Inherent within each of us is a conflict. Generally speaking, we think progress is a sign of achievement. As George Bernard Shaw 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.” However, while we glorify change, we also disdain it. Most of us look back and think, “Those were the days.”
The good old days are commonly defined as “when we were young.” It might have been the 1940s; the fifties, or some other decade. 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. 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?
Lewis F. Powell, then, a corporate Attorney and Industrialist, soon to be Supreme Court Justice, reflected the reality many in commerce believed; they thought that policy that served the commonweal was unacceptable. For those at the socioeconomic top, “progress” irrevocably challenged conventions. Free Enterprise was being attacked. During the 1960s Entrepreneurs saw the nation’s President as a man who wrought wrongs upon them.
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.
“Progress” for commoners and common causes be damned. “The Great Society” was not great for business. To level the playing for all, it was thought, might endanger the elite economically and otherwise. Yet, that was the intent of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act. Schools educate and empower. Thus, Powell devised a plan to combat what he envisioned as an assault. He presented this to his friends and fellows through the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. He titled it, “A Confidential Memorandum, Attack on Free Enterprise System.”
Evident in this paper was an astute awareness; Powell saw the dichotomy that exists within us all. Change can be good and bad. Is it true that “Progress is everyone’s business” or only favorable when it serves the few? Lewis F. Powell communicated his concerns and composed his clarion call, a blueprint for marketers. 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.”
According to Powell, the sources of the “Attack on Free Enterprise” included all the normal suspects. They were “the Communists, New Leftists, and other revolutionaries who would destroy the entire system, both political and economic. . . 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.”
Chief Executive Officers and the esteemed fellows within the U.S. Chamber of Commerce all agreed. The source of the perceived attack came from within society as a whole. As Lewis Powell surmised, we need to educate the people. Lead the public to waters so tantalizing and tempting , they will want to drink. Provide people with choices that benefit business and the “right” thing will be done.
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 bombarded by corporate campaigns, are often persuaded. Frequently too late, people learn that Charters, which pass for public schools, are not. Vouchers validate separate, but equal. Home-schools may not satisfy a child’s need for socialization. Most significantly, regardless of which of these paths we choose, democratization is lost, and public education weakened.
An honorable profession, teaching needed to be seen as subversive, if the marketers were to be successful. Today, it is. To convert the conversation, conservatives had to be seen as intellectuals. Traditional theories needed to be promoted and substantiated. As 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…”,/i>
Now, conservative establishments such as the Hoover Institute, Cato, The Heritage Foundation, and American Enterprise Institute hold esteemed positions in society.
In 1971, 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. Today, the same is true.
Families invite these industries in daily. We turn on television. Tune into the radio. Read periodicals. Lewis Powell explained these are our tools. 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 public too will recite the claims. Teachers are bad. Public schools are failures.
In the 1960s, President Lyndon B. Johnson thought it best to provide freedoms for all citizens rich and poor. He saw that education could be the path toward equalization, and it was, until we “progressed” again, back to the past.
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?
We each must ask ourselves, which is more important to us, the illusion personal freedom or the freedom we share as a nation? When we think only of our own offspring what do we sow and what will society reap? 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.”
Please let us Save Our Schools! Let us be On the March to preserve and Transform Public Education.
References and Resources…
- Lewis F. Powell,
- “A Confidential Memorandum, Attack on Free Enterprise System.” Powell Memo.
- “The Great Society”
- Save Our Schools!