By Betsy L. Angert
Inherent within each of us is conflict. Generally speaking, we think growth is good. Progress is a sign of achievement. As George Bernard Shaw so aptly articulated, “Progress is impossible without change, and those who cannot change their minds cannot change anything.” Indeed, politically, at one time or another, persons within each Party have embraced the label, “Progressives.” Even the most entrepreneurial embolden the idea of Progress. Goldman-Sachs boldly bolsters, Progress is everyone’s business.” However, while we glorify growth, we disdain it. Most of us look back and think, “Those were the days.”
The good ole days are commonly defined as “when we were young.” It might have been the 1930s, 1940s; the fifties were fine! In earlier eras, schools were vehicles for success. Now, these same institutions are seen and scored as failures. Teachers were principled. Today, throughout the news we read, educators are perverse. Our children come home and tell tales that affirm what adults have come to believe is true; teachers are bad! Public education is worse. Students and parents surmise, home schools or private learning centers would better serve their needs. Cyber classes too must be an option. Online learning tailors a lesson, much more so than a unionized teacher would. The people want Choice!
There is one consensus; tests are good. Accountability is the gold standard. Current conventional wisdom counters what was thought to be exceptional, in the nineteen sixties. Decades ago, those under thirty and even their elders changed the world for the “greater good.” The baby boomers were beautiful or were they bad…bad for the country and worse for businesses?
Whatever the point of view, it is clear the revolutionaries transformed the conversation in ways that irrevocably challenged conventions. Even our nation’s President, in those years pursued policies that reeked of progress. “The Great Society” brought with it the Elementary and Secondary Act. There was a War on Poverty” underway. However, some at the top thought such a battle might topple Free Enterprise.
Big Businesses did not necessarily embrace the evolution. People in power particularly, took note. Tycoons and their corporate attorneys saw the “60s revolution” as a threat. One brave company soldier devised a plan to take the country back. His name? Lewis F. Powell. His resolve, Infiltrate America’s campuses.
The man soon to be appointed to the Supreme Court saw the dichotomy that exists within us all. Change? Is growth good or bad? Is “Progress everyone’s business” or is advancement only favorable when it serves the few? Do we characterize change in innocuous ways, and simply say, “The times they are a changin’” or do we take action? Lewis F. Powell put pen to paper; he presented what he envisioned as a better plan, and perhaps it was. If better is defined by policy and principles that endure and become deeply ingrained in the fabric of society, then The Powell Memo is phenomenal. Justice Powell found the keys that open all hearts, “freedom and choice.”
As Lewis Powell observed, few among us could argue against the right to choose. Prominent Democrats, disconnected from the damage done to public education, advocate for Charter schools. Vociferous Republicans vote for vouchers. Independents invest in home schools. Parents persuaded by corporate campaigns frequently succumb. Moms and Dads pull the parent-trigger. Only belatedly do people learn that Charters, which pass for public schools, are not. Vouchers validate separate, but equal. While several do, some home-schools may not satisfy a child’s need for socialization. Most significantly, regardless of which of these paths we choose, there is a chance that democratization will be lost.
The question we each must ask ourselves is which is more important to us, personal freedom or the freedom we share as a nation? When we think only of our own offspring what do we reap and what will society sow? Thomas Jefferson offered his assessment…
“Educate and inform the whole mass of the people... They are the only sure reliance for the preservation of our liberty.”
Might freedom and choice present another conundrum, an inner conflict of sorts? America’s foundation is found in freedom. The three most significant documents in our history are often referred to as the “Freedom Documents –the Declaration of Independence, the U.S. Constitution, and the Bill of Rights. The question is what freedoms we choose, or how we choose to “establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity.” Is our personal freedom more important to us than the freedoms we share as a nation?
Not surprisingly, in the 1960s, President Lyndon B. Johnson thought it best to provide freedoms for the common good, the commonweal, and common citizens, rich and poor. With his entrance into the Oval Office the vision of “The Great Society” was born. The Elementary and Secondary Education Act, as part of the “War on Poverty” brought together what can be a conflict within us, our love for the past and desire to progress. As President Johnson reflected as he signed the Bill into law, "I felt a very strong desire to go back to the beginnings of my own education-to be reminded and to remind others of that magic time when the world of learning began to open before our eyes.
The assertion was an affirmation. Growth is good. We can progress and still preserve what we loved in the past. Problem arises when powerful people, Philanthropists, people with the ear of politicians, policymakers, and pundits disagree with this declaration.
