Franke: Whose Children Are They?
by Mark Franke
The pandemic has disrupted much of our daily lives, sometimes out of necessity or too often due to governmental overreach. Be that as it may, COVID has certainly opened fault lines in our society that were already there but hidden. One such fault line is at the education of our children.
There was a time when our schools reflected a civil consensus of what being an American meant. Back in the golden age — and by that I mean the 1950s when I was growing up in the best decade ever — there was a general acceptance of the reason for a free public education system. Fundamentals (the three R’s) were taught and an instruction in civics education leading to the duties of citizenship was uniformly present. At least that’s what I recall through admittedly rose-colored glasses.
Remember the Melting Pot, the principle that every immigrant group adds a little to the American culture but takes much, much more out? Or the American Dream, the motivator for the incredible waves of immigration as America offered a chance for everyone that the “old country” couldn’t promise? That’s why my family emigrated from Germany in the 1840s. America wasn’t perfect then but it stood out among the nations of the world for its adherence to a creed of liberty and opportunity. And most everyone bought into that.
Something has gone terribly wrong in the last decade or so. Consider this sampling of news stories, the most egregious in a catalog of progressive hubris:
- The San Francisco school board couldn’t find time to develop a school reopening plan as it was focused on obliterating the names on buildings when the namesakes could be found with any human failing according to a puritanical list of unforgivable sins.
- A group of parents at a New York city school raised funds to finance French as an option. This was obviously racist, according to the New York Times, because it doesn’t address the cultural needs of the minority students at the school, who apparently shouldn’t be enticed to waste their time learning a foreign language even as an elective.
- A private school in Los Angeles has set an academic theme for its fifth-grade class as “Identity and Power” in order to redirect history teaching to focus solely on a racial prism as a means of indicting a “White ethnostate.”
- The Buffalo city schools are asking young students, grades two through four, to compare today’s COVID pandemic to the alleged deliberate spread of smallpox to Indian tribes during the colonial wars of the eighteenth century.
- The Oregon education department is encouraging teachers to take training to avoid “ethnomathematics,” which apparently is racist since it requires students show their work.
Where are the parents in all this? Mostly disenfranchised. And marginalized. And deprecated.
One wonders how many other school boards have made the same kind of disparaging comments about parents that one group of California school board members were caught saying, unaware that their meeting was being live-streamed. Oops.
One underlying tenet of public education, according to 19th century progressives, is that the government has a legitimate role in fashioning our children. Maybe, assuming that we have a consensus of what that means as I wrote above. As school boards and teacher unions become farther and farther detached from the public they represent and serve, trouble rears its ugly head. One should not be surprised that parents are organizing to take back control of their children’s education.
It is no wonder that private and parochial schools, home schooling, public charter schools and similar options are getting serious consideration by frustrated parents. Voucher programs and tax incentives for non-public school tuition payments are being considered for implementation or expansion in 16 states, including Indiana. Parents want choice, especially when they feel they have no control over what their children are being taught, or indoctrinated into.
Parents are also voting with their feet or, I should say, with their children’s feet. Public school enrollment has dropped by 155,000 in California and 43,000 in New York City. COVID is the proximate cause but it might better be understood as the catalyst for turning rising disgruntlement into action.
I don’t know where this eventually will land but the national trend toward canceling our culture and the authoritative imposition of offensive ideology must create a reaction from the silent majority. There are nearly 100,000 school board members in the nation, mostly elected I assume, but certainly all local enough to be approachable by John Q. and Jane Q. Citizen.
First, though, we need to understand whose responsibility it is to provide education for our young. With this responsibility comes the authority to set standards. The answer is obvious if the right question is asked.
I submit that the salient question is this:
Whose children are they?
Mark Franke, an adjunct scholar and of the Indiana Policy Review and its book reviewer, is formerly an associate vice-chancellor at Indiana University-Purdue University Fort Wayne.