By Joy Pullmann
Several autumns ago, I received a phone call from a mother who wanted to know if I could get any information about a quasi-governmental meeting in Indianapolis. I was then an education reporter and managing editor of School Reform News, and since the mother couldn’t get entrance to the meeting as a private citizen, she was wondering if a media outlet could. She wanted to know how the people who decided what her kids would learn were doing that. And even though her taxes paid for Indiana’s participation in this meeting, she was barred from attending.
That was my introduction to the world of Common Core. At the time almost no education reporters were writing about this new national initiative. Few saw it as a big deal. So I started to look into it. People started to pass around my stories because they were among the few original reports on what was happening that anyone could find. I kept digging, and the search for who was doing what and why eventually netted me a journalism fellowship, national attention, and a book deal.
Because of my policy work for The Heartland Institute, state lawmakers also invited me to testify about the research and history of Common Core at hearings on bills to repeal and replace it with something better. So I became intimately involved in legislative efforts to repeal what we have been told are “voluntary” national standards.
Change Starts With Us and Our Children
What I saw as part of that sausage-making process is that what children learn is no longer in the hands of parents or even fellow citizens. It’s largely in the hands of unelected bureaucrats we parents and citizens are forced to fund but cannot tell what to do. That is a large reason American schools, both private and public, are a terrible mess.
This mess is not primarily the teachers’ fault, and it’s not primarily the parents’ fault, although neither group of people is perfect and both should be responsible for paying attention to and asserting control over what America’s youngest citizens learn. The poor and even actively destructive condition of American schooling is directly due to bad policies imposed on the people by our leaders (leaders, it is true, we have either directly or indirectly continued to elect). They have broken faith with Americans by using their power not to serve our country’s and their constituents’ interests, but to make themselves comfortable and self-satisfied, while children and families suffer.
Common Core represents a shocking abdication of the American principle of self-government, as I detail in my book. Its entrance into American life, and the inability of our representatives to oust it despite its clear deficiencies compared to, for one, Indiana’s previous education standards, taught me that to restore self-government in education Americans and Hoosiers need to go local.
We need to practice what we’re demanding from our governments. The people at the top got there through networks of institutions, of farm teams that provide the personal development and support systems that create leaders. If we want to be at the top, we have to do the same thing. And we have to be the answer to our own problems rather than begging government to solve them for us (which it can’t, and won’t).
Change from the Ground Up, Not Top Down
So my husband, who had intellectually and emotionally supported me through the Common Core legislative battle and has even better talents, decided to go to Hillsdale College’s graduate school so we could repeal and replace anti-intellectual, anti-religion, anti-self-government forms of education ourselves, because our representatives both won’t and cannot do it for us. Restoring America can only begin with restoring our homes, churches, and communities. If we can’t do it at home, we cannot do it anywhere else.
A good network of schools is one of many highly necessary pursuits towards this end. It supports families intellectually, spiritually, and relationally. It supports churches’ work of catechizing members young and old. It provides a bulwark against the administrative state by developing deep personal relationships that activate in times of trouble. It develops teachers who can go on to other schools and leadership positions and spread excellence far and wide. This, we’ve decided, will be our lives’ work, first for the sake of our own children and family, second for the sake of our neighbors, and lastly for the sake of our God and country.
We invite you to join us. Send your kids, grandkids, nieces, and nephews. Volunteer your time and money. Come to our events. Sign up for our mailing list. Spread the word to everyone you know that something new and exciting is happening for families in Fort Wayne. From darkness has come light.