The news about our nation’s public schools is not good and has not been for some time. For many years now the U.S. has compared poorly in student test scores against other nations, but I attributed this to the fact that the U.S. is the only major power in the world to attempt to educate its entire citizenry. For most nations, including those in the West, a quality education is the reserve of the wealthy or the well-connected, or those students who show potential at a very young age. As such, pretty much every student in the U.S. is being compared to the best and brightest in other countries.
But the news coming out of our public schools has been especially disturbing the last few years, especially during and since the pandemic. Consider these headlines:
Teacher shot and critically injured by 6-year-old student.
Teacher fired after overdosing on fentanyl in front of students.
Report reveals that Chicago public school employees have been grooming and sexually abusing, exploiting and raping students.
Students suffered academically during pandemic because of online classes.
Parents in an uproar over sexually explicit materials available in school libraries and over schools introducing gender issues, including to elementary students.
Schools sponsoring drag queen story hours.
Schools gaslighting parents over gender identity of students.
School superintendent fired and school board reprimanded for covering up sexual assault of female students by a “gender-fluid” male student.
School investigated for not informing Asian students of their having received academic accolades in effort to achieve equity for Black and Hispanic students, jeopardizing Asian students’ opportunities for college admission and scholarships.
Parents outraged over race-based curricula in schools.
Parents are removing their children from public schools.
This list doesn’t even include school shootings that have devastated so many public schools in recent years, going all the way back to Columbine.
What is happening here? There are, I’m sure, many theories. Part of the problem, I think, is that schools have lost their focus. Some decades ago, school administrators and those who regarded themselves as experts in education became aware that some of their students were living in homes that were less than ideal or significantly wanting in their families’ ability to provide for a healthy breakfast for them. School breakfast and lunch programs were adopted, with government funding, of course. Head Start programs were developed to give children from economically disadvantaged families assistance in academics.
A movement to make schools something of a second home for children expanded to the point where programs were adopted that gave children access to schools almost around the clock, for education, meals, extra-curricular activities, sports, and a place to hang out that was safe and free from drugs and the influence of gangs. This was not, in and of itself, a bad thing.
But then the movement continued to expand. School administrators, teachers, and those who regarded themselves as experts in education started thinking of themselves, not as supports for parents and families in the raising of children, but as replacements for parents and families. They seemed to adopt the attitude that they knew best when it comes to children – to our children. They adopted this attitude not only for children from economically disadvantaged backgrounds or families with little emotional support for their children, but for all children regardless of background or the strength of a child’s family. As such, they began to see themselves as the arbiters of what was best for all children, even over and against a child’s parents and family. Too often, schools took a stance of being the “defender” and “promoter” of the child against the child’s parents, justifying keeping critical information about a child’s progress and mental health concerns, as well as their curricula, from what they considered the prying eyes of parents. It’s tempting to conclude that the public schools realized that they had failed in their mission to educate children in academics, so they embraced a new mission of indoctrinating them socially, culturally, and politically.
And what of the abuse? Those who are wont to abuse children often seek out professions where they work with children. A report commissioned by the U.S. Department of Education revealed that an average of 29,000 children were sexually abused by employees of the public schools each year in the decade from 1991-2000. Compare that with the almost 10,700 accusations of abuse against Catholic priests and deacons over the five decades from 1950-2000. If the number holds true, 29,000/year over five decades would come to just under 1.5 million. That report came out in 2004. There hasn’t been another report commissioned since, almost twenty years later. Why? Is it because school administrators and the Department of Education don’t want to know the extent of the problem because they fear how widespread it is? This strikes me as just a part of the cover up that’s been going on for decades in the public schools. Focus by the press has been on abuse by Catholic priests. This allows politicians to focus on priests, as well, paying little attention to schools. Attorneys General in a number of states have followed Pennsylvania’s example and initiated investigations of the Catholic Church in their respective states. None have initiated investigations of the public schools in their states, even as Carol Shakeshaft, author of the 2004 report, claimed that the problem of sexual abuse in public schools is over 100 times that of priests. Even more distressing is the claim that the extent of peer-on-peer sexual abuse in our public schools is even greater than that of abuse by adult employees.
We homeschooled our two older girls through eighth grade, but they both attended public high schools. Our experience was mixed. We certainly didn’t have the problems some parents have reported. Then again, we live in east Tennessee, which is generally more conservative than other areas of the country. Even here, though, there was a great deal of focus in our daughters’ schools on the LGBT agenda, and very little concern about maintaining an environment that was safe for students. When we moved briefly to Austin, TX, the school was wonderful, except for a history teacher who I felt the need to ask why he was teaching my daughter to hate her country, and another male teacher fired for having an “inappropriate” relationship with a female student (it came out that he had been released from two previous schools for the same thing, but those schools chose not to reveal this to the next school – a practice called “passing the trash”). Our youngest is now in her last semester at a Catholic high school.
What is the answer? There are many steps that need to be taken, and most involve parents being attentive and active. I think it’s a positive development that parents are attending and raising hell at school board meetings. I think it’s a positive step that so many school board members have lost their positions and been replaced by members more interested in hearing from parents. I think it’s telling and positive that, in Virginia, the gubernatorial candidate who said parents shouldn’t have anything to say about what their kids are learning in school lost handily to the candidate who championed parental involvement in schools. In the end, it will come down to parents. Parents are the ones most invested in our schools because parents are the ones who hand over their children to the schools for the purpose of their receiving an education. It is imperative for our children, and for our country, that children receive an excellent education. For too long, parents were mostly silent about what went on in the schools. They assumed that the schools had the best interest of the child at heart and that the schools wanted to work with parents in the education of their children (at least, that was the message the schools gave to the parents). Now, that assumption no longer holds. Schools are having to prove themselves to parents, and schools that fail to do so will face continued criticism and scrutiny, and many of them will lose funds because they’ll lose students, and funding is tied to enrollment.
There is no reason things can’t be turned around. So long as parents remain silent and inactive, some schools will continue to manipulate, exploit, and indoctrinate students. But I am cautiously optimistic that those days are passing.
Be Christ for all. Bring Christ to all. See Christ in all.