Editor's Note: This column was coauthored by Bob Morrison.
When Sen. Barack Obama went to Berlin in 2008 and proclaimed himself a “citizen of the world,” he was acclaimed by hundreds of thousands of young Germans. They were as excited as many young Americans were by this avatar of Hope and Change.
The candidate chose an odd backdrop for his address, however. Mr. Obama spoke in front of the Berlin Victory Column. It is an impressive monument to be sure, but it commemorates the lightning victory of Prussia in a lightning war against its unoffending little neighbor, Denmark.
This was the first in a series of aggressive wars waged by the man who would unify Germany by liberal application of “blood and iron.” That man—the true power in the new Germany, was Otto von Bismarck. He openly expressed his contempt for representative government and the processes of constitutional government: “Not by speeches and votes of the majority, are the great questions of the time decided — that was the error of 1848 and 1849 — but by iron and blood.”
Despite this (or perhaps because of it), the Iron Chancellor has long had his admirers in the Academy. British historian “justified” (if impractical). President George W. Bush, most regrettably, proved to be a “uniter not a divider” in education: everyone is unhappy with No Child Left Behind.
The response of the grassroots to Common Core is exciting. It is a wonderful example of American democracy at its best. Parents care deeply about their children’s education. And they also care deeply about their children’s privacy. The well-respected Pioneer Institute has just released another powerful report titled “Cogs in the Machine” that raises justifiable concerns about the erosion of pupil privacy and the collection of student data.
Most of all, we should all care about freedom. Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli saw the inherent flaw in Bismarck’s push to centralize all power—including power over what was taught and thought in Germany—in the hands of Berlin functionaries. “Bismarck,” he said, “made Germany great by making the Germans small.” That was Disraeli’s acute assessment of the Iron Chancellor.
President Reagan had a better understanding of freedom. He said the three most important words in our Constitution are “We the People.” And he taught us that we are a people who have a government; our government does not have a people. Reagan recognized that the constitutionally prescribed role for the federal government in education was no role.
When a moderate Republican Congressman asked him for an appointment to discuss the future of the federal education department, Reagan penciled in his appointment calendar: “I hope it doesn’t have a future.”
The elimination of federal intrusion and executive usurpation is the single greatest improvement we could see in American education. We need to restore authority for education to parents, locally elected school boards, and state legislators who are closest to the people they represent. That’s where the Constitution places it. After fifty years of federal failure, maybe we should consult the operator’s manual.