One of the factors that led to Congressman Eric Cantor’s recent defeat was his failure to recognize the threat posed by Common Core State Standards. His victorious opponent, David Brat, trumpeted his opposition to Common Core. And Brat struck a responsive chord among the voters of Virginia’s Seventh District. We could certainly call the first defeat in over a century of either party’s House Majority Leader “a little rebellion.”
It’s fitting that this little rebellion would get traction in the Old Dominion. It was Virginia’s own Thomas Jefferson who took a fairly relaxed view of Shays’s Rebellion in Massachusetts in 1786. Jefferson was then serving as our minister to France, but almost alone among the Founding Fathers, Mr. Jefferson did not take alarm at the uprising. “I hold that a little rebellion now and then is a good thing. The tree of liberty must be watered by the blood of patriots and tyrants. It is its natural manure.”
The entire episode of the grassroots rebellion against Common Core is an example of that spark that Thomas Jefferson never wanted to see quenched in us. “It is in the manners and spirit of the people,” he would write, “that a republic is preserved in vigor.” We don’t have to agree with Jefferson’s dismissive attitude toward Shays’s Rebellion. I don’t. And neither did George Washington or James Madison. Madison would become Jefferson’s most faithful ally and advocate.
We can look at Common Core as the ultimate expression of elite opinion about American education. Americans in this view need to be led, fed, directed, managed, cajoled, cosseted, and coerced—all for their own good. Instead of education reform welling up from the grassroots, it would be better, in the view of Common Core adherents, for the necessary changes to come from the top down. Grasstops will tell the grassroots what they need to know.
The Washington Post recently let the Common Core cat out of the elitist bag by publishing a front-page expose headlined “How Bill Gates Pulled Off the Common Core Revolution.” The story is red meat for the opponents of Common Core. It is replete with insider deals and hurry-up, get on board, this train is leaving the station hustle. The Common Core “revolution” so called has never been field tested, never been submitted to public debate, never fully explained, never honestly presented. It’s been a shell game from Day One.
And Common Core resisters have kicked up a fuss from Day Two. I want here to salute these Sons and Daughters (mostly Daughters, frankly) of Liberty. These are the grassroots activists who know what is going on in their local school districts. They know the Constitution and the laws. And they care about their children and, in many cases, their grandchildren. It was easy for sophisticated liberals to dismiss such folks generations ago as “little old ladies in tennis shoes.” Well, now those little old ladies are wearing combat boots.
First to feel the heat (if they didn’t entirely see the light) was the Republican National Committee. Despite the fact that some leading GOP Governors had fallen for the Common Core siren song, the RNC pulled back and passed an anti-Common Core resolution. That helped to legitimize opposition to Common Core.
Here, one is reminded of the French popular leader who sits happily smoking his Gauloise at a Paris sidewalk café. Seeing a massive demonstration headed for the National Assembly, he jumps up. “Those are my people, he says, I have to find out where they are going so I can lead them!”
For whatever reasons, the Republican Party will almost certainly see resolutions offered at its next Platform-writing session to condemn Common Core—and particularly to condemn the stealthy and dishonest way that it has been “pulled off.” States are perfectly free to reject Common Core, we are endlessly told. But if they do, they have no escape from that other terrible idea: No Child Left Behind. The Obama administration has cleverly contrived to let your state get off the rack of NCLB only by signing up for the Iron Maiden of Common Core. Then, the federal bureaucrats will generously let your state spend its own money.
When I served in the Reagan administration, I was given two weeks of “orientation” by Dr. Ed at the federal education department. Dr. Ed had his Ed.D from Harvard and was a most intelligent, learned, and devoted public servant. He was also thoroughly liberal. Dr. Ed took me to each of the ten assistant secretaryships. Each day for those two weeks, Dr. Ed would assure me that the federal department spends “only 7% of the total education budget.” Just 7%, he repeated like a mantra. Dr. Ed was too diplomatic to say that surely I now understood that what Mrs. Schlafly and all those little old ladies in tennis shoes were saying about our beneficent federal department could not possibly be true.
I reflected on Dr. Ed’s wise counsel. But I recalled my dad’s wartime visits to India. He taught me how the mahouts train elephants there. It takes the mahout about two weeks to break the elephant to the master’s will. Up, down, backward and forward, left and right, the elephant in those two weeks is put through his paces. The mahout only weighs 7% of what the elephant weighs. But the mahout has a stick that he jams behind the elephant’s ear. And the elephant soon learns to do the master’s bidding.
That, Dr. Ed, is how the federal education department works.
And Thomas Jefferson’s great lieutenant, the “magnificent little Madison,” put the dangers in perspective when he wrote:
“I believe there are more instances of the abridgement of freedom of the people by gradual and silent encroachments by those in power than by violent and sudden usurpations.”
As a veteran of the federal education department and a recovering bureaucrat, I am proud of America’s little rebellion against Common Core. Bill Gates almost pulled it off. But the Washington Post let everyone know how corrupting the influence of this powerful man has been. If you bribe the Governor of Virginia, you can get indicted. And the governor can get indicted. You are considered corrupt. But if you lavish money on all the governors to entice them to do your will, you are counted a philanthropist.
What the little rebellion over Common Core proves is that here, the people still rule. And it is heartening to see America rising.