Bachmann: Why do we need a Department of Education, anyway?

posted at 8:30 pm on September 5, 2011 by Tina Korbe

CNN’s Political Ticker isolates this element of Rep. Michele Bachmann’s reliably conservative responses at Sen. Jim DeMint’s political forum in South Carolina today, making it both a headline and lead paragraph:

Painting herself as a “constitutional conservative” Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann told Sen. Jim DeMint’s forum Monday that if elected president she would look to get rid of the Department of Education, among other things.

“Because the Constitution does not specifically enumerate nor does it give to the federal government the role and duty to superintend over education that historically has been held by the parents and by local communities and by state governments,” she said, responding to a question by DeMint, a popular figure among the tea party movement.

The not-so-subtle implication of PT’s prominent placement of this Bachmann statement is that it’s obviously extreme. You know those crazy “constitutional conservatives”! But is it? Abolishing the Department of Education might sound like an ultra-conservative pipe dream — and anything but advisable in the Information Age, when education is key to global competitiveness — but, perhaps, just perhaps, Bachmann has a point.

In the first place, she’s right about the Constitution. But, in the second, does the federal government actually do a better job of educating our children than would state or local governments? Naturally, questions of right and equity enter in. It is, after all, commonly accepted that children have the right to an equal education (although even that could be debated). But as regards efficacy, it’s pretty clear flexibility and freedom to address the needs of individual children enhances education.

Please don’t interpret this as an endorsement of Bachmann’s view; I’m still forming my opinions on education policy. It is, rather, a defense of the debate. The purpose and prowess of the Ed Department ought to be analyzed. And the agency, no less than any other budget-straining bit of the bureaucracy, ought to be held accountable.

This all brings me back to why I love Bachmann as a presidential candidate (if not necessarily as the GOP nominee or actual president): She says what needs to be said to move the public dialogue in a productive direction. Sometimes, she does that by simply speaking truth. Sometimes, as now, she does it by offering up views that can then be debated, discussed, shaped and molded into a more palatable — yet-ever-so-slightly-more-conservative — position in the immediate term — while leaving the possibility of her so-called “extreme” solutions open in the long term.

Update: Just wanted to clarify that Bachmann is “right about the Constitution” insofar as she says that the Constitution does not explicitly enumerate education as among the responsibilities of the federal government. I do not think the Ed Department is unconstitutional — but neither is it constitutionally mandated, leaving the people with the option of determining whether education is best directed at the federal or state level.

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How can you take this seriously when Bachmann and her husband avidly support the banning of homosexuality?

In any case, the DOE helps funnel money into poorer, minority districts (I know, the horror!) and keeps Texas from dropping Biology and replacing it with Crazy Nonsense.

Rainsford on September 6, 2011 at 2:01 PM

In reverse order… because your 2nd point is actually better.

Do you think the good of the DOE outweighs the bad? in 1979 it was “upgraded” to a cabinet level position, and has been meddling ever since to justify itself. Since the 1970’s education on a per student inflation adjusted basis (so apples to apples comparison) costs have more than doubled.

What are we getting for spending twice as much? Better educated students? Or simply more bureaucratic nightmares?

If your defense is “well they made a few districts better, in comparison, by making everything worse… but it’s much more expensive, slower to act, and burdened by massive bureaucracy now… so it’s doing what we wanted” you really need to check what people want.

As for the “she has other crazy ideas, so we must ignore anything she ever says” argument you led with… really? You’re going with this as your first sentence lead argument?

Here, have you ever heard the saying “even a stopped clock is right twice a day”? Argue the topic at hand, not ad hominem attacks to try to avoid the topic and attack the messenger.

Or just keep flailing around like that and wonder why people don’t take you seriously… your call.

gekkobear on September 6, 2011 at 3:16 PM

My take on this.

IF you move this to the state level, I can find my state representative; I can drive to his office, I can sit there are tell him what I think; and he represents few enough people that he’s likely listen. Especially as I have the concern to take the time and effort to do this.

You think my US Senator will respond the same way? Nope, form letter response if you get to actually communicate with him at all. And an unelected government bureaucrat at the DOE; won’t even take my call. Why would he?

Why wouldn’t you want something this important moved down to the lowest level possible to make it easier as a parent to get involved, get some control, and know who to yell at “specifically and in person” when they get it wrong?

Do you prefer good customer service with a banker who knows your name and who you are and what you do; or a large impersonal conglomerate bank where you’re barely acknowledged and nobody has any concern for you outside of their book of rules?

