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EricN Publications by Eric Niewoehner
EricNPublications by Eric Niewoehner

Broken: Is Public Education Beyond Repair?

December 29, 2021


The controversy over critical race theory has peeled away several layers of our society that, like an onion, can only bring tears.

A recent article from Fox News demonstrates how deeply divided we are as a country and how broken is our educational system. I grew up in the 60’s and I had good teachers, people you could trust. But we were a different society back then. We had a moral consensus that parents shared with teachers. Today? Read for yourself what was presented at the Leander Independent School District Board meeting on December 16th. The budding poet was referring to books that many deemed sexually explicit and inappropriate for children.


"Everyone in Leander liked reading a lot/ but some evangelicals in Lea[n]der did not," Tyler begins. "These kooks hated reading, the whole reading season./ Please don't ask why, no one quite knows the reason./ It could be perhaps critical thinking causes fright./ It could be their heads aren't screwed on just right./ But whatever the reason, their brains or their fright,/ they can't follow policy in plain black and white."


"These bigots don't get to choose for us, that's clear," Tyler's poem continues. "Then how, I am wondering, did we even get here./ They growl at our meetings, all hawing and humming,/ ‘We must stop this indoctrination from coming!’/ They've come for the books and the bonds and what for?/ Their kids don't even attend Leander schools anymore./ Bring back our books, maintain decorum, good grief./ Wouldn't it be nice to have a meeting in peace?"

Banned Books Banned Books

The controversy is not new. Schools and public libraries have wrestled with the issue of censorship throughout their history. Schools tend to be more restrictive due to their mission and their audience. Public libraries usually have more options, but still wrestle with what is presentable for public viewing. Obviously emotions run high. It should be that way. The recent hoop-to-do with the Dr. Seuss books is a good example of how Big Tech, the Dr. Seuss Foundation and various school districts conspired to take the books off the market and away from our children. Ironically, public libraries had to place the blacklisted titles behind the counter not so much because of censorship but because the books went from $3 to $300 in market value.


I would first like to invite Ms. Tyler to check out my modest library. It may cost her the flight of a ticket to Alaska, but she could double-up on the trip and see nature at its finest while dispelling some myths she exudes regarding evangelicals. My library began in college, a liberal arts institution affiliated with the Reformed Church of America. It was there I took a freshman English course on CS Lewis, followed by a survey course on British Literature, of which the poetry books and several of the novels still reside on my shelves. Authors I have read include Dickens, MacDonald, Lewis, Tolkien, Shelley, Herriot, Michener, Clancy, Goudge, and countless more. I even have an anthology of Bill Shakespeare. Of the philosophers, the authors include Hegel, Marx, Adam Smith, John Locke, Jonathan Edwards. The classics? Name it and I probably have it, whether it be Cicero, Aurelius or Epictetus.


As one of the parents pointed out, the school district is failing in its mission as only a meager 8% of black students and 11% of Hispanic students are performing at grade level in math. It brings into question whether the older kids are actually equipped for “critical thinking” skills. While Ms. Tyler states parents can’t “choose for us”, it is apparent that whatever the teachers have chosen has failed to work.


Ms. Tyler is obviously frustrated. To the credit of the school district, they have taken measures to take controversial titles off the book shelves, but it appears they have lost the trust of the parents. The long term effects of the controversy, with the addition of the above comments, will deepen the divide between parents and public schools. Her assigning a sizable minority of our population to ignorance and bigotry certainly does not win friends or influence people.


The solution is almost like the twelve-step program for addicts. You need to first state you have a problem. The problem is that public education is broken. It is beyond repair because it is systemically flawed. You can win the board positions, then discover that the labyrinthine labor contracts make it impossible to change teachers and nearly impossible to redirect curriculum. What you will discover is that the system is biased against traditional education when the young people attend college for their degrees in education. This bias is deepened when they get a Masters Degree for three reasons. First, the content can continue to shape the teacher’s ideology. Secondly, it re-enforces the presumption that a teacher with a Master’s Degree in education is better than one who does not. Third, it broadens the gulf between teacher and parent as the teacher tends to think they are the experts in education, while parents are not. Thus, it is no surprise that teachers (and their unions) think that teachers should control the curriculum, control what is exposed to parents, and presume control over what a student should believe. Would it be fair to call this “systemic indoctrination?”

