Re: Fw: Re: [eddra] prediction of a natinal curriculum
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- Subject: Re: Fw: Re: [eddra] prediction of a natinal curriculum
- From: LeoCasey@aol.com
- Date: Sat, 27 Dec 2003 23:38:10 EST
What bedevils this discussion, in my opinion, and what inspired my original
question/point, is an ahistorical approach and a political naivete expressed
here concerning issues of American federalism -- the balance of power between
national and state governments. The discussion concerning the role of federalism
in education is given over to pro-state power political positions, without a
proper understanding of the significance and the consequences of those
position. This approach and naivete is not something unique to education, but is a
broader phenomenon with serious consequences in a number of fields. Yet it has
the same negative influence in education that it does in other fields.
Little note is generally taken, for example, of the fact that perhaps the
most far reaching and lasting jurisprudence that has issued from the Rehnquist
Court has been in the area of federalism, as the Court has consistently struck
down federal legislation, in every area from violence against women to the
prohibition guns from school campuses, from environmental legislation to civil
rights. It has done so in the name of the protection of the constitutional rights
and prerogatives of states. But if you think that this is truly a question of
abstract principle, just recall that the decision in Bush v. Gore completely
rode roughshod over all of those precedents, overturning a state court
decision in an area where the states are given express constitutional authority --
the running of elections. The pro-state jurisprudence reflects the fact that the
most progressive legislation from the New Deal onward came most predominantly
from the federal government, and the privileging of state power vis-a-vis
federal power provides a mean to strike at that legislation.
Perhaps nowhere is this particular significance of the federalism question
more apparent than in the field of civil rights for African-Americans. While the
struggles of African-Americans themselves have played a primary role in
advancing their cause, it has always been the federal government which has been the
primary vehicle for institutionalizing the fruits of that struggle. Slavery
was ended, and full citizenship rights and equality before the law was accorded
African-Americans by the Civil War Amendments. The long battle to end de
jure, Jim Crow segregation relied upon the federal government's enforcement of the
equal protection clause of the 14th Amendment, and the federal government's
passage of the civil rights and voting rights legislation. And the opponents of
freedom, equality and full civil rights for African-Americans have fought
under the banner of the constitutional powers of the states, from the pre-Civil
War doctrine of nullification to the calls for state sovereignty that marked
the end of Reconstruction to the battle cry of "state rights" which defined
white supremacists during the era of Civil Rights.
Nor is the civil rights for African-Americans the only area in which the
federal government has been the avenue for progress in American society. Virtually
every important civil liberties case in the 20th century has been against
state and local government, and brought about through the federal government
judiciary. New Deal economic regulation of corporate power and establishment of
the workers' right to organize, environmental legislation, abortion rights and
other civil rights for women and disabled people, and so on: the federal
government has been in the lead.
This is not to say that the federal government's record is unblemished, that
there are not cases such as Korematsu v. US [upholding Japanese-American
internment] or Bowers v. Hardwick [upholding anti-gay sodomy laws] or the early
20th century cases striking down child labor and eight hour day laws in which the
federal goverrnment was a force for reaction. But the weight of the pendulum
clearly rests on the side of the federal government as the primary force for
And so it has also been in the field of education: when the national
government has intervened, it has generally been a force for progress -- ending de
jure segregation, instituting Headstart, Title/Chapter One, subsidized school
lunches and other programs for children in poverty, the GI bill, the rights of
children with disabilities and so on. No Child Left Behind is the exception,
rather than the rule, and it is worth pointing out even here that there is
nothing the federal government did under NCLB that most state governments were not
already well on their way to doing on their own.
Would a national currculum be so much worse than the various state curriculla
now in place? I don't see any compelling reason to think so. I also think
that it borders on the irrational to see the NAEP report cards, which are based
on volunatary, non-high stakes tests, as some sort of harbinger of a national
curriculum. But curriculla is hardly the only issue which should concern us.
There is every reason to think the a national educational system would, like the
national educational systems in Europe, be a much more equitable system,
without the great inter-state and intra-state inequalities which mark the current
I say all of this not because I think that a national educational system is
an immediately realizable goal in the US; it is not. But it will be most
unfortunate if, in the wake of NCLB, educational progressives myopically and
ahistorically wave the banner of states' rights against the federal government, as
they may well find themselves to have been their own worst enemy.
I have more to say about Victor's comments on urban and suburban schools, but
that will have to wait for another day.
Power concedes nothing without a demand.
It never has, and it never will.
If there is no struggle, there is no progress.
Those who profess to favor freedom, and yet deprecate agitation are men who
want crops without plowing the ground. They want rain without thunder and
lightning. They want the ocean without the awful roar of its waters.
-- Frederick Douglass --
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