What do Foster Friess and Michelle Rhee have in common, indeed? At first, you might just think they were at a fundraiser for an education project or something, right? Wrong. Michelle Rhee and her new husband Kevin Johnson were honored, along with
February 20, 2012

What do Foster Friess and Michelle Rhee have in common, indeed? At first, you might just think they were at a fundraiser for an education project or something, right? Wrong. Michelle Rhee and her new husband Kevin Johnson were honored, along with Gary Sinise and NRA President Wayne LaPierre by the Joe Foss Institute for being "outstanding Americans". Friess was the chairman of the event.

Who is the Joe Foss Institute?

The Joe Foss Institute was created to work with youth in schools and youth groups across America—with those who will defend our freedoms in the future—encouraging & teaching democracy, patriotism, integrity, and public service. We help our audiences understand—and stand up for—the ideals upon which this country was founded, as reflected in our Founding Documents: the Constitution, the Bill of Rights, and the Declaration of Independence.

We do this because somehow we—as a nation—have devalued the teaching of history, and have, according to our own Department of Education, done an alarmingly poor job of helping students gain a solid understanding of the historical and philosophical foundation upon which our nation was built.

Here. Let me translate that for you. What they meant to say was this: We have defunded our school systems in order to degrade the education children get. We did this because schoolchildren were not being taught sound conservative Christian values in our schools. Now we will indoctrinate them properly.

The Joe Foss Institute has some interesting directors, as seen on this cached page as well as the current one.

  • Mike Ingram, Arizona real estate mogul who bought up lots of Arizona real estate in the early oughts with the goal of developing Arizona's desert. Most of those areas were hard-hit by the Great Recession.
  • Renee Giltner, also treasurer of the Goldwater Institute.
  • William G. Boykin, former Undersecretary of Defense for Intelligence division and Muslim-hater. (More information)
  • George Argyos, former Ambassador to Spain, real estate mogul, billionaire, and more. His Freddie Mac associations might disqualify him from running for President, but they're not as important when funding charities to indoctrinate children.

While it's important to note the right-wing bent of this group, it's more interesting to see what they do and why Michelle Rhee and Foster Friess might have a common interest in them.

The Joe Foss Institute exists because Ronald Reagan called for more inculcation of "patriotic values" in education; specifically, civics education. Here's John Elway telling everyone about it:

This video features John Elway, Joe Foss, and Oliver North, among others. Veterans from the foundation give school presentations, hand out literature, and tell schoolchildren about what "true patriotism" is all about.

But wait, there's more. A couple of new staff members were recently added to the team. From the blog post on the Foss website:

Melissa Sampson joined the Joe Foss Institute team in November 2011, as a Curriculum Coordinator.

Melissa's background includes stops at leading e-learning curriculum companies OdysseyWare and Education2020, where she was a Curriculum Development Specialist. She has designed content for online social studies courses for 6th to 12th grades. At OdysseyWare, she wrote and edited all of the assessment items for nine social studies online courses, designed for students in 3rd through 12th grades.

Hmmm. Here's what Melissa says about her new job at the Joe Foss Institute:

"With an increasing focus on Common Core and STEM initiatives, social studies programs have suffered in recent years," Melissa said. "JFI gives me the opportunity to serve as an advocate for amending this educational crisis. The organization is working hard to promote civics and history in classrooms nationwide. I look forward to providing teachers with top-quality resources they can use to educate students to become active, informed citizens."

Well, there you go. That's certainly right up Michelle Rhee's alley. Here's the "crisis": Schoolchildren are not meeting proficiency standards in history and/or civics. This page explaining the problem at hand looks like something Rhee could have written herself, because you know, numbers are everything. Right?

I have nothing against veterans giving speeches at schools. I have nothing against patriotism. I really want our children to get a far better education in history and civics. But I do have something against patriotism and education when it comes in one flavor -- right wing. I especially have something against a non-profit organization hiring online education advocates when there's been a concerted push to replace public school curriculum with for-profit online education curriculum.

To review, one board member is a member of the Goldwater Institute, a known advocate for school choice, another one is connected to the NRA, and the chairman for one of their star-spangled affairs also happens to be funding the insane Rick Santorum, who said this about education on the campaign trail Saturday:

In the nation's past, he said, "Most presidents home-schooled their children in the White House.… Parents educated their children because it was their responsibility.

"Yes, the government can help, but the idea that the federal government should be running schools, frankly much less that the state government should be running schools, is anachronistic."

(Aside from schools for the children of military personnel, the federal government does not actually operate schools. Most U.S. schools are supported primarily by state or local funding, or a combination of the two.)

Santorum said the public education system was an artifact of the Industrial Revolution, "when people came off the farms where they did home school or had a little neighborhood school, and into these big factories … called public schools."

I should note for the record that Rick Santorum has his own public school scandal to wrestle with; specifically how he answers to bilking Pennsylvania taxpayers for a $100,000 bill to use an online school service based in Virginia.

Foster Friess understands exactly what Santorum meant. Here's a snippet from his website:

The stranglehold teachers’ unions have on our nation’s public schools has stifled success. Unfortunately, many would rather keep everyone down, at the same level, than encourage success wherever possible. But, as Booker T. Washington wrote, “One man cannot hold another man down in the ditch without remaining down in the ditch with him.”

Some readers have accused me of unfairly linking Michelle Rhee with the right-wing cabal's aim to kill public education altogether. I ask them to consider Rick Santorum's statement, Foster Friess' very clear hatred of public schools (and unions), Rhee's associations with Rupert Murdoch, the Koch Foundation, Betsy DeVos and Scott Walker, her current "consulting" in Alabama (where there are currently no charter schools), and tell me again that she doesn't share their goals.

Michelle Rhee presents herself as someone solely concerned "with the children." Yet her by-the-numbers, bottom line approach to education serves only one master: the for-profit interests looking to grow our economy by privatizing public education. Palling around with billionaires who happen to represent those for-profit interests is never a bad thing for someone looking to turn a pretty profit from being a "school reformer."

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