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Utah Legislator Sparks Debate on US Education: To Reform or Restore?   7 comments

This week, a Utah legislator posted his views about education reform on his Facebook wall. The following post was compiled from that wall, by a Utah mother, Alyson Williams.

(Names have been replaced with generic titles.)

Thank you, Alyson.

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U.S. Education: to Reform or Restore?

Guest post by Utah Mother Alyson Williams

While we wish that these kinds of exchanges were happening in our state halls rather than just social media platforms, this exchange between a parent, a teacher, and a legislator as excerpted from the Utah legislator’s Facebook wall introduces an important question: should we be expanding and advancing centralized education reform or be seeking to restore ideals that have been lost? Do we know our own history well enough to discern the difference?

Parent: [Teacher], you seem to be talking just about the [Common Core] standards while [parent activist] has raised a warning about a bigger issue. Every state that adopted the standards did so in conjunction with a number of other reforms, the combination of which shift governance of education in significant ways. I hope this overview helps clarify that: http://prezi.com/icbma_8t5snu/?utm_campaign=share&utm_medium=copy

I appreciate [Representative] taking the time to attend a presentation I did on this subject in [City.]

Teacher: I did watch your presentation. I commend you for your activism and I understand your viewpoint. I have done my own extensive research. I even interviewed people from the Gates Foundation. I just don’t agree with your view point. Best wishes.

Parent: [Teacher], one way of demonstrating that we understand one another’s viewpoint is to restate it in our own words as I have attempted above. Apparently my understanding of your viewpoint being based on the standards alone is not complete. Would you be willing to share your research? What did you learn in speaking to the Gates Foundation? The goal of the reforms has been clearly stated as making kids “college and career ready,” or as the Governor explains it, “education for the workforce demands of the marketplace.” The reforms ensure a more coordinated and central role for state and federal government in this workforce oriented goal. Am I correctly understanding that you support that outcome?

Teacher: Yes that is correct and I think it is reasonable to believe that no matter what I share, you and I will still be of the same opinion still:) I have only replied to a few of [Representative’s] points as he is my representative and someone I have a great deal of respect for. You and I also know we could spend hours exchanging research-hours of which I do not have. I have a family, a full time teaching job and a personal life. I wish you well on your own path.

Parent: I can certainly identify with how busy you are [Teacher.] Thank you for confirming your viewpoint. I think it will be helpful to those following this thread to see more clearly both sides. As you say, I simply have a different viewpoint and value the way that education in our country was, for a long time, unique. For much of our history the purpose of American education was to nurture the development of self-governing citizens, with work being incidental to that development. Government-coordinated education for the workforce is an imported philosophy. Our Founding Fathers and other great thinkers were who they were because they studied the great works, not work itself. This nation has uniquely thrived according to the principle that a broadly educated and free people pursuing their own dreams works better than centrally planned education for efficiently trained workers.

Representative: … this is a good discussion. As a taxpayer, I don’t want my dollars going to public schools unless those schools are focusing on getting kids ready for jobs and the work force. Most of our country’s founders were not products of a public education system and they had different goals for their own classical education, and leisure time to pursue those goals (philosophy, government, law). I want the schools in my world to do everything they can to train the students to be ready to get a job in the modern workplace, and to expose them to those career and job skills now. Most of the skills that need to be taught in K-12 public schools to prepare students for the work force are essentially just literacy and numeracy, and those can and will continue to be taught by studying classical works (as my own kids are doing to the hilt now under Utah’s Common Core standards, based on my own personal experience reading The Scarlet Letter and other works together with them this year). But if we don’t make sure that these foundational language and math classes are aligned to the workplace and producing the skills needed in the work force, then I think we are wasting precious taxpayer dollars. By using terms such as “centrally planned economy,” many critics of Common Core make it sound like our U.S. Chamber of Commerce, by endorsing Common Core, is advocating moving our country to socialism. But of course that is not the case. Private businesses recognize that a large reason for the success and ascendancy of the United States on the world stage in the past century has been careful government planning and regulation (roads and transportation infrastructure, banking systems, stock market regulation, etc.). Central government planning is not inconsistent with free-market capitalism — in fact, I would argue it is essential for its endurance, if the U.S. wants to continue to be the leader on the world stage. For me, it is all about finding the right balance between government management and individual liberty. I think the minimal educational guidelines being implemented as Utah’s Common Core strike that proper balance and do not in any way endanger an individual’s liberties to pursue in this great country whatever she or he wishes to in life — in fact, the standards are an aid to help individuals more fully exercise and realize those individual freedoms of self-expression. Thanks for weighing in.

