Public Education is Changing Forever

The COVID pandemic has closed public schools for over two months, with no end in sight. This represents a seismic disruption to a system that was already strained. Before the pandemic lockdown, public schools in California faced financial insolvency, woeful failures to educate (especially in low income communities), and a parent uprising that was growing exponentially.

Now there’s an alternative. Home schooling.

As reported on May 14 in Real Clear Politics:

“A RealClear Opinion Research survey of 2,122 registered voters shows that support for educational choice is strong, and that a significant portion of parents are more likely to pursue homeschooling opportunities after the lockdowns end. The results show that 40% of families are more likely to homeschool or virtual school after lockdowns, and that 64% support school choice and 69% support the federal Education Freedom Scholarships proposal.”

If you want to disrupt the public sector union monopoly on public education, the pandemic shutdown is made to order. Up until two months ago, parent resentment of unionized public education was restricted to relatively small numbers of activists. But it isn’t as if their concerns weren’t valid. Parental rights had been undermined in two critical ways.

First, the newly mandated practice of “racial equity discipline” had turned many public schools into war zones. These Obama era federal rulings require punishments such as suspensions or expulsions to be meted out to students in equal proportions according to race. Districts that practiced racially proportionate discipline would receive bonus funds, and districts that did not would see federal funds withheld. The practical effect of these laws are to remove effective restraints on the behavior of disruptive students. Parents of students who behave have become outraged, because their children are coming home suffering from traumatic stress because they are not learning in a safe environment.

As an aside, a Google search under “racial equity discipline” yields nothing apart from reports and studies alleging that racial equity is necessary to combat institutional racism. Search results do not show even one article or study that questions this practice. As an author that publishes conservative and contrarian commentary on a variety of issues, I can say with certainty that this happens all the time and on all controversial topics. It is not by accident, and, to put it mildly, it constitutes manipulation of public sentiment with far reaching implications.

Probably the biggest victims of “racial equity discipline” are the students who require discipline. Their behavior is not being checked in the K-12 school environment, and they are subsequently entering the real world without learning to respect authority. They are being done a tragic disservice. But federal money talks, even as young lives are squandered.

Second, parents across California have been put off by the new sex education curriculum. These new guidelines have exposed children to sexually explicit material even in primary grades; it has also added layers of sexual indoctrination to the instruction. Parents, for example, are liable to become concerned when their third graders are taught that gender and sex are distinct, that sex is “assigned” at birth, but “gender” has nothing to do with a child’s sexual anatomy.

Even before the pandemic, groups had arisen to spread awareness among parents of these new sex education guidelines and to organize resistance to them. These groups include the “Informed Parents of California,” with 43,500 members on Facebook, along with the Capitol Resource Institute, “advancing parental rights and religious freedom in California.” If you peruse these online resources, you may be surprised at just how graphic and agenda-driven public school sex education has become.

Since the pandemic lockdown closed the schools, resistance to the status quo in public education has mushroomed.

When parents across California were suddenly forced to assume daily responsibility for their child’s at-home education, it was no longer activists or victims who became aware of the new curricula. Suddenly everybody became aware of what their children were being taught. This awareness extended not only to sex education but to history, English, math and science. In all cases, an obvious agenda is at work: history that disparages America’s legacy, emphasizing the negative. English that ignores classics of Western Civilization. Math that imposes cumbersome new “common core” standards. Science lessons that foment fear of apocalyptic climate change.

If suddenly gaining an intimate understanding of what their children are learning has driven more parents to activism, the response of the teachers union and the school districts has also had an impact. In some large California school districts the teachers union has demanded that teachers only spend four hours per day participating in online instruction, yet their rate of pay is untouched. How does that go over with parents who are shut out of their jobs and ability to make a living?

Henry David Thoreau, a great American writer who is all too often displaced in contemporary high school English classes, had this to say about the good fight: “There are a thousand hacking at the branches of evil to one who is striking at the root.”

If these changes in public education, a biased, left-wing agenda infusing literally every classroom discipline, are branches, the root is surely the teachers union. Public education in California is virtually ran by the teachers union. Anyone who doubts this might consider the financial power they wield in the United States, and California in particular.

According to their own websites, there are approximately 3.0 million members of the National Education Association, and around 1.7 million members of the American Federation of Teachers. At roughly $1,000 per year in dues, these two teachers unions combined are collecting $4.7 billion per year. This is an astonishing sum of money, sufficient to filter down to any political contest, anywhere, and win. From literally every school district board to the battles for the U.S. Senate and the White House, these teachers unions buy politicians via campaign contributions and lobbying. And their support is almost exclusively for Democrats. In California alone, the state chapters of public education unions – CTA, CFT and CSEA – collect nearly a half-billion in dues and fees each year.

Someone who has hacked at the root of education rot for years is the tireless Rebecca Friedrichs, a 28 year veteran of public education who became nationally famous when her case, Friedrichs vs the CTA, made it all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court. Friedrichs was fighting for the right for teachers to opt-out of union membership. After the untimely death of justice Antonin Scalia, her case was tabled, and it was left to Mark Janus, a few years later in 2018, to prevail in a similar case.

When asked about unions and public education, Friedrichs didn’t mince words. “The founders never had government schools in mind,” she said, “the unions and their special interests created the public school industrial complex that doesn’t meet the needs of most but allows the government and the unions to indoctrinate us in leftist ideology.”

What’s coming next in public education is anybody’s guess. But the forced and very unexpected transition of millions of Californian parents into homeschoolers is a profound disruption. Virtual private schools, offering affordable educational options to parents who don’t want to put their children back into the public schools, now constitute a mortal threat to the teachers union monopoly on public education.

Perhaps that is one silver lining amid this medical crisis that is far from over, and economic challenges that have just begun.

This article originally appeared on the website California Globe.

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