That is what occurred in 1971. Industrialist and Attorney, Powell was outraged. He thought the laws and the logic as liberal poppycock. More so, the Barrister saw the changes as an attack, an affront. An assault on Free enterprise. Lewis Powell communicated his concerns and composed his clarion call, a blueprint for marketers. He titled it, A Confidential Memorandum, Attack on Free Enterprise System. Powell purported…
Dimensions of Attack
“…what now concerns us is quite new in the history of America. We are not dealing with sporadic or isolated attacks from a relatively few extremists or even from the minority socialist cadre. Rather, the assault on the enterprise system is broadly based and consistently pursued. It is gaining momentum and converts.Chief Executive Officers, and the esteemed fellows within the United States Chamber of Commerce, all agreed. Each Entrepreneur saw the source of our evolutionary evils as respectable, but wrong.
Sources of the Attack
The sources are varied and diffused. They include, not unexpectedly, the Communists, New Leftists and other revolutionaries who would destroy the entire system, both political and economic. These extremists of the left are far more numerous, better financed, and increasingly are more welcomed and encouraged by other elements of society, than ever before in our history. But they remain a small minority, and are not yet the principal cause for concern.
The most disquieting voices joining the chorus of criticism come from perfectly respectable elements of society: from the college campus, the pulpit, the media, the intellectual and literary journals, the arts and sciences, and from politicians.”
Academics teach. Clergy preach. Intellectuals invoke. Artists, Journalists, and Scientist evoke. The Media is the Message. These influential individuals whom, according to the then corporate Attorney, Powell changed the conversation for the worse, needed to be stopped. To convert the perceived Attack on Free Enterprise; images needed to be changed.
An honorable profession, teaching, needed to be seen as subversive, if the marketers were to be successful. To convert the conversation, Conservatives had to be seen as intellectuals. Traditional theories need to be floated and substantiated. Research would be done in the College of Right Thought. The clergy and cultural elite too must see the light. Conservative dictums must dominate. After all, Powell proclaimed.
“…Those who eschew the mainstream of the system often remain in key positions of influence where they mold public opinion and often shape governmental action. In many instances, these "intellectuals" end up in regulatory agencies or governmental departments with large authority over the business system they do not believe in…’We, the US Chamber of Commerce, companies and corporations must make believers out of detractors, convert our critics, win over naysayers and we will’ Tycoons had the power to move masses. Powell only told them that they needed to use what was at their disposal. US Steel, GE, GM, Phillips Petroleum, 3M, Amway, American Broadcasting Company (ABC) and Columbia Broadcasting Services (CBS) had easily access to the people. Moms, Dads, and the young ones invited these industries in daily, indeed, in every minute of the day.
We turn on “Televisions.” Tune into the radio. Read periodicals. “The Scholarly Journals.” “Books, Paperbacks and Pamphlets.” “Paid Advertisements.” Lewis Powell explained these are our tools. Our techniques need only be honed. Professional public relations firms were already employed by the agencies. Change emphasis within a message and audiences will be moved.
Repeat the results of partisan research often enough and the pubic too will recite the claims. Teachers are bad. Public schools are failures. Intellectuals comprise a “socialist cadre.” “Communists, New Leftists and other revolutionaries…would destroy the entire system, both political and economic. These extremists of the left are far more numerous, better financed.” Revolutionaries are educated in public schools.
Thus it is so. For four plus decades now, the American people see no conflict. We, the people were changed as was the way in which we speak. Growth for Free Enterprise is good. Public Education and Educators are perverse. Progress is a sign of achievement. Businesses and Lewis F. Powell proved this. If we have a plan and plod away patiently, we can realize a success that lasts longer than a decade. Perhaps, we, the people can revive The Great Society, Rebuild the American Dream. Restore the principles within the Elementary and Secondary Education Act. Today, the question is, do we, each one of us feel the strong desire Lyndon B. Johnson did...”to go back to the beginnings of [our] own education-to be reminded and to remind others of that magic time when the world of learning began to open before our eyes.”
Please let us Save Our Schools! Let us be On the March to preserve and Transform Public Education.
copyright © 2012 Betsy L. Angert. BeThink.org
References and Resources…
- Lewis F. Powell,
- “A Confidential Memorandum, Attack on Free Enterprise System.” Powell Memo.
- "The Great Society"
- Save Our Schools!
- Marshall McLuhan, Author, Dies; Declared 'Medium Is the Message', By Alden Whitman. The New York Times Book Review. January 1, 1981
- Get rid of tenure and bad Teachers. By Tonya Alanez. Sun Sentinel. February 19, 2011
- Billionaires Start $60 Million Schools Effort, By David M. Herszenhorn. The New York Times. April 25, 2007
- Deep-Pocket Reformers: The Shadow Secretaries of Education, By Catherine Cloutier. University of Southern California. Anneberg School of Communication and Journalism. 2011
- The Power of the Parent Vote. Center for Work-Life Policy. 2000