I don’t see any discrepancy. The lower you take this the better.

2nd reason, you encourage states/districts/localities to “test” ideas.

Good ideas, they get rewarded. More people hear about it and either try it themselves; or parents move there to get their kids that benefit.

Bad ideas, they get punished. “Voting with your feet” becomes plausible again because the whole thing isn’t a cookie-cutter “one-size-fits-all” bit of idiocy that when it screws up has to screw up the entire nation and has the molasses-like response to an issue that you’d expect from a bureaucracy.

The upside of removing the DOE (or putting it back to it’s pre-1979 “agency” powers and reasserting states rights here) outweighs the possible negatives.

gekkobear on September 6, 2011 at 3:18 PM

It’s funny, back in ’08 when Ron Paul was saying the Department of Education should be abolished you pro-war neoconservatives would point at him and laugh. You gave him the “oh no, there goes crazy uncle Paul again talking about the Constitution” treatment. Now that pro-war Bachmann is saying the same thing it’s perfectly sane.

popularpeoplesfront on September 6, 2011 at 2:23 PM

Nope, Paul always had some good ideas mixed in with the crazy; that’s what made him so difficult.

We should make the government smaller, remove things from the Feds that it isn’t good at; and go back tot e gold standard even though we don’t have any gold and it would cripple the economy to try.

We should worry more about our people and our borders, clarify our goals as America first, help our country grow and focus on our infrastructure; and pull all troops everywhere home, go isolationist, and let Taiwan, South Korea, Israel, and everyone else burn without any help from us.

See, he makes a LOT of sense… then he veers off into crazy at the end. At leas that’s how I’ve always heard him and his supporters.

And in my book, Bachmann is the same way. She makes a lot of sense for a while, then veers off into crazy for a bit. But that doesn’t make any single idea good or bad.

I’m sorry that I don’t support all of Paul’s ideas and ideals and that I think he’s got enough crazy ones to be dangerous. I’m sure this makes me evil in your book… but I don’t actually mind.

gekkobear on September 6, 2011 at 3:23 PM

gekkobear on September 6, 2011 at 3:18 PM

I don’t think any Conservatives or many Democrats want the many funded uncontrolled Government Agencies. What I object to is that no one has a plan to unravel them. Have some been ruled Constitutional by the Supreme Court? How would this dismantling take place? Is it as easy as it sounds, just by saying we don’t need it or any of the others?

Additionally and more importantly at this time and considering that our Country is at Stake in this upcoming election, is this a hill to die on? Is this to be our message that we win on? Isn’t it rather B.O.’s weakest issue? Who is talking about the Department of Education, other than MB?

Our issue is the Economy/Jobs. That is what will win, not any distraction no matter the best of intentions.

B.O. is weakest on the Economy/Jobs and that should be our message.
How many million of unemployed workers do you think are behind us?
If we don’t set priorities and become scattered in our message, we surely will lose. We need 5 Star Generals for this war and we better not forget it.

bluefox on September 6, 2011 at 3:34 PM

even though we don’t have any gold and it would cripple the economy to try.

gekkobear on September 6, 2011 at 3:23 PM

I don’t know if saved the article that I read about 2-3 weeks ago.
If I have it, I’ll post it. But what it said is that the Fed is the#1 holder of Gold. The article listed 3. Will see if I can find it. I was quite surprised myself when I read it.

bluefox on September 6, 2011 at 3:38 PM

The Dept. of Education was a payoff to the Teachers Union for their support.

And Federal involvement has done more harm than good.

BTY, quality of education does not correlate with money spent.

LarryD on September 6, 2011 at 3:46 PM

even though we don’t have any gold and it would cripple the economy to try.

gekkobear on September 6, 2011 at 3:23 PM

3. The International Monetary Fund
Value of reserves: $180.6 billion
Holdings total: 3,101 tons

2. Germany
Value of reserves: $218.28 billion
Holdings total: 3,747.9 tons

1. United States
Value of reserves: $522.16 billion
Holdings total: 8,965.6 tons

The United States Bullion Depository in Kentucky—otherwise known as Fort Knox—is the most famous gold stockpile in the world. It holds the majority of the nation’s gold reserves, the remainder of which is held at the Philadelphia Mint, the Denver Mint, the West Point Bullion Depository and the San Francisco Assay Office.

bluefox on September 6, 2011 at 4:00 PM

As a teacher I would love to see the DoE abolished. I started teaching 20 years ago and if I had known then what was going to happen due to the DoE I would have gone into another field.

dawgyear on September 5, 2011 at 11:24 PM

The DOE is the reason I don’t want to teach. Real shame, that is.

