Monday, January 30, 2023

Some Parental Rights Folks Are Going To Have Big Regrets

Robert Pondiscio is fond of pointing out that teachers are not free agents, able to push whatever they wish in the classroom. It is one of the points on which he and I agree; as a teacher, you are hired by the taxpayers, via the school board, to do a job.

It is, like every single thing in education, a tricky balancing act. You are hired specifically to employ your professional expertise and judgment, and because teaching is such a human activity, it takes some regular reflection and self-attention to make sure that your personal stuff doesn't slop over into your professional stuff. 

But no--as a teacher, you are not hired by the community to conduct your own personal crusade. Which is not to say that your classroom practice will not be enhanced by an infusion of your personal passions and interests, while at the same time, students are not there to learn about you and supporting the causes that you support, which is not to say--well, look. It's complicated. For me, the defining line was somewhere right around "Are students' grades or treatment in the classroom being affected by how well they agree with what I believe?" 

I get the impulse to try to get your students to see Important True Things about life and this country. I believe that if you stick to what is true and you give your students space, they will rise and advance in the direction of true things. But in their time, not yours. And when you try to push and make it happen right now--I understand the impulse, but I can't defend it. 

For most of my career, I was paid what was good money for this area, collected from the local taxpayers for the purpose of helping students get better at reading, writing, speaking and listening, which I considered in the context of helping them figure out how to be their best selves while learning what it means to be fully human in the world. 

Teaching is a complicated job because on top of everything else, you answer to a hundred different constituencies. Local employers, your board, your administration, the parents, the students themselves, the taxpayers, the bureaucrats and politicians in various capitols who set various policies--you answer to all of the groups, and those groups are themselves filled with a wide variety of ideas and objectives (even if some Very Shouty Members of the group try to hide the diversity with loudness).

It is that large and complex web of constituents that makes public education such a complicated operation, but that web is also what gives public education its strength.

To understand that is to understand how many parental rights activists are being played. 

For folks who want to disrupt, defund and dismantle public education, that vast web of constituencies means that implementation of the Three Ds has to happen on many fronts, and so the message has all along been focused on pretending that most of those constituencies don't exist. 

Parental Rights groups have been great for this, promoting the fiction that public education exists just to serve parents. 

Take, for instance, the manufactured outrage over one Iowa school board members' comments. Some parents lifted some dudgeon up high because board member Rachel Wall posted this:

The purpose of a public ed is to not teach kids what the parents want. It is to teach them what society needs them to know. The client is not the parent, but the community.

Wall is exactly correct. I might have edited it to say "not just the parent," but the community includes the parents, so she's covered there. But Moms For Liberty and other Very Shouty Folks, aided by Fox and other parts of the Very Shouty mediasphere, were all over this. Because education is By God a service provided to parents and parents alone. 

If your goal is to dismantle public education, this is great stuff because now, instead of dealing with entire communities, you're just dealing with parents (who, via choicey ideas you can split into singletons). With choice, you cut the whole rest of the community out of the conversation, and that will eventually come back to bite some folks in the butt.

Look. Nobody in education is on a little island. Not teachers, not parents, not students, not anybody. To try to cut them off from the rest of the community education ecosystem is to weaken every part of that system. "I am the Sole Ruler of my classroom," is a stance that ultimately weakens the teacher's role and effectiveness.

And "Parents are the only constituents of education" will do some serious damage down the road. When people try to say, "Everyone has a stake in educating young people" and are shouted down by, "No, only parents have a stake in education," those parents are backing into a buzzsaw.

Because the next logical response is going to be, from taxpayers, "Well, if I am not a stakeholder, then why the hell am I paying taxes?"

Where voucher policies really take root, we can predict the next step. Back after Brown v. Board, segregation academies were the next step, but the next step after that was for all those folks whose kids were either safely segregated in the academies and taxpayers whose didn't have children in school to get together and say, "Why are we still paying taxes for public schools?" We just saw it in Croydon, NH, where some Libertarians looked at a fully-functioning choice system and said, "Why are we paying so much for this."

Vouchers will be rebranded as entitlements. Policy folks will start saying, "This seems like a lot, and I know these folks could get a nice micro-school or software package for way less." Taxpayers will be encouraged to get Very Loud about, "Why are we paying all this money for a system that only benefits us." Heck, some folks will probably trot out all the research about how badly the vouchers work that voucher opponents have already collected. 

And parents who had been Very Loudly declaring, "The rest of you shut up! We're the only true stakeholders!" will suddenly discover that they have no allies, and what has always been true of voucher programs will become even more true--you only get as much "choice" as you can afford yourself (if some vendor is willing take on your child). If they're lucky, they will still have a public system limping along in their community. 

I understand the urge to want things your very own way (if I hadn't already, living with a pair of five year olds would clue me in). But we are all of us like horses on a merry-go-round--the same things that seem to hold us back are also the things that are propelling us forward. But it makes sense to pay attention to the bigger picture before listening to someone who says, "Would you like to just be cut loose from this spinny thing?"

I have lived through that special fear that comes from handing your child over to other people for the whole day. I get that it's real. But the folks exploiting it to simply blast away at the ties between schools and their communities are doing real damage, and I'm hoping that some folks figure it out before it's too late. 

1 comment:

  1. In the olden days, you would see polls in which people overwhelmingly approved of the local public schools. I wonder what the polls would look like now. The reforms of the last 20+ years have alienated a lot of us.