Let’s Talk About Public Education

The GOP has found a new wedge issue–attacking public education. It is apparently irrelevant that their attacks are based on imaginary issues (critical race theory) or the party’s longstanding anti-intellectualism (attacks on a book by critically-acclaimed author Toni Morrison). Both are, at their core, appeals to racism.

As I have previously posted–and as most readers of this blog know–critical race theory is not and never has been part of any elementary or high school curricula. For that matter, it hasn’t been part of college curricula, either–it is a relatively arcane area of legal research, pursued almost entirely by law professors. But like the attack on literature that portrays a side of American history that offends certain White parents, it isn’t intended to be accurate. It’s intended to activate racial grievance and distract from the actual problems facing America–problems for which the GOP offers no solutions.

Public school teachers must be feeling whiplashed. This latest assault comes on the heels of persistent efforts to kneecap or destroy public education–most prominently, the voucher programs that encourage parents to use tax dollars to send their children to schools that promise the “proper” sort of indoctrination.  (It’s tempting to suggest that the outraged parents attacking school board members over these ginned-up accusations take advantage of those vouchers and send their little darlings to schools imparting their preferred versions of reality.)

I’ve written extensively about those voucher programs, and their role in segregating Americans on the basis of race and religion, and I don’t intend to repeat those arguments here. I can only hope that this latest attack on education and the dedicated teachers who provide it encourages a widespread backlash. In the past, when enough teachers have gotten sufficiently pissed off, they’ve made a difference.

That said, if America is going to be stuck with these programs that use tax dollars to fund private and religious schools, I think we should follow the lead of the Netherlands, which does fund both private and public schools–and that closely regulates all schools it funds. My son who lives in Amsterdam recently shared with me a government description of that regulatory framework.

According to the government document, the Dutch education system is “unique in the world.” Under article 23 of its Constitution, the state provides equal funding for both public-authority and private schools. To be eligible for government funding, schools must meet the statutory requirements on minimum pupil numbers and classroom hours, among other things.

Public-authority schools are open to all pupils and teachers. Their teaching is not based on a particular religion or belief. Publicly run schools are set up by the local authorities, and pursuant to article 23 of the Dutch Constitution, local authorities must ensure there are sufficient publicly run schools in their municipality. If there are not enough schools locally, they are obliged to provide access to public schools elsewhere.

Some of the more interesting provisions of the Dutch framework include:

Government authorities (usually the municipality) are responsible for the budget and educational quality of public-authority schools. Municipalities are also tasked with supervision.

Private schools are established and run by private individuals, usually parents. The usual procedure is to set up a foundation with the intention of establishing a school based on religious or ideological principles, such as a Protestant or Muslim school. Private schools of this kind may use teaching materials that underpin their foundational principles.

A private school based on religious or ideological principles may require its teaching staff and pupils to subscribe to the beliefs of that denomination or ideology. For instance, a Protestant school may insist that its staff are committed Protestants. And a Roman Catholic school may forbid pupils to wear Islamic headscarves.

However, a school in this category may only impose these rules if they are necessary to fulfil its principles. The requirements may not be discriminatory and the school must apply its policy consistently.

Private schools do not have the right to dismiss teachers because they are gay, nor may they refuse to take on pupils or staff on these grounds.

Basically, every school bears primary responsibility for the quality of its teaching. The Education Inspectorate is responsible for monitoring the quality of education at publicly run and private schools. Every year it presents an Education Report to the Minister of Education, Culture and Science. The minister then sends the report to parliament.

In the Netherlands, in other words, receipt of tax dollars requires accountability. Public or private, schools may not discriminate, even on religious grounds, and the quality of their secular instruction is subject to oversight.

Somehow, I doubt that the uninformed and angry parents who want their schools to impart a Whitewashed history would embrace a similar regulatory framework.


  1. Our history is definitely white-washed. The Oligarchy has done dastardly things that it simply doesn’t want people to know, or else we’ll think ill of them.

    However, let’s evaluate cause and effect regarding CRT. Who exactly is using CRT as a wedge issue?

    Clearly, anything racial will provoke our bigots to react. What’s kind of comical is CRT came from the New York Times as some sort of study. Why isn’t our racist history in our books to begin with? Who makes a determination on what’s history? Or, more specifically, who determines what in our history is left out?

    Certainly, not the New York Times or either political party. This is where the “wedges” come into play because they are manipulations of reality. What is the truth? Shouldn’t historians be writing historically accurate books? Why are there different versions of our history? Why did Howard Zinn have to write a collection of our history that took a different perspective from what “regular historians” wrote about?

  2. The Dutch education system appears to me to be a unionized base; protecting and providing for the education system, teachers and students alike while controlled by the “owner”, the Netherlands’ government. Question: are those religious schools funded by the Dutch government tax exempt as all religious-owned properties are here? If our voucher system is going to continue, and escalate in this country, the churches need to begin paying taxes for infrastructure benefits as businesses and property owners now pay to support them.

