The phrase “Conservatives’ War Against Public Education” is a provocative characterization to describe what is perceived as a concerted effort by conservative politicians and interest groups to undermine, privatize, reshape, or otherwise weaken public education in the United States.
I clearly recognize that this characterization represents my personal viewpoint, and not all conservatives or conservative policies align with this characterization.
But there are some elements of truth to the idea that conservatives have waged a kind of “war” against public schools in recent decades, though the real situation is complex, to say the least.
There is an intricate interplay of political, ideological, and social factors that shapes public education policy in the United States. It remains a vital and contentious topic in American politics, and discussions about its funding, governance, curriculum, and values are ongoing and subject to evolving perspectives and policies.
The mess, however, that is our United States Congress is proof positive that we have a group of men and women, led mostly by a handful of Republican conservatives, who are simply incapable of governing responsibly.
We all watched in awe as the Republican conference stumbled and fought with each other over efforts to fire and find leadership capable of guiding an unruly group of people interested only in their own petty self-interest.
Please note that this kind of dysfunctionality and mindset is consistently at work when these men and women are busy shaping policies that directly impact public education in our country. It is not a comforting sight to behold.
America clearly dodged when the republican Congress failed to agree on the leadership of Congressman Jim Jordan from Ohio. Public education breathed a sigh of relief when he finally gave up his fight to be Speaker of the House.
Our public education system is already a mess. It is in need of strong leadership from the highest levels of our government. But what we from the conservative wing of Congress during the House Speaker selection drama is a prime example of how reckless and incapable they are of governing and leading this nation.
And it is not just our Congress, but many other legislative bodies across the country that keep many of our institutions, i.e., public education, fighting to protect our children and our families from harmful policies that undermine the accomplishments of hard-working teachers and educators.
The conservative assault on public education has had a number of negative consequences. It has made it more difficult for public schools to serve all students effectively. It has led to increased censorship of the curricula, the banning of books, and the harassment and intimidation of LGBTQ+ students and teachers.
Conservatives believe these policies serve to increase accountability, school choice, efficiency, and education quality. The totality of these efforts, however, is seen by critics as an ideological attack on public schooling in favor of private alternatives.
For example, school vouchers are government subsidies that allow parents to send their children to private schools. Conservative lawmakers argue that school vouchers give parents more choices and promote competition among schools. Critics argue, however, that school vouchers drain money from public schools and disproportionately benefit wealthy families.
Conservatives have raised concerns about what they view as a liberal bias in public school curricula, textbooks, and classroom materials. They have raised concerns about the teaching of progressive values in public schools, such as racial and gender equality, LGBTQ+ rights, and environmentalism.
They often argue that these values are being taught in a way that is indoctrinating students and undermining parental authority.
Conservative lawmakers often oppose efforts to promote diversity and inclusion in public schools. They argue that these efforts are divisive or promote a liberal agenda.
Some conservatives have expressed strong opposition to teaching concepts like critical race theory (CRT) in public schools, arguing that these ideas promote divisive ideologies and undermine traditional American values. This has led to efforts in some states to restrict or ban the teaching of CRT or related topics.
The assault on public education gained momentum during the Trump administration, unleashing a wave of “parent rights” activists nationwide. They demanded that certain books be banned, certain plays and musicals be prohibited, and discussions on many issues around race and the LGBTQ community be severely muted or silenced altogether.
Politicians such as Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, the poster child for extreme conservativism, have argued that education laws are necessary to give parents “more control” over their children’s learning and that parents “should be protected from schools using classroom instruction to sexualize their kids.
He has publicly criticized critical race theory, calling it “state-sanctioned racism” and saying it would teach our children that “the country is rotten and that our institutions are illegitimate.”
Once again, I want to emphasize that not all conservatives share the same views on these particular issues, and there are variations within the conservative movement regarding education policy. But there is clearly a very aggressive effort to disrupt and reshape public education here in America, and those efforts will continue for some time to come.
It is important to spread the word about these issues and to build support for our public schools.
It is also important to remember that the Republican assault on public education is part of a broader attack on democracy and social justice. Americans need to come together to defend public education and all of the other institutions that are essential to our democracy.
(Follow me, TSD’s education columnist, on Twitter @curtisweathers. Email me at [email protected].)