The ninth of November marked the twenty-fourth anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall, probably the most important historical event since World War II and the most important lesson about human freedom experienced within the living memory of most of us. Presumably, next year there will be more of a commemoration, but the salient question now is how this lesson is being taught in the nation’s classrooms. For while those of us in our forties and older remember the fall of communism and its causes, today’s teenagers are wholly in the dark. What, then, are the high-school students of today being taught about what exactly—what principles, what forces, which people—brought down the Wall?
It is actually fairly easy to answer this question since forty-five states are now controlled by the testing and curricular regime known as the Common Core. The Common Core documents themselves, admittedly, are sometimes what Churchill called the Soviet Union, “a riddle wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma.” If we just take a quick glance at Appendix B of the Common Core English Standards, which recommends “exemplar texts” for reading, we find the addresses of a host of worthy historical figures: Patrick Henry, George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, Franklin Roosevelt, Martin Luther King, and, yes, Ronald Reagan. What a model of non-partisan selection!
But it would behoove us to look at which speech of Reagan is being recommended: “Address to Students at Moscow State University.” Now that is rather odd. Would that speech be the first that comes to mind when we consider “the best of Reagan”? Was that address the most historically significant? Why not the First Inaugural or his acceptance speech at the 1980 Convention or his important addresses on foreign policy or even his 1964 “A Time for Choosing” on behalf of Barry Goldwater that launched him to political prominence? Might this be a case of the architects of the Common Core wanting to look non-partisan by having Reagan’s name on the list while actually trying to take away the force of his message to America? We can solve the mystery by finding out what will take place in classes across the land, neatly packaged for us in a textbook that bears the Common Core logo: two C’s inside a bright red ball.