Califor-ni-ED May Be Coming to a Classroom Near You

15134543 - teacher with a group of high school students in classroomOne export I’d like from California is its pre-Common Core math standards, hailed as the country’s finest. Instead, we’re likely going to get some horrific version of its pending K-12 history and social “science” framework—or as the Hoover Institution’s Bill Evers calls it, Progressive “goo-goo reform.”

Whether or not we live in California, we need to pay close attention to its State Board of Education, which meets on July 13 to consider adopting the new history and social sciences framework. Here’s why.

California has the highest public K-12 enrollment nationwide, with more than one out of 10 school children, nearly 6.3 million. So it’s fair to say that as California goes, so goes the country since textbook companies will be customizing their wares for their largest market before peddling them to other states.

Stanley Kurtz, Ethics and Public Policy Center Senior Fellow, warns in painful detail that if this happens, we should brace ourselves for a hard left turn, even by Left Coast standards.

Focusing on the 11th grade framework, “United States History and Geography: Continuity and Change in Modern United States History,” Kurtz explains:

California’s current curriculum is already biased toward modern liberalism, but the new framework takes several giant steps further to the left. On immigration, it is anti-assimilationist; on family and sexuality, it is radically anti-traditionalist; on terrorism, it tends to “blame America first;” on the 1960s, it highlights and implicitly lauds the most radical “black, brown, red, and yellow power movements;” on politics, it paints a halo over progressives while perpetrating a hit job on conservatives; on economics, it elevates Keynesian liberalism and ignores everything else; on military history, it is silent or slyly antagonistic; on contemporary politics, it reads like an anti-globalization protest pamphlet.

Among the lessons 11th graders won’t be learning according to Kurtz:

  • On economics… explanations for the Great Depression… by the Chicago School (founded by Nobel Laureate Milton Friedman) or the Austrian School (typified by Nobel Laureate F.A. Hayek) are omitted.
  • …the new framework has contrived to teach World War II, America’s greatest military victory, in such a way as to have students concentrate on America’s most grievous military defeat [the loss of Bataan].
  • The advent of Islamist terrorism gets virtually no substantive treatment…. [except to highlight] the leftist theory that Islamic radicalism is nothing but blowback from America’s actions in the Middle East.
  • …Republican presidents are either ignored or painted in a bad light. Students are never offered a coherent explanation of what conservatives believe.

What students will be getting, starting from at least second grade on by my reading (see Chapter 5, p. 61), are heaping helpings of sexual politics. As Kurtz explains:

Treatment of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) sexuality—and of sexuality in general—is a novel addition to California’s history curriculum. No other 11th grade theme receives more coverage, as the framework goes well beyond an account of the post-sixties gay-rights movement. … The subtext is decidedly “liberationist,” with a constant implication that traditional morality and family structures are oppressive and outdated. … America is still actively debating the nature and status of transgenderism. A central question is the extent to which transgenderism’s public cause ought to be treated as strictly analogous to the African-American civil rights struggle of the 1960s. The California curriculum has no doubts on that score.

The most significant thing about the material on sexuality in the 11th grade history curriculum may be the sheer scope of it, since it tends to crowd out other issues. The general emphasis on social themes greatly weakens the framework’s treatment of political, military, and diplomatic history. So, for example, on World War I, students learn nothing of the role of American troops in turning the tide of battle, much less about heroes like Sargent York. They do learn, however, that American soldiers abroad found European ideas about sexuality “very liberating.”

To be sure, anyone who reads all the grade-level frameworks will come across mentions of our core Founding documents, including the Constitution, the Declaration of Independence, the Articles of Confederation, and even the Mayflower Compact. Many of the great thinkers and works of Western Civilization are also referenced, including Plato, Aristotle, Homer, Vergil, and Shakespeare. But these great minds and works seem to be little more than window dressing.

At its core California’s proposed framework is a glaring example of left-of-center politics masquerading as education—a hallmark of Progressive ideology.

