One federal department Rick Perry can remember he wants to eliminate is Education. The presidential candidate has just revealed an overview of his approach to “wasteful, overbearing, and redundant” agencies, going into greater detail yesterday with a new policy document.

Perry’s education platform is much less specific than the other currently leading candidates'—Mitt Romney doesn’t even include the issue on his website, while Newt Gingrich and Herman Cain mention specific proposals they support, such as teacher evaluations and vouchers—but that’s partly because his approach is the most minimalist. Perry seems to realize that presidents have little (okay, no) Constitutional authority over education, and plans, therefore, to eliminate the department and send federal education funds back to states in block grants.

While this is the most constitutionally and historically justifiable federal position, it’s also not very pragmatic. The current state of federal education policy is an excellent prism through which to view the country’s state of a mind as a whole, since it touches upon so many pressing and heartfelt issues: children, families, pensions, taxes, local institutions, organized labor, the poor and middle-class.

Normal, middle-class Americans are not ready to dramatically shift the country from soft despotism back to a limited, constitutional republic. We saw this with last week’s Ohio vote, where two-thirds of the state rejected fiscally expedient union curbs while also rejecting new education taxes, and we see this in Congress, where the only proposal moving forward on the biggest federal education law, No Child Left Behind, is strangling itself just like the supercommittee’s budget negotiations.

Americans in general, not just Occupy Wall Streeters, want plenteous government programs without having to pay for them. Dissolving that cognitive dissonance is essential to our future wholeness and prosperity, and simple assertions about ending federal agencies cannot themselves flush away these embedded contradictions.

Steven Hayward, a much wiser mind, offers some essential thoughts for conservatives like Perry who want to address “wasteful and overbearing” government but cannot actually do so without a great amount of persuasion and consensus.

Joy Pullmann is managing editor of School Reform News and an education research fellow at The Heartland Institute.

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