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Senator Bachmann on School-to-Work


October 7, 2004

The following article in yesterday's Naples Sun Times reports on a presentation Minnesota Senator Michele Bachmann recently gave in Florida regarding School-to-Work. Since the 1994 federal School-to-Work Act was not re-authorized in 2001, some try to make the case that School-to-Work is no longer an issue. Nothing could be further from the truth. Picking up where the 1994 School-to-Work Opportunities Act left off, federal funding for a federal STW system is generously funded and implemented through a number of other federal laws, including the Workforce Investment Act and the Carl Perkins Act. For a glimpse of that vast system, visit the website of the Career and Technical Dissemination Center, all funded with our tax dollars. It exists in every state, and it is transforming knowledge-based learning into job training for all students beginning at early as kindergarten.

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Naples Sun Times
Senator lectures on educational complacency
By Bernadette La Paglia

It's often said that still water runs deep; an apt analogy in describing Dr. Michele S. Bachmann, state senator from Stillwater, Minn. Bachmann spoke at the Naples Bath and Tennis Club in September to local educators and concerned citizens regarding National Education Standards and "No Child Left Behind."

Her lecture was sponsored by the Character Council of Collier County and hosted by a long-time supporter, Naples resident and Minnesota native, Beverly Fedje, whose generosity made her trip possible.

Bachmann, a tax litigation attorney and issues oriented public policy enthusiast, is now serving her second term representing District 56. She was accompanied by her husband, Marcus Bachmann, a clinical therapist, and readily admitted that the invitation to speak in Southwest Florida was a welcomed one.

"When you're from Minnesota, any weather is better than the kind we have," she quipped.

But her well-researched presentation, complete with slides of graphics, educational documents (current and historic) and statistical analysis, was not what many in the audience of almost 30 individuals had expected to hear.

"I thought this was going to be an endorsement of what's happening in the schools and why we need to support it," a local businessman who requested not to be identified, admitted. "Instead, this was a revelation about its underbelly, a call to action really. Kids are not like cogs in a wheel. If we continue to educate them this way, it'll come back to haunt us."

According to Bachmann's analysis, it already has.

She asserts that the reality of the one size fits all mentality can readily be traced to the legislative initiatives of the Clinton administration and continue to be manifest in the federally funded agenda of School-to-Work/Goals 2000.

"While both parents have been busy working throughout America, we've been lulled into a complacency of acceptance. But we need to wake up to this because it's an educational orientation that's economically based. Ever hear of the Dumbing Down of America?" she inquired provocatively. "It's here. It's happening."

In citing the discrepancy between the focus of education past and present, Bachmann identifies the shift from the academic emphasis of liberal arts to a skills based work oriented agenda.

"Today it's all about process," she explains. "Process incorporating the emphasis of attitudes, values and beliefs designed to produce the skills to accommodate the projected economic forecast. Well, economics is subject to change. And where will that leave our citizens of tomorrow?"

Throughout her slide presentation, she adroitly took the audience through the labyrinth of educational objectives she believes have acted as accomplice in securing states' participation through financial incentives for schools. In actuality, her analysis could be likened to an Orwellian doublespeak, or variations on a theme of "Brave New World."

For a person of such high-mindedness, achievement and accomplishment, Bachmann's background serves as a testimony to her veracity.

When she began her talk, she described her humble beginnings as a native Minnesotan who endured the gamut of challenges facing a lower middle class child of divorced parents.

"But one thing that was open and accessible to everybody in Minnesota was a good education. A good academic education," she intones. "It didn't matter what your socio-economic status. Didn't matter if you were inclined more toward the technical or academic. If you had the will, a great smorgasbord of educational opportunity was there for you," she said with conviction.

And taking advantage of the myriad of educational opportunities offered was exactly what Bachmann did. Upon completion of her law degree in 1986 from Coburn Law School (now at Regent University), she went on to secure a post-doctoral degree in tax law in 1988 from the College of William and Mary Law School while beginning her young family.

But a funny thing happened on her way to the lucrative life style of a tax litigation attorney when she unexpectedly found herself scrutinizing a different sort of document in American society; namely, educational ones. This "up close and personal" pedagogical encounter, although not planned, would have a profound impact on the trajectory of her life as parent and professional.

