By John Parker
An open letter to educators
Within a few weeks the 2023-24 school year will begin. Over the last months budgets have been approved, staff has been hired, preparations and repairs have been made to buildings in order to be ready for the new school year.
Parents are preparing their children to attend school, some for the first time. They will buy new shoes and clothes. School supplies and backpacks will be ready for the challenges and opportunities that lie ahead. Numerous charities are stepping up to assist families who are challenged to purchase supplies. In many cases these efforts are promoted by churches and the local rescue missions.
As state and district findings have shown, depending on their age and grade level, students look forward to the new year with hope and an open mind believing they will be in a safe environment with teachers and friends to share their day with. As students progress through the system their attitudes and sense of belonging change. The reaction to a virus, school closures, a loss of social stability and support structure accelerated the downward turn. It will take years to recover from the decisions made during that period of time.
The change in student attitudes and performance can be attributed to a number of factors that have previously been discussed in detail. Reports have been written and programs designed to remedy the challenges. And yet the decline in performance and mental well being continue. This is not my assertion, it’s quantified in the district’s own reporting.
The problem with large institutions searching for solutions to what has become a growing crisis is the number of “chefs in the kitchen”. When a program has been finalized and ready for implementation on the “front line” it has passed through numerous hands and is subject to the agenda of various organizations, in today’s parlance, “stakeholders”.
The framework for education today is directed and influenced by mandates and requirements from the nea, state and Federal departments of education, teachers unions and an army of special interest groups which depending on their influence, power and resources can insist that their agenda be included in the curriculum that is taught to children.
One point I made in a previous communication that was reiterated in various presentations to the district board of supervisors is that the education system is too complicated and compliance is all but impossible in some cases. The result is many of the requirements and recommendations are simply ignored. Programs often make sense in theory but when applied to the real world are burdensome and impractical. Not only do they not solve the problem but make it worse by diverting time and resources that could be better utilized.
The solution, simplify and increase efficiency. Direct resources to where they are most needed. Easy right? As Yogi Berra once said “if you don’t know where you’re going, you’ll end up somewhere else”. If simplifying is your goal the solution will follow.
Now for the hard part. Three years ago the world changed due to the governmental and institutional reaction to a virus. Everyone on the planet was affected in some way. Some more than others but none more than children. The public was taken by surprise but this had been in the works for decades and simulated months before the actual event.
Since you are on the front line of education you spend more time with students than almost any adult, sometimes including their parents. Your role and responsibility is critical to how they develop as children and who they ultimately become as adults. I know you know that and I respect your commitment and dedication to this profession.
Due to the disruption in our society there is a seed change taking place throughout the country and the world. Sources of information and institutions that were trusted in the past are now being scrutinized in ways never imagined even a decade ago. As a result people are once again evaluating their core beliefs and values. In the faith community there is a “revival” taking place. People are seeking answers and solutions to the fundamental questions of life. That’s a good thing! Some would say long overdue.
Parents today want to ensure that the people who are in positions to make decisions that affect their lives, the health and well being of their families share those values. It’s safe to say the majority of people have held the belief that the people they elect and entrust with their children are honest and can be relied upon to make decisions that will benefit and not harm them.
In many cases that trust has been broken. Not only is it important to repair the damage done to the children but that the trust in the institution of education is restored as much as possible. Here’s a few observations and suggestions:
Be honest! People are forgiving if they believe someone is telling the truth. Part of the problem today is when mistakes are made not only do people refuse to acknowledge it but double down, compounding the problem. The truth has been out there from the beginning. Let’s be honest and acknowledge the mistakes that were made and insure they are not repeated.
Know your audience! The vast majority of parents have moral convictions. Whether it’s rooted in religion or common sense they believe in right and wrong, truth over lies and a fundamental sense of decency and justice. Many people are rooted in the faith community. The effort to remove God from institutions and the “public square” has been going on for decades. It’s time to be truly inclusive and allow a spiritual and moral conversation to take place.
Now that the courts have ruled that there can be religious groups on campus I encourage you to show support for the efforts being made by groups of faith. Another area bridges can be built is the school libraries and teaching materials allowed in the classrooms. Publishers such as Brave Books, Hillsdale and others have faith friendly and family friendly materials that if made available to students would be seen as a show of good will to people who believe in family values.
One of the biggest hot button issues is the sexualization of children. I’m sure you’re aware of the movie “Sound of Freedom”. That movie is drawing attention to human trafficking and sex trafficking of minors. The movie has morphed into a movement. It’s not going away. If you polled parents (know your audience) you would find the vast majority of parents do not want the schools teaching their children about sex, particularly underage children.
I know there are many vocal, well funded special interest groups that seek to influence children in a nontraditional way. A free society should allow varying perspectives but education should not be the change agent for determining social morality. I believe that the majority of educators and administrators are moral people and know that things have gone too far. Those who are drawing attention to this should be supported for their courage and acknowledge that they are standing up for what is in the best interest of the children as well as the wishes of the parents. On this subject you can be heroes. We’re counting on you to do the right thing!
Support for ending racial division within the educational community. Generations of people fought long and hard for civil rights and justice only to see those efforts destroyed over the last couple of decades. Citizens and those aspiring to become citizens should be proud of their heritage and race but not at the expense of dividing the nation and fomenting violence in society. We should review the curriculum being taught in public schools and work to eliminate teaching that divides.
We need a balanced approach to American history that is taught in the classroom. History is meant to be learned from so the mistakes are not repeated. If we teach students this is a bad country, it’s over. “A house divided against itself will not stand”. Ask yourself, if this country falls, what does that look like? No one wants to live in that world.
I do believe that many districts and schools understand the importance of parental involvement in a child’s education. Conversely there are voices that suggest the education of children should be left to the “professionals”. The more you involve the parents the more trust you will restore. Rather than exclude the parents, encourage them to take an active role in their child’s education.
One final thought, it is in everyone’s best interest for the education and healthy socialization of our children to be successful. While standards and performance have declined over the last decade we need to be aware that our global competitors have intensified their efforts and have in some cases surpassed us. That can’t end well for this country. We need to trim the fat in the bureaucracy and eliminate a layer or two, reallocate those resources to areas that will improve performance and outcomes. We can succeed and restore our competitive status in the world. Let’s be honest and willing to change.
If we replace pride with humility, seek the guidance and strength from a loving creator he will once again bless this nation. We have everything to gain and everything to lose if we don’t. The nation is watching and millions in the faith community are praying for you and the children who so richly deserve his blessings.
Palm Desert CA