Common Standards Alarm

by Tammy Drennan

The Common Standards outlines for math and English/language arts have a professor of education up in arms. Professor William G. Wraga, of the University of Georgia, Athens, says there’s a big hole in the standards — they fail to address the interdisciplinary purpose of educating students for democracy.

“…the standards, in effect, envision a single purpose for schooling: education to serve economic interests,” he writes.

“Why is this blind spot so dangerous?” he continues. “Historically, centralized control of school curriculum has served as a political tool of totalitarian states. Clearly, these common standards are intended to increasingly centralize and standardize curriculum in the United States.”

He grants that the standards were not fashioned for intentional anti-democratic purposes, but he stands by his assertion that they will result in said dénouement and that the real original intention of American schooling – training as democratic citizens – is indeed, at dire risk.

Mr. Wraga again: “Arguably, education for democratic citizenship is the historic national goal of education in the United States. Thomas Jefferson asserted: ‘Every government degenerates when trusted to the rulers of the people alone. The people themselves therefore are its only safe depositories. And to render even them safe, their minds must be improved to a certain degree.’” He also calls on George Washington, then concludes:

“Preparation for citizenship in a democracy must be a substantive, expressly signified component of the common core for all students in the United States.”

Okay, where to begin… Professor Wraga is right about two things: Historically, public schools have been a major tool of tyrants, and our founders did believe that a good general education was important for the preservation of the type of government they envisioned and fashioned.

But – what our founders were thinking about in the way of education in no way resembles what Horace Mann, et al, gave us. If you have your doubts, take a look at what their own educations consisted of – surely they had in mind something at least resembling this (there were some blatant exceptions, like Benjamin Rush).

The reality we ended up with was and is meant to do exactly what the tyrants that so concern Mr. Wraga have always used it for – educate citizens for the state.

Here’s Horace Mann himself – great father of public schooling — on the claim he feels the state has on children:

After a child has arrived at the legal age for attending school, whether he be the child of noble or of peasant, the only two absolute grounds of exemption from attendance are sickness and death. The German language has a word for which we have no equivalent either in language or in idea. The word is used in reference to children, and signifies due to the school; that is, when the legal age for going to school arrives, the right of the school to the child’s attendance attaches, just as, with us, the right of a creditor to the payment of a note or bond attaches on the day of its maturity. — Life and Works of Horace Mann: Vol. III (Boston: Life and Shepard Publishers, 1891)

The Germany to which Mann refers is the same country that bowed to Adolf Hitler just forty years after Mann’s glowing recommendation of its school policies. Germany’s schools turned out to be easy prey for Hitler, who quickly turned them into temples to himself and Nazi theory.

So, is the peril of common standards that citizens will not be educated for democracy? No. The failure to educate children to protect their own liberties has been going on in American schools for a very long time and is demonstrably a key function of them.

If common standards add any more danger to U.S. education than already exists, it will be the fact that they move schools even further from the possibility of the innovation it would take to make any true difference and yet closer to the standardization and uniformity that suffocate excellence.

The people who wield power over schooling in our country are slowly annihilating anything that remotely resembles education. I won’t judge their motives, but motives don’t really matter. As author and political philosopher Isabel Paterson wrote:

Most of the harm in the world is done by good people, and not by accident, lapse, or omission. It is the result of their deliberate actions, long persevered in, which they hold to be motivated by high ideals toward virtuous ends. – The God of the Machine

Good motives or bad, the results are the same when they are applied via the police power of the state.

Finally, not that anyone trying to reform American education today cares what someone like John Stuart Mill had to say, but let’s hear him out anyway:

A general State education is a mere contrivance for moulding people to be exactly like one another; and as the mould in which it casts them is that which pleases the dominant power in the government, whether this be a monarch, an aristocracy, or a majority of the existing generation; in proportion as it is efficient and successful, it establishes a despotism over the mind, leading by a natural tendency to one over the body. – From On Liberty

The danger is in choosing the state as the primary means to equip our children for life. It’s a danger that grows with the practice of it and is remedied not by reform but by abandonment – the self-defining act of walking away and doing something better.


