Public schools matter, so the return last week, despite the concerted efforts of the Colorado Education Association to stop it, of so many Colorado children to nearly full in-person learning filled me with joy. The path to a better and more equal future for our great country depends more on public schools than any other institution. Citizens empowered with the mental tools to think critically on issues of importance and hold elected officials accountable are vital to the future of our republic. The early history of the United States is full of examples of individuals championing the right to a publicly funded education for all citizens: Horace Mann fighting for the first public board of education in Massachusetts and Ephraim Cutler leading the push for public schools in the rapidly growing Ohio are but two examples. Literate young minds helped usher into the mainstream such “radical” ideas as abolition and women’s suffrage. Literacy opens a door to knowledge unregulated by dogmatic adults and in our age of information bombardment that ability to independently seek knowledge cannot be overstated. Running away while the CEA and other teachers’ unions hold our children’s futures hostage to further their political aims is cowardly and morally repugnant.
The Colorado Education Association spent the last year lobbying publicly to keep all Colorado children out of the classroom as long as possible. This was a strike without the obvious association to immediate selfish demands. The CEA launched increasingly vicious verbal attacks on parents and children who wanted to see their children succeed. The CEA now ignores its own actions and transitions to their real goals fighting the Colorado Measures of Academic Success, getting their hand-picked school board members paid, and attempting to get taxpayers to pay off college loans. This is transparent and disgusting. The CEA is wrong, and Colorado’s moms and dads are fed up with having our children be pawns for political gain.
The Colorado Education Association thinks parents are stupid or have short memories. The CEA’s political lobbying and public propaganda efforts against standardized testing focused on how valuable classroom time would be lost. This sudden concern for in-person learning comes after a year of full-throated advocacy against in-person learning. The CEA suddenly cares about missing valuable days in the classroom when it becomes politically expedient. In George Orwell’s 1984, the mental submission of society is shown when the totalitarian government reduces chocolate rations to 20-grams-a-week and the very next day declares that people are rallying in celebration of the newly increased 20-grams-a-week chocolate rations. Colorado’s moms and dads are not this subservient and will not stand for this partisan abuse of our children.
Public schools are a defining characteristic of the American experiment. Leaving the public school system in the hands of the teachers’ unions is cowardice for those who care about children and equality of opportunity. The scale required to educate a population of over 300-million people requires public education that is free, equal, and useful. Running to charter and private schools is foolish as these will never be a scalable solution for public education. Our children deserve parents who are engaged on school boards, advocate for non-dogmatic curriculum and keep the power of political organizations like the teachers’ unions and anti-public school advocates out of decision-making positions. The sheer size and power of the teachers’ unions make them the most dangerous, though not the only, force today preventing equal and effective education in our public schools.
American Public Education must be treated as the single most important institution in our country. I am proposing five guiding principles, updated for the modern world, based upon Horace Mann’s six principles articulated in The Common School Journal:
- Education is a right for all American children.
- Education should be paid for, controlled, and sustained by an interested public.
- Education must be non-dogmatic, focusing on literacy, the scientific method, math, and history.
- Education is essential to participation in a free society.
- Education should be provided by well-trained, professional, and non-partisan teachers.
Educating all American children to an equal standard in literacy, the scientific method, math, and non-dogmatic history will help protect our society from the dangers of demagogic politicians and media manipulation. The ability to read and evaluate information critically paired with knowledge of the past opens the doors to free thought for all Americans. Ensuring that all public schools are of an equal quality will yield greater progress against the enduring inequalities in America which stem from imperfections in our past. Public funding allows for economies of scale and the ability to direct funds to fix specific problems greater than a single school could overcome. A true profession of education would serve as civil servants, dedicated to educating children on what is not what should be. Educators should be dedicated to their profession and hold themselves to the same non-partisan standards as officers in the military and foreign service. The highest mark of distinction for a teacher should be children able to read any source they can find in order to answer questions they have uncovered in pursuit of the knowledge they desire. The mark of failure should be children who blindly believe what they are told and are unable to answer the vital question “under what conditions would I change my mind?”
Private schools, charter schools, and vouchers are only a band-aid when a robust intervention is required. The specificity of charter schools, the exclusivity of private schools, and the inability of vouchers to create an economy of scale expose the inability of these three proposals to provide large-scale public education. These ideas provide an insecure haven for those disgusted by the totalitarian hold of the teachers’ unions on public schools, more akin to Switzerland hiding from the expanding evil around it during World War II.
A child-focused and parent-led movement to bring science and sanity to the fore of all public schools is the only real solution to challenge the omnipresent and partisan influence of the teachers’ unions over the minds of children. Colorado’s moms and dads must unite and vote out the power of union-sponsored board members. School administrators must be held to standards focused on academic success, not dogmatic indoctrination. Teachers must be paid well, held to a strict standard of professional behavior, and treated with the same respect given to members of the armed forces.
Our schools have been corrupted. Our children have been used as hostages. Our future is in peril. Running away is not an option. The time to take back our schools is now.