When President Donald Trump announced that he would sign an executive order creating a commission to promote “patriotic education,” there was much outrage, including “Hitler Youth” and “Trump Youth” trending on Twitter. We do not know exactly what the promised executive order will contain, but worries about the federal government putting unacceptable things into children’s minds are utterly understandable. And this is not just a conservative or liberal problem: both sides are to blame for the real and present danger of federally approved thought.
Both liberals and conservatives have for decades been shoving power over education toward Washington. In the 1960s the feds ignored a clear absence of authority to govern in education and started spending big on schools. That may have been driven largely by liberals such as President Lyndon Johnson, but conservatives got deeply into the game in the 1980s, with highly energetic Secretary of Education William Bennett using his bully pulpit, and federal testing, to push reform from DC. The first President Bush called a summit of governors and created a “national education strategy” with America 2000, which President Clinton – with whom Bush closely collaborated – turned into Goals 2000. The second President Bush championed the bipartisan No Child Left Behind Act, through which the federal government solidified a national regime of standardized testing and “accountability.” And lots of conservatives and liberals, including President Obama, pushed the federally coerced Common Core curriculum standards, while Obama also tried to impose federal answers on hotly disputed social issues.
Lots of good intentions inspired these actions, but the ultimate result was predictable: federal power would be be used to impose on all Americans things that only some Americans could accept. We would even take the kinds of highly personal—and especially painful—values and identity‐based conflicts we see constantly in one‐size‐fits‐all public schools, including over American history, to a national level. Families would not even be able to move to a new district or state to escape unacceptable teaching – everyone would have to engage in political warfare to make their values, or takes on history, the winner.
By ignoring the Constitution, we have torn down the bulwark intended to protect us from rule by a single government, or a single person. And not just conservatives or liberals are to blame – both sides have dirty hands.