The Education Reform Report is a pdf hosted on CNP's own site. [Update: Not any more. Once the Washington Post got hold of this story, the document disappeared from the site. But the good people at Eclectablog have a copy hosted on their site.] It's only five pages long, including a cover letter from CNP executive director Bob McEwen. That letter does not get off to an auspicious start with its reference to "Mrs. Becky DeVos, Secretary-designate," but it corrects itself one paragraph later. It's an odd mistake, given that Betsy's father was president of this organization for two multi-year spans. But let's move on.
The Four Assumptions
The report starts by asking the question of whose worldview should be represented in the soul of a culture and hints that the answer is "not the government's." Then it lays out the four assumptions and a pledge for the rest of the report:
1. All knowledge and facts have a source, a Creator; they are not self-existent.
2. Religious neutrality is a myth perpetrated by secularists who destroy their own claim the moment they attempt to enforce it.
3. Parents and guardians bear final responsibility for their children’s education, with the inherent right to teach, or to choose teachers and schools, whether institutional or not.
4. No civil government possesses the right to overrule the educational choices of parents and guardians.
5. The CNP Education Committee pledges itself to work toward achievable goals based on uncompromised principles, so that their very success will provoke a popular return to the Judeo-Christian principles of America’s Founders who, along with America’s pioneers, believed that God belonged in the classroom.
As we're about to see, they mean it. This is their proposed plan for reforming education under the Trump/DeVos regime.
Phase I- Federal Reform
There are five proposed actions for the federal government.
1. Get rid of Common Core and all other "DOE social engineering programs." Also, stop all data collection. Yeah, we still don't understand the federal role in Common Core.
2. Dismantle the Department of Education and return all functions to the states.
3. Make the case that "a Federal D.O.E. is unconstitutional, illegal and contrary to America’s education practice for 300 years from early 17th century to Colonial times."
4. This one's... odd. "Engage College Board for accountability of accuracy/thoroughness in higher education with regards to America’s founding and historical education practices." Do these people not know what the College Board is?
5. Push for school choice in all states (over voucher schemes).
Then they offer eleven strategies for achieving these goals. These include getting the DOE to declare its intention "to return complete sovereignty" to the states. With the possible exception of some necessary temporary bridge funding, stop all federal funding of education. Return all money to the states.
For the duration of its existence,Fire every single person at the Department of education "from Assistant Secretaries to the mailroom" and replace them with people who believe in the Trump/DeVos vision. Change the Department of Education to the President's Advisory Council on Education Reform.
Mobilize all manner of conservative and religious leaders to push for the dismantling of the department. Hire lobbyists "like Tom DeLay." Get the Heritage Foundation on board.
Oh, and promote the 1828 Webster's Dictionary definition of education:
The bringing up, as of a child, instruction; formation of manners. Education comprehends all that series of instruction and discipline which is intended to enlighten the understanding, correct the temper, and form the manners and habits of youth, and fit them for usefulness in their future stations. To give children a good education in manners, arts and science, is important; to give them a religious education is indispensable; and an immense responsibility rests on parents and guardians who neglect these duties.
Phase II- State/Local Level
Once the department has been torn apart and reduced to an advisory committee, we can start fixing state and local schools. CNP has seven items on that wish list:
1. Restore Ten Commandments posters to all K-12 public schools. (Do I not have to "restore" them if they were never there? And where in all this plan did we rewrite the Constitution?)
2. Clearly post America’s Constitution and Declaration of Independence.
3. Encourage K-12 schools to recognize traditional holidays (e.g., Easter, Thanksgiving, Christmas) as celebrations of our Judeo-Christian heritage. Thanksgiving is part of Judeo-Christian Heritage?
4. Implement select Bible classes, such as Chuck Stetson’s Bible Literacy Project. Because apparently the whole separation of church and state thing was just created by the Department of Education, and once that's gone, the issue will never come up again?
5. Encourage instruction on U.S. and World history from the Judeo-Christian perspective for middle school and high school history and civics classes.
6. Develop and recommend In-service training on philosophy of education for K-12 faculty based on historical Judeo-Christian philosophy of education.
7. Strongly push states to remove secular-based sex education materials from school facilities, and emphasize parental instruction.
"Just as the Christian gospel was designed to succeed by acclaim," CNP thinks these reforms should not come in the form of top-down mandates.
Far better is the promotion of a gradual, voluntary return at all levels to free-market private schools, church schools and home schools as the normative American practice. We believe such a move will benefit the public at-large, open their eyes to the deficiencies of government-run secular education and provide an attractive, superior alternative, as was once the norm in American education.
Kind of makes one wonder why, if the American norm was once all home and private schools, how we ever developed a public system. Probably more of that Godless secularism.
The Mayflower Compact
That's what the report ends with-- a quote from and the story of the Mayflower compact, quoting from a pastor David Riggs, who talks about how "these chivalrous souls" (well, just the men, of course) were dedicated to "the total cause of freedom." Well, sort of. The Puritans of Massachusetts were interested in religious freedom for themselves. For others, not so much. They put people in the stocks for celebrating Christmas (so much for the war on that holiday) and banished and even executed folks who insisted on speaking up about other versions of the Christian faith.
