The Left’s Transformation of American Education

Donna Hearne, who worked in the Department of Education from 1981 to 1991, begins The Long War and Common Core, with an example of a simple math problem (164 X 72) using the Common Core math standards and then the standard algorithm method. The difference between the convoluted new method and the simple old one is familiar even to casual cable news watchers or Facebook users. Last fall, a dad’s mock check written with Common Core math was circulated on social media and showcased on Fox News.

Common Core is the set of national standards for math and English Language Arts imposed on states in exchange for stimulus funds at the beginning of the Obama administration. As many have pointed out, Common Core is the culmination of a century’s worth of progressive attempts to transform education. Hearn summarizes the efforts of John Dewey and colleagues to make the classroom a place where students’ characters were shaped to fit a collectivist society and to believe “state is king.” Such efforts were given a steroid shot with the installation of President Lyndon Johnson’s federal redistributive scheme through Title One, and grew further under the new federal bureaucracy called the Department of Education instituted by President Jimmy Carter. With the collaboration of global business interests during the Bill Clinton administration such efforts grew more (an edited version of Marc Tucker’s letter to newly installed First Lady Hillary Clinton is included in Hearne’s book). George W. Bush’s No Child Left Behind Act, although it mandated state-devised tests, expanded the role of the federal government further.

The wily Obama administration exploited the crisis of a recession when schools were strapped for money, and tapped into RINOs’ love of big business. Money from the Chamber of Commerce and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation was exchanged for federal power, and we now have Common Core in almost all 50 states.

Hearn summarizes the transformation of education succinctly:

The classical education of seeking truth in an orderly way with chronologically historic facts including sequential mathematic exercises has been replaced. Fractured thinking and a smorgasbord of short snippets of literature and history without context, mathematics without logic, and science based on a political agenda instead of the scientific method are now the standard.

That, in a nutshell, is Common Core. As Hearne correctly points out, the process is backwards. Students are asked to think critically, creatively, and collaboratively before they have a base of knowledge upon which to make their judgments.

The benefits of a classical education are borne out by the data. The late Harvard professor Jeanne Chall gathered and analyzed numerous studies that proved that incremental, teacher-directed learning was most effective, especially for students from lower- and middle-income families. The progressive educational methods that rely on “discovery” work usually only for children from privileged backgrounds, that is, those whose parents are well-educated and have resources. The evidence is all there in Chall’s definitive The Academic Achievement Challenge: What Really Works in the Classroom?

Unfortunately, rather than pointing the reader to such evidence, Hearn presents Common Core as antithetical to a Biblical worldview and relies on alarmist rhetoric and visual cues, such as varying typefaces. The use of such strategies gives the 160-page book a fragmentary and strident tone.

In very short space Hearne alarmingly brings up a Brave New World scenario. She presents the Frankfurt School without adequate information to convince the reader that these post-World War II European philosophers were more than the usual run-of-the-mill leftist professors and writers. The discussion of the Scopes trial consists of an extended quotation from the 1959 edition of the Encyclopedia Britannica. The argument against the evolutionary view of man is in a section set off with the typical large type heading, “THE ORIGIN OF MAN – SLIME vs. SCRIPTURE.”

Chapter 6, “Setting the Stage for Common Core,” summarizes three initiatives under the Clinton administration. But Republican governors, like Lamar Alexander and Nathan Deal, have jumped on board to extend and expand these Clinton-era workforce development efforts. They seek to create compliant workers and to collect data for government use.

At the grassroots level, too, Common Core is a bipartisan issue, connecting parents and educators in their opposition to crony capitalism, relentless and confusing testing, and one-size-fits-all “standards” written by wonks who know little about child development or what it is like in the classroom. Liberals and conservatives also object to the data collection. Chapter 5, “Mind/Thought Control,” provides useful, and chilling, information about how this is done: with electronic devices that monitor students’ biometric reactions through personalized “adaptive learning technologies.” More of such good information is needed, however.

Unfortunately, Hearne’s last chapter, “Solutions” (Chapter 8), continues to detract from a much needed message with “America is awakening to the threat, but all of us must immerse ourselves in the battle,” set in large bolded type. This precedes a section headed with even larger type, “INFORM YOURSELF AND NEIGHBORS,” in which she makes a plug for her own in-home study, “10 Steps FOR Freedom.”

The ten recommended “actions,” such as revising state constitutions, are too big and unrealistic. Moving “accountability . . . from state education bureaucrats back to the elected local school boards for all decisions on testing/assessments and curriculum” is a worthy goal, but how to begin to do that? State legislatures should refuse federal funding, yes. It would be good to have “intelligent, morally strong and second career people” entering teaching, but how do we do that given how terrible education colleges are and how dangerous and bureaucratically top-heavy our schools are?

One suggestion especially made me scratch my head: for those who do not know about Common Core because they can’t read, Hearne suggests that citizens volunteer for literacy training.

Hearne is correct in her criticisms. But they need to be made in a manner that is clear and convincing.

Mary Grabar, Ph.D., taught college English for 20 years. She is now a resident fellow at the Alexander Hamilton Institute for the Study of Western Civilization. She founded the Dissident Prof Education Project, Inc., a 501(c)(3) education reform initiative that offers information and resources for students, parents and citizens. The motto,“Resisting the Re-Education of America,” arose in part from her perspective as a very young immigrant from the former Communist Yugoslavia (Slovenia specifically). She writes extensively and is also a published poet and fiction writer. Ms. Grabar is a contributor to SFPPR News & Analysis.