Conservatives Should Resolutely Oppose Common Core -- And so Should Liberals

Robert Morrison is Senior Fellow for Policy Studies at Family Research Council. This article appeared on, October 15, 2014.

Advocates of Common Core State Standards for all our schools regularly boast that 45 states are already "on board." Sounds like a railroad, doesn't it? How could such a thing happen with so little public debate and informed discussion? You don't have to be a conspiracy theorist to find it passingly strange that a major "reform" of education in this country could be achieved with the American people knowing so little about it. Rasmussen and Gallup pollsters have found that the more parents know about Common Core, the less they like it.

Is this "the consent of the governed?" Hardly. In fact, for a quarter century and more, educationists have been operating largely out of public view. They write books with titles like We Must Take Charge. Who are the "we" and from whom must that we take control?

Clearly, state legislators, locally elected school boards, and parents are the ones from whom education policy must be wrested. And given to whom? To state governors and multinational CEOs. Is that the formula offered to conservatives?

Nothing can truly be called conservative in this country that so clearly violates the Constitution and the principles advocated by our Founding Fathers. Those patriots pledged their lives, their fortunes, and their sacred honor to bring about a New Order of the Ages, one in which the people would rule themselves.

We do not need a federal mandate to determine what is taught and what is thought in this country. The Constitution does not give to the President, the Congress, or, worse, the federal education department, the authority to mandate national standards in education. Nor does it devolve this authority on state governors.

The missteps on education have been bi-partisan. Where in the Constitution he had just sworn to uphold, did President George H.W. Bush get authority to convene a national education summit in 1989 in Charlottesville, Virginia? He invited all fifty governors to meet him there to thrash out national education goals. Forty-nine of them actually joined him. Where does the Constitution permit that?

The Founders were deeply suspicious of executive usurpation-by a King, by his Royal Governors. That's why they acted through their elected state legislators. It was this American experience of local self-government that assured that our American Revolution would not end-as so many others had ended before and have ended since-in the setting up of new tyrannies.

Education was among the powers reserved to the states. I can think of only one permissible federal intervention: the ending of racial segregation. But that was commanded by the Constitution's guarantee of equal protection of the laws and by the requirement for a republican form of government in the states. Clearly, segregation by race violates both precepts.

Beyond that, federal intrusion has been harmful. The federal educrats seem to love assessments and testing regimes. When do they have to sit for an exam? Who judges their academic performance? America won two world wars and got to the Moon first without a centralized, wasteful education bureaucracy. What have the federal interventionists achieved since?

Alexis de Tocqueville in the 1830s found Americans had a positive "genius for association." We had a decentralized administration and we were capable of running our own affairs, the young French genius wrote in Democracy in America.

Common Core-and the dishonest and surreptitious way that it has been foisted on the people and the states-violates all that is best in our history of republican self-government. Americans need the experience of dealing with school boards, school budgets, student (and teacher) discipline, and curricular matters at the local level. It is the seedbed of democracy.

Consider "Freedom of Speech," one of the famous Norman Rockwell illustrations of the "Four Freedoms" Speech of 1945. It's not some unreal scene. It was true to our experience when Franklin D. Roosevelt, that veritable liberal, presided serenely in the White House. Roosevelt wouldn't have dreamed of running our public, private, and home schools from Washington, D.C.

Now, contrast the respect and the mutual forbearance of Democracy in America under FDR with this appalling and ugly scene of a father and taxpayer, Robert Small of Howard County, Maryland, being roughed up and hustled away from a school board meeting about Common Core.

The ugly scene of Robert Small's arrest has gone viral on the Internet. That's a hint: if we really want excellent school standards, what is to stop any local school board from accessing them-on the Web? Why can't any locally elected school board institute Bill Bennett's James Madison High School Curriculum if they wish?

Common Core violates the spirit of the age. Is it fair to call it "ObamaCore" when President Obama is bribing states-with their own money-to impose it? (It's also the only way they can escape the disastrous George W. Bush "No Child Left Behind" program.)

Liberals should agree with conservatives on this one. We've had too much talk of Red States and Blue States. We need the unifying vision of liberty represented by FDR's "Four Freedoms" speech. Ronald Reagan once boasted he had voted for FDR four times.

The Republican National Committee has done the right thing by passing a resolution to oppose Common Core. Now both our national parties should pledge to get the feds out of education.

Republicans should remember that Dwight D. Eisenhower and Ronald Reagan were the most successful and most popular Republicans of the last half century. Both of those able leaders resolutely opposed federal intrusion into our local schools. It's time for the GOP to go to school and learn their lessons from the best vote-getters their party has produced.