Neither the Republicans or the Democrats understand what it takes to produce educated Americans, writes Mike Petrilli in the latest Education Gadfly. Commenting on the image projected by Sarah Palin, he notes there was a time when Republicans “valued candidates who could demonstrate mastery of subjects like history, geography, and political philosophy. But splitting the country politically between wholesome Joe Sixpacks in the heartland and “the oversophisticated, overeducated, oversecularized denizens of the coasts” has driven well-educated voters away from the GOP.
So naturally, the Democrats have rushed in to fill the void, right? Wrong, says Petrilli, who wryly observes that so far the group “Liberals for the Liberal Arts” has yet to be founded. “Democratic reformers seem just as enamored with the utilitarian and narrow drive toward ‘college and work readiness’ as their Republican counterparts, if not more so,” he notes. If you need proof, take a look at Ed Secretary Arne Duncan’s speeches.
Over the past six months, he’s made nine major policy addresses that have been posted on his Department’s web site. And in those speeches, he’s mentioned “history,” “literature,” and “geography” exactly zero times. Meanwhile, there were seven instances of “accountability,” and “charter schools” left his lips an astounding twenty-nine times. Duncan and his team are pushing for structural changes in the system; they, like most reformers these days, are ignoring the “stuff” of education–what students actually need to learn in order to become good Americans.
“But these Democratic reformers had better be careful,” Petrilli concludes. ”An obsessive focus on nothing but basic skills in reading and math, which can be chopped into little bits of data with which we can make all manner of decisions, will result in a generation of students who will make Palin sound like Socrates.”