There is plenty of political furor across the state and down at the legislature over Common Core curriculum standards in Tennessee without the pot being stirred even more. But someone must have thought it needed a few more strokes of controversy because of whom someone brought in to speak to House education committee members this week.
The guest “teacher” was none other than Marc Tucker, not a household name by any means, but a name well known to those who have long had concerns about federal government intrusion into state education and, more specifically, to those with concerns about attempts by the federal government to set education policy through governors rather than the state legislatures.
Mr. Tucker first surfaced in the early 1990s during the Tennessee legislature’s battle over a reform he championed known as School-to-Work. School-to-Work was a bureaucratic ivory tower think tank-type education plan for the ages.
The objective was to evaluate all children by the eighth grade for the types of work for which testing showed they would be suited. This information would then be evaluated for them in light of labor market statistical projections for the jobs of the future. “Educators” would then encourage each child to pursue educational programs fitted for the jobs the government thought it would need and that seemed to match each child’s abilities.
The implementation strategy, however, was to bypass state legislatures by allowing governors to apply directly for federal grants to implement the program. In essence, the federal program would be imposed on states by the federal government through governors. Sound familiar?
Mr. Tucker’s educational dream was nothing short of a planned economy taken down to the educational level beginning in the eighth grade. And Mr. Tucker was all for it.
His enthusiasm and his plan was set forth in a letter he penned to Hillary Clinton after her husband was elected President. It became known at the “Dear Hillary Letter” and reads, in pertinent part:
“I still cannot believe you won. But utter delight that you did pervades all the circles in which I move. … We think the great opportunity you have is to remold the entire American system [of education]. … What is essential is that we create a seamless web of opportunities to develop one’s skills that literally extends from cradle to grave and is the same system for everyone—young and old, poor and rich, worker and full-time student. … Clear national standards of performance in general education (the knowledge and skills that everyone is expected to hold in common) are set to the level of the best achieving nations in the world … We have a national system of education in which curriculum, pedagogy, examinations and teacher education and licensure systems are all linked to the national standards.”
That should be enough to help you understand why bringing in Mr. Tucker could only set conservatives more on edge about Common Core.
Of course, discrediting a message because of the messenger is never wise, but even as I think of the message, I can’t help but think of two things: the Tower of Babel and Daniel.
Babel reminds us of God’s aversion to men thinking they can build elaborate systems apart from Him that make Him superfluous. Sometimes when I see these cradle-to-grave government thinkers, I can’t help but wonder if what God hears coming from their mouths as they speak of their ingenious plans is something like babel. Picture Charlie Brown listening to Snoopy.
And I’m reminded of Daniel, who didn’t want to participate in what I might call King Nebuchadnezzar’s “Menu to Work” plans, but wanted to eat from the menu God had prescribed for the Hebrews. Interestingly, the “test” showed that the “standards” that God had come up with for nutrition were better than the King’s uniform, national standards.
My point is this: I believe Tennessee is capable of coming up with great standards and producing great teachers, whether it’s the standards anyone else in the nation uses. And I have no doubt that if we do, eventually the nation’s employers won’t care that they are “our” standards. Like Daniel, the quality of the students we educate will be all the proof we’ll need as to the merits of our standards.
All we lack in the legislature is a little less babel and some leaders like Daniel.
David Fowler served in the Tennessee state Senate for 12 years before joining FACT as President in 2006. Read David’s complete bio.
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