A Delicate and Difficult Position
The left is ill-equipped to win the war on public education.
I am a teacher. I support public education, though I have grave reservations about the direction in which the institution has been driven for the last half-century.
My support for public schools is no less unwavering than most liberals, and is not the only issue where my beliefs coincide with theirs. By and large, however, I am largely conservative in my social and economic political views.
A Consequence of Circumstance
Some may find my support for public education to be the simple product of my own circumstance, a perfect illustration of Miles’ Law, a law of the human experience that states the rather obvious: Where you stand depends on where you sit. While I can’t deny the law’s obvious influence on my position as a supporter of public education, I can say that I am a voracious reader and researcher, and that I have often had to change my position on particular issues after gaining a better appreciation for their complexities. The more I have researched the deplorable condition of America’s single greatest institution, the more I have come to believe in it. With each new bit of knowledge about public education and the issues that haunt it, my support for it has only become more robust.
The Arrogant and Intolerant Left
Besides a number of other issues facing our nation, my advocacy for public schools stands in contrast to many of my other political views. Naturally, in a nation that collectively acknowledges the value of discourse and debate, such a diverse range of views expressed by any person would be welcomed and examined honestly. Unfortunately, in the shambles of the contemporary American political landscape, wherein the electorate is, at the very least, more polarized than at any time since the hours immediately preceding the Civil War, the left is seldom willing to debate. Liberals like to state the supposed merits of their position, and then promptly end the conversation. The conflict grows deeper and the stakes grow higher.
While my support for public education has gained me the support and friendship of many others with whom my views align, I have found that, in many cases, that support and friendship is predicated on the others’ assumption that because my views on one subject mirror theirs, then all my other views on other issues should as well. Such an assumption is not only presumptuously self-indulgent, it is quite simplistic, and to a great degree, proactively ignorant. Because of a rampant and growing refusal to face reality, itself the product of the symbiotic relationship between political correctness and the groupthink phenomena it spawns, I have found that, despite agreement on one issue, disagreement on another often causes civility to evaporate, and discussion to abruptly end.
Before I go any further, I think I had better declare my own paramount belief in the principles upon which our nation was founded. I believe in the fundamental equality of all human beings. I believe in liberty, including Freedom of Speech and all the other freedoms guaranteed to Americans in the First Amendment. I am not a bigot, though I have been accused of being one many times simply because I disagreed with those who consume all that is fed to them by far-left elite social engineers. I am certain that I will be labeled something derogatory soon after this post is published. Oh well…
There is a marked dichotomy between the manner in which those on the right and those on the left react to my views when they find them to be antithetical to their own. Nearly without exception, those on the right launch a passionate attempt to convince me of the logical grounding upon which their views are based. In return, they are, far more often than not, willing to listen to my response. Conversely, those on the left almost always begin by impugning my character or intellect, or assailing my motives. Rather than making an honest attempt to engage in a dialogue of thought, they immediately attack me, in what can only be an attempt to prevent any dialogue at all.
Nationwide Rejection of Leftist Dogma
We have just witnessed an epic implosion of the Democratic Party. The consensus among the vast majority of political pundits is that the party allowed itself to be hijacked by far-leftwing, Orwellian social architects who relentlessly sowed discord and divisiveness through a disingenuous adherence to a quixotic manifesto driven by identity politics, and insultingly took its own base for granted. In doing so, the party lost a critical bloc of that base, and lost badly across the board, in the 2016 national election. Unfortunately, the leadership of the party seems loathe to admit any error in its strategy, and will almost certainly slide even farther to the left than it already has. That will only ensure the defection of even greater numbers of its base.
Intransigence Breeds Bitterness
There are two things that I find striking about the current state of the various debates involving American public education. One is that very few conservatives support public schools at all. Many of them believe that public education has been destroyed from within by the machinery of the left, and is unsavable in its present form. This is what drives their unrelenting efforts to privatize education through voucher schemes and to supplant public schools with charters. They are acutely aware of the left’s propensity for vilifying its opponents, and thus, they attack the schools as underperforming havens of mediocrity, plagued by low quality, ineffective, and indifferent teachers. Conservatives avoid the abundance of legitimate issues manifested by fifty years of unabated leftist indoctrination delivered in our nation’s public schools, and instead have laid political and economic siege to the institution itself.
The leftists want a monopoly of curriculum and instruction, based on their oft-proclaimed moral superiority. Their goal is a prime example of what Richard Bernstein termed a Dictatorship of Virtue. To disagree with a leftist is to invite degradation, ostracization, and vilification. If you disagree with the leftist dogma, then you are somehow less intellectually evolved, less morally developed, and utterly unworthy.
Exasperated with the apparent pointlessness of attempting to debate the intractable left, the rightists are unwilling to fight that fight. They understand the intrinsically vulnerable position they would occupy in an attempt to debate an opponent who has succeeded in distorting the very nature of the debate itself, and therefore seek to win the contest by destroying the entity over which the battle began in the first place.
In the debate over the direction of American public schools, the unwillingness of both sides to honestly confront the true issues hobbling the institution may well spell the end of it altogether. Since the left won’t share the pie, the right will throw it in the waste bin.
That is the unfortunate reality that places me in a quandary. While I am opposed to the destruction of public schools, I am also disturbed by the fact that public schools have become leftwing indoctrination centers. Unfortunately, it is very possible that I will be on the losing side of both fights.
The Unfortunate Reality
It is up to liberals, who hold near complete command of public school culture and curriculum, to move toward the center. With the election of Donald Trump, and his nomination of Betsy DeVos for education secretary (which is all but certain to be confirmed), the obliteration of public education in America, in its present form, is a very real possibility.
At present, no amount of angry proselytizing or ructious postering will save public education. Parents have demonstrated their willingness to accept vouchers as a vehicle out of public schools. The argument about the effectiveness of public schools, at this point, is pointless. With the judiciary set to move right, it is very plausible that vouchers will become codified nationwide. Liberals have some tough choices to make.
Don’t be stupid.
Rather than to cling to an idealized dogma that antagonizes half the nation, liberals should move to a more pragmatic approach. To engage in the former will all but guarantee the end of public school predominance in American K12 education. The latter may well save it.
The Left had better choose wisely.