Public education is broken because it does not have to compete with alternatives – until now. The COVID pandemic has rocket-fired homeschooling from being a fringe of the educational market to a significant influence. The debate has shifted from choosing alternatives to funding alternatives. That is critical. Until now, people who homeschooled or sought private schooling had to pay out of their own pockets. Parents who are not as well off are asking why public money needs to go only to public schools. They want to vote with their feet.


The past two years have seen the rise of two highly controversial movements in education: critical race theory and gender identity. This has not only twisted the educational mission of public schools, it has also affected some private schools. For parents in the private school market, their options are rather simple because they can afford to simply walk away from a school they do not approve and choose or start a new one. For parents who disapprove of what happens in their public school, their only option is public confrontation. That takes considerable courage. They deserve better.


The solution is vouchers. According to Resilient Educator, the average cost of educating a child in Texas in 2018 was about $8800. Give the parents the option of spending as much as $8800 educating their child as they please. That would solve Ms. Tyler’s problem nicely. She would see her class become smaller, which teachers have long advocated. She would see all those “kooks” sending their kids elsewhere, so she could simply avoid those “evangelicals.” All her kids would be from parents who “love to read,” so this should inevitably lead to higher scores in reading Whether Ms. Tyler’s position will continue to be funded will depend on how many unbigoted Texans reside in the school district.


The voucher system could also break the cycle in regards to how teachers are chosen and how they are prepared for the field. It is rather ironic, but teachers at one of the leading academies in Columbia, Missouri was not “accredited” because they were over-qualified. Biology students were taught by a veterinarian. The French teacher was just some lady who was fluent in French. I recall attempting to apply for a position in a public high school teaching history. Even though I had a college degree in history and a Masters in Economics, I wasn’t qualified to teach because I needed a degree in Education. One of the better Christian schools was not accredited for many years because its teachers did not have education degrees – only that their results kept producing national merit scholars. The focus on college hours rather than on ability and results has cost public education dearly, and the results show it. While I can certainly appreciate the importance of a degree in education, it is just one of the metrics that determine success.


Breaking the link between the university system and the school teachers would eliminate the useless controversy that has emerged due to critical race theory and gender identity. These absurd, anti-family concepts are derived from the universities. They are not to be trusted. Breaking the chain will disrupt this stream of ideology. Education always has a moral foundation, whether it be the Catholic school or a public school in China. The question is which morality. Parents should have the right to choose schools that support their views of right and wrong.


Finally, the system is broken because we are a divided society. The controversy over critical race theory has peeled away several layers of our society that, like an onion, can only bring tears. To think that there are teachers who believe that adding 2 + 2 is an act of racism! That grades are racist. It borders on the absurd. And as the events in Loudon County, Virginia demonstrate, how a school administration would sweep under the carpet a criminal act in order to maintain the policy of allowing a man to use the women’s restroom. These things reveal a much deeper problem, where there is on one hand a group of people who feel they must tell us all our faults, discard our heritage, disparage parental authority and assign belief in God to bigotry and ignorance. What’s on the other side? Personal accountability, pursuit of excellence, an appreciation of our heritage, values that affirm the family and an innate desire for liberty. Not on the list of values is seeing the world through the lens of racism.


There is an upside to this whole debate. Public schools work in much of the country. Kids receive a decent education. Teachers are competent. While teachers’ unions can cause considerable controversy, not all unions are the same, not every affiliated chapter dances to the same tune. A degree in education from some colleges is meaningful. Learning how young minds grow is important. A Masters Degree in education is also helpful. But these are all tools. The mission is what is important. When any school, public or private, forgets the mission they should be punished. The marketplace does this by the mechanism of free choice, where parents can vote with their feet.

By Eric Niewoehner

© Copyright 2021 to Eric Niewoehner.

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