Commentary: Education or indoctrination? (September, 2019)

The week of Sept. 20-27 has been dubbed by several activist, special interest and lobbyist organizations as a “Global Climate Strike and Week of Action.” The idea is to convince a bunch of people to walk off their jobs, block traffic, picket offices and businesses, and generally disrupt the rest of the citizenry from being able to function in their daily lives — effectively holding peace, tranquility and freedom of movement hostage in exchange for a radical “Green New Deal” type agenda.

The big problem here is that the shock troops in this strike are expected to be public school students who will march out of class in order to participate in the mayhem. In many cases, if not most or all, the kids will be taking part with the encouragement and facilitation of teachers and administrators on the public dime. This is not OK.

First of all, the kinds of demonstrations being called for — along the lines of what we’ve recently seen with the blocking of the Strolling of the Heifers parade, shouting down business on the floor of the State House, and stopping traffic in Montpelier — are illegal. Those taking part are subject to arrest. It is totally irresponsible for public school officials to aid and abet their students in breaking the law.

In addition to potential legal jeopardy, instigating physical confrontations with people and machines — which is what you’re doing when you block traffic or otherwise stop someone from going from point A to point B — can be dangerous. Some activists could take things too far, or unwilling victims of the protest might overreact, resulting in violent injury. Again, school officials charged with keeping children safe should not be involving students in this kind of activity.

And lastly, what we’re witnessing here is the abandonment of an educational mission in favor of political indoctrination. It’s not just climate change. Over the past year we have seen elementary, middle and high school students encouraged by their teachers to walk out of class over gun control, racism, gender politics — anything to get out of learning (and apparently teaching) algebra.

If these students were being exposed to all sides of these issues, weighing the evidence pro and con, reaching their own conclusions, and then protesting on their own time, that would be one thing. But that’s not what’s happening. They are being told one side of the story, and other arguments are either absent or, worse, being mocked by the people in charge. That’s not education, that’s propaganda.

What we will witness on Sept. 20 and the following week is public schools being willingly co-opted by special interest groups so that children can be exploited by adults in order to push a partisan political agenda. This comes at the expense of the children’s real education. They are not being taught how to think, they are being told what to think, and then what to do.

Is this really what we are paying some of the highest property taxes in the nation and, by some estimates, $22,000 a year per child for? Brainwashed children pouring out of their classrooms to disrupt our daily lives on behalf of political lobbyists? For parents and taxpayers, there’s a hefty combination of insult and injury wrapped up in this equation! For the children, it’s just a sad waste of their true potential.

The solution to this problem is statewide, parent-driven school choice with the money following the child. If you want a school to turn your kid into a left-wing activist playing in traffic, fine. But if you don’t, as a parent you should have the right and the ability to choose a school that reflects your values and priorities. Parents who think schools should be focused on teaching their children reading, writing, math, etc. (and are wondering why our student proficiency levels stink) should speak out and demand the right to move their children somewhere else.

The public school system is a monopoly, accountable in reality only to the politicians who control the flow of tax dollars into its coffers. This unhealthy dynamic is at the root of why we are seeing an increasingly political agenda replace traditional education in our public schools. It’s time to break up that monopoly and make the schools accountable not to politicians, but to parents and students through school choice. That’s something to think about when you’re stuck in traffic on the way to work because a dozen eighth graders have chained themselves together in the middle of the highway.

— Rob Roper is president of the Ethan Allen Institute

{ 5 comments… read them below or add one }

Eric Salat September 28, 2019 at 10:42 pm

The left has taken over our schools and teaching history which is biased and negative about our country. How do we change that?

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Deanne October 2, 2019 at 3:41 am

Although I claim neither of the two dominant political parties, I must say if the shoe were on the other foot, with conservative republican teachers stirring the students up to rally over abortion, gun rights, traditional moral values, etc., there would be a roar from the left, the whole country would hear it. But those on the left can do whatever they want and everyone has to just accept it, or at least endure it.

Rob, the only thing in your article I disagree with is that I don’t see tax-funded education as a solution, no matter how it is handled. Government involvement is a sure way to ruin almost anything, and the waste in collecting and redistributing the funds, as well as all the bookkeeping in between is a terrible use of hard-earned money. Parents are directly responsible for their children’s learning. It is possible to teach children with very little money. I know this from personal experience.

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Jerry Tillotson October 28, 2019 at 3:36 pm

I teach Advanced Placement United States History at Montpelier High School and I have listened to you and Sayre comment, ad nauseam, about how our public schools are indoctrinating our students to embrace socialism at the expense of capitalism. Well, sir, I don’t do that and I don’t know any other social studies teachers who do. What hard, definitive evidence to you have to support your assertion? How much time have you spent in a history classroom observing this?

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Rob October 28, 2019 at 6:30 pm

I hope you don’t, Jerry. I have a son who’s a freshman in college and a daughter who is a junior, so I am not that far removed from the high school experience, and I have to say the teaching overall about the US regarding history or economics or culture has a serious liberal bias to it. The Founders were a bunch of racists… Capitalism is destroying the environment and the cause of economic injustice and oppression…. Not a lot about the benefits of human liberty. So I have that evidence, plus, we have lots of parents who call into the show or contact us via email and share their stories about kids being attacked by teachers in class for holding conservative opinions, or ostracized by other students. If you have examples of pro-capitalist teaching in Montpelier High School, we’d love to share them as well! Let us know.

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Jerry Tillotson October 29, 2019 at 9:54 am

In a nutshell, I teach that Jamestown was saved when the format changed from property being owned in common to private land ownership. I teach that during the Soviet era, only 10 percent of the farm land was privately owned but it produced 60 percent of the nation’s food. I teach that our founders who owned enslaved persons were different from slave owners in the years leading up to the Civil War. Washington and Jefferson were slave owners who were opposed to slavery, but it was a necessary evil to secure much needed labor. The later slave owners felt slavery was a positive good. A brief exercise I do in class is asked them what if I averaged everyone’s grade together and gave everyone in class that grade. The kids who tend not to work that hard are all for it, but the high flyers are not. I then attach that to socialism. I teach that capitalism provides necessary incentives to work hard, be innovative, start businesses, and strive to improve, but I also teach that capitalism needs to be regulated or you have the economic perversion that led to the Progressive Era. I also teach that our system does include socialism. Taxes are socialism, public safety is socialism, public school is socialism, even insurance is a private form of socialism. I also teach that capitalism has its issues. Something is wrong with its influence on value systems when athletes get paid $25 million a year and children in this go to bed homeless and hungry. What do conservatives do for them?

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