Peter Greene, the amazing education blogger at Curmudgucation, broke a story this week that should send a chill down the spine of anyone who values both public education and the separation of church and state. In his piece “The Hard Right’s Planning Document for Education”, he reveals a new report out from the hard right group Council for National Policy titled “Education Reform Report”. Since his reporting, the CNP has scrubbed the document from their site. However, you can view it HERE.
The document is chilling. Though it’s short, it outlines an approach to education that is as unconstitutional as it is frightening.
Before we get into the document, let’s explore the CNP and their connection to the DeVos family. CNP is described by the Southern Poverty Law Center as “a shadowy and intensely secretive group has operated behind the scenes”. The New York Times goes further, calling them “a little-known club of a few hundred of the most powerful conservatives in the country [that meet] behind closed doors at undisclosed locations for a confidential conference” three times a year.
The group is so secretive that finding out who their members are is all but impossible. However, a purloined list of those leaders over the years can be found HERE. As you can see from that document, their past leadership is a veritable Who’s Who? of extremist conservatives. Among them are people like Trump administration officials Stephen K. Bannon and Kellyanne Conway, Jack Abramhoff, former House Majority Leader Dick Armey, various members of the notorious Coors family, Focus on the Family Director James Dobson, Jerry Falwell, Jesse Helms, Jack Kemp, Alan Keyes, Trent Lott, Grover Norquist, Oliver North, Pat Robertson, and Phyllis Schlafly.
A lengthy list of some of the folks involved along with descriptions of the individuals can be found HERE.
So, what’s the connection to Betsy DeVos? Her father-in-law Richard DeVos, her mother Elsa Prince, and her father Edgar Prince were all past members and leaders of the CNP.
So, let’s delve into what’s in this shocking “Education Reform Report”. The cover letter states that the purpose of the report is to “to serve as a resource for education reforms by the new administration of the Department of Education under the leadership of Mrs. Becky DeVos, Secretary-Designate.” The five-page document starts with four “assumptions” and a pledge:
- All knowledge and facts have a source, a Creator; they are not self-existent.
- Religious neutrality is a myth perpetrated by secularists who destroy their own claim the moment they attempt to enforce it.
- Parents and guardians bear final responsibility for their children’s education, with the inherent right to teach, or to choose teachers and schools, whether institutional or not.
- No civil government possesses the right to overrule the educational choices of parents and guardians.
- The CNP Education Committee pledges itself to work toward achievable goals based on uncompromised principles, so that their very success will provoke a popular return to the Judeo-Christian principles of America’s Founders who, along with America’s pioneers, believed that God belonged in the classroom.
The reference to “Judeo-Christian principles” echoes that of people like the founders of the American Christian Academy (now the Livingston Classical Academy) who have been working to create religious charter schools disguised as something else in order to funnel tax dollars illegally into their bank accounts here in Michigan and around the country. Have a look at my post “Conservative religious group attempting to open Michigan charter schools in Brighton & Warren using our taxes” for a run-down on this group. There’s more HERE, as well.
CNP’s document then goes on to detail five proposals for the new Secretary of Education:
- Immediate elimination of Common Core and all other DOE social engineering programs. End all data collection on students.
- Dismantle the Federal Department of Education as soon as possible during Trump administration, and gradually return all responsibilities for public school administration to individual states. Develop position paper on purpose of education in America.
- Argue that a Federal D.O.E. is unconstitutional, illegal and contrary to America’s education practice for 300 years from early 17th century to Colonial times.
- Engage College Board for accountability of accuracy/thoroughness in higher education with regards to America’s founding and historical education practices.
- Push for school choice in all states (over voucher schemes).
The document proposes that DeVos “rename the Department of Education to President’s Advisory Council on Public Education Reform, a sub-Cabinet level department whose goal is to become a consulting service to state departments of education.” It also urges DeVos to “recruit new staff at all levels, from Assistant Secretaries to the mailroom, who fully subscribe to the educational policy the Trump/DeVos team.”
Once the Department of Education has been all but eradicated, they then propose the following list of items for the state and local level:
- Restore Ten Commandments posters to all K-12 public schools.
- Clearly post America’s Constitution and Declaration of Independence.
- Encourage K-12 schools to recognize traditional holidays (e.g., Easter, Thanksgiving, Christmas) as celebrations of our Judeo-Christian heritage.
- Implement select Bible classes, such as Chuck Stetson’s Bible Literacy Project.
- Encourage instruction on U.S. and World history from the Judeo-Christian perspective for middle school and high school history and civics classes.
- Develop and recommend In-service training on philosophy of education for K-12 faculty based on historical Judeo-Christian philosophy of education.
- Strongly push states to remove secular-based sex education materials from school facilities, and emphasize parental instruction.
There is a lot of talk in this report about “returning” American education to things that, in fact, they never were. What they want, according to the document, is a “gradual, voluntary return at all levels to free-market private schools, church schools and home schools as the normative American practice.” They believe, the document says, “such a move will benefit the public at-large, open their eyes to the deficiencies of government-run secular education and provide an attractive, superior alternative, as was once the norm in American education.” This sort of framing is part and parcel of the conservative approach. They make specific assumptions – in this case completely inaccurate and false assumptions – and then argue from there. It’s crucial that we do NOT accept their framing when fighting these outrageous assaults on our constitutional democracy.
This isn’t just a push toward “education reform” or “education choice”, phrases used repeatedly by Betsy DeVos as she promotes her extreme views and goals. This document is a primer for destroying public education and handing it over entirely to religious-based schools. To say that it violates the sacred American value of the separation of church and state is, in reality, too mild. This not only tears down that wall of separation, it builds a shrine to institutionalize the full integration of their version of religion into the education of our children. It’s the very model so widely vilified by conservatives when it is practiced in Islamic countries. It’s the American Taliban, our own “Christian” version of sharia law, and widely-maligned Muslim madrassas all wrapped up into a tidy package presented by a woman who looks like she comes right out of the pages of Better Homes & Gardens.
Do NOT be deceived.
Those of us living in Michigan – a place where the Dominionist DeVos family has run roughshod over our public education system – tried in vain to warn America about the dangers of Betsy DeVos as our Secretary of Education (and nowhere more vociferously than here at Eclectablog.) With this document, we now know see what is potentially at stake should this group prevail. And, as the Washington Post points out, “she and her husband have given money to the council as recently as 2007 through their family foundation, according to federal tax records.” This isn’t just a group lobbing suggestions at her. This is a group she’s directly affiliated with and whose goals she clearly supports with her rhetoric, with her money, and with her tireless work toward the destruction of public education.
I encourage you to read Peter Greene’s piece at Curmudgucation HERE.