It all began when the socially conscious couple could no longer turn their backs on the overwhelming needs of foster children in their state. Consequently, they began expanding their young family to include foster teenage daughters. (To date they have sponsored more than 20 girls.) It was the behaviors, trends, attitudes and aspirations (or, in the case of the latter, lack thereof) exhibited by these teens that began to prompt a parental curiosity and concern that would motivate her professional perspective to undergo a new call to consciousness.

"I began to realize as I studied aspects of their assignments that these attitudes and behaviors could be traced to their curriculum," she explained.

Bachmann's discovery so compelled her that as she began researching the educational initiatives being implemented and inculcated in her state of Minnesota; namely, "Profile of Learning" and "School-to-Work," she discovered that its framework could readily be traced to the "School-to-Work Opportunities Act of 1994."

Bachmann believed that the founding premise was an ignoble one. Above all, she found it to be at odds with the principles of the United States Constitution and the Bill of Rights.

This compelled her to articulate a platform in opposition to the entrenched attitudes and objectives of early specialization found in the objectives of "Profile of Learning/School-to-Work" and mount her candidacy for the local school board. Although she lost the race, she established a significant base of support, one that would serve her well at another unexpected turn the following spring.

While casually attending a local convening of Republican candidates, Bachmann found herself being drafted into the nomination for state senator. "I was wearing jeans and a sweatshirt. I had my moccasins on. No make-up. No stump speech prepared," she recounted. "All of a sudden I'm running for state senate."

A local high school girl from Stillwater gave the nominating speech on the spot, and before you could say "Jack Robinson," the political career of Dr. Michele S. Bachmann, mother, lawyer and activist, had been officially launched. It resulted in a landslide victory over a 28-year incumbent.

In her concluding remarks, she urged everyone to visit the Web site of EdWatch (www.EdWatch.org), the Minnesotan Maple River Education Coalition, comprised of educators, researchers, administrators and parents, dedicated to an ongoing appraisal of education in America.

"It's like the story of David and Goliath," Bachmann said reflectively. "All it took was a few small stones, some strategy ­and courage."


* * *

One person in the audience who felt a special connection with the speaker was Collier County School Board Member Linda Abbott. In her opening remarks, Bachmann had inquired if there were any members of the County School Board present. Abbott's was the lone hand that went up. "Wonderful!" Bachmann said enthusiastically. "Thank you for coming."

Reflecting on the significance of Bachmann's presentation, Abbott offered these thoughts.

"I believe that if children get a solid foundation in the basics of education, they can then apply their knowledge and skills to perform critical thinking. If 'training' for a specific trade compromises the acquisition of the basics, then we are jeopardizing the student's ability to succeed and ultimately, the future quality of our community.

There's a quote by Thomas Jefferson that goes something like, 'If children are not taught the basics, then we will end up not with critical thinking but with critical children.' It seems appropriate that we think about this," Abbott said.

Lavigne Kirkpatrick, president of the Character Council of Collier County, had these words.

"The biggest concern I have with what I heard from the senator is what are our colleges teaching our teachers? I know we can improve the character and critical thinking of our students, but do we first have to un-train some of the concepts of 'Goals 2000' with our teachers?

"I believe it is time to return to reading, writing and arithmetic with a blending of character within these subjects. This should be the only concentration for the first four years of education, if not more, for without these basic academic achievements, history, science, government, social studies and all the many other subjects become void and unobtainable."


* * *

In offering testimony before the U.S. House Appropriations Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education in 1998, Lynne Cheney, speaking on behalf of the American Enterprise Institute, had this to say.

"A publication from the Department of Education and Labor, which together administer the federal School-to-Work program, claims that there is a pedagogical reason to relate all subjects to the workplace: Individuals learn best by relating what they learn in school to their experiences as workers. But thousands of years of human experience show people eager to learn about things beautiful and improbable that have nothing to do with work. There is also a record stretching back to the Greeks that illustrates how valuable subjects like literature and history are for encouraging independent thought. The liberal arts, shoved aside and distorted in the School-to-Work system, were so named because they foster the habits of mind necessary for freedom (in Latin, libera). All across the country are people who understand that School-to-Work legislation, though appealingly labeled, is a terrible idea for our schools. I urge the members of this subcommittee to listen closely to what these citizens have to say."