Resolution For 1999’s Education Wars


By Tom DeWeese, President

American Policy Center

Grassroots activists across the nation are preparing for the coming fights in the 106th Congress. The battle to stop radical education “restructuring” including federal programs like School-to-Work and Goals 2000 will be the central focus of back-to-basics activists. But, with the devastating and heartbreaking defeat after the 105th Congress passed the hated CAREERS Act, many activists are asking themselves if victory is possible. Many want to know what is needed to bring victory to our side.

I was given an opportunity to address that issue at the Educational Policy Conference of the Constitutional Coalition held in St. Louis, Missouri on January 29, 1999. Below is the complete text of my address.

Think back, if you will, to America of 100 years ago: before most of Tom Edison’s work was implemented into everyday life; before Henry Ford began to mass-produce the automobile; before the Wright Brother’s had even started their quest for manned flight.

Now, imagine 1899 America, with its future so bright – being shackled under a School-to-Work law.

Some of the leading industries of that day included farming, and the manufacturing of whale oil and buggy whips. And the captains of those industries would surely have been chosen to sit on the local Workforce Development Boards. In that position these keepers of current-day commerce would be given the power to dictate school curriculum to produce the workers of the future.

Then as now, it would be sold as a perfect partnership between school and industry – and between government bureaucrats and the private sector. These would be the leading businessmen. Most of their industries had survived centuries. They had proven that they knew what was best for the country and what was needed for the future. What could be better for the country’s well-being than to put them in charge of the curriculum that would teach children the skills needed for strong, solid jobs for the future? The jobs that all businessmen knew were needed. The jobs that had always been there.

Henry Ford? Orville and Wilber Wright? Never heard of them.

Isn’t it ironic that, in 1899, on the verge of the greatest explosion of technology the world had ever known, another far-sighted bureaucrat named Charles H. Duell put forth a proposal to close the U.S. Patent office. Said Mr. Duell, “Everything that can be invented has been invented.” He had never heard of Henry Ford or the Wright Brothers either. The man could have been a pundit on CNN. He was expressing his expert opinion based on what he knew to be true of his world at the time. And had School-to-Work been firmly in place – he may have been right.

Luckily, none of those things happened 100 years ago. America went on to lead the world in advancement of technology and medicine – giving our nation the highest standard of living in the world. Edison, Ford and the Wright Brothers fulfilled their dreams. New industries were born. Once unheard of luxuries now belong to those even on the lowest economic levels. All created by individuals who were free to think, free to choose and free to undertake their dreams and ideas – on their own!

But now, as we stand at the beginning of a new millennium – as we stand on the threshold of vast technological breakthroughs – our elected leaders have the arrogance to install a School-to-Work law that empowers today’s captains of industry to lock in the minds of America’s students to current needs. The Republican Congress takes great glee in forming partnerships with today’s leading businesses so that the perfect workers will be produced to manufacture IBM’s modern-day buggy whips and Exxon’s whale oil.

The very idea that these government leaders believe they can create legislation to out-guess and pre-suppose invention, technology and development by putting it in the hands of current business leaders is every bit as ridiculous as the scenario of having done it a hundred years ago. It is an outrage.

Where will the future Edison’s come from? Where will be the room for dreamers like the Wright Brothers? Where will be the opportunity for the visions of Henry Ford?

But as long as we have taken the leap to steal the future with School-to-Work, perhaps it’s now time to resurrect Charles H. Duell’s idea and finally shut down the patent office as well. Because in today’s brave new world – he may now be right. Perhaps everything that narrow minds can foresee has been invented. Maybe our once-glorious future died with the death of an education system that used to produce free minds.

Our politicians tell us that their intentions are honorable. Republicans, in particular, talk tough on the stump about the need to end government intrusion in education. “Excellence” is the catchword of the day.

Yet it was the Republicans, who for two Congresses spearheaded the CAREERS Act. And mark my words – the chickens will come home to roost on that one.

And they continue to move steadily forward with School-to-Work. They re-fund Goals 2000. They refuse to even listen to the pleas of desperate parents who want an end to the behavior-modification assault called Outcome-based Education that is drowning their children’s hopes and futures.

