Photo credit: IIP Photo Archive via Flickr, CC BY-NC 2.0

Should Trump Merge the Education and Labor Departments? Grassroots Say No.


The dream of economic central planners as outlined in Mark Tucker’s infamous letter to Hillary Clinton “to remold the entire American system” into “a seamless web that literally extends from cradle to grave and is the same system for everyone” took another step forward recently as corporate and government establishment insiders in the Trump administration rolled out plans to merge the U.S. Departments of Education (USED) and Labor (DOL). The proposed agency will be called the Department of Education and the Workforce.

Anthony Carevale, a board member of Tucker’s National Center for Education and the Economy at the time of the “Dear Hillary” letter, said in The Washington Post:

With one department, these incentives could be realigned, and the system for educating and training workers could be more seamless. This proposed new department could integrate curriculums and establish greater transparency and accountability among high school, college and careers.

Carnevale also wants:

  • Assessments of “values and personality traits” — i.e. psychological screening and data mining as does the OECD.
  • “Firsthand exposure to alternative occupational pathways through internships and other applied learning opportunities” — which is eduspeak for further diluting the academic curriculum that has already been devastated by Common Core.
  • “Work experience to cultivate basic employability skills such as conscientiousness and collegiality in diverse workplaces” — translation: training in group-think and becoming worker bees.

While certainly not every student is meant to go to college, this plan appears to be a strong move away from academic education towards the philosophy that education is mere workforce preparation — and in which children are seen as “products” (as termed by former Secretary of State and Exxon CEO Rex Tillerson) or links in the labor supply chain. This philosophy and system has failed everywhere it has been tried.

One important American example is the Smaller Learning Community program, a Gates Foundation effort to track children into specific types of jobs-based education as early as 8th grade that was attempted before moving into the Race to the Top and Common Core effort. The Gates Foundation admitted in 2009 that this program, upon which the foundation spent at least $650 million, was a failure.​ And like Common Core, the teacher quality initiative, and many other Gates education efforts, it was a failure that had great taxpayer financial and human costs — though this has done little to deter the government’s latest attempt to resurrect the idea.

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For now, with a few mostly corporatist exceptions, there seems to be a decided lack of enthusiasm for this plan across the political spectrum. Here are a few examples:

  • Eunie Smith, president of Eagle Forum, said the endeavor was “a Jeb Bush-type of plan.” She believes, “rather than equip an individual to pursue whatever goal he sets for himself as part of his God-given freedom, this is, instead, the German model being pushed by misguided business interests and some state interests… As a result, the type of education an individual would receive would be influenced by crony corporations dictating to schools the skills needed for future workers.”
  • Neal McCluskey, of the libertarian Cato Institute, noted in his Washington Examiner piece, “Perhaps even more important (and here we are joined by some of our progressive friends) education is about much more than just employment prep. It is also, for most or even all people, about learning about art and how society works and moral values and countless other important matters that go far beyond preparing you to fill open job slots and earn a comfy salary. It is about nothing less than developing full human beings.”
  • Jane Robbins, senior fellow at the American Principles Project is rightfully concerned about the plan’s many problems: “Rather than returning government to the people as the president promised, it centralizes government,” she said. “It codifies the Common Core-type workforce development model of job training, rather than genuine education, and gives Big Business outsized influence on what happens in schools. It promotes data sharing and citizen tracking for the benefit of a government-managed economy. It’s a mess. We can only hope Congress rejects it outright.”
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Speaking of Congress, only some House Republicans, like Education and Workforce Committee chairwoman Virginia Foxx, are even vaguely supportive of the idea. Senate Education Committee chairman Lamar Alexander was neutral, saying he would “carefully study” it. Democrats like education committee ranking members Senator Patty Murray (D-Wash.) and Rep. Bobby Scott (D-Va.) are strongly opposed.

There is also a grassroots citizen petition at the White House website in strong opposition to this plan.

Many parents and citizen groups supported President Trump in 2016 in large part because of his campaign promises to get rid of Common Core, decrease the federal footprint in education, and protect student privacy. They understand and even agree with the president’s desire to get people to work and the economy continuing to improve. However, they are concerned that many Jeb Bush-aligned and other establishment insiders are seeking to implement a School-to-Work/Fed-Ed agenda and co-opting or completely disregarding the president’s campaign promises and relationship with his base. While this merger may be portrayed by the establishment as increasing government efficiency and keeping the promise to decrease the role of USED, it will do nothing of the sort. Rather, it will expand that role and remove the founders’ purpose of having an educated citizenry that can maintain our liberties.

C.S. Lewis sagely observed:

If education is beaten by training, civilization dies.

As we observe the celebration of our independence, let us fight to preserve our great American civilization by fighting this initiative. Please sign and share the petition and contact your members of Congress as they are home on the July 4th recess.

Photo credit: IIP Photo Archive via Flickr, CC BY-NC 2.0

Karen R. Effrem, MD

Dr. Karen Effrem and her husband have three children. She is trained as a pediatrician and serves as national education issues chairman for Eagle Forum and president of Education Liberty Watch.

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