A Thought About the Effect of Political Discourse on Public Education

Those of us born during the cold war have to wonder (if not worry) about how our society negotiates our regional, religious, and cultural differences today. It doesn’t feel like we actually deal with anything. It has become more important to shine a light on the most insignificant differences and demand the other guy change than encourage discourse to promote societal common ground.

Were we more capable of managing the emotional obstacles of disagreement 20 years ago? When did we abandon our ability to set aside our proclivity for hurt feelings when someone argued from a different world view than ours? Perhaps I’m a victim of nostalgia, but I recall people disagreeing and arguing with passion without feeling an existential threat.

My world view is brought into focus through the lens of public education, so I seek first to understand how that discipline is affected by any question. With each year of increased political vitriol, I sink further into despair as our 200-year history of public education is eroded for political gain.

I was appalled last year when our local state senator educated me and a few other superintendents on the horrors of Critical Race Theory. I’m not at all embarrassed to admit I had never heard of CRT. Despite the century of combined educational leadership in the room assuring him that what he was describing (not CRT) was not part of any curriculum in Oklahoma and never would be, his brief experience as an intelligence officer in the Navy would refute our simple teacher understanding. He knew better.

After plenty of hand-wringing over this ridiculous CRT issue, I have placed my hope in the eventual realization by the people of my community that it is really just political posturing and an attempt to create a debate that no one really wants to have. We will continue to teach history from original source documents and verifiable facts. When those facts are ugly, we will present them with the tact and grace that our classroom teachers have relied upon for generations.

Now we have learned that same state senator has introduced legislation to eliminate Social Emotional Learning practices from our schools. What!?!?!?!?

Social Emotional Learning, unlike CRT, is an effective K-12 program that addresses the unique needs of each child. Every child comes into school with unique and often challenging personal experiences. Those experiences influence how each child processes the educational environment.

By understanding Social Emotional Learning practices, teachers are better able to accommodate the classroom environment to meet the varied needs of students. This allows them to become more comfortable and focus on more academic challenges.

Why would a state legislator want to deny teachers the opportunity to incorporate such empathetic practices in the classroom? Political clout. That’s it. The ability to create a public crisis where one doesn’t exist and become the crusader against that same threat is the new political weapon.

Over the last 10 years, I believe there have been three or four bills requiring schools to allow time to recite the Pledge of Allegiance during school. Really? I’d like to hear from you if you or anyone you know has attended a school that didn’t say the Pledge at some point during the school day. These types of bills occupy the time of our legislators with regularity.

These political attempts to create some threat to our social norms or patriotism aren’t harmless. They create a distrust in our local schools. Citizens hear or read these things and have to believe our schools are guilty of something un-American, and they will make those assumptions even when (almost always) there is no evidence that there is a need for this legislation. And now, they’re coming for the books. What type of Orwellian, dystopian novel are we living in? The irony is it is the exact book they would want to burn.

It isn’t too conspiratorial to consider if this is part of a larger effort to eliminate education as a responsibility of the state and privatize it. Before you raise your hand in support of that idea, ask yourself if this country has adequately provided opportunity to the great resources we have available. How many of us relate to the middle class? A privatized education system will reflect the most extreme boundaries of social movement. Those starting with an advantage will grow that advantage, and those born into a world of obstacles will be provided the least amount of support to navigate and conquer those obstacles. At stake will be nothing less than our American dream that everyone has an equal opportunity for success.

Look, flood social media with insulting memes, fly your flag supporting your political agenda, protest where ever you like, counter-protest the same, but for the sake of our democracy and our children, don’t destroy the greatest product of our democracy. Public Education is essential to who we are or think we are.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: