Standards squabble another reason for school choice

Published 3:47 pm Friday, December 7, 2018


Guest Columnist

Former Canadian Prime Minister Brian Mulroney in his eulogy for President George H.W. Bush talked about some of the dramatic international shifts which occurred during the 41st president’s term in office and also were among the most important in modern American history.

Email newsletter signup

Included was the implosion of the Soviet Union in 1990 during Bush’s second year in the White House, when he skillfully used the hammer provided by Ronald Reagan while applying his own foreign policy experience to help clean up the Cold War’s final skirmishes and win the peace without the bloodshed of other wars.

Mulroney called it “the most epochal event” of the 20th century, powerfully symbolized by the collapse of the Berlin Wall as “calls for freedom cascaded across Central and Eastern Europe, leaving dictators and dogma in the trashcan of history.”

Considering the direction Kentucky’s public-education bureaucracy is headed, there’s plenty of reason for concern about whether future generations of Kentuckians will even know about – much less understand the implications of – these monumental shifts away from communism in favor of freedom.

For instance, most Kentucky parents likely assume that important elements of an event recognized as being “the most epochal” of the 20th century by a prime minister from another country would specifically – and explicitly – be included in the proposed Social Studies standards being considered by the state Board of Education.

They would be wrong but should not be surprised since some of the most important leaders in American history, including George Washington, the nation’s first president, also are missing.

Should we be convinced that only a very general indication in the draft of the standards mentioning the “collapse of the Cold War Order and Modern Challenges” guarantees important material will be taught consistently across Kentucky?

Neither “communism” nor “communist” appear in the draft of Kentucky’s proposal while even progressive Massachusetts’ standards designate an entire detailed section to ensuring students can “identify the causes for the decline and collapse of the Soviet Union and the communist regimes of Eastern Europe.”

Legislation passed by the Kentucky General Assembly in 2017 mandates that topics not included in the standards cannot appear on tests.

Which leaves it entirely up to teachers whether they specifically address the legacy of Washington or even Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. since neither is even mentioned in the standards.

Also missing are important principles of American exceptionalism, including the fact that while many other countries have had military dictatorships, our nation’s armed forces are under civilian control.

This was confirmed in the tiff – also missing from the proposal – between former President Harry Truman, who wanted a more limited Korean conflict than Gen. Douglas MacArthur, who, in the end, was forced to accept the elected civilian commander-in-chief’s decision.

Does only listing a hugely broad category such as the Cold War ensure that communism’s defeat or the wall’s implosion are taught?

Could such vagueness mean Kentucky’s students may – or may not – learn about those important developments in America’s history?

That’s not good enough.

When teachers protested earlier this year at the state Capitol over plans to reform their retirement system, one participant enthusiastically waved a Socialist Party USA flag unhindered and unrebuked.

What are the chances that, absent clear and complete standards, at least those teachers who allowed that flag to fly are going to be all fired up about addressing the 20th century’s great rejection of the failed ideology it represents?

At the very least, parents unhappy with these developments need choices allowing them to enroll their children in schools where they know the principles and people of America’s exceptional history will be taught.

Such alternatives don’t currently exist for most Kentucky parents.

That’s not good enough, either.

Jim Waters is president and CEO of the Bluegrass Institute for Public Policy Solutions, Kentucky’s free-market think tank. He can be reached at and @bipps on Twitter.