    I’m sure the readers here all know that the basis of our voucher system only gives lip-service to better education when it is in fact returning integration to the public education system. As for the removal of specific books (book burning) in libraries and schools here; the world watched this happen in Nazi Germany and have been dealing with it on a lower scale in the country in recent years. “To Kill A Mockingbird” by Harper Lee comes to mind; Atticus Finch has been our national judicial hero since the prize winning book was published. It has been removed from libraries and schools in some states. You will be disappointed by Harper Lee’s book, “Go Set A Watchman” (written long before “Mockingbird” but published recently) when you learn Atticus was a strong segregationist and defended Tom only because the law, as he respects it, requires a defense be provided for all defendants.

    The GOP can offer no solutions to racism in this country as they are now based primarily on White Nationalism and are the source of unleashing racism on this country by Trump Republicans claiming Christianity is leading them. Fortunately Betsy DeVos is gone; she had no knowledge of education or religion but has a brother with his own private military to put at Trump’s disposal.

  3. The anti-fake-CRT crowd don’t know it but by insisting that parents of school-age children should oversee education policy, curricula and actual teaching, they are making the case that the burden of paying for public schools should fall to the same parents. If they prevail on the first, I will campaign vigorously for the latter.

    Also, I’ll just leave this here – I read everything Peter Greene writes on the topic of K-12 education:


  4. Responding to Todd’s last few questions, textbooks are published by publishing companies – companies, like all companies, that are in the business of making money. Textbooks have to be approved by local and or state panels, which are not composed of scholars, but who have local prejudices. So, for example, for years, the panel in Texas has insisted on including Creationism in science textbooks along with, or instead of, Evolution. I suspect that no school in the country uses Zinn’s book instead of the traditional (approved) versions of American history, because it would raise too many hackles.

  5. Simply put, Republicans cannot win power by telling the truth. People who know the truth don’t vote for them. Keeping the children ignorant of the truth – like the Nazis did – is how they hope to create a population of Republican voters. If that fails, they will proceed toward their fascist goals of destroying democracy.

    Todd is sort of right about the oligarchs. They own and operate the Republican party and donate to those candidates who toe their fascist line. Teachers, on the other hand, tend not to speak out. Having been a teacher of some merit, I DID speak out and even wrote a book about it: “Saving the Seed Corn…” If we shield our children from the truth, we will soon fail as a democracy. The oligarchs will have won and our Constitution won’t be worth the paper it’s printed on.

  6. There is nothing new about Repugs attacking public Education as they have done so for decades. The reactionaries have always opposed truth and truth is what public education provides in the form of curriculum based on the best information at the time, except for Texas that is. The Scopes trial is an early example of the reactionaries attacking public education and the same thing is happening today over CRT, science, etc.

  7. I would like to make a proposal. If Parents Bills of Rights that give authority over the curricula of public school get passed, then those of us who have no children in school, should get to opt out of paying taxes for those schools, if we don’t approve of said curricula. Believing that a well educated public was essential to our Democratic Republic, I have gladly paid for schools wherever I lived. If the bullies, who now insist that they know what the children need to learn, take over the decision making process, I just don’t see how I can, in good conscience, pay for it.

  8. As a for instance, South Duhkota’s constitution clearly states no public funds for private schools. So the lege came up with the idea to give public tax breaks to insurance companies who fund private schools. And the right wing Soopreme Court said okay with us.

  9. It’s a powerful marketing strategy for the GOP. They and Fox share a brand, a demographic of two cohorts: those whose goal is simply wealth redistribution up, and those who are disgruntled because they hate progress and can be kept in a continuing state of anger and hate but also who vote and consume and pay taxes. Fox sells eyeballs to advertisers who are rewarded by the latter cohort’s consumption in exchange for entertainment content aimed their way. The former cohort buys politicians by funding their campaigns recruiting votes from the latter cohort. The politicians vote in DC for ways to maximize wealth redistribution up. Everyone wins but the country.

    The marketing people now have added social media to their means of maintaining anger and fear and hate.

    Democrats meanwhile believe that they are organized to legislate solutions to all of the problems of the world, the country, the states, and locales as demanded by our contract, the Constitution.

    At least right here and now, given the influence of entertainment media, Republicans are very content to not change a thing and just continue to blame Democrats for both real and imaginary problems from every corner of the world, accumulate the wealth of the country and invest a tiny bit of it selling their success at our expense.

  10. Before ranting on folks, education is mostly in the hands of states and, in case you haven’t noticed, a majority are controlled by the GOP with more coming in ’22. Wake up, DEMS are too busy infighting to do anything much at any level except in intensely DEM cities.

  11. My sister is a retired teacher. She was very frustrated by all the top down decision making. She told me that her best classes of students were those whose parents supported her as a teacher. They had a united front with the kids when they failed to complete assignments etc. She never worked in a private school.

    She did some very creative things when she was teaching the extremely “bright” kids i.e. she created a pond with an ecosystem so they could learn re the principles of ecology.

