My guess is most Ricochet readers cringe every time they see a Republican straining himself while “reaching across the aisle” to find a “bipartisan solution” to one of our nation’s many crises. Fortunately, in Wednesday night’s Republican debate there were few moments of such reaching. But there were a couple. One instance of flagrant open-minded bipartisanship was Newt Gingrich’s explanation of his support for “Race to the Top,” part of the Obama education plan. According to Gingrich, the president showed great courage in supporting charter schools and the broader issue of choice against the will of the teachers’ unions and radicals in his own party.
Could this be true? Can the Left and the Right find common ground on putting our children’s future first? Is education the one issue we can all agree on? Don’t bet on it.
It would be useful to remember the direction given by a union boss in the Midwest to his top soldiers in response to the first charter schools: “Crush them if you can; co-opt them if you must.” Charter schools, for those who need a tutorial (as most of us do), do not follow a certain philosophy, curriculum, or set of policies. They are public schools of choice that have a certain amount of independence from the school district. A charter can be most anything, according to what sort of school the founders choose. A charter school can teach Latin, the great books of the Western world, and American history through original sources with A Patriot’s History as a backup textbook. Its faculty can be wholly non-unionized teachers who have never stepped into an ed-school class and are instead the best liberal arts and sciences graduates from around the country (though only in about six states due to certification requirements in the majority of states). Or, the charter school can use whole language as its reading program, “teach” children to count by painting horses or mountains, read the most radical anti-Western literature, and follow the American narrative from a Howard Zinn perspective. It can also be staffed by pro-union teachers who have made straight A’s in their ed-school classes and straight C-minuses in everything else.
So, if you are a betting man or woman, which of these two charter school scenarios would you wager the president has in mind? The preponderance of charters are in the so-called urban environments, that is, geared toward the poor and minority students. While some impressive things are being done with many of the urban charters—at least in teaching children the basic skills of reading, writing, and math—the great majority of these schools are progressive in their educational and political leanings. Now do you really believe that Barack Obama, the former community organizer, does not know this? While earning the reputation in the eyes of so clever a fellow as former Speaker Gingrich for bravely taking on the unions; while being able to throw a lot more federal money at both the existing system and the charters he chooses; and while further nationalizing a reform in education that was supposed to be essentially local, Mr. Obama also sees the opportunity of being able to teach a progressive liberal curriculum more effectively. Co-opt them if you must. Just imagine what the curriculum of an Obama Leadership Academy might look like.
That possibility—that reality in some places—does not mean we should oppose charter schools or the renewal of urban education. Far from it. It does mean, however, that we should realize what these supposed reform-minded politicians may be up to.