TSD education columnist Curtis Weathers: "We are witnessing a slow, painful dismantling of our public education system as we know it. This is a dangerous road we are headed down, and we are doing irreparable damage to our children."

I often take time to broadly survey the landscape of public schooling in America, and what I see happening these days is quite disturbing.

We are witnessing a slow, painful dismantling of our public education system as we know it.

This is a dangerous road we are headed down, and we are doing irreparable damage to our children.

Politics is becoming the dominant factor in public school systems’ decision-making processes and not what is in the best interest of our children.

If we continue down this path, we will find our school systems operating at a very dysfunctional level.

Politics to some degree, always have played a role in decision-making regarding the allocation and management of school system resources, but never to the degree we see it in today’s environment.

Never in all my years did I envision an environment like the one we currently operate in today.

It is heartbreaking!

The teaching profession continues to lose its luster. More and more teachers are leaving their jobs and quitting the profession because of the politics that have invaded their classrooms.

More than one million public school educators in 2021 quit their jobs, which was 40 percent higher than the previous year.

Not only are teachers leaving the profession in record numbers, but the number of college students entering the profession has drastically declined.

Families are abandoning the public school system out of frustration with teachers’ unions, inadequate resources, low standards, and political agendas of school boards and state legislatures.

Since 2020, 1.5 million children have been withdrawn from public schools to attend charter or private schools or are being homeschooled.

We live in a time where state legislatures are creating a flood of state laws to keep certain books out of our children’s hands and ideas out of their heads.

Most parents believe that laws leading to book bans and restricting teachers’ abilities to discuss racial or other controversial issues, i.e., critical race theory, are about politics and not what is in the best interest of children.

The politics in our school systems are crippling our schools, and politicians fail to see the damage they are doing because they are too concerned about their own self-interest.

Since January 2021, 42 states have introduced bills or taken other steps that restrict how teachers can discuss racism or sexism in the classroom.

In the great commonwealth of Virginia, the governor has set up a hotline where parents can report teachers to the government for teaching children about race relations in America.

Florida’s new Parental Rights in Education Law, known by critics as the “don’t say gay” bill, restricts what teachers can say about gender and sexual orientation in the classroom.

The law, championed by Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis, is the first of its kind in the country. While it restricts teachers from discussing gender and sexual orientation in class, there apparently are no clear guidelines for what is appropriate.

Last year, Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee signed a bill allowing political parties to nominate candidates for school board races, which were previously nonpartisan elections.

As expected, this move has deepened the political divide across the entire state. As a result, school board races have now become more about the views of one’s political affiliations rather than what is in the best interest of teachers and children.

Educators are not happy with the environment politics has created in their schools.

COVID policies, critical race theory, vaccines, and other pandemic-era topics have been central to this shift.

Most rational people agree, classrooms should be places for learning, not political battlegrounds.

But not all parents are buying into these changes.

Recent studies show that parents feel these new laws are “being driven by politicians who are interested only in advancing their careers.” They are “using children in schools as political pawns.”

When it comes to K-12 schools, parents are most worried about their children’s safety and preparing them for success in life.

Studies suggest that issues like school safety, student mental health needs, teacher recruitment, and adequate school funding should be the top priorities of our school systems.

These are the issues parents feel elected officials should be concerned about, not advancing their political agendas inside the classroom.

We have turned schools into battlefields where teaching and learning processes are being compromised, and our children and their education are the casualties.

I have no idea how we reverse these trends, but I continue to see subtle layers of politics being woven into our public-school systems that are not welcome.

Once these new laws and policies find a home in our educational systems, they are extremely difficult to remove.

Let’s stay vigilant!

 

(Follow me, TSD’s education columnist, on Twitter @curtisweathers. Email me at [email protected].)