Stopping ‘Big Ed’

It’s not too late to fight the alarming attempt to further radicalize public school curriculum. 

A young couple I know is struggling to decide whether to enroll their five-year-old in a public-school kindergarten class next fall or to dig deep and pay for a private school. They fully realize that this choice is not like the one that faced their parents. Private school is no longer solely an alternative for parents who are looking for better student/teacher ratios, deeper curriculum offerings, or more rigorous academic environments. Many of today’s parents are attracted to private or home schools because public education increasingly subordinates academic achievement in favor of indoctrinating students into radical political ideologies.

This is not hyperbole. Regular readers of Thinking Minnesota are by now familiar with the superb body of work policy fellows Katherine Kersten and Catrin Wigfall have contributed to these pages on the increasing politicization of Minnesota’s public school classrooms. In this issue’s cover story, the two have collaborated for “Educrats Unleashed: A cabal of progressives wants to rewrite how students learn about their American heritage.”

They describe how Gov. Tim Walz’s Department of Education has prepared an alarming new set of K-12 social studies standards for public school students that will radically recast Minnesota’s classroom priorities. With no legislative oversight, the members of this “Standards Committee” want to eliminate benchmarks on: the Pledge of Allegiance and the American flag; key events and figures in the American Revolution, the Civil War, World War I, World War II and the Holocaust; and references of communism and socialism. Instead, they’ll teach America’s history through a lens of systemic racism, LGBTQ+ communities, inclusion and exclusion of certain groups because of freedom and democracy, and the relationship of Manifest Destiny to whiteness, Christianity and capitalism. 

“If the draft standards are adopted,” Kathy and Catrin conclude, “the next generation of Minnesota citizens will not only be uninformed — but scandalously misinformed — about our state’s and nation’s history and democratic institutions. They will, however, be programmed to become the next generation of ‘woke’ social activists, having spent their public school years immersed in the lingo and thought world of the progressive left.”

This current story, like those before it, will prompt many readers to ask what they can do to help curb this assault of radical thinking. I have some ideas about that, but I first want to describe the magnitude of the force we’re up against. 

“Big Education” represents all the organizations that in some way extend from the connective tissue that originates with the teachers’ union and stretches to all education-related groups and most of the bureaucrats working at the Department of Education. Big Ed is the most influential political/policy powerhouse in Minnesota. By far. 

Consistently cloaking everything it does behind the marketing mantra of “it’s for the children,” — although, strikingly, not its efforts to keep schools closed — Big Ed monopolizes every aspect of education policymaking in our state. Every year it dispatches an army of lobbyists with a seven-figure budget to quash any appearance of dissent or independent thinking among the legislators in its coalition. It spends lavishly on political campaigns and can deploy a team of grassroots activists (teachers) to virtually any campaign in the state. And it does all this with the soft acquiescence of media at every level (other than Thinking Minnesota or Alpha News). When is the last time you read anything even mildly critical of Big Ed’s activities in one of our daily newspapers? Its media influence is even more complete on community newspapers that use school activities to fill its editorial pages with profiles, news and, especially, sports. Local editors aren’t going to upset that relationship. 

The members of Big Ed have transformed this history of unchallenged political leverage into an uncompromising sense of moral superiority and unqualified contempt for anyone who disagrees with their agenda. Kathy and Catrin have encountered a disturbing number of dissenting teachers, parents and students over the years who won’t speak out publicly from fear they are risking public rebukes and reprisals. Joseph Stalin once said, “Education is a weapon whose effects depend on who holds it in his hands and at whom it is aimed.” Let’s just say that Uncle Joe understood the raw political power of coopting the impressionable minds of future citizens at a very early age. Stalin-era students in the Soviet Union were taught not to think, but to absorb party ideology and history. 

Members of the Standards Committee publicly exposed their arrogance when discussing the public feedback the committee received on its first draft of proposed revisions. The committee got 6,000 letters, more than 5,000 of which were facilitated by American Experiment’s “RaiseOurStandardsMN.com” campaign. Despite promises of open-mindedness, the director of academic standards at the Department of Education dismissed the letters as “white supremacy.” A committee member wondered, “Should we do a select-all delete?” Go to RaiseOurStandardsMN.com to hear a full audio recording. 

So, what do we do? The good news is that the process of finalizing and implementing these standards will be years long, including several useful opportunities for concerned citizens to provide input. Trust me, Big Ed wants this issue to fall off the public radar. We can’t let that happen. Use this magazine to make sure your friends, neighbors and relatives know about Big Ed’s political scheme. A PDF version of the story is readily available at RaiseOurStandardsMN.com. Post it on social media. Email it around. If you want hard copies of this magazine, all you have to do is ask. Talk about it in your church groups and civic organizations. Ask Kathy or Catrin to speak to your local groups. Submit letters to the editor. American Experiment is planning a series of public town meetings all across Minnesota to discuss the proposed standards. Show up! We have found that people — not just conservatives — react in outrage to the dangerous agenda Big Education in Minnesota is trying to accomplish through these standards.

The real plot point for the draft standards will evolve when a final version reaches the local districts. Big Ed may determine what they look like, but school boards will ultimately oversee how they are implemented. How will they integrate them into the overall local curriculum? What texts will be used? While Big Ed has manipulated off-year elections to place rubber stamp members onto local boards, they will likely be influenced by reason. And if not, why not turn it into a local election issue? 

We cannot allow Big Ed to erase our American heritage from being taught in Minnesota’s classrooms. Stopping them, I believe, is of greatest consequence in the endeavors of the American Experiment. Let’s do it together.