Paula Benfer: Don’t let political parties hijack our schools
Paula Benfer is a 36 year teaching veteran. She recently wrote a letter to the editors of the Star News of Minnesota in response to a recent piece. In it, she lays out the politics and deep pockets behind one reformy group behind the previous article.
The article was the product of the American Experiment in Minnesota. This organization has been active in over 20 states in the U.S. where they view education through their political lens. The Minnesota center is a policy “think tank” led by John Phelan, a London trained economist. In the Star News article Catrin Wigfall is referenced, as a policy advisor. She has two years of experience in education in Arizona. And she comes to Minnesota from the Heritage Foundation. This Minnesota Center for the American Experiment has non-profit status, but it is funded by the Koch Brothers and other extreme conservative organizations. The opinion piece states 17,000 comments were submitted regarding the second round, for review of Social Studies state standards. The think tank cherry picked its way through the proposed standards and raised alarm bells for the reader to adopt blindly. This petition only required a click on a website for submission, not personal research.
The National American Experiment was founded in the ‘90s by Mitch Pearlstein who spent two years at the Department of Education when in 1983 the Reagan Administration released the “Nation at Risk” report for explicit political gain. It advocated that “rigorous standards” be written for all areas of the curriculum so that America would be competitive in a multi-cultural world. Education has been a political football ever since. Both political parties pushed school districts through “Common Core Standards,” “No Child Left Behind,” “Race to the Top,” and more. Politicians like former Vice President Mike Pence and Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas are now using education as their political wedge issue. Now, the Center for the American Experiment is writing about the revision of curriculum standards for the teaching of Social Studies in the state of Minnesota.