Parent: [Representative], I hope you, and the parents reading that last entry can recognize the false dichotomy implicit in your opening assertion. Current education reform is not about whether students should be well educated and prepared for professional success or not. The conflict is about whether that desirable goal is best achieved under local governance or if we should disregard the wisdom of history (and current federal statute) and allow for greater federal or otherwise centralized control. “Education for the workforce demands of the marketplace” does not just mean that we want our kids to be able to get a good job. It means policy, funding, programs etc. are prioritized for assessing and predicting what skills will be most useful to the workforce by the time our kids reach the workforce, and who has those skills – predictions that are notoriously inaccurate. Instead of fitting education to the aptitudes and interests of the individual, giving each his best shot, this system attempts to guide the individual to the education deemed best for the “greater common good.” The emphasis on the child as an investment of the collective, not an agent unto himself, is a principle of socialism and this, not the shortsighted endorsement of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, is what liberty-minded people are criticizing. You mention your objective of finding a balance between government management and individual liberty. The bedrock principle for conservatives in identifying this balance is to only assign to the higher level of government what cannot be accomplished by a more local level. Thomas Jefferson explained it this way, “… the way to have good and safe government, is not to trust it all to one, but to divide it among the many, distributing to every one exactly the functions he is competent to. Let the national government be entrusted with the defence of the nation, and its foreign and federal relations; the State governments with the civil rights, laws, police, and administration of what concerns the State generally; the counties with the local concerns of the counties, and each ward direct the interests within itself.” You specifically praise the federal role in transportation infrastructure. That is a good example of something that might best be accomplished through the cooperation of states working through Congress (the body we elect to make these kinds of collective decisions, as opposed to that one club for Governors who’ve taken this role upon themselves recently.) This happens to be President Obama’s favorite example as well. [Ironically, he used it often when promoting the Stimulus which proved the catalyst for advancing these education reforms.] If I had a dollar for every speech in which he mentions “roads and bridges” (and how they’re crumbling, necessitating more spending) while touting the benevolence of an increasingly powerful and indebted federal government! It is clear that you like the standards which are under the jurisdiction of the State School Board. The rest, and the bulk of the reforms, are under the jurisdiction of the State Legislature. As an elected representative in that body I hope you’ll continue to familiarize yourself with the impact of those policies as well. Thank YOU for weighing in. It is so important to constituents to understand the positions of their representatives.

Parent again: As long winded as that was, I forgot to respond to one point you made. The founding fathers were indeed, for the most part, more fortunate in their opportunities for education because of their wealth and privilege. One notable exception is of course Benjamin Franklin, the youngest son of a mixed family that included something like 16 total siblings and step siblings. (There’s a fantastic study of a self-taught, self-made man.) What many of these men seemed to understand about the sustainability of their newly-formed Republic was that in order to have a self-governing people education had to become more than training for a trade like the privately arranged apprenticeships of the day – that the domains such as history, philosophy and law previously accessible only to the elite must be accessible to all. Our abandonment of this ideal in favor of skills rewarded in the workforce, especially over the past half-century, has resulted in our current situation where key protections of liberty established by the Constitution are systematically eroded and erased while too many sit idly by in apathy or ignorance. Meanwhile we continue to saddle the upcoming generations with the servitude of an outrageously unsustainable debt all the while professing to have their future financial success and the desire for a robust economy at heart. (We never did get a cost analysis on these reforms.)

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I want to add two things to what Alyson compiled.

1. “Combination of education with industrial production” is a direct goal, point #10, of the Communist Manifesto.. The push to align workforce with education goes directly against free agency and toward central planning. Do American legislators realize they’re enabling socialism/communism when they support “finding the right balance between government management and individual liberty?” You can’t balance the human tendency toward controlling others very easily; hence, the limitations outlined to keep the government very, very small and the people’s power big. The individual should have full control over his/her life.

2. In a book called “Free Agency: A Divine Gift,” a Utahn, David O. McKay, who was also a former teacher, wrote: “Let us, by exercising our privileges under the Constitution… Preserve our right to worship God according to the dictates of our conscience, preserve the right to work when and where we choose. . . Feel free to plan and to reap without the handicap of bureaucratic interference, Devote our time, means, and life if necessary, to hold inviolate those laws which will secure to each individual the free exercise of conscience.”

The wonder of individual, unfettered freedom and the absurd lie (that society needs central planners) is debunked in a great short film called “I, Pencil.” Worth watching.

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