The Corner

Obama and Your Child’s Mind

Why does President Obama want your child to read “Executive Order 13423: Strengthening Federal Environmental, Energy, and Transportation Management” in school? It’s not the business of a president to shape your local school’s reading assignments. The Constitution and several federal laws prohibit it. Yet by conditioning federal education aid and regulatory waivers on state acceptance of the “Common Core,” Obama has managed to manipulate the states into adopting what is fast becoming a de facto national K–12 curriculum.

Parents across the country are just now waking up to the fact that President Obama has forced what is in effect a new curriculum on their local schools. This immensely important change ought to have been fully reported and debated during Obama’s first term. It’s a disgrace that the Democrat-controlled media never allowed that debate to happen.

In a post on Monday I argued that the Common Core’s mandatory substitution of non-fiction for many fiction readings opens the door to a politicized curriculum, and is ultimately the outcome of an unconstitutional and illegal power-grab by the president. Let’s look more carefully at the politicization issue.

The Common Core forces schools to pare back literature assignments in favor of non-fiction “informational texts.” One of the suggested texts is Executive Order 13423: Strengthening Federal Environmental, Energy, and Transportation Management. (The Common Core exemplar includes only the first two sections of the order.) Why has this text been included among the recommended examples? Obviously, because the order appears to give the imprimatur of the federal government to the political gospel of “sustainability” and the crusade against global warming. The trick here is that Executive Order 13423 was issued by President George W. Bush. So any student or parent objecting to the lesson on grounds of political bias can be told that this was a Republican initiative.

The problem is that this selection is thoroughly misleading. Executive Order 13423 followed hard on the heels of Bush’s Executive Order 13422, which infuriated liberals by strengthening presidential control over environmental and other federal regulations promulgated by (often left-leaning) career bureaucrats. Executive Order 13422 was hailed by business groups. To all appearances, Executive Order 13423 was an effort to quiet environmentalist criticism of Executive Order 13422, and of the Bush administration’s environmental policy in general.

The notion that Executive Order 13423 was little more than a political sop to the environmental left is strengthened by the fact that, just after issuing it, Bush cut the funding of the very agencies charged with enforcing the order. Now, however, Executive Order 13423 has been shorn of context and seized upon by architects of the Common Core to force the tenants of the sustainability movement on young minds.

The Common Core’s non-fiction exemplars also feature an excerpt from a 2009 New Yorker essay by Atul Gawande on health care. The excerpt may not explicitly endorse Obamacare, but it certainly leaves students with the impression that Obamacare is wise policy. Obama himself is quoted on the fiscal challenge of skyrocketing health-care costs. The implication is that his plan will solve the health-care cost problem, when opponents argue that Obamacare actually breaks the bank.

Obamacare may be the law of the land, yet it remains highly controversial and its full implementation is far from certain. Many states have refused to set up health-care exchanges and important Constitutional challenges to the law remain outstanding. In the current political environment, assigning the Gawande excerpt is a move to buck up political support for President Obama.

So by holding federal education aid and regulatory relief hostage to state adoption of a de facto federal K–12 curriculum (very arguably an unconstitutional and illegal move), Obama has managed to press direct support for his most cherished and controversial policy initiative onto your local school district. If anyone objects, Common Core defenders will no doubt point to the presence of an executive order from the Bush administration. We’ve seen how bogus that is. Spurious bipartisanship yields a clever exercise in leftist policy propaganda.

There’s a history here. Early in the 20th century, progressive educators eager to transform society pushed to drastically reduce the place of classic literature in the curriculum and put in “socially useful” non-fiction readings instead. The movement culminated in the 1930s, when educators who believed that capitalism was on the way out succeeded in limiting the reading of classic literature and inserting a very left-leaning social studies curriculum in many schools. So while even literature can be taught in politically biased ways, those seeking to politicize the K–12 curriculum have long sought to pare back classic fiction and substitute non-fiction treating contemporary issues.

This is why the Founders kept control of the schools out of federal hands. No one party or force should be able to shape the entire nation’s school curriculum. There lies the way to tyranny.

The Common Core exemplars are only recommendations, yet many schools will simply adopt them as the path of least resistance. In any case, these examples serve to illustrate the mind-set of the creators of the Common Core, and warn of the many abuses sure to come when the largely left-leaning profession of teaching is given license to substitute political readings on current events for Tom Sawyer. Yes, the Common Core still includes suggested readings from literature, but the overall thrust of the changes is to greatly pare all that back in favor of easily politicized readings from “informational texts.”

If you’d like to expel the Common Core from your local school, contact the American Principles Project.


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