Advisory boards, commissions and various other volunteer groups of public-minded citizens often launch careers in politics. It’s been said that even leadership roles in homeowners’ associations do as well. But school board membership is the preferred entry level position for many who aspire to careers in politics. That’s unfortunate, in my view, because political polarization is contributing to widespread school board dysfunction. Membership on a school board or board of trustees should not be viewed primarily as a stepping stone to higher elected office nor a platform for professing one’s own political or social biases.
Obviously, I like to write about politicians but never actually wanted to be one. After retiring from two rewarding careers and having more free time, I spent a decade serving in leadership roles on various service clubs, committees, commissions and advisory groups plus a term as foreperson of the county grand jury before being urged to run for a seat on a community college district board of trustees. Since I had a bachelor’s degree and doctorate in education and a master’s degree in management plus teaching experience and the endorsement of the incumbent, I figured I’d be a slam dunk to get elected. Silly me. I ran as a non-politician and accepted no campaign contributions. Big mistake, a politically-savvy friend told me. I was running for a political office which makes you a political candidate, he said. He was right. It was all about politics. It shouldn’t be, though. It should be all about the students and responsible management of the responsibilities that came with the position the voters entrusted you with.
In the runup to this week’s gubernatorial election in Virginia, Democrat candidate and former governor Terry McAuliffe, who started his campaign as a heavy favorite in blue Virginia, instead found himself in a very tight race because of what was described as a slip of the tongue. He was caught saying that he “didn’t think parents should be telling schools what to teach.” That enraged parents who were protesting classroom time being devoted to controversial social issues so in the final stages of the campaign he felt compelled to claim that Republicans were taking his words out of context. I’m no fan of Mr. McAuliffe and I may be taking his words of context as well, but I believe he was right, at least if his words are taken literally. Parents should really not be telling schools what to teach.
For one thing, parents may have their own personal biases and axes to grind. For another, they shouldn’t have to tell schools what to teach. It should already be well understood that public schools should focus on academics, especially the STEM subjects, reading skills, civics and history without rewriting it to fit the liberal narrative du jour. They should be preparing students to live productive lives. They should maintain order and decorum in the classroom and provide an atmosphere conducive to learning. Teachers should leave their political and social justice views at home where parents should be in charge of instilling such values. They should not usurp the parental role. They should not teach children to hate their country or their race or to feel guilty about either or to teach children to be victims. And when the schools fail in these responsibilities, parents have every right to object, peacefully, but emphatically.
Families across the nation have lately taken more notice of what is being taught to their children in our public schools and many are not pleased at what they’re seeing. Many, to be sure, have themselves to blame because of years of failing to notice, just plain disinterest or failure to provide a home environment where academic achievement was valued and encouraged. That’s all changing. If school board members or trustees let their political biases affect their responsibilities and objectivity and act like politicians, then they should be treated like politicians and voted out of office or urged to resign. There is no place for politics, theatrics, emotional outburst, threats or insults in school board meetings nor indoctrination of impressionable children in the schools. They’ll get enough of that in college where at least they’ll be old enough to start to think for themselves.
Given the influence of teachers’ unions in states like California, I am not optimistic that much will change in spite of parental protests unless they take their dissatisfaction to the polls and vote out of office those school board members who take it upon themselves to preempt parental rights to instill their own political and social values in the children they teach. Too many of our public school graduates today are deficient in math and verbal skills and therefore uncompetitive in the job market. More time needs to be devoted to developing these skills and less to trying to turn them into young socialists. Meanwhile, more parents are giving up altogether on the public schools. Those who can afford to, including many prominent politicians, are sending their kids to private or parochial schools. Home schooling is increasing rapidly and charter schools have seen the largest increase in five years.
My advice to parents is to worry a little less about what elite university your children will get into and a lot more about what they’ll learn in the schools they’ll attend before they get there.