Readers of this blog may be tired of hearing my periodic rants about the GOP’s war on public education. If so, they need to skip today’s meditation.
I have my own suspicions about the real reasons for their animus. As political scientists and educators have repeatedly pointed out, public schools are constitutive of a public; in a rapidly diversifying population, public education is one of the few remaining “street corners” where differences in background, religion and ethnicity can be honored under an over-riding philosophy of governance. Public schools are where we can at least make a stab at attaining e pluribus unum–out of the many, one.
That lofty goal is what the war on public education is really about.
Granted, some of the GOP’s privatizers see voucher programs as a way of killing off the hated teachers’ union, and others evidently just despise anything government does–convinced by arguments from ALEC and the Koch’s network that the private sector does absolutely everything better than government, despite decades of research confirming that voucher schools fail to improve educational outcomes.
But at its base, the war on public schooling is a war on the way most of us understand America’s Constitutional philosophy and aspirations.
Living up to those aspirations requires knowing about the country’s past successes and failures. It requires civics education that emphasizes an important element of citizenship–the American principle that the law should treat citizens based upon their behavior and not their skin color or religion.
Those principles– and others that flow from them–are currently considered “woke” by America’s White Christian Nationalists. That’s the real basis of their attacks on the institutions supporting them, and sometimes, in unguarded moments, they admit it.
It’s National School Choice Week, that annual right-wing P.R. campaign to defund public schools that pretends to really just care about the children. But this year’s NSCW comes with a twist: Amid conservatives’ outcry over history lessons on race and LGBTQ rights and awareness in schools, some proponents of the “educational freedom” movement are pitching it as an antidote to the supposed indoctrination of students by leftie teachers and administrators.
In an interview on Tuesday with Fox News host Harris Faulkner, South Carolina Senator Tim Scott framed “school choice” as a way for parents to give their children a proper education free of woke lessons. “ABC, not CRT—it’s that simple,” said Scott, referring to “critical race theory.” “We need to teach the basics of education. We don’t need to teach people that, because of the color of your skin, you’re an oppressor or a victim.” (Scott introduced a resolution on Monday to officially recognize National School Choice Week. He was joined by many Republican senators, including Tom Cotton, Ted Cruz, and Rick Scott—and a lone Democrat, Dianne Feinstein.)
The Educational Freedom Institute, and the Center for Education Policy at the Heritage Foundation argue that “school choice” can “help level the playing field” in the struggle between “conservative families” and “progressive teachers” who want to “proselytize” in the classroom
Attacks on public education are getting a second wind from reactionary resistance to the progress of Black, Brown and female Americans.
“Families should not be stuck in an education system that actively undermines parental rights and ideologically grooms children,” argued Kaylee McGhee, a deputy editor at the Washington Examiner, on Monday. “They deserve the freedom to yank their students out of a school that disrespects their values and send them to one that better fits their needs.”
But McGhee gave the game away later in her piece—that “school choice” is really about forcing school districts to align with right-wing ideas of education, or otherwise wither away from a lack of resources.
Ironically, the great majority of people who embrace Ms. McGhee’s “values” are largely rural–and as I’ve repeatedly pointed out, most rural areas are too thinly populated to support private or religious alternatives to those “woke” public schools. In their zeal to fight accurate history instruction that they inaccurately label CRT, and to ban books of which they disapprove, GOP lawmakers are draining resources from existing schools in rural areas–rural folks only option other than home schooling.
As the linked article notes, what’s missing in these diatribes from McGhee, Scott, and others is any actual concern for the nation’s children– the 90% of students who remain in public schools whose funds are being diverted in the name of “educational freedom” as well as the children whose parents believed the marketing and put their kids in a fly-by-night voucher school that went out of business.
This fight has never been about the quality of education. At least now, some voucher proponents are admitting it.