It seems that no matter how far the academic levels fall; no matter how strong the proof that education restructuring is going in the wrong direction; no matter how colossal the failure of the nightmare brought down on us by Marc Tucker, the Congress and our nation’s governors keep pushing it on us. Why? Because it is the current wisdom of our day – and nothing else is to be considered. Perhaps our elected leaders are graduates of the Charles H. Duell school of government foresight.

Do you, the parents, want to save your children’s futures? Do you want to stop this outrage and put things right?

Then you and I have to change the debate. It is as simple as that.

We have to change the conversations in the halls of Congress and in the committee rooms.

We have to interrupt the very earnest, one-sided discussion about how government can help improve education. And we have to start a new conversation about how to get government out of education.

We have to learn to fight harder and smarter. You see, our side loves to make a phone call, write a letter, attend a meeting, make a point and go home. Then we’re shocked to find we lost the battle.

We have to learn that the other side never rests. They never stop looking for opportunities to infest us with their poison. We must learn that we are going to have to fight the same battles over and over again. We must learn that a victory must be protected at all times. We must learn that a defeat doesn’t have to be permanent. We must resign ourselves to the fact that we must make phone calls until our fingers hurt. We must write letters until the postage bill becomes a permanent part of the family budget.

We must stand our ground for our principles – and never stop voicing our agenda – no matter how tired we get.

We must never back off from our demands to abolish the Federal Department of Education. Republicans have promised to do it since Ronald Reagan – but they keep finding ways to forget that promise. And who do you think is driving the education restructuring agenda? The Department of Education.

We must continue to fight for the repeal of Goals 2000 and School-to-Work. We must never help create an atmosphere of legitimacy for these atrocities of the classroom. If we allow that to happen – we have lost.

And we must make sure that any politician feels the consequences of his actions if he refuses to listen to our pleas. Stop the flow of money to his campaign; stop volunteering to work for him. And stop being polite to him. A politician really hates it when you are angry with him. So, stay in his face – and don’t let him get away with ignoring you.

Never, ever support the lesser of two evils.

Do not accept compromise – especially before the battle is fought. Do not allow others to dictate the debate by injecting their own politically correct language like: higher order thinking skills, site-based management or gender norming. It’s a smokescreen. Insist on using plain English in your debates. If your school is producing stupid children – say so.

Do not count on groups from Washington to fight your battles for you. I assure you that we could have stopped the CAREERS Act if all of the major conservative education groups on Capitol Hill had banded together and fought as one unit. Several did try. But several others gave it only lip service. Still more actually tried to play Capitol Hill big shot – selling out the whole movement. They were used by Mike DeWine and Buck McKeon to paint the grassroots as out-of-touch radicals.

Above all – learn this. You will never end School-to-Work, Goals 2000 or Outcome-based Education. You will never stop the rape of American education. You will never regain control of your local schools and the curriculum.

Not until you get the federal government out of the education business.

I know that sometimes the fight seems an impossible one. I know victory seems very far away. I know it’s hard to go on, defeat after defeat. But what choice do we have?

We know our way is right. We have the facts on our side. There is no reason for us to lose. Do not allow them to win by default.

But we have reason to be optimistic. Because, you see, every time a mom finds her child to be a victim of education “reform,” every time she takes those few minutes to check on the situation – that mom finds herself unknowingly headed down a road of no return, right to our camp of freedom fighters. So lift up your head – and know that our forces are growing.

The more programs the social planners throw at us – the stronger we grow. Because with each new program there are more victims and consequently more people know we are right about our accusations against the education establishment.

Keep speaking out – keep bringing more moms to our side – and make it your goal to change the debate!

And when you are feeling low, not sure if you can go on with the fight – just keep one thought in mind – any nation that can put a man on the Moon can get the federal government out of the classroom.

Tom DeWeese
[email protected]

Tom DeWeese is President of the American Policy Center and National Grassroots Coordinator for CFACT (Committee for a Constructive Tomorrow) working to help local activists organize into Freedom Pods ( He is also the author of three books, including Now Tell Me I Was Wrong, ERASE, and Sustainable: the WAR on Free Enterprise, Private Property, and Individuals.