Crossville Chronicle, Crossville, TN


January 28, 2014

We the People: School reform or social disaster?

CROSSVILLE — “What the best and wisest parent wants for his own child, that must the community want for all of its children. Any other ideal for our schools … destroys our democracy.” (John Dewey, 1907)

There were two comments reported in our Chronicle recently that set my teeth on edge. One was that the Common Core educational standards are law, and so we have to adopt them, and the other was that teacher merit pay (VAM) was the law, so we had to do it.

Who, exactly, decided that our community, our teachers, administration and Board of Education, were no longer competent to review curriculum or establish salary scales that best served our community? I discovered that the answer to that question is far too long for a single column piece, but it is vital to our understanding of what is happening to our schools.

I will, therefore, use a series of columns to suggest an answer. But, I think a review of history reveals an important framework.

Our early founders understood both the power of a liberal education (one that provided competence in language usage, history, science and logic) and its central importance to a democratic republic. John Adams wrote, “There should not be a district of one mile square without a school in it … maintained at the public expense of the people, themselves.” Citizen Adams realized that without an adequate education, voters would be unable to make informed and logical decisions.

The children of wealthy New England factory owners in the early 1800s went to elite private schools that taught a broad range of subjects and emphasized independent thought. However, this same comprehensive, liberal education was often withheld from the masses. For example, “free public” schools were established in the Northeast for the poor, but emphasized discipline and only taught basic reading and math. And, of course, it was illegal to teach slaves even to read until just a few decades before the Civil War.

Therefore, early public school students (and slaves) were groomed to be better (docile, efficient) workers, while the sons (and daughters, by the way) of the wealthy were made into a more astute ruling class.

Thanks, in part, to the presidential election of Tennessee’s Andrew Jackson, the political dominance of those Yankee wannabe-overlords weakened and their dreams of establishing an American aristocracy faded, but never died. More Americans successfully fought to become decision-makers over the next hundred years. By the middle 20th century, a good public school education was almost equal to the best that private, “independent” schools could offer. The availability of a comprehensive, free education to the majority, the 99%, became a reality. That accessibility is now being withdrawn.

Not all education serves the same purpose. Some provides intellectual growth, the capacity for social mobility and responsible citizenship. Other "education" provides training for “jobs” and encourages obedient servility instead of the awareness needed for full civic participation and empowerment. Which of the two choices do you want for your kids? Which model is now being forced upon our public schools? Who is doing the forcing? How, and why?

(I’m sorry to leave you hanging, but… The next installment will be next month.)

• • •

This column represents alternative thoughts to other published columns in the Crossville Chronicle. "We the People" is published each Wednesday. Opinions expressed in "We the People" columns are not necessarily those of the Crossville Chronicle publisher, editor or staff. For more information, contact John Wund, editor, at

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  • LION AND THE LAMB: Four ways to demonstrate opposition

    Marcus Borg and John Dominic Crossan mention in their book, “The Last Week,” that Roman-occupied Palestine during the first century was under the control of Pontius Pilate who lived in the coastal city of Caesarea. Each year at the beginning of the Passover observance when Jews celebrated their liberation from Egypt, Pilate feared that they might be getting ideas about revolting from Rome, so he would come with additional soldiers on horses to beef up the Roman garrison in Jerusalem. 

    April 15, 2014

  • WE THE PEOPLE: Is it (new) party time?

    The Democratic and Republican parties are toast, according to Joe Trippi. The Republican Party is coming apart at its Tea Party seam. Democratic candidates struggle to celebrate President Obama’s health care successes, while responding to criticism of his failed promises, e.g., government transparency.

    April 15, 2014

  • TIDBITS: I found it at the library

    I have such fond memories of going to my local library as a child, searching through shelf after shelf and finding a book that would make me a Little Princess in World War II England, or bring me along as Nancy Drew solved the Secret in the Old Attic.

    April 14, 2014

  • STUMPTALK: The reason words have meaning

    If words did not have accepted meanings we would not be able to communicate effectively and civilized society would not exist.

    April 14, 2014

  • Lion and the Lamb: Do we really believe in democracy?

    The recent Supreme Court decision, McCutcheon v. Federal Election Commission, is in a long line of debates about power in a democracy. Should power be in the hands of all the citizens or should it be in hands of those who have greater wealth and social position?

    April 8, 2014

  • We the People: Public education or business opportunity?

    A month ago, we followed the money trail left by a ‘think tank’ to the major sources funding an attack on our traditional, locally controlled public schools. We saw that a handful of billionaires provide major support to many organizations lobbying for change.

    April 8, 2014

  • Stumptalk: Just another government lie?

    There is a vault located in Fort Knox, Kentucky. It was built in 1936 and encased in 16 cubic feet of granite and 4200 feet of cement. The door is made of 20-inch thick material that is immune to drills, torches and explosives.

    April 7, 2014

  • GARY'S WORLD: The chance to speak your mind

    Are you tired of hearing people complain about the way things are run in Cumberland County? Or, do you like the way the county government is run and operated in our beautiful county?
    Are you happy with the way things are, or would you like some change?

    April 3, 2014

  • LION AND THE LAMB: Digging beneath the headlines

    Our media have been focusing on two important events that have taken place overseas during the last several weeks.

    April 1, 2014

  • WE THE PEOPLE: SNAP, health and work

    A recent letter from Representative Diane Black to me states that she voted for the farm bill (with $8 million in Food Stamp (SNAP) benefit cuts) because she, like me, is a supporter of food stamp benefits for Tennessee families who qualify. That’s a lot of families, as most recipients are families with children and the elderly. Now, recall that there was already a major cut to the food stamp program back in the fall. But for some Republicans, that was not enough.

    April 1, 2014

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