6 Responses to Common Standards Alarm

  1. wintertime says:

    It really is very simple:

    If children attend socialist-funded, godless,, government owned and run schools in buildings that resemble prisons and where First Amendment Rights are utterly crushed by the government, the following **WILL** happen:

    **Children will learn to think and reason godlessly. At best they will learn to compartmentalize their faith. At worst, they will think their faith is shameful and must be hidden like a bathroom activity.

    ** Children *WILL* learn to be comfortable with socialism. If government can take money from a neighbor to pay for tuition-free schools, why not take money from a neighbor for a thousand other socialist wants and needs.

    ** Children *WILL* learn to be compliant prisoners of the state where their First Amendment Rights are abused.

    ** Children *WILL* learn to be comfortable with government owning and running many goods and services, and even their bodies and lives. Obamacare wasn’t an accident government schools made it inevitable.

    ( By the way, Tammy, may I post your essay on Free Republic? There are many people there who strongly support complete separation of school and state.)

    • tdbwd says:


      Hear, hear. What becomes increasingly amazing to me as I read more and more biography is how much everyone still believes what public school advocates claim about schools when so many (soooo many) of the most brilliant people throughout American history believed state schooling (and often institutional schooling of any stripe) was a menace to the intellect at best and a danger to freedom at worst.

      Please feel free to post the essay on Free Republic.

      Thanks much.


  2. lisa says:

    I don’t think most parents care that their schools are socialist institutions that drain their posterity of an ability to think and reason as individuals. They are just happy to have somewhere “safe” to send them everyday to get them out of their hair, or so they can go to work.
    I was surprised at the amount of gaiety and excitement in the comments from mothers sending their children back off to school this year. “Thank you Lord!”, and “Yes, I can finally have the house back to myself!”, were just the tip of the iceberg of comments on my facebook page. They were happy to get rid of them. No concerns over the curriculum, and long hours away. They gladly trade socialism for the comfort of not having their kids around.
    I would have been the same way if it weren’t for my eyes being opened to the godlessness of faculty and the true intentions of collectivist schooling.

  3. tdbwd says:


    Thanks very much for your comments. Sadly, I think you’re right about an awful lot of mothers. I read the comments every August in our local paper. Then there are mothers like mine — she never heard of homeschooling, so she never got to do it, but she hated sending her 11 children to school and resented the school’s self-righteous superiority complex. Today, mothers like mine have more options. I wonder if there are many mothers on the edge — buying into the popular attitude of “so glad to get rid of the kids” but feeling uncomfortable with it and open to another way if exposed to it.

    Again, thank you.


  4. lisa says:

    I didn’t look at it from that angle. Are you saying some of the mothers may be masking their trepidation about sending their children off to school and are giving in to the peer pressure of the back to school ritual? That would make sense. Especially if they had been groomed to respond that way from their years of institutional schooling. It would make sense, because I think every mother at least for the first few grades is sick-hearted about taking a little one away from home and letting her be with strangers most of their day…You have to justify it somehow and the “Everybody’s doing it” mantra was already programmed in a lot of us from middle school anyway…I hope I am not rambling too much. I said all that to say, I see your point and I agree…*big smile*
    Take care, and thanks for the conversation.

  5. tdbwd says:


    I think you’ve expressed it quite well. Peer pressure is as strong at the adult level as the teen level (could it be that school fosters it in people and they never recover?). Parents need new ways to combat the pressure. When my boys were growing up, we always took this attitude toward people who were doing what we chose not to do (or see or whatever): I’m glad you guys are enjoying yourselves; we enjoy the things we do, too. Thanks but no thanks, in a nice way. It’s kind of like when I’m visiting with someone and they offer me soda or some other drink. I only drink water and I always say, “I really appreciate the offer but I really do love water.” Maybe that’s a simplistic example, but when you can reach the point of doing what you decide is right for yourself matter-of- factly, without big explanations or excuses, it just becomes a lifestyle that needs little in the way of defense. “I’m glad you’re so happy with your children’s school. We love our choice, too.” You’re not copping out — you’re setting a standard that’s appealing and invitational. Now, that’s in personal or one-on-one relationships. The facts still need to be articulated and argued, and there’s still the need to expose people to them. Those opportunities have to be looked for and acted on. But in social encounters, I usually opt for neutral on the other person’s choices but showing that I intend to stick to my own.

    What think ye? Ramble on. :-)


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