A caution about government interference in education …

I don’t want to equate anyone wanting more government control of education as fascist, whether that person be the governor of Wisconsin or Barack Obama (they both do, and neither is fascist).  I merely want to point out a caution as to why a mixture of local and national control is something we should be striving for, vs. a single entity having all of the control.

The link above is to an episode of Frontline, which visits Peking University.  There is a small section where students are shown a picture of “Tank Man”.

“Tank Man”, the subject of one of the 20th century’s most remarkable pictures, is an unknown Chinese man, dressed in a white shirt, who at the height of the Tiannamen Square events, stood in front of a column of tanks, refusing to allow them past.  I doubt you could go anywhere in the world and not find educated people who have some familiarity with that picture, and what it represents.

Almost anywhere.

A small group of Chinese college students were unable to identify the picture, or its context.

The events of Tiannamen Square are over two decades gone now.  It would be unfathomable for people of any decent education, or who lived through it to not recall something about it.  The Chinese government has banned any information on those events, except for the government approved story.  On the one hand, this is newspapers and websites, but on the other this is textbooks and films and documentaries.  An entire nation’s education on a topic totally erased by the government.

Before you say “That’s China, it couldn’t happen in the United States …”, you should know the USA has a long history of censorship in education … and it goes on today (though mostly at the local level), there are plenty of school districts that refuse to teach natural selection, Huckleberry Finn, slavery, human reproduction …. the list goes on.  However, while this is terrible, a school board can only affect one district … one relatively small group of students.  States and the federal govenment can affect far, far more.

The Department of Education is fast tracking the Common Core; a comprehensive curriculum that the Obama Administration is pushing states to adopt because it will add more points to their application for “Race to the Top” money.  My state has just finished adopting it and is working on a time table for implementation (note:  they are doing this even though the actual standards have not been fully published to the states yet).  This marks the first time in history that the federal government of the United States has set a control of any sort on the curriculum taught in schools.

On the one hand it is supposed to eliminate the so-called “Mississippi Option”, where some states set their tests at such a ridiculously easy level that nearly every school passes under NCLB (compared to Illinois which had unrealistically high expectations and nearly all schools have now failed).  I think it is a good thing that states trying to take the easy way out are being held accountable.

However, I can’t help but wonder what will eventually be targeted by some politicians to be pushed into our curriculum, or left out, depending on which political party is in power.  Will students be required to learn that the Civil War was entirely over states rights (a lie continually promulgated in certain parts of the country) … will they be forced to study the role that Darwin “played” in developing social Darwinism, and how that led to progroms and genocide … will a discussion of natural selection be strictly about its “controversy”?

I hate to sound paranoid about our government, and send the feeling that our politicians can occasionally take advantage of getting pet projects passed as law … but history speaks far too loudly and too often about this being the case in the past.  It can go both ways.  California recently passed a law requiring that aspects of all minorities be taught in student course work.  I don’t object one bit to learning about the perspectives of different groups …. I would argue one can’t be well rounded unless they do learn about the perspectives of different groups of people … but this adds a huge restraint now on what can and can’t be taught in schools;  and the motivation is one that is purely political.

When will this end?  When the people of the United States demand the government to get out of education.  I don’t see this happening any time soon.

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4 Responses to A caution about government interference in education …

  1. Beth says:

    I just bought a book today (at the soon to be closed DeKalb Borders–sad) titled “Lies My Teacher Told Me-Everything You American History Textbook Got Wrong”. It’s in paperback and the last copyright is 2007 (original 1995), but I thought it’d be interesting (shrug).

    Question– you wrote: “…and if that will be left out for any reason reason in particular?” To what “that” are you referring?

    • teganx7 says:

      The “that” I was referring to was “that information which our government may choose to leave out of the new national curriculum”.

  2. […] friend Tom recently argued (“A caution about government interference in education …” against recent efforts to create a single, nation-wide school curriculum in the US. The […]

  3. […] time ago, I posted about the grave concerns about a greater call to remove teacher tenure and increase the power of governments, special […]

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