Let Teachers Teach

By Terry Boyles (As published in The Union)

Tip O’Neil famously stated “all politics is local” and as much press is given to the influence of national and state policy on our lives, there’s nothing more local than school boards and city councils.

Second guessing and recrimination over school shutdowns and other Covid related policies have excited even the most apolitical parents into action. Long simmering disgruntlement over curriculum and teachers’ secular humanist indoctrination, or worse, has morphed into rage. UnAmerican “Marxist” ideology like “critical race theory”, virtually unheard of before the Black Lives Matter movement in the wake of the Floyd murder, is on the tongues of every would be conservative politician… including school board candidates.

But has there really been a sudden sea-change in classroom instruction to account for this national alarm? Distrust of over-educated “elites” has long been at the heart of the populist conservative movement. After all, highly educated people tend to be, statistically, less religious and more politically liberal than their less educated brethren. The insulated world of academia is seen as a breeding ground of progressive philosophy. It only follows that with (in California) five years of immersion in college life, future teachers emerge as full blown… atheistic communists!

The very nature of education, with its focus on fact, and the formation of logical thinking might be taken as antithetical to morality and religion. But is it? While exposing children to the existence of various cultures and religions is fine in the context of social studies and history instruction… presenting the Christian Bible as the source of all moral rectitude is not.

It is perfectly logical to abide by the golden rule, treat your fellow students with respect, and deal with one another truthfully. Other, deeper, existential questions should be answered at home. While few of us will ever be scientists, or mathematicians, the immutable concepts of numbers, and the pure logic of scientific method, give young minds and hearts a grounding in something real and trustworthy.

As we contemplate who to choose as our government leaders, national and local, let us remember the principles of the Enlightenment (individual liberty, religious tolerance) that inspired our Constitution, built and sustained our great nation. We all must come together in the spirit of compromise untainted by bigotry or hatred to make our communities stronger… our nation stronger. But if we devolve into reactionary thinking, fear mongering, finger pointing, shouting when we should be listening… the American Dream is over.

Our schools are, first and foremost, where our children are received in safety, and instructed as was conceived by those who began the American experiment. They never imagined state-funded religious or political indoctrination.

Censorship of historical, scientific, facts or the toleration of marginalization, or bullying those of different culture, race or sex, are incompatible with public schooling as well. Increasingly it seems our “grown-up” leaders nationally and locally (witness decorum-less council and board meetings) have forgotten some fundamental social skills we learn in school… how to get along. Follow the rules: raise your hand, wait your turn, don’t swear… don’t break the law.

Good parenting doesn’t obviate the roll of schools to socialize our kids, but bad parenting makes it impossible. The influence of the home will always trump whatever happens in school. We as parents will always be less than completely satisfied with what schools can or should provide, but some deference to teachers’ and administrators authority is necessary for any semblance of school order. When did parents start coming to the defense of their children for every disciplinary action or bad grade?

Obviously, like any profession, there are unqualified, or low performing teachers. And all too often Human Resources rules and Teachers’ Union interference makes it hard to get rid of truly bad teachers and administrators. Talk to any teacher and they know where the problems lie. But low pay, teacher burnout, and increased denigration of the profession, have created a nationwide shortage of teachers. Scaring off potential candidates of merit with a drumbeat of blame for society’s ills serves no good for our children’s education.

To recover scholastic skills lost during the shutdown, a renewed focus on academic instruction, student/teacher engagement without the distraction of increased oversight, will be required. Please vote for school board members who care more about supporting students and teachers than making political hay of supposed indoctrination in our schools.

Terry Boyles lives in Penn Valley

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