the fact that America put a man on the moon! But this is no accident because these proposed national standards tell the story of the American experience almost solely through the eyes of victimhood.
That, more than anything, explains why Revere, Edison, the Wright Brothers, and so many other pioneers, preachers, inventors, and statesmen receive such short shrift in these standards. Their heroism, self-sacrifice and wisdom simply do not coincide with the negativism about America's past these standards advocate.
The dangers are obvious. A decade ago when Professor Paul Vitz detailed the Politically Correct-- and historically false-- character of American textbooks, he was speaking of existing publishing trends that lacked the full power of government authority. Not so with these standards. They now await acceptance by the Department of Education and the approval of President Clinton.
If Congress really intends to do something about the decay of the family and the fraying of our academic institutions, it must rethink-- RAPIDLY-- the future course of education. I strongly support most of the legislative proposals contained in the Republican Contract with America. But make no mistake: balanced budgets and term limits will NOT stop the decline in the American character. Our families will not be restored by a capital gains tax cut. Fathers will not cleave to their children and to their children's mother because of time limits on welfare payments.
That is why it is so critical that FRC continue to press for additional reforms that restore personal responsibility and buttress the family. It is time that parents are empowered once again with their rightful authority. Parental choice in education is essential. The Department of Education, whose creation coincided with both an explosion in the education bureaucracy and a decline in student achievement, is an obstacle, not an aid, to genuine progress. Its abolition must become a high priority. Goals 2000, with its rejection of basic skills and the imposition of more, "safe-sex"-oriented programs, must be rolled back.
I can assure you that the Family Research Council will continue to champion these ideas. Your confidence in FRC, along with the financial support you provide, gives us the strength to carry this fight forward day in and day out. The victories we've achieved-- including the recent firing of Surgeon General Joycelyn Elders-- are proof of the importance of our partnership. Thank you for all you've done and continue to do. Thank you, too, for considering an additional gift to FRC this month-- as this time of year typically sees new drains on our resources and a falloff in giving.
May God bless you and your family.
P.S. As you may know, just as I put the finishing touches on this letter, the U.S. Senate voted 99-1 to reject these biased national history standards! That's great news, and a tribute to the importance of having a Congress with the courage to right obvious wrongs. But Congress must not stop here. These standards are the fruit of the kind of federal meddling in education that is bound to have disastrous results. I hope you'll join me in urging the Congress to get at the root of the problem and to empower parents once again as the true stewards of their children's education.
Also, many of you sent photographs and greeting cards to our offices, over the holidays. Hearing from you is a real encouragement to us and we will greatly enjoy adding your picture to our FRC family scrapbooks. After seeing so many pictures of those we represent, it occurred to me that it's been a while since I sent you an updated picture of the (rapidly changing) Bauer family. If you haven't sent us a current photograph, I hope you will. Our walls and bulletin boards are a little to bare for me-- especially since the Christmas decorations have now come down! Again, thank you and God bless you one and all.
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