RDE2010 on September 6, 2011 at 4:17 PM

The long-term plan should be to reduce or eliminate federal agencies by delegating more jurisdiction for implementing regulations to the States. This should include eliminating or reducing agencies like the Department of Education, the EPA, OSHA, HUD, etc. At the same time, Federal regulations need close scrutiny to eliminate or reduce overbearing and/or duplicative regulations that are stifling our nation’s economy without producing any measurable or cost-effective benefits for its citizens. Agencies like the EPA long ago abandoned environmental and medical science as the basis for tightening/ratcheting its regulations and replaced it with the opinions of environmental zealots. The Federal government needs to remove the impediments to a vibrant economy and spend more money on projects that will return money to the Treasury. For example, instead of closing old coal plants with oppressive regulations, the Federal government should find ways to get newer plants (i.e., nuclear, natural gas, and coal) built to replace them, even if it means that the government has to finance them and turn them over to commercial operators for a share of the profits. If commercial investors are initially shy to invest in new plants, plants financed by the government would kick-start the industry by demonstrating that there is genuine political support for building new plants, and profits from these plants would eventually either pay back the government’s investment in them or reduce the cost of energy for consumers. It would also create real private-sector jobs when we build, operate and maintain such plants. To me, spending public funds on things like this is a no-brainer. If government spends money on things that produce sustainable private-sector jobs and return profits to the Treasury, then it is a win-win situation for everyone. But, we all know that Obama and his ilk have never been interested in building a realistic and vibrant private-sector economy. They have their heads so far up their expanding public-sector utopian a**es that they are unable to see or acknowledge real-world solutions to our nation’s problems.

NuclearPhysicist on September 6, 2011 at 4:32 PM

Living in California we have decided to home school.

Fine with me if you abolish the Dept. Of Education.

Blue Collar Todd on September 6, 2011 at 4:38 PM

Plus this bit from a previous thread:

This form of education that dates from the 13th century of lots of kids going to a central school to get instruction from instructors is about to hit the 21st century… and it isn’t the 13th that is going to win.

Why we support such an archaic form of education is beyond me.

ajacksonian on August 8, 2011 at 11:30 AM

Why are we supporting failing schools?

If you want better education then pay for performance. Let schools and systems that can’t educate die out, let newer ones that are better suited to this modern age flourish… that means getting rid of the old idea of school systems, school days and the quaint concept of one instructor to a classroom of kids. Much of this curricula can be captured once on video, then sent out for self-paced instruction. Q&A handled by IMs or email. Parents able to see what their child did every day from a home-based system.

To do science work doesn’t require large brick buildings but a few portable labs in trailers, or a couple of storefront equivalents.

Ditto that with PE and parks and recreation facilities.

Brick and mortar schools will seem so quaint in 50 years, like something out of the Middle Ages… because they ARE out of the Middle Ages when this form of instruction was invented. Can’t we do any better than that for less today? More for less? Lower overhead and disintermediation of education so it concentrates on learning the basics and then how to learn on your own… we desperately need these things and this form of education we have is FAILING US ALL.

ajacksonian on September 6, 2011 at 5:12 PM

hmm my brother home schools his kids, and teaches them things like the world is 6000 years old, slavery was pretty good for all those slaves, and coal takes exactly 124 years to come about. I’m all for mandated lesson plans from people that aren’t going to make the next generation of american’s scientific morons. My boss sent his kids to a private church of christ academy, after 5 years he had a divorce and had to withdraw his kids, turns out they were over a year behind studies in a normal public school.
In a few cases I’ve seen home schoolers do very well at certain tests and vocations, however in almost all cases I have seen them flame out at college when they suddenly realize that the world is not as simple as they were taught it was.
Yes we need better public education, no we don’t need 10,000 different curriculums and school types to do it.

Zekecorlain on September 6, 2011 at 5:19 PM

Not just abolish it but give us a refund for the 41 something years the DOE has been in existance. Heck I’d just settle for one year of the money Obama siphoned off the stimulus & gave to Arne Duncan – 160 billion dollars.

I bet the teachers and local school districts would like that money back too.

batterup on September 6, 2011 at 6:36 PM

Update: Just wanted to clarify that Bachmann is “right about the Constitution” insofar as she says that the Constitution does not explicitly enumerate education as among the responsibilities of the federal government. I do not think the Ed Department is unconstitutional

Tina, If you can just ignore the enumerated powers clause in the Constitution that opens up the whole Constitution to being ignored.

