Tell any American that we should have a National Religion and watch the sparks fly. Americans have an instinctive – and healthy – aversion to the notion that there should ever be a national religion. It has been drilled into our heads from an early age that the U.S. Constitution established healthy boundaries and limits for the federal government regarding religion. Boundaries and limits are a necessary component to build and maintain any healthy relationship. Should the relationship between the federal government and our children’s education be any different?
The Constitution imposes boundaries and limits on the federal government because the Founding Fathers understood the tendency of government to centralize power at the expense of citizens’ rights. Significantly, while the Founders placed high value on public education, they left decision-making power over education at the local level.
The essence of the Founders’ vision for public education was codified into law via the Northwest Ordinance. This law set aside land for public schools in every township of newly admitted states. It also stated the purpose of education, and that clause is written into my state’s constitution. Article VIII, Section 1, of Michigan’s State Constitution declares, “Religion, morality and knowledge being necessary to good government and the happiness of mankind, schools and the means of education shall forever be encouraged.”
It is safe to assume most Americans today would be surprised by the Founders’ stated purpose for public education. It demonstrates their understanding that a causal link exists between educating American citizens and maintaining “good government.” Not only that, it makes it clear that the Founding Fathers believed citizens should be educated in “Religion, morality and knowledge….” This purpose for education was codified into law just a couple years before most of the same national leaders ratified the First Amendment prohibiting the establishment of a national religion.
Think about that. The Founders understood that “good government” may only be achieved and maintained by a citizenry educated in “religion, morality and knowledge,” and yet they explicitly prohibited establishment of a national religion. They also intentionally kept the federal government out of the decision-making process for education (beyond the Northwest Ordinance’s provision of setting aside land for schools and stating the basic purpose of public education).
Where did we go wrong? We deviated from the Founders’ policy of keeping the federal government out of education. We have allowed smooth talking politicians, and the corporate lobbyists who influence them (many of whom represent those profiting from the cash cow of high-stakes standardized testing), to increasingly seize federal authority over our children’s education. The Founders would be appalled by our failure to maintain healthy boundaries and limits on our federal government.
Jefferson, Madison and Washington would demand that decision-making power over education be returned to the local level. Just as they cringed at the thought of establishing a national religion, they would equally cringe at the thought of establishing a national education, and we should too.
What institution leads the charge to establish national education? Consider the following quote from Michael Hynes, Superintendent of the Patochogue-Medford public school system in Long Island, New York (as quoted in a blog post by former Assistant Secretary of the U.S. Department of Education, Diane Ravitch):
“My question is, when was the last time [the U.S. Department of Education] actually produced something positive for our children?… In practice, it has churned out one bad policy after another, policies that have been wreaking havoc on our public schools. This department has left a wake of children who have been tested to death and also degraded educators by reducing them to numbers…. What may have sounded like a good idea at the time, some 35 years ago, has proven to be both inefficient and unconstitutional. I don’t believe in federal control of our schools. I feel many of our parents and teachers can figure out for themselves how to educate our children. The challenge of a great education is best addressed as close to the student as possible. Local control should chart its own courses on education.”
It is time for a majority of Americans to support the Opt-Out movement, demand that we Stop Common Core, and do everything legally in our power to abolish the U.S. Department of Education.
It is time to restore local control over our children’s education.