The grass roots effort to defeat the Common Core might be interpreted by many as a sign of hope. In an age when federal overreach is routine and the centralization of governmental authority in Washington is widely accepted or even welcomed by the States, the media and a great portion of the citizenry, a proponent of decentralized government and constitutionalism might find the opposition to the Common Core a welcome reason for optimism. Perhaps not since the advent of the Tea Party movement has there been an issue that coalesced individuals in a cause against centralized government on such a wide spread basis.
To be sure, the reasons for the movement against the Common Core are many. Not all are motivated by concern over the potential for the centralization of education in Washington or the potential loss of local control over curricula. Some are motivated by concern over the testing protocol, others by the collection and consolidation of personal information and privacy issues implicated thereby and still others by the perceived lack of rigor embodied in the standards. But it is clear that the “federalization” of education is among the primary concerns giving cause for the movement. For this reason, constitutionalists might be heard to breathe a sigh of relief. Sadly, further reflection leads me to conclude the opposite—the grass roots movement to defeat the Common Core illustrates the magnitude of the centralization problem and the revelation is disheartening.
One would have a difficult time identifying an issue that could be more important to people than education. The public apathy for political issues is widespread and obvious, but Americans still love their children and grandchildren and we still go to great lengths to plan their futures for the best and to manage their lives while they remain under our care. During the debate over the Affordable Care Act, it occurred to me on many occasions that there are not many issues more personal and thus, of greater importance than health care. It seems to me that maintaining the ability to influence public education is one such issue.
Unfortunately, the debate over the ACA became bogged down in the minutia over the efficacy and costs of the plan. Rather than focus on the free market and constitutional principles involved and the implications for human liberty, the debate was too much based on the pragmatic; would the ACA improve healthcare, how much would it cost, and how would it be paid for. Happily, it does seem that the debate over the Common Core may be developing somewhat more of a focus on the fundamental principles involved. Certainly the proponents of Common Core would be happy if the debate could be made to focus on pragmatic issues. Arguing about the supposed benefits of nationwide standards or a technical debate over the details of the standards themselves would suit their purpose. If the debate can be made to be technical and obscure they know that most eyes will glaze over and they’ll be far more likely to get the result they want—people leave it to others to figure out the best approach and bow out of the debate. As long as a substantial focus of the debate remains on the ability to affect decision making at the local level, the grass roots is more likely to remain interested and engaged.
For today, my sad point is this: If it is this difficult to gain sufficient widespread support to defeat Common Core, an issue which implicates our ability to influence and affect our children’s education, how far removed must we be from an age where constitutionalism and widely dispersed government are generally appreciated and ultimately demanded? If Americans will not “wake up” in sufficient numbers to protect the free market in health care or demand a continued say in the education of their children, what will be required to awaken them to all the other benefits of constitutionalism? The decades long trend of diminishing State sovereignty and federalism in favor of growing and centralized power in Washington must be broken if we are to enjoy the larger liberty, free markets and individual role in self government contemplated by the founders. That it is so difficult and effortful to engage sufficient numbers of Americans in the effort to ensure the continued local control of public education does not bode well for breaking that trend without some larger, likely terrible eventuality to trigger a national introspection on the slow decay of our first principles.