Magazine article Management Review

Goals on the Ropes: Critics Call It a Move toward Mind Control

Magazine article Management Review

Goals on the Ropes: Critics Call It a Move toward Mind Control

Article excerpt

Critics call it a move toward mind control. Advocates say it's a step toward enhancing the education of the future generation. Goals 2000 has become the Ping-Pong ball in a political match.

Molly, my sister, and I fell out, And what do you think it was all about? She loved coffee and I loved tea, And that was the reason we couldn't agree.

--Child's Nursery Rhyme

There is a falling-out these days in Washington over children. But the issue goes far beyond the preference for coffee or tea, or indeed Mother Goose or Dr. Seuss. It cuts to the heart of what will be taught to the next generation of schoolchildren, what goes on in the nation's classrooms. The issue of excellence in education, the goals and outcomes of what schools teach our youth, is promising to become a defining issue of Democrat and Republican, liberal and conservative as the next presidential election campaign is upon us.

The immediate question is what to do with a program called Goals 2000. Spawned during the Bush Administration as a means of boosting the quality of education across the board in the nation's schools, it has been embraced by the Clinton Administration as a defining issue of what can and should be done to transform the nature of education and, by extension, the broader national society and the workplace as well.

It has also been embraced by business leaders and their representatives in Washington and in states across the country. Groups including The Business Roundtable and the National Association of Manufacturers have expressed their support for the concept as central to their goal of an educated and accomplished workforce for the 21st century.

Goals 2000 is, by Washington standards, a truly modest effort. In a city that defines substance by the late Senator Everett McKinley Dirksen's off-hand remark, "A billion here, a billion there, pretty soon we're talking real money," only $105 million was spent for Goals 2000 in its first year on the books. And barely $400 million has been appropriated for the coming school year. So why is Goals 2000 suddenly on political radar screens across the ideological spectrum?

"The linchpin of all educational reforms is defining more clearly what kids need to know," says Michael Cohen, senior advisor to the Secretary of Education and a driving force behind Goals 2000 back to his days at the National Governors' Association. "But this is still a fairly controversial issue in many places around the country."

Among the ambitions of Goals 2000 is that all students "learn to use their minds well, so that they are prepared for responsible citizenship, further learning and productive employment in our nation's modern economy." This requirement in particular sends shivers up the spines of the New Right. Such groups as the Christian Coalition, Concerned Women for America, the Family Research Council and the Eagle Forum have made repeal of Goals 2000 one of their primary agenda items. They view it as a prime example of Washington-based federal mind control.

"Washington bureaucrats can't figure out what goals the country should meet; they are one-size-fits-all goals-- the same goals for a local education agency in some rural town as they are for New York City," explains Amy Reid of the Eagle Forum, an ultra-conservative Washington-based organization founded by Phyllis Schlafly that describes itself as a "pro-family, grassroots organization," and is virulently opposed to Goals 2000. "They are very general goals, but they are still trying to tell everyone what to do. That's just not right, not the way America should run. Teachers know how to teach. They don't need someone in Washington telling someone in Kentucky how to teach. America recognizes that a huge Washington bureaucracy, no matter what, is not a good thing."

But the principal concern of the New Right is that while the dollars are modest by any federal standard in Goals 2000, the program will inevitably establish the intellectual underpinnings that will affect how the big education dollars the federal government hands out are distributed. …

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