Recently a 15-year old attending school within the Appleton, Wisconsin School District, made both local and national news for alleging that he faced harassment from a teacher for his outspoken political views, which included support for Governor Scott Walker.
If the allegations are true, it is a dagger wounding the image being fostered that the public school system is a non-threatening atmosphere for the unbiased evaluation of competing ideas. We hear the phase “critical thinking” represented as synonymous with the milieu of public education. But that term seems little more than a euphemism for the promotion of political correctness.
The alleged incident also makes the case for further positive consideration of the “school choice” movement, whereby tax subsidies follow, rather than limit, the opportunities of educational choice for the student. Educational vouchers have already gotten a foothold in major metropolitan areas in Wisconsin, and the governor wants to expand the outreach.
Of course, opponents of school choice frequently offer several objections to the policy. First they claim such a policy will destroy public education rather than make it more competitive.
Another argument offered, often by those who tend to be strident secularists, is that many private schools are religious in their orientation, and they believe its wrong for their tax money to be used as such.
They fail to recognize that their argument is easily reversible. Concerned parents may believe that their children are exposed to philosophies of secular humanism and political liberalism in public schools that circumvent the values of the parents, and are completely extraneous to the learning experience. They bemoan the requirement to fund what they perceive as indoctrination.
Of course, a simply way to handle the funding issue, which would side step personal objections to subsidizing what goes against liberty of conscience, would be to replace the voucher with tuition tax credits. Nobody would need to worry about financially promoting religion.
People opposed to school choice say that parents already have a choice. They assert parents who desire other options for the education of their children have to pay for that choice, yet still fund public education just the same. The libertarian devotion to personal choice typically reserved for reproductive issues mysteriously vanishes when it comes to eduational preogatives.
In addition, this issue underscores another element of hypocrisy. Liberals attack Voter I.D. as a scheme to disenfranchise the poor, elderly and youth, who are thought to be constituencies for the democrats. Yet they also oppose school choice which gives more opportunities to economically challenged segments of society. This makes private education less attainable for those other than the wealthy.
While the boilerplate claim of the public education establishment is that their top priority is the children, not everyone employed within the system agrees. A few years ago the retiring general counsel for the NEA, briefly laid out the group’s true priorities in a departing address …
“…And that brings me to my final, and most important point. Which is why, at least in my opinion, NEA and its affiliates are such effective advocates. Despite what some among us would like to believe, it is not because of our creative ideas. It is not because of the merit of our positions. It is not because we care about children. And it is not because we have a vision of a great public school for every child. NEA and its affiliates are effective advocates because we have power…”
The statement above should make any dedicated educator cringe. But before anyone offers a chorus of protests about the statement being out of context, please provide a context where such a statement is acceptable.
The NEA has championed many liberal causes and endorsed a disproportionate number of “progressive” politicians in recent decades. Would it be unreasonable to suppose these ideological postures seep down from the administration through some educators, and then to the students?
It should be noted that I have no particular axe to grind against public education. I am a product of the public education system and have no complains about either the quality or content of the education I received. I was a decent student academically by my senior year in high school. I would say there was a mutual respect between my teachers and myself. Adding to that, I have professional educators in my immediate family. While I started in the Appleton school system, I finished in a small neighboring community. At that time I think that the worldview of the faculty closely reflected the community ethic, rather than embarking in a campaign of progressive activism. The 1970’s were a different era, and I thought differently as well, as I remember be gung-ho for Jimmy Carter my senior year of high school.
Abraham Lincoln once said that the philosophies in the schoolhouse today are the philosophies in the statehouse tomorrow. Parents should not merely consider the quality of education, but also the content of education, as well as the ideology that trickles down, as they consider their children’s welfare.