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The Politics of the Profile
By Martin Kaste
September 7, 1999
Part of MPR Online's "Back to School '99" series.
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Minnesota's public schools are starting year two of the controversial "Profile of Learning" curriculum standards. Last spring, opponents of the Profile had a big impact at the State Capitol with protests and constituent phone calls, and they convinced the Minnesota House to vote to scrap the system altogether; a move that ultimately failed in the Senate. Despite their near-success, opponents of the Profile say the news media have misrepresented their positions and portrayed them as kooks, and they say the people of Minnesota don't really know what's at stake.

Related Links
Maple River Education Coalition

National Employer Leadership Council

Minnesota graduation standards

School to Work information (MN)
The Profile of Learning is the new system of statewide curriculum guidelines that extols the virtues of "hands-on" learning, and which encourages children to "show what they know." It's also very controversial, and in the last year or so, the most vocal opposition has come from a group of parents known as the "Maple River Education Coalition," based in southern Minnesota. The coalition made a lot of noise at the Capitol last spring, attracting attention from the media and earning themselves contempt from people like Governor Ventura.
Ventura:The "Maple River Group," that think UFOs are landing next month. Well they do! They think it's some big government federal conspiracy!
Maple River's image as wild-eyed zealots may be traced in part to the group's religious element. David Ekblad, for example, is the pastor of a Baptist church in Fairmont, and he's unabashed about his theory of what's really behind the Profile of Learning.
Ekblad: In order to accomplish a one-world system, there must be the ability to control everyone, and it seems to be much more of a push from the top down in our government to control the thinking process, rather than to allow individuals to think individually.
Ekblad says he believes the federal government's decade-old "Goals 2000" plan, which encourages systems like the Profile of Learning, is modeled on the education systems of Cuba and China, and he sees the Profile as a sign of imminent apocalypse.
Ekblad: From my personal perspective, and this has nothing to do with the Maple River Coalition, but from my personal perspective, that fits very well with what the word of God tells us is happening, for we are living in the last days, and there will be a one-world government.
Although Ekblad says his religious views shouldn't be taken as the official position of the Maple River group, many people who oppose the Profile share some version of his beliefs; last spring, one Profile opponent accused the chairman of the Senate K-12 Education Budget committee of being the anti-Christ.

Incidents like that make Renee Doyle wince.
Doyle: I've never been a conspiratorial person.
Doyle founded the Maple River Education Coalition, after resigning a seat on her school board in protest over the Profile.
Doyle: But once you start investigating it, you reach this point of no return.
She says her group is made up of people from a wide variety of political and religious backgrounds, even a couple of atheists and public-school teachers, and she says the reason the general public doesn't share her outrage over the Profile is because it simply doesn't know what's going on. She says almost all the news stories about problems with the Profile seem to focus on the extra bureaucracy it creates, but she says that's just a side issue. The real threat of the Profile, she says, is worse than mere paperwork.
Doyle: Under the guise of the phrase "educational reform," we have a new federal system being implemented, which, instead of training children with a liberal broad-based education, it's a highly-specified skill-based training, based on what private industry and the economy desires from a student.
In the view of the Maple River Education Coalition, the Profile is the first big step toward a "school-to-work" education philosophy, modeled on European schools. The Coalition and like-minded groups around the country say the federal government is working hand-in-hand with private industry to make American schools more employment-oriented. And on the face of it, this is true. The federal government has cooperated with business groups like the National Employer Leadership Council, which seeks to get companies involved with local schools to create what it calls "career awareness" in early grades, and to set up workplace internships for high-schoolers - sometimes during the school day.

Defenders of the "school-to-work" approach say there's nothing wrong with this. Lieutenant Governor Mae Schunk.
Schunk: Isn't education about preparing you with skills for future success? I mean, let's face it: we're all going to move into the workforce after we're students, and business has said to the educators, "We're getting students who are not prepared to work," and "How can we help you," and "How can we tell you what these kids need?" And we have asked them.
According to Renee Doyle, this philosophy turns the purpose of education on its head.
Doyle: It is not for the needs of the child, it is for the marketplace, the economic marketplace. A new system as this, will provide the human capital in the exact areas of industry that they are needed. And there's the belief that there is no need to educate a child beyond just what they are going to need for that specific career.
State education officials consider this "bunk." For one thing, the Profile doesn't have any mechanism to require children to train for particular career. But Doyle points to the Profile's so-called a "Lifework Plan," something she says is the first step toward career-tracking.

This belief is shared by Neal Breitbarth, a local Republican Party leader in southern Minnesota who co-owns an agriculture equipment company just outside Fairmont. He says the Profile and "School to Work" miss the point of education.
Breitbarth: The implication is there that education is wasted on someone that is performing a task that doesn't necessarily require an education. For instance, a truck driver with a college education. They imply that the education has been wasted on that person. And that is just totally wrong.
Some defenders of school-to-work do say that many Americans who go to college should really be having more specialized technical schooling, and starting it in high school. Again, that's the European model, but Breitbarth says he doesn't want to see it here, and he says he doesn't even think it'll fulfill its promise of better employees for businesses like his.
Breitbarth: A well-rounded education is the best education - where you have all the English and literature and history, math, all those things and put them together, and not just track them into if they're going to build houses, just to teach them how to read a ruler.
Ultimately, much of the resistance to the Profile of Learning and school-to-work comes from a very American fear of losing personal freedom; the value that Renee Doyle sees as most imperiled by the new system.
Doyle: I don't want to see a 200-year-old country just lose everything it was originally founded on. I think we are the non-armored soldiers of this generation, that are not going to be fighting with guns, we are going to be fighting with our minds and willpower.
Doyle admits most Minnesotans do not see the Profile of Learning in the same terms she does, but she says it's only a matter of time; she predicts it will eventually be the biggest political news story for decades. So far, the Profile issue has not caught fire statewide, but it is smoldering at the local level.

One Republican candidate in a special legislative election in Duluth is campaigning against school-to-work as well as the Profile. In Willmar, local Republican leaders censured their longtime state senator, Dean Johnson, because he refused to vote to scrap the Profile. And the Maple River Education Coalition is becoming a more established political-action group; renting office space in Mankato in preparation for this winter, when the Legislature is likely to reconsider the fate of the Profile of Learning.