Politics Should Not Affect What and How Our Kids Learn (Part 1)

Politics was not the main reason that we started homeschooling. But I am becoming increasingly frustrated when I see how much politics influences how our kids are taught and increasingly glad that I do not have to deal with it.

Take the science curriculum debate in Kansas for instance. Without even getting into whether or not Intelligent Design or Evolution should be taught as science (for the record we fall plan on teaching evolution but will probably discuss the controversy over intelligent design), does this sound like a healthy way for kids to learn:

"If future school board elections turn out a different group of motivated voters, the results could shift again, as they have in previous elections."

"Kansas has been over this ground before. In 1999, the state made national headlines by stripping its curriculum of nearly any mention of evolution. Two years later, voters removed several conservative board members, and the curriculum change was reversed.

Then, a conservative majority took hold in 2004 and revived the issue, leading to the bitter 6-to-4 vote last year, in which the board adopted the current standards."

You have got to be kidding! This is the problem when you have to try to cater to pleasing everyone in a system that is not set up to allow for individual uniqueness or needs. One group comes into "power" and they get to make the rules. The group without the power then does everything they can to come back into power and changes things. Neither group will compromise because each group knows that they are "right". We see it on a larger scale with our government. But it happens at the local level all the time with our schools. And our kids get caught in the middle.

And lest you think that this is just happening in Kansas, have you checked out the new Florida state history regulations? You can just see the politics and recognize exactly what motivations were behind these new regulations. Whether or not you like these new laws depends on whether you agree with the politics behind them. Why are politicians micro-managing what is taught in the schools?

There was a PBS show called Testing Our Schools that talked about standardized testing in schools (this was back about 4 years ago before NCLB really took hold and when "accountability" was becoming the buzzword - I remember watching it right when we started homeschooling Jason). In this documentary, they highlighted Virginia as they were coming up with those lovely Standards of Learning (SOLs - I kid you not). Virginia was unique in that instead of using an "off the shelf" generic test, they were developing their own state-specific standards.The show was extremely eye-opening to me and reinforced our decision to homeschool. What I found fascinating was watching the process…how they were trying to determine what was important based on what they could reasonably test on. How they were being lobbied by various interest groups to make sure that their interests were being represented. How little discussion there was on helping the kids learn to think and draw their own conclusions.

As we show in the program, developing standards turns out to be hard, politically perilous work. Policymakers in Virginia argued for weeks over just what names students should be familiar with in history. If Robert E. Lee is important, what about Frederick Douglass? Does Stonewall Jackson make the list and, if he does, should Jefferson Davis? Abraham Lincoln of course, but what about Ulysses S. Grant? Special interest groups wanted the history standards to include such things as the Armenian genocide ('because it was the first one of the 20th century and made Hitler possible') or the African kingdom of Mali ('so that African-American students wouldn't think that their history begins with the arrival of the first slave ship in 1619′).

It seems to me that education should be above politics, but I am having a hard time lately figuring out how you go about doing that in the public schools. Because education is such a personal thing. And each family wants their child taught in a way that they agree with and that matches their families beliefs and values. But you can't do that with 30 kids in a class and hundreds if not thousands in a school. So parents start pressuring the school board or their legislators. Or sometimes it is not even the parents…it is the law/policy makers trying to score political points.

So then schools try to please everyone and you end up with everything being so politically correct and watered down that you have to wonder how on earth kids can learn to think in that kind of environment. Schools are supposed to be able to stay neutral in politics and religion. But even that turns into a near impossibility because people mistakenly believe that neutrality means that you can not even mention or talk or discuss these things. No one wants to offend anyone.

And even supposed neutrality can be offensive! People like Ann Coulter argue that this neutrality is in effect a type of religion, pushing a "secular" agenda. Others argue that the neutrality is a restriction on their free speech and/or religion.

Part of the problem is the polarization that seems to be taking place in politics and religion lately all across our nation. Red states. Blue states. Secularism. Religious Fundamentalism. Evolution. Intelligent Design. Everyone has their point of view and everyone has dug in and is ready for a fight. Where is the common ground?

Like I said at the beginning, I am glad that I am homeschooling. I get to make these decisions for my family. No, this is not a cop out. I do not see these issues in the schools being resolved in the very near future even if I was active and involved. I am not willing to sacrifice my child's education to the political whims of whoever is in power.

But more on that in Part 2.