My Grandma Was a Federal Criminal

My grandmother was a federal criminal and, technically, a smuggler.  She was in her 20’s during Prohibition, and like most people during that time she regularly broke federal law.  When you implement bad policy people ignore it, and when the enforcers know it is bad policy, they either enforce it more (Elliot Ness) or ignore it (most local police departments).  The only time that I know of that she was caught was the time she returned from a week long trip to Bermuda.  She was wearing a long baggy coat and when she was leaning forward at customs to sign a form, the two bottles hidden in the lining clanked together.  The customs agent said “How many you got?” and she responded “Two bottles for my father” and he waived her through.

So my grandmother, who I remember as a lovely, elegant, incredibly neat woman’; a woman that scored a hole in one in her 70’s and danced to OPP at my cousin’s wedding, regularly broke the law.  She is gone now almost 17 years, but she is always with me.  My grandmother, the federal criminal.

So, why is this important?  I have often thought that there are many parallels between Prohibition and ESEA/NCLB/RttT and what most people think of as “Common Core”.

Prohibition was enacted and repealed by Amendments to the Constitution.  ESEA/NCLB/RttT evolved over decades into what is now to be rewritten by Congress.  So, there is a difference there.


Both were instituted by people with the best of intentions; one to stop alcohol from ruining peoples lives, the other to make sure education is doing the best job for every child.

Both caused good law abiding people to break the law.  Everyday people like my grandma during Prohibition.  Teachers with cheating scandals either to try and keep their schools intact and continuity for the children who tried so hard; or cheating to make their schools look better then they were. (I am looking at you Michelle Rhee).

New enterprises sprung up to address new needs created by the new laws.  Organized crime became organized crime during Prohibition.  Charter schools have sprung up to take advantage of closing “bad schools”.   Both operate “outside the law” as charters do not have to take everyone as public schools do, and they can “counsel” out students that do not work for them, and organized crime is, well, crime.

Interestingly, Al Capone, the most famous gangster of the 1920’s, and various Charter schools recently, were brought down by the IRS for tax related issues.  (See, somethings really do stay the same).

Chicago factors big in both Prohibition and what is happening in education today, as Arne Duncan cut his teeth in the school systems of Chicago.

So, here are some broad strokes of the similarities between Prohibition and ESEA/NCLB.  NCLB is being rewritten and the comment period is open until February 2.    Please comment.  Please tell them your story.

This is important because Common Core received “10,000” comments before implementation.  We need 1,000,000 comments. There are groups collecting the comments as posted so that there is a record.  If you are of a mind to do so, please paste yours in the comments section here.

Also, I want to thank Mark Naison for this blog that hit my twitter feed this morning.

It hit home for me that if we do not learn from history, we are doomed to repeat it.    Bad policy begets bad behavior.

Please email your comments.

Christine Zirkelbach


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