RJL on September 6, 2011 at 9:27 PM

Anyone notice that Bachmann and Palin both look pretty hot right now? Went on their campaign diets, methinks.

Jaibones on September 6, 2011 at 9:35 PM

As a HS teacher in a public screwl, just let me be on record, AGAIN, saying that the DOE is as worthless as tits on a boar hog.
Probably one of the single biggest wasters of taxpayer funds EVAH.
I see waste EVERY DAY I go to work.

Badger40 on September 6, 2011 at 9:45 PM

Guess the word t!ts goes into moderation or something.
Let me repeat: the DOE, IMO as a HS educator in a public screwal, is WORTHLESS. All it does is waste money.
That is a FACT.
The costs of it & the harm it does, does NOT outweigh any good it may inadvertantly do.
The state should direct the education of its citizens.
This topward down control of educating citizens is all wrong.

Badger40 on September 6, 2011 at 9:48 PM

Ms. Korbe, the Dept of Education has only been around since 1979. We didn’t need it before then, we don’t need it now. It’s a redundant department that duplicates what the states already do. It’s also – most importantly – not contained within the enumerated powers.

I believe it’s important to revisit Thomas Paine:

But it will be first necessary to define what is meant by a Constitution. It is not sufficient that we adopt the word; we must fix also a standard signification to it.

A constitution is not a thing in name only, but in fact. It has not an ideal, but a real existence; and wherever it cannot be produced in a visible form, there is none. A constitution is a thing antecedent to a government, and a government is only the creature of a constitution.

The constitution of a country is not the act of its government, but of the people constituting its government. It is the body of elements, to which you can refer, and quote article by article; and which contains the principles on which the government shall be established, the manner in which it shall be organised, the powers it shall have, the mode of elections, the duration of Parliaments, or by what other name such bodies may be called; the powers which the executive part of the government shall have; and in fine, everything that relates to the complete organisation of a civil government, and the principles on which it shall act, and by which it shall be bound. A constitution, therefore, is to a government what the laws made afterwards by that government are to a court of judicature. The court of judicature does not make the laws, neither can it alter them; it only acts in conformity to the laws made: and the government is in like manner governed by the constitution.

My full response (if anyone cares to read it), is here.

CPL 310 on September 6, 2011 at 11:19 PM

CPL 310 on September 6, 2011 at 11:19 PM

Anything the Federal Govt does or engages in that is not within the scope of Constitutional powers IS unconstitutional & nothing but a power grab.
Anyone waffling on stuff like this needs to read that document AGAIN.

Badger40 on September 7, 2011 at 8:12 AM


Because… without a Federal bureaucracy to control this, States and local governments would be in control of the local education…

… probably even parents would be able to directly choose and decide their children’s education all on their own.

Parents choosing the education they want for their children is just something the elitists inside the Beltway will every allow to happen.

Lawrence on September 7, 2011 at 9:57 AM

a better question would be why does the department of education need a SWAT team?

abcurtis on September 7, 2011 at 11:03 AM

1. United States
Value of reserves: $522.16 billion
Holdings total: 8,965.6 tons

bluefox on September 6, 2011 at 4:00 PM

Total debt plus cashflow in currency that we’d need to be covered? About 17-18 trillion dollars all told, maybe 16 if we scrimp and save.

So we’ll take 16 trillion dollars worth of gold and set it aside to insure our currency… oops, we’re a bit short.

We need 32 times what we have on hand… we have the largest reserves; and we can only cover 3.1% of the requirement to have enough gold to cover our outstanding currency and debt.

Or do we artificially inflate our currency so it’s only worth 3.1% of the current value so our current gold reserves covers it?

3200% inflation seems a bit steep for the USA, or Zimbabwe for that matter. How exactly do you make a living when inflation hits 3,000%? Banks won’t loan in that market, investors will hide their assets, people won’t accept any late payments (as the value crumbles before they take payment) and costs go up on a daily basis.

So how do we make this work again? Do we “find” 15.5 trillion in gold to cover the asset requirement, eat 3200% inflation; or is there another plan to have the gold assets to cover our currency and debt?

Do we renege on all our debt and scrap 30-40% of all currency in circulation today? I don’t see that helping the economy either; but it looks like a less crazy plan than anything else.

gekkobear on September 7, 2011 at 2:47 PM