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.