I have huge respect for those folks, and I am so very white that I have at least one ancestor who came over on that boat. But when we talk about the Puritan version of freedom, we're talking about "Freedom for me because I'm right and nobody else should have the freedom to be wrong." Which is an attractive sort of "freedom" when you're the one making the rules, but it's not actually freedom at all.
So who are these people?
The Council for National Policy was founded in 1981 by Tim LaHaye, then the head of the Moral Majority (and later author of the Left Behind series), Nelson Bunker Hunt, T. Cullen Davis, William Cies, and Paul Weyrich. It meets three times a year, and if you haven't heard of it, that's because they'd rather you didn't. The New York Times in 2004 described them as "a little-known club of a few hundred of the most powerful conservatives in the country," and the Center for Media and Democracy calls them a "shadowy secretive group." The Daily Kos, never a group for understatement, calls them "Sith Lords of the Ultra Right." Members are told not to discuss the group's meetings outside, and are encouraged not to even mention that they are members. When ABC attempted to profile the group, they found members mostly unwilling to be interviewed.
The group's website lists their priorities-- Limited government, traditional values (we believe thatthe Founding Fathers created this nation based upon Judeo-Christian values and that our culture flourishes when we uphold them), and strong national defense. They are listed as a "nonpartisan, educational foundation"-- a 501(c)(3) tax-exempt organization. That theoretically bars them from being politically active, and it's true there's not a lot of information about how they work (in 1992, the IRS briefly revoked their status, but that doesn't seem to have changed anything). But in an interview with ABC, then-executive director Steve Baldwin only half-jokingly said that "we control everything in the world."
In 1999 George Bush spoke to a CNP meeting, and this last cycle several of the GOP Presidential nominees made the trip to earn the group's backing. These folks have some clout, and when you look at who the members are, you can see why. Mitt Romney and Dick Cheney both addressed the group in 2007.
Information about membership in CNP is not easy to come by. Some watchdog groups have occasionally grabbed some listings, and in a big coup, the Southern Poverty Law Center allegedly got their hands on the CNP 2014 membership directory.
The roster may have as many as 500 members. Membership is by invitation only. Members have allegedly included Pat Robertson, James Dobson, John Ashcroft, Oliver North, Phyllis Schlafly, Trent Lott, Ed Meese, Donald Wildmon, Wayne LaPierre, Rick Santorum, Steve Forbes, Jeffrey and Joseph Coors, Grover Norquist, and Tom DeLay. You get the idea. If you want more details, try this list.
So do we actually care here?
So we have an ultra-right reclusive group of would-be policy influencers. So what. Everybody and their brothers and sisters and favorite lobbyists are writing up proposals of the "What Betsy DeVos Should Do Next" variety. Most of them are meaningless. Is this just more blather?
It may well be. But here's what I notice while sifting through that 2014 membership directory.
Mission statement: "To advance freedom by bringing together business, cultural, defense, educational, religious and public policy leaders to address the great issues confronting America ."
Vision statement: "A united conservative movement to insure, by 2020, policy leadership and governance that restores religious and economic freedom, a strong national defense, and Judeo-Christian values under the Constitution."
Values. There are seven
1) Protect and Advance Essential Liberties.
2) Promote Networking.
3) Commit to Accuracy. By which they mean, make sure you get our info out "to effectively equip conservative leaders."
4) Lead and Influence Others.
5) Practice Integrity. Which seems to mean, don't go leaking our stuff.
6) Exercise Mutual Respect. Play nice within the group.
7) Encourage Unity. That is, within the conservative movement.
There's a list of past presidents. As I already mentioned, Rich DeVos, Betsy's father-in-law, was a president first from 1986-1988, then from 1990-1993.
Mr. Ed Prince is listed on the In Memoriam page, and Elsa Prince Broekhuizen is listed as a member-- those would be Betsy DeVos's parents. That may be why Betsy's brother Erik has admitted to attending some meetings.
Also listed as members in the 2014 directory? Stephen K. Bannon, and Kellyanne Conway.
So how scary is this, really?
Honestly, hard to say. These guys are out to change the world, but they've got Rick Santorum on board, and they have something called the William F. Buckley Jr Council which, in 2014, included Josh Duggar.
On the other hand, how likely is it that Betsy DeVos is familiar with the work of a ultra-right influence-peddling group in which her husband's family and her own have been deeply involved over the years? Super likely. At a bare minimum, we have here a look at what folks in DeVos's sphere really want to see happen to public education. At worst, we have a document that is sitting in a desk drawer somewhere in the Department of Education in a folder labeled "To Do List."
Bottom line-- there's a group with an explicit plan for destroying the Department of Education and installing theocratic control over US education, and the secretary of Education as well as key folks at the White House are directly tied to that group.
So at least some scary. One more thing to keep our eyes on.
[Update: Additional reporting on this story can be found at by Chris Savage at Eclectablog and Emma Brown at the Washington Post]