Robert Ehlert: Here's Idaho's chance to educate Huckabee

rehlert@idahostatesman.comJune 8, 2014 

Mike Huckabee hangs out a lot at the intersection of "Conservatism" and "Common Sense." It says so at mikehuckabee.com.

The likable FOX-TV host, former Arkansas governor and sometimes-presidential candidate commands a lot of respect around the country. It is no wonder he was invited to be one of the featured speakers, along with Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., at next weekend's Idaho Republican Convention in Moscow.

But what I'm curious about is which Mike Huckabee is going to show up: the one who came out of the block in support of Common Core education standards several years ago, or the one who now regularly qualifies his enthusiasm for the academic standards that focus on math and English.

To use a Huckabee analogy, is the folksy preacher/musician/Republican politician still driving down the middle of the Common Core highway or has he veered into a ditch alongside detractors gathered to criticize the standards as an insidious power grab by the federal government?

For a while there, Huckabee and another GOP luminary, Jeb Bush, were the draft horses pulling the Common Core wagon into sometimes extremely suspicious GOP-held territory. But Huckabee started to take some heat from the people loyal to his broadcasts and seemingly never-ending campaigns for the presidency.

In February he posted this at mikehuckabee.com under the heading, "Common Core is Dead, But common sense shouldn't be":

Here's a sampling of some things people have posted on my FB (Facebook) page lately: "I hear you support Common Core education standards; I'll never watch your show again;" another: "If you support Common Core, you've lost my trust." Or this, "You need to learn the truth about Common Core." I guess the person who said he'd never watch my show again won't hear this and that's too bad. Let me cut right to the chase: I don't support what Common Core has become in many states or school districts. I'm dead set against the federal government creating a uniform curriculum for any subject; I oppose the collection of personal data on students that would identify them and track them and any effort to give that personal information to the federal government. . .

He goes on to explain the Common Core "label" has come to be associated with things he detests: agenda-driven curriculum that indoctrinates instead of educates. He concludes that the term "Common Core" needs to disappear because it is toxic and needs rebranding.

Rebrand Common Core? That will work as well as the New Coke experiment. What we need is more people like Huckabee spending more time with states such as Idaho, where there is work oiling what squeaks and progress on tweaks.

I hope Huckabee has the time while in Idaho on Thursday to visit with proponents of the Gem State version: the Idaho Core Standards. No doubt there is work to do on testing and there is some trailblazing involved in statewide implementation. I sat in on the Idaho State Senate Education Committee hearing during the Legislature, and I heard a few naysayers recite the Common Core federal conspiracy theories. But I was more convinced by the testimony of teachers and administrators who shared their passion for a system that is stimulating to them and students.

That's because the idea behind Common Core has a base, but it was designed with flexibility and adaptability. It even has an "on-off" switch. If it were a federal mandate, how did Indiana (and recently Oklahoma) manage to opt out? Yet some 40 other states continue to customize their versions of the standards because the people in charge know American kids are losing out in the education race, a global competition for jobs with high stakes.

For those who think I embrace Common Core, I don't embrace or even want to tolerate what it's come to mean in too many locations. Yes, it's been hijacked, and I don't support the hijackers or the destination, but I don't blame the airplane for getting hijacked. I just hope we aren't willing to accept mediocrity as a standard.

Here's a challenge for Mike Huckabee: Invite the people behind the Idaho Core Standards to come on your show. They can demonstrate how there are no ties to the federal government, no data mining and no illusions. But there is momentum that doesn't benefit one bit from doubt and drama.

What's going on in Idaho is right there at the corner of Conservatism and Common Sense.

Robert Ehlert is the Statesman's editorial page editor. Contact him at 377-6437, or on Twitter @IDS_HelloIdaho.

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