Where does one begin – in discussing the public education crisis? Divisions and dissention are everywhere, and not without cause. Since before COVID, parents were concerned about what their kids were being taught. Public education is changing, not for the better. Can it survive?
Four factors flash red: A fast-changing “public school culture” (raising parent activism), outsized power and political tilt by teachers’ unions, how school boards address parents, and the social impact of decaying standards.
First, the concept of public education has changed in just one decade. America has experienced an accelerated turn from objective standards in math, sciences, reading, writing, and history, to acculturation and systematic indoctrination in social, cultural, and political retraining.
While political ideas were always taught, they traditionally reflected established facts, including historical writings, persons, trends, dates, principles, and ideas contained in the Bill of Rights, the Constitution, a balance of individual freedom, free markets, limited government, and equality.
Over the past decade, emphasis on hard skills, understanding facts, and critical thinking have been in retrograde. Official measures of achievement have continued to slip, not only against former American norms but against competitors and adversaries, such as China.
The one-two punch of politicizing public education and taking many jurisdictions hard left, all while undermining core competencies, erodes preparedness, competitiveness, quantitative and qualitative skills. The trends are alarming, if correctable. This is not about money, but emphasis.
Second, not unrelated, many school districts have been driven by politically engaged national teachers’ unions which initiated an agenda, rather than reflecting parental aims. Emblematic were unions leveraging the teachers’ return to classrooms for socialist goals in places like California.
The reality is that these powerful unions, beyond non-political functions, work to coopt teacher sentiment, prescribe positions, and influence or dominate many school boards – invariably aligned with Democrats. Political contributions embarrassingly run up to 50:1 for Democrats, strange. While they claim to be non-partisan, the data is clear and says otherwise.
Moreover, the national teachers’ unions – directly and via school boards – seem to prioritize social, cultural, and political retraining of teachers and students, rather than higher math, science, reading, writing, and history standards.
The net effect of financially powerful, politically motivated, left-oriented unions, while differing state to state, has been culture shock in schools, a downshift from teaching competencies thought essential for personal success, civic cohesion, economic advancement, and national security.
Rather than focus on raising student accomplishment in areas of clear importance, quantitative and qualitative skills needed to produce higher incomes, family and societal cohesion, individual thinking, good judgement, and command of data and language, the reverse has been a priority – turning public education into a “transformative” political and cultural process.
Third, following these two shifts – namely, educational culture and powerful, left-leaning unions – parents have grown concerned. They began investigating what children were taught, having assumed it was innocuous, suddenly alarmed it opposed parental expectations.
Efforts at openness have been resisted by administrators, school boards, and sometimes teachers, creating anxiety among parents. Fears increased when Biden’s Departments of Education and Justice targeted outspoken parents with anti-terrorist laws.
Introducing Marxist, Socialist, Critical Race Theory (class tied to race), gender redefinition (and medical correction), with other socially “progressive” (arguably anti-religious, anti-science, anti-historical, anti-constitutional, anti-free market) ideas into schools put parents over the top.
The result has been a groundswell of parent activism, new groups hoping to rein in otherwise unaccountable unions, school boards, administrators, and promotors of politics in education.
Fourth, all this is not just an immediate crisis, although it is triggering a shift to private education, home schooling, and (recently) early entry into the labor market for high schoolers.
The crisis of confidence, departing from objective standards, and political reorientation now transforming trust in public education has enormous downstream impacts. The damage lasts.
If parents concerned about falling efficacy and integrity fail to regain control over curriculums, major changes may occur, hollowing out or wholly reshaping public education.
Private schools responding to parent concerns will grow. States may suddenly certify new, non-municipal learning options. Homeschooling, church and community schooling will multiply.
In the end, America’s public education system is under enormous pressure, as left-leaning political forces seek to coopt what has been – since Jefferson and Franklin – a public good. If those in positions to respond fail to hear parents, the system will shift – for good. That may already be inevitable, given the depth of political saturation, but the bell…is ringing.