On the Issues: Our Public Schools

In 1990, as the father of two young daughters, I realized that our public schools were becoming increasingly troubled. As my wife and I approached the time to enroll the first of our two daughters in kindergarten, we listened carefully as concerned parents noted with dismay what was happening in their children’s classrooms. First, there was the new math that hardly anyone could understand, including the teachers. The new goal, it seemed, was to teach why math worked the way it did rather than help students learn how to do it. Second, sight reading was adopted at the cost of phonics. Rather than sounding out words based on letters, students were taught to recognize whole words. Unfortunately, if students had never encountered a given word before and did not immediately recognize it, they might just as well have been looking at Greek. As a result, hardly anyone was learning how to read. Before long, cursive writing disappeared from the school curriculum because it was deemed too complicated. Cursive writing, once a common patrimony, became little more than hieroglyphics to the latter generation of students who could only read block letters. (Click on the title above to continue if necessary.)


After that, teachers were forced to include education in self-esteem, where competition was eliminated, and everyone was declared a winner. No one needed to try anymore because if something was needed and they couldn’t achieve it themselves, it was merely given to them. Rather than fail students, it made more sense to educational leaders to drop complex requirements from the curriculum. Additionally, learning became the responsibility of the teacher and not the student. If students failed, it was the teachers’ fault and not the students. The consequence of this miseducation was to disenfranchise students. Students who can no longer read, write, and do math are effectively excluded from American society. I knew then that something was going massively wrong with American education. 


After thoughtful consideration, my wife and I agreed with our oldest daughter to homeschool. From the outset, and despite clear problems with public education, my wife and I were regularly chided by parents whose children were enrolled in public schools about how our daughter wasn’t getting “properly socialized.” Granted, she spent more time with adults than her peers and often studied alone. Still, we replied, “We are trying to raise an adult, not a child.” After we started homeschooling, we homeschooled our elder daughter until she began attending University High School. We realized by the end of eighth grade that we – well-intentioned parents with good educations – couldn’t provide her with the educational excellence that more knowledgeable high school teachers could provide her. Before that, we had arranged tutors to enrich her in topic areas that neither my wife nor I were qualified to teach, such as foreign languages.  


Over the years, the problems with public elementary schools only got worse. The state of Illinois began to issue School Report Cards, noting in particular the successes and failures of students in three essential areas: reading, science, and math. After a few years, it was even more clear that something was going wrong in the American public school system, and we were vindicated in our choice to homeschool our kids. Once the envy of the world, our public school system nationwide had become a laughingstock. Despite spending more and more on education, we continued to see diminishing results. The more we spent, the less accomplished our students became. 


In my humble opinion, the decline of America’s public primary schools results from a conscious but misguided choice. These schools’ curricula have become supercharged with new content that well-intentioned but woefully misguided individuals have added. I blame this on progressives, not on teachers. Allow me to explain. 


Progressives believe everyone should have a comprehensive education, and that’s a laudable goal, but not when it comes at a cost to essential education. Today’s public schools spend vast amounts of time, effort, and money on multiculturalism, diversity, equity, inclusion, social and emotional learning, critical race theory, explicit sex education, and “gender-affirming” activities. Ruling progressives have added this content to the school curriculum under the banner of equality, fairness, acceptance, and human compassion.


This new content has had deleterious – indeed insidious – effects on our children. For instance, the revisionist 1619 Project – which says America’s history began with the introduction of slaves to the Americas – is producing a generation of guilt-ridden, self-hating Americans. Following the introduction of critical race theory, school children began calling each other “racist” for the most minor of unintentional transgressions. Dead white males like Christopher Columbus and Thomas Jefferson have been criticized, denounced, excoriated, ostracized, and expunged from this historical record only to be replaced by minor paeans of history – often about persons who are questionable paragons of virtue themselves. 


