I’m in an airplane, flying from NYC to L.A., where I will attend the annual dinner of LAANE, the Los Angeles Alliance for a New Economy. This group fought for and won a battle to raise the minimum wage. I believe and hope they will join the struggle to support public schools and save them from the clutches of the billionaires.

As I fly, I’m watching the state funeral of President George H.W. Bush. The services are very moving. People speak of his decency, his sense of honor, his humility, his dignity, his loyalty to friends and family, his patriotism, his sense of duty and courage (he volunteered for combat duty in World War II right out of high school). Trump is sitting in the front row, scowling and looking uncomfortable. It’s not about him.

The former Prime Minister of Canada spoke about Bush’s devotion to improving the environment, assuring that we have clean air to breathe and clean water to drink. Others spoke of his support for the Americans with Disabilities Act. Still others referred to his steady hand as the Soviet Union dissolved and the Cold war ended. I broke down and cried when his son George W. said that he takes comfort in knowing that his dad is now hugging Robin (the daughter who died of leukemia at age 3) and holding Barbara’s hand. Because I hope sometime I’ll meet Steven, who died of the same disease at age 2.

I won’t pretend that I saw a lot of him when I worked in his administration. I did not.

When I was Assistant Secretary of Education for the Office of Research and Improvement during the administration of President George H.W. Bush, I made only one trip to the Oval Office.

I was invited to join Secretary Lamar Alexander and Deputy Secretary David Kearns (former CEO of Xerox) to brief the President on our progress in promoting voluntary national standards.

I joined the administration in the summer of 1991, which meant that I spent only about 18-19 months in the federal government. The Democrats on the Hill told me that nothing we proposed would be enacted, so I had to settle in to the idea that whatever we accomplished would be done without any new legislation.

To those who think that President George H.W. Bush was the architect of the test-and-punish regime that has afflicted our schools since the passage of NCLB, let me assure you that this is not true. The truth is that he wasn’t very interested in education policy. His field was foreign policy, and he left education to others. If he had one lodestar in education, it was that the federal government should not mandate anything. He understood that the states were in charge. So did Lamar Alexander, who opposed anything that smacked of a “national board of education.”

The reality is that there was a bipartisan consensus around the ideas of standards-testing-accountability. Bill Clinton and George W. Bush and Barack Obama were on the same page. In 2015, when ESSA was in the birthing stage, Senator Lamar Alexander was ready to discard all the federal mandates, but the Gates-funded Education Trust lined up the civil rights groups that got millions from Gates to demand the mandate of annual testing. Yes, they insisted, children have a civil right to be tested every year!

The Democrats, led by Senator Chris Murphy of Connecticut, wanted to preserve the punishments of NCLB in the new ESSA law, but the Republicans voted them down. Warren and Sanders supported the Murphy Amendment. Fortunately, it was defeated. Ask your Democratic senators—if you have one—why they are in love with the GWB/NCLB punishments.

When I worked for the first Bush administration, we awarded grants to national professional groups to write voluntary national standards. Not much remains of that effort, other than bad memories of how the history standards went wrong after the UCLA team in charge avoided heroes and left out major figures in U.S. history, thereby outraging Lynne Cheney, who was at the time the head of the National Endowment for the Humanities. (That’s a story for another day.)

Anyway, I went over to the White House with Lamar and David. I had decided after a year on the job that the best thing I would do while in Washington was to get some great photos. We sat down facing President Bush. We talked amiably, and I inched closer to him, then closer, then closer, so that I could get a picture alongside him. Eventually I was almost behind the desk with him. This is the picture taken that day. The back of the head of Lamar, a profile of David, but President Bush and I sitting almost side-by-side behind the desk, facing the camera. My mission accomplished!

A good man, not perfect, flawed as we all are, but a man who had a sense of duty. Perhaps his funeral was his last effort to unify us in a time of deep division.

Image-1 2