Editor’s note: this is one in a series of guest op-eds by candidates for Colorado Governor written for CompleteColorado.com.
A recent event at Ft. Collins High School reminded me of the haunting opening lines from Charles Dickens’ classic novel, A Tale Of Two Cities: “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times….” The FCHS event was simultaneously wonderful and troubling.
The wonderful part was the request by the student council that the school designate the following Monday as “‘Merica Day” in celebration of our great country. The troubling part was the reason for denial of that request by the school administrators. They thought it would offend the sensibilities of foreign students in the school and the “very diverse” Ft. Collins community.
Fortunately, after a public outcry, the school administration reversed itself and declared “America Day” as part of Spirit Week. But the message sent to students and parents was clear: it is not politically correct to express your patriotism and love of country too enthusiastically. It might offend someone.
I wish the Ft. Collins controversy was an isolated incident, but in truth, it is illustrative of a malaise permeating too many of our educational institutions. The politically correct ethos of multiculturalism frowns upon the public expression of patriotism. The politically correct view is that there is nothing uniquely valuable or superior about our American heritage. In too many classrooms, students spend more time learning what we should be ashamed of than what we should be proud of.
The result is that high school students can graduate without any appreciation of the reasons why hundreds of millions of people the world over still look to America as, in Ronald Reagan’s words, a “shining city on a hill.” The idea that all students – whether native born or immigrant – should graduate high school with an understanding and appreciation of how and why American institutions are superior is too often considered quaint and “nativist” by education officials.
That must change, and I plan to change it. Are curriculum standards and civic education things the governor should worry about? You betcha!
The state’s chief executive should be as concerned with the character and quality of the education students receive as he is with the size of the state’s expenditures on public education. Per pupil appreciation of our American heritage should be as much in the focus of public policy as per pupil expenditure.
Should the Governor get personally involved in selecting textbooks and curriculum materials? Of course not. The people of Colorado elect the members of the State Board of Education and University Regents to establish the broad goals, principles and standards governing public education.
However, the governor can and should be a leader for true education reform even if it means bucking the education establishment. Believe me, I know what it means to buck the establishment, and I did it for 12 years as Regional Administrator for the U.S. Department of Education under Presidents Ronald Reagan and George Bush.
In 1983, President Reagan unveiled his report on the state of American education titled “A Nation At Risk.” The report was written by a panel of citizens and educators he had appointed. That report was not about the lack of funding for education, it was about the lack of adequate goals and standards.
If a president can ignite a national debate over goals and standards, certainly a governor can do it for the goals and standards in civic education. But unlike Hickenlooper, I will not appoint another panel to study the matter. Instead I will ask the State Board of Education and the Commissioner of Education to make it one of their priorities, and I will keep talking about it until education leaders accept it as one of their primary challenges and basic responsibilities.
Without question, the Governor should be involved in the mushrooming public debate over the “National Common Core Standards.” Colorado must retain full control of educational curriculum and not surrender to federal mandates.
Most important of all, the Governor of Colorado should be an unabashed advocate for expanded school choice as a vehicle for promoting innovation, accountability and greater parental involvement in education. As governor, I will not shrink from pursuing every avenue and using every tool available to advance school choice.
Former Colorado Congressman Tom Tancredo is a Republican candidate for Governor of Colorado.