Part of the reason FrumForum has inaugurated a Joan of Bachmann watch is because the conservative movement seems to have some large blind spots in how it views potential presidential candidate Michele Bachmann. Conservatives see her as combining Tea Party financial austerity with social conservative credentials. But if Bachmann does well in the primary and scores a spot on the GOP ticket, it’s likely that the rest of the country will see a politician who will be known for holding radical views.
Consider how National Review described Bachmann’s past in their recent cover story about her. (The full story is unfortunately behind a paywall.) Here is how the magazine described Bachmann’s involvement with a charter school in Minnesota early in the 1990’s:
With a group of parents, Bachmann founded New Heights, a charter school, in 1992. The experience — dealing with state government, stirring neighbors to get involved — taught her much about organizing and, for the first time, how to deal with the media. But after butting heads with some parents about the curriculum, Bachmann, a board member, resigned.
That is the full account of her time with New Heights given by National Review. It leaves out a lot of details. According to a Bloomberg profile (and other reports) the “butting heads with some parents about the curriculum” occurred because the charter school was accused of receiving federal funds to provide a religious education:
Almost immediately, reports that the publicly funded school was dabbling in religion began trickling home to parents. Denise Stephens, the mother of a student, said a teacher banned the Disney movie “Aladdin” because it depicted magic. An American Indian-themed art project was nixed. And there was talk that the special board created to help guide the school, which included Bachmann, wanted to mandate prayer and a religious curriculum.
The school district started a fact-finding inquiry that confirmed evidence the curriculum involved religion, according to Stephens. At a packed public meeting, just three months after the school opened, Bachmann and four other board members resigned when presented with the parents’ concerns, Stephens said.
Bachmann said she never tried to introduce a religious curriculum, and that the board stepped down over an academic disagreement.
This reporting not only raises concerns about whether the charter school she was involved with was misusing state funds, it also provides a bit more color about the sort of world that Bachmann was in. What sort of school hires a teacher who bans Aladdin because it promotes “witchcraft”?
This is not the only part of the National Review profile which seems to gloss over parts of her backstory. Here is how the magazine describes Bachmann’s involvement with another group concerned with education in Minnesota, the Maple River Education Coalition, or MREC:
During Bill Clinton’s second term, Bachmann decided to speak out beyond the neighborhood coffee klatch. The Left’s heavy influence over the state’s public schools, which enabled bureaucrats to craft shoddy, politically correct classroom material, motivated her to join the Maple River Education Coalition, a group of parents and community members who, like her, were upset with the quality of public-school education.
Bachmann’s cries for education reform were soon heard around Minnesota as she and her allies campaigned against the St. Paul progressives. “I put together a two-hour commentary and went everywhere,” she says. “We talked about the curriculum being dumbed down and about how this is devastating for our kids.”
The piece then shifts to her failed run for the local school board.
What was wrong with the quality of the public education in the schools? What was the “politically correct classroom material” Bachmann was campaigning against? National Review doesn’t say. According to Mother Jones, the group campaigned against federal education standards, the International Baccalaureate curriculum, and had other concerns about the formation of a one-world government. (Full disclosure, I am an IB alum.)
For MREC’s members, fears of a state-planned economy were just the tip of the conspiracy. According to the group, the federal standards were actually part of a globalist plot. As they explained, the Profile was an extension of a Clinton-era program called Goals 2000, which made a preliminary attempt at a basic set of national curriculum standards. That initiative, meanwhile, marked the continuation of an effort endorsed by George H.W. Bush, called “Education for All,” which, in turn, adopted principles originally floated by the United Nations. “Promoting World Citizenship over National Sovereignty is now Official US government policy,” Chapman later wrote .
American Exceptionalism and Judeo-Christian principles, long a Bachmann sticking point, were being pushed to the back burner while environmentalist concepts like “sustainable development” emerged as a tool of the global agenda. Just what would this UN-based curriculum look like? The MREC identified 17 key planks of the global agenda—among them “pantheism,” “evolution,” “socialized medicine,” “one-world government,” and the “creation of ‘biosphere reserves.’” Even International Baccalaureate, the worldwide advanced placement system, drew the group’s scorn; a fact-sheet provided by MREC called it “the foundation of tyranny .”
Would this more complete picture of Michele Bachmann’s past, including the very peculiar educational activities, make her more appealing to the conservative base? Or would they also feel that a group which describes an educational curriculum as “tyrannical” is outside of the mainstream?
At the very least, it would be helpful if conservatives acknowledged that Bachmann’s history in local education raises important questions about what she actually believes.