Reagan Rebuts the Obama School Talk

The day is therefore fast approaching when the schools will be acknowledged for what they are becoming: society’s agreed upon vehicle for institutionalizing social change. … Curriculum and programs in schools will come more and more to reflect long range planning goals. … There appears to be no alternative to acknowledging that we have created a way of living in which public employees will perform a significant fraction of functions traditionally left to families.

— John Boyles, editor of Educator’s Newsletter, quoted by Russell Kirk in “The NEA Plans Our Future,” National Review, Nov. 11, 1977.


In his radio address of November 29, 1977, Ronald Reagan referred to the above quotation. Keep in mind that when Reagan, Boyles, and Kirk wrote, the cabinet-level Department of Education did not yet exist, but Congress was working on it. Jimmy Carter signed it into law on October 17, 1979.

Just six months earlier on April 16, Reagan warned his radio audience:

If you believe your local school district is better qualified to run your schools than is the federal government you’d better get ready to do battle. … [The proposed education department would] create a bureaucracy of gigantic size to oversee thousands and thousands of public schools now administered by local school districts.

Reagan noted the skyrocketing cost of public education and the measurable decline in student learning during the preceding two decades. He attributed both to the expanded federal government role in local schools. He blamed “educationists” in Washington, who had tried to “create a brave new world” by tossing out “tried and true fundamentals” in order “to mold the ‘now’ generation into world citizens free of prejudice, hostility, or even a competitive instinct (from Reagan’s Sept. 21, 1976, radio address).”

Fast forward 33 years. According to the department’s website, President Barack Obama’s 2010 budget requests “$46.7 billion in discretionary appropriations for the Department of Education, an increase of $1.3 billion over the comparable discretionary total provided in the regular 2009 appropriations act.” This is in addition to the $98.2 billion that the Education Department receives from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (the stimulus), which the president signed into law on February 17, 2009.


On September 8, President Barack Obama, whose education experience includes working with former Weather Underground terrorist William Ayers to reform teaching, will address the most pliable citizens of his public school empire with a live cable-cast speech on values and education. This unusual effort of a president to bypass parental discretion and go directly to our children has set off alarm bells among parents.

If the president really wanted to make an impression on America’s children, why not go on TV in prime time or on the internet? So parents and children could voluntarily watch together and then discuss the president’s ideas at home?

Instead, the Education Department released a curriculum guide for members of the NEA (a crucial field force in the “Obama for America” election effort) to instruct children to “write letters to themselves about what they can do to help the president.”

The letters were to be collected by the union members and redistributed at a later date to “make students accountable” to their goals as President Obama’s loyal helpers. After a public outcry, the White House amended the line, removing the reference to the president.

Imagine, for a moment, if our open-minded public schools were to permit an opposition response to the Obama school talk and that we could enlist former President Ronald Reagan to deliver the rebuttal.

This single paragraph, from Reagan’s letter to the editor of his alma mater’s school paper, might do nicely:


Personally, I believe in academic freedom but oppose limiting it to any one segment of academe. The teacher who interprets it as covering only the teacher’s right to teach is ignoring the student’s academic freedom and the right of parents to have some say as to what their children are learning. Then there is the academic freedom of those who finance the whole operation and have some beliefs about the kind of schooling they wish to make available with their contributions — all these are entitled to some share of academic freedom (letter to the editor of PEGASUS, Eureka, Illinois, March 31, 1971).


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