Diversity, equity, and inclusion are having a strong negative effect on our children and society. Diversity and inclusion mean that if people don’t agree to some form of ideological construct (calling a “he” a “she” and believing that men can menstruate and get pregnant), they are marked for exclusion. Equity means treating people unequally, depending upon some categorical variable to achieve some sociological result. DEI is just another form of doublespeak – saying one thing but meaning another. Some would call it hypocrisy.  


 Children who are confused by their emerging sexualities are being given “gender-affirming care,” which sometimes leads to body-hating and life-altering hormone therapy and sex change operations with life-long consequences and regrets. Who expected to see all these changes? Student? Parents? Teachers? I dare to say it’s a result of a few rogue teachers, but mostly “enlightened” university educators, school boards, government officials, corporate news media, social media managers, and social elites. In my humble opinion, the miseducation of American schoolchildren constitutes little more than indoctrination and brainwashing. 


Adding all these topics favored by progressives to the curriculum can only be done in a trade-off with the essentials of education – reading, science, and math. There are only so many hours in a school day. When time is given to addressing new content, the time has to come from old topics. Out the window goes a considerable amount of time formerly spent on essentials. Now you understand why Johnny can’t read, understand science, and do math!


The consequences of adding supplemental material to the curriculum can be seen in school report cards, which have spiraled downward since this new mind-numbing, character-altering, and spirit-killing subject matter was introduced to the schools. Illinois public schools are now failing children through no fault of their own. This endangers the futures of our children entering the workplace or institutions of higher learning unprepared to learn. 


It’s no wonder that private and parochial schools and some magnet schools are doing much better. They are not beholding to the dictates of teachers’ unions, the fiats of publicly elected progressive school boards, many of whose members are politically motivated, and government mandates. These schools are doing far better with less. As more and more money is being directed toward public education, concerned parents are trying to remove their kids from the same schools. Ever wonder why? Now you know!  


By the way, things turned out well with our elder homeschooled daughter. She went on to graduate from University High School as co-valedictorian. She then graduated summa cum laude as a Robert G. Bone Scholar at Illinois State University with a BS in physics. Within a few years, she earned National Board Certification as a Secondary Science Teacher. She was declared outstanding high school science teacher of the year by the Illinois Section of the National Science Teachers Association. Afterward, she was named an Albert Einstein Distinguished Educator. She moved to Washington, DC, to work for NASA, then the American Association of Physics Teachers, followed by the Organization of American States. She did all this before earning a Ph.D. in Physics Education from the University of Maryland. Today, she works for 2001 Physics Nobel Prize winner Dr. Carl Wieman of the University of Colorado, managing international programming for his Physics Education Technology (PhET) project. She speaks multiple languages fluently – but primarily Spanish, French, and Italian. She achieved all this before her 37th birthday.


And the point of all this? A good education makes a tremendous difference in the lives of our children. As parents, we should not underestimate the value of a good education and hard work in achieving a life of distinction and excellence. With today’s public educational system in such disarray, it’s a wonder that any child will succeed despite their hard work. It’s time for parents to take charge of their children’s education and reign in out-of-control teachers, teacher unions, school administrators, boards of education, teacher education and government programs. It’s time to replace progressives who have negatively impacted the futures of their kids. 


Paraphrasing President Ronald Reagan in his January 20, 1981, inaugural address, government is not the solution to our problem; government is the source. Government must stop intruding on our schools and permit educators to do what they do best – educate our children in the essentials of reading, science, and math. They should return to focusing their attention on how students should think rather than on what to think.


While pursuing a more tolerant society, fighting inequality, and leveling social differences are worthy ideals, our schools are not the appropriate battlefields for doing so when children stand to become the casualties in a war of social causes. When we use them as cannon fodder to change American society, we do it at a terrible cost to our children. We must return our public schools to their original purpose of providing essential education or let our progeny suffer the consequences of our inaction. The re-education of Americans concerning social justice issues should take place elsewhere. The fate of our children and our children’s children rests in our hands.

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