This helps explain why fourth-graders will be regaled with selective examples of California immigrants who led political movements or held office, including Cesar Chavez and Dolores Huerta, co-founders of the National Farm Workers Association, and “California’s first openly gay public official” Harvey Milk, who immigrated from New York to San Francisco (Chapter 7, p. 116).

Yet no mention is made in this section of right-of-center immigrants such as Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, who challenged the California Teachers Association, or U.S. Senator Samuel Hayakawa, who publicly defied demands of radical campus protesters while serving as president of San Francisco State University during the late 1960s.

Eighth-graders are in for a special treat since they will study “Horace Mann’s crusade for free public education for all, as well as the argument for public investment in education, both in the 19th century and today” (Chapter 12, p. 331). Then in ninth grade those students can opt to take the elective course “Modern California,” where they will learn about the plight of public schools because of the “national conservative turn” resulting in “California’s anti-tax initiative,” Proposition 13, which “reduced property taxes and thereby caused an immediate and long-lasting decrease in funding for schools…” (Chapter 14, p. 396).

Under no circumstances, however, should students get the impression that California homeowners were revolting against taxation without representation just like our Revolutionary forefathers. If they do, teachers should immediately refer to the Framework Introduction, which explains that history is “a constructed narrative that is continually being re-shaped and re-told” (Chapter 1, p. 5). Indeed.

High school lessons about the Cold War-era are a bit trickier since Progressives favor collectivism, but there’s just no getting around the fact that centralizing government resulted in brutal tyranny. So tenth-graders, for example, will hear that “Stalin’s industrialization plan included forced collectivization of peasant farms, which ultimately resulted in a massive loss of life” (Chapter 15, p. 463). Eleventh-graders will also be told that under Stalin the USSR “had a very poor record of protecting human rights” (Chapter 16, p. 545).

But what students should learn from Stalin’s example is “the connection between economic policies and political ideologies, including the crushing of workers’ strikes” (Chapter 15, p. 463).

So, collectivism per se isn’t the problem. It’s the process used for achieving it. We just need a warmer, fuzzier approach to convincing people collectivism is good for them—say through properly educating them rather than shipping them off to the Gulag.

But the hard, cold reality is that collectivism isn’t benign—even if education (or re-education as the case may be) is the preferred vehicle.

More than 150 years ago Andrew Jackson Rickoff of Cincinnati argued at an annual meeting of the National Teachers Association, the predecessor of the National Education Association, that we needed a national education bureau:

What possible avenue of influence can be established between this Association and the Government at Washington? There is only one. The Government must recognize the cause of education as a part of its care, not by direct management alone, but, so far as may be, by influences of every kind, which can induce a people to regard the matters that concern it as the highest interest. (p. 38, emphasis added.)

Rickoff acknowledged that the National Teachers Association would be accused of making the federal government a “missionary to propagate” a common-school system “and to interfere with the family and social arrangements of the people.” His response was:  “Well, be it so.”

Today California’s proposed history and social science framework is part of the larger DC-driven Common Core standards initiative, which is supported by both the National Education Association and its state affiliate the California Teachers Association (the standards part not the testing part).

But now as back then in Rickoff’s day, children are not creatures of the state, and parents can vote with their feet. Parents’ options vary from state to state in, but they may include public district schools and charter schools, as well as private schools and home schools.

Protecting parents’ unalienable rights over their children’s education—including their right to choose where and how their children are educated—is the ultimate defense against Progressive collectivism and any companies hoping to capitalize on it.

* * *

For the authoritative examination of the history and impact of the U.S. Department of Education and the need for innovative reforms based on educational choice and opportunity, see the Independent Institute’s widely acclaimed book, Failure: The Federal Misedukation of America’s Children, by Vicki E. Alger.

Vicki E, Alger is a Research Fellow at the Independent Institute and Senior Fellow and Director of the Women for School Choice Project at the Independent Women’s Forum. She is the author of the Independent book, Failure: The Federal Misedukation of America’s Children.
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