    I think parents and teachers should be empowered to decide on the school curriculum and that the history of our country needs to include the contributions of African-Americans to our country. I wonder how many kids in Indiana know that Richmond Indiana and the surrounding area was part of the underground railroad.

    It seems to me that the support of private schools by the Indiana government has reinstated segregation of schools. How many children of color go to private schools? What percentage of kids in public schools are white?

    I object to having my tax dollars go to religious private schools. It violates the separation of religion and government. Our state legislature is dominated by the GOP due to their gerrymandering and as a result, they have allowed vouchers for Catholic schools and other religious schools.

    On the bright side Brebeuf is no longer a school supported by the Roman Catholic church because they refused to fire a gay teacher! Needless to say, I don’t mind tax dollars subsidizing vouchers at that school.

  12. Great links, Patrick.

    Just one add – the right-wing is not the only one dispersing faux news under the guises of truth-seeking journalism.

    Our friend, Frances the Facebook “whistleblower” is part of a media project backed by left-wing operatives.

    Since the rankings on trust in government and media are so low, and for good reason, we are going to see rebranded versions of new media claiming to have the “truth,” but it will just be more deceptive propaganda.

  13. The Indy Star had an article about rowdy school board meetings. The article danced around all of the hot button topics but deftly avoided why these are all hob button topics.


    And exactly like Pete said, these are all right wing political propaganda. Amazing enough the VA Governors race was won by a Republican on exactly these issues because angry agitated people go out and vote.

    I entirely agree that every school in the state regardless of being public or private needs oversight and a minimum curriculum and certain levels of civil standards for teaching and employment.

    The case gets stronger every day for immigration.

  14. The case gets stronger and stronger for teaching “how” to think, not “what” – critical thinking, visual literacy, data literacy, media literacy. See my all time fav book (sorry folks, here it comes again…) “Teaching as a subversive activity”….


  15. A teacher in California was just dismissed for telling her students that Donald Trump is President and that they shouldn’t get vaccinated. She was caught on audiotape telling these things to students. A little kid whose parents wanted to take him for vaccination got very upset and told his parents that his teacher told him he should refuse the vaccine. It drove a wedge between the child and his parents.

    Here’s what I don’t understand about “critical race theory”. No, it’s not being taught in public schools, and, yes, Republicans lie about this, and white people believe the lies, as proven by the raucous school board meetings. I’ve never taken a course in CRT, but my vague understanding is that it embodies the concept that indigenous people, black people and people of color have historically been exploited by white people–examples include slavery in the US, forcing Native Americans off of their lands and onto arid lands less-desirable for agriculture and raising animals, the British overpowering Indian and South African people and others to exploit the resources of these countries and subjugate them to British rule, all of which is true. So, do those who are opposed to CRT want their children to be lied to about these things?

    Another complaint I’ve heard is that it is wrong to cause white children to feel badly about the things their ancestors have done. Well, shouldn’t children feel badly about people of color and indigenous people being exploited, or is exploiting others with fewer resources to resist a good thing? Another aspect is that children should not be taught that people like Columbus and Confederate generals, like Robert E. Lee, are heroes. Columbus didn’t “discover” anything other than a land already populated with people that had their own unique culture, languages, government, etc.. His motivation for coming here was to seek gold, not to expand humanity’s knowledge of the earth and its people. Robert E. Lee was fighting to continue the enslavement of black people. As a child, I was taught that Columbus was a great explorer who risked his life to expand European people’s knowledge about the world beyond their shores. That was a lie. I was also taught that Robert E. Lee was a faithful patriot to his “country”, which was the Confederacy. Forget about the reasons for the Civil War–we were taught that Robert E. Lee was a patriot and deserved respect.

    I just don’t understand exactly WHAT white parents want their children to be taught about these things. Do they want them to be lied to?

  16. Saw on “Face the Nation ” yesterday that 41% of Southerners recently polled believe that the South should once again secede from the Union. I guess this would portend what kind of education would be provided in the Confederacy 2.0.
    From someone who lives in South Carolina and is just a little anxious.

  17. This is the result of “homeschooling” with parents that have no qualifications to teach anything except how to sort laundry and how to use the washing machine. I know several of my classmates that are religious so they want prayer before school work so that “They” can indoctrinate their spawn with their own facts. Alternative facts that the bible teaches. These are high school graduates that barely had a C average in school! It seems the college educated classmates use critical thinking and know that even though they have a degree, it’s not an educational degree and don’t believe they are qualified to teach! I have several friends in real life that are teachers and family too that are quitting or retiring early because they are exhausted, underpaid and not up for the task anymore. What a disaster for America.

  18. Patrick, I think you meant “returning segregation,” rather than “returning integration,” yes?
    Vernon, you just about tooth words out of my mouth, regarding the Texas book publishers.
    Truth is anathema to manipulators. St. Augustine knew this, and recommended, back then, that the common folk not be educated.

  19. Amen, Peggy, Amen
    I am childless and have always supported public education, voting consistently to increase my taxes to pay for my beliefs.
    Full disclosure – if I count my near, extended family as ten, 30% are or were in education, and I taught at the college level.

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