Common Core German Lesson

Ken Blackwell is Senior Fellow for Family Empowerment and Bob Morrison is Senior Fellow for Policy Studies at Family Research Council. This article appeared in The American Thinker on February 11, 2015.

We haven’t heard what the Common Core curriculum has planned for foreign language instruction, if anything. But we offer this German lesson as an introduction and a warning to all those who want central control over what is taught and what it thought in this country: “Wir sind nicht preußischen" We are not Prussians!

Millions of Germans flocked to this country in the nineteenth century. They came here from all regions of that rising European power. They came from disparate backgrounds in Germany. Some were Catholics, fleeing Chancellor Otto von Bismarck’s Kulturkampf. There were also Baptists, Calvinists, Lutherans, and Jews.

All of these Germans wanted greater freedom of religion. They came from various regions of the new unified Germany, too. From Saxony, Bavaria, the Rhineland, and, yes, Prussia, too.

They were a diverse company, especially politically, representing very conservative views and very radical ones. We even had a fair share of Marxists among these immigrants. But whatever their differences, most of these Germans had an aversion to the Blood and Iron (Blut und Eisen) policies of Bismarck, the man they called the “Iron Chancellor.”

Bismarck used his power to crush all domestic opposition. He ruled with an iron rod.

And he used the schools to impose his own brand of discipline on the German people.

He cowed the parents by conscripting their children into government schools taught by government-appointed teachers, following a Berlin curriculum. He legislated all this with his schulaufsichtsgesetz. That’s German for “School Administration Law.” And that’s bureaucratese for Common Core.

Oh, and Bismarck was big on STEM. Science, technology, engineering and math. His new German Reich astonished the world with its technical achievements. Drive your diesel-engine auto to get an X-ray and you’ll be benefiting from the amazing advances in science that Germany provided the world.

Bismarck was not so hot on literature, philosophy, history, and ethics. He said: “This is not a matter of right or wrong, but of force. And we have it.” So much for ethics.

If Americans loved the story of young George Washington and the cherry tree (no matter how much sophisticates snickered at it), Germans were taught to laugh at the cynicism and lies of the Iron Chancellor. He forged a cable from the theatrically absurd Napoleon III. Bismarck got what he wanted, an aggressive war with France. He used the Franco-Prussian War to forcibly unite the squabbling German states under his stern Prussian leadership.

Now what has all this to do with Common Core in America? It’s simple. Much of our criticism of Common Core has to do with the fact that it “dumbs down” the curriculum, that it will impose mediocrity on our students, that it will hamstring their striving for excellence. All this is true.

But what if the centrally-directed curriculum really was a first-rate academic curriculum?

What if those who are pushing us to race to the top could really deliver the goods? What if they kept their promise: If you like your curriculum you can keep it?

Wouldn’t our principled opposition to Common Core fade? No!

We oppose a national curriculum like that of Common Core, we oppose central control of education because it takes power away from local education authorities, from locally elected and responsive school boards, from parents and teachers and students, too.

We oppose the centralizers, the Prussians, because our wisest presidents opposed them. President Eisenhower and President Reagan firmly opposed federal control over education.

And don’t give us the “what about segregation?” rejoinder. Ike sent the 101st Airborne to Arkansas, Bill Clinton’s home state, to ensure that fundamental rights were respected. Apart from that, however, Eisenhower wanted Americans to run their own schools.

Bismarck’s plan of education brought about many advances, it is true. But it also subordinated the German people. Britain’s great prime minister, Benjamin Disraeli, wisely observed: “Bismarck made Germany great by making the Germans small.”

Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal gets it right. So does Ohio Treasurer Josh Mandel. Both of these officeholders readily admit they were taken to school by the mothers opposing Common Core. These moms who took the trouble to inform themselves about Common Core are leading the opposition to it -- and politicians in both parties are beginning to sit up and take notice.

We also admit that Common Core was slithering silently through state education offices on a track well-greased by foundation money before we ever heard of it. Some claim it was a state initiative. It was always a national scheme stealthily inserted into the states. Just Google: Garden, Eden.

When you hear that 45 states signed up and were “on board” before any opposition arose to Common Core, take note. Does that sound American to you? We are a fractious bunch, to be sure. So were the Americans of the Revolution. So were the Athenians. So were the Florentines of Renaissance Italy. We have this quaint notion that we should govern ourselves.

Ronald Reagan said it well: “We the People” are the three most important words in the Constitution and ours is the only constitution in the world that begins with those powerful words.

“We are a people who have a government; it’s not the other way around,” said the Gipper. Reagan thought the appropriate appropriation for the federal education department was zero. And that’s how much he allotted for it in eight of his eight presidential budgets. You simply cannot say you oppose an unconstitutional, intrusive, and wasteful federal education department and yet support Common Core.

Common Core is dedicated to the idea that Americans, like those Prussians of 150 years ago, are subjects, not citizens. Jefferson disagreed. He was the first to write -- in an early draft of the Declaration of Independence -- that we are Citizens, not Subjects. He crossed out the word Subjects.

So should we. If you would like to remain Citizens of the Great Republic, Oppose Common Core!