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February 25, 2013 · OPINION

Let’s focus on the purpose of public education

By John Green
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When our nation was founded we had no public schools. Schools that existed were run by the church. Not every child went to school, although some were home-schooled. As our country grew, we recognized the need for education and hence schools.

Public schools in the United States started in the 1820s and 1830s. Among the leaders for public education were Horace Mann, Henry Barnard and Calvin Stowe. The first public high school was founded in Boston, Mass., in 1821.

Ever since the start of public education, there has been debate over what to teach. Do you only prepare students for the work force or should they get a wider education in the arts and sciences? From the beginning, our public schools taught reading, writing, math, science and citizenship.

This basic curriculum continued through the years without much change. Starting in the 1960s, schools began to be caught up in social issues. The long overdue desegregation of public schools helped spark this change.

In the 1970s, the push for individual rights started among university and college students. They wanted freedom from society’s constraints. Public schools followed this movement and it accelerated through the 1980s and ’90s. By the time we entered the new century, almost every institution in our society was under attack.

This fixation on freedom and rights makes the individual more important than the society they come from. How can we have a functioning society if everybody does his own thing? Complete freedom is complete chaos. It is the opposite of an ordered community, which is the definition of a society.

Let me give you an example of how individual freedom impacts the lives of others in our public schools. Massachusetts (where public schools started) recently passed a “Transgender Rights Law.” In order to comply, Commissioner of Education Mitchell Chester had to issue guidelines for all K-12 school principals. It goes like this: Schools must allow any boy or girl of any age who self-identifies as transgender to use the school bathroom and locker room of his or her choosing. The school must not inform the parents of the student’s choice.

You might ask what does this have to do with education. Nothing, but think of the chaos one student could cause when a 16-year-old boy self-identifies as a girl and starts using the girls’ bathroom. Just one student can turn the whole school on its head. Is this fair to all the other students?

Today our schools have become obsessed with social issues – diversity, multiculturalism, sex education, bullying, gays, lesbians, transgender, transvestites, gay marriage and any other thing you can think up. All these social issues have to be explained, and that is taking more and more time away from academics. To the schools, social engineering is becoming the most important thing they do. Our public schools have sets new goals for education: social justice and equal outcomes.

Now there is a new threat to public education. It has already started. The federal government wants to determine what our public schools teach nationwide. The U.S. Education Department is now offering funding to the states IF the state agrees to adopt what are called Common Core Standards. These are national standards written under the direction of U.S. Education Department. Right now, 44 states have decided to take the bait money and adopt Common Core Standards.

The Department of Education works for the president. It does what he wants. Having the president and his administration determine what public schools teach throughout the United States is dangerous to our democracy. It doesn’t matter if it were Republicans or Democrats, liberals or conservatives, having a single party write the standards for the education of all the students of the Unites States is a bad idea.

The nation’s Founders developed a unique system of government involving numerous checks and balances. This was done to make it difficult for one party or one individual to have unchecked power. Establishing national standards for our public schools would lead to a politically-driven education curriculum.

Our children are our future; what our students learn in our schools determines our future and their future. We must get our public schools out of the social engineering they are now involved in. It is being done at the expense of academic achievement. We must let each state develop theirs own standards. We must not allow public education to be agenda driven by any political party.

Our freedom can only be maintained by the vigilance of its citizens. Part of that is actively monitoring what public schools are doing. We must continue to ask the question: For what purpose are we educating our children? Our futures and their futures are at stake.
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Shenfayne · March 4, 2013 at 12:16 pm
I agree with almost everything Mr. Green has written about education. Fortunately, I went to h.s in the 60s when education at FHS still hadgood standards (graduated '68) and rules existed. For instance girls wore dresses or skirts and blouses and boys dressed neatly - no blue jeans or holes in pants and no long hairstyles on boys etc. There were standards.

Also, fortunately, when I went to Madison College - now JMU - they still had a lot of sensible rules and constraints. I get the feeling a lot of what goes on in schools and colleges now is practically "anything goes." Social engineering has been a huge part of the problem of the downfall of schools. I inherited an 1850 geography textbook used by various members of my family. I can tell you that children if they used that book today might learn more than by using some of what they probably use, if they study geography. I was amazed at how that old book was so wise in predicting what might occur in nations like Russia - later USSR. Great piece, Mr. Green. a retired teacher
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