CHAPTER 8

1976: Too Many Chiefs

Education is a local responsibility, a state function, and a national concern.

—NORMAN C. THOMAS, EDUCATION IN NATIONAL POLITICS1

When I meet with IT executives, I enjoy asking them (I suppose teasing them is a more accurate description), “When was the U.S. Department of Education founded?”

Most haven't a clue. Those who venture a guess usually place it in the New Deal era under President Roosevelt or in the Kennedy administration.

Here are the facts. From 1908 through 1975, 13 American presidents proposed 130 bills to Congress to create a U.S. cabinet-level department of education. All of them failed. Then a political quid pro quo succeeded in creating the U.S. Department of Education in November 1979.

Most people are shocked to learn this.

A Tale of Two Documents

I enjoy visiting the northwest region of the United States, particularly in the summer months, when you can stand in downtown Seattle and it seems as though you can reach out and touch the top of Mount Rainier 50 miles to the southeast. In 1787, however, the northwest portion of the United States of America consisted of Ohio, Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Wisconsin, and parts of Minnesota.

As this newly formed region of the United States was being settled, a framework of law known as the Northwest Ordinance of 1787 was created on July 13, 1787. A key provision of the Northwest Ordinance was that “religion, morality and knowledge being necessary to good government and the happiness of mankind, ...

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