Christina Wyman has published an OpEd on NBCnews.com in which she argues that parents who insist on influencing the education of their children do not understand how education actually works. She observes that the latest crisis, focused on the schools in Loudon County, VA, is nothing new. “Parents,” she writes “have always tried to interfere with curricula…”. Please note her choice of verb: “interfere.” It means “take part or intervene in an activity without invitation or necessity” (New Oxford American Dictionary). She argues that parents who think that they have a right to have a say in how their children are educated fail to understand how education works. “It’s sort of like entering a surgical unit thinking you can interfere with an operation simply because the patient is your child.” Education, she claims, is a “science,” something that can be done only by highly trained specialists. The author herself has an earned PhD in curricular studies. She observes that 36 states require teachers to earn a master’s degree. She concludes,
The future of our country and world are sitting in today’s K-12 classrooms, and those children will eventually become adults in a world requiring their empathy, passion, intelligence and engagement. Parental interference in school curricula is poised to accomplish the exact opposite. Shielding students from real-world issues and diverse perspectives will create bubbles that will render their children ill-prepared to navigate society, particularly when they are called upon to contribute and think critically.
That schools ought to be helping students face the real world and to think critically is just the thing but she begs the question by assuming that post-modern schools are doing those things.
First, we should rather doubt her self-serving analogy between a typical “college of education” within, e.g., a land-grant university and the medical school on the same campus. Teachers College is not medical school and teachers are not surgeons. The comparison is risible but that she had the gall to attempt it tells us much about the inflated sense of the profession that has developed in recent decades. Please do not misunderstand. Teachers do valuable work but teaching children to finger-paint and supervising nap time or the correct way to eat Graham Crackers (such were the rigors of Kindergarten in 1966) was hardly open-heart surgery. Even the most demanding High School physics course is no match for even an average pre-med organic chemistry course let alone a medical school program.
More basically Wyman misunderstands the order of nature here. Teachers and schools work for parents and not the reverse. By law school teachers and administrators are empowered to act in loco parentis (in place of the parent). The original authority, however, belongs to the parents. To review some basic biology, when a man and a woman love each other they marry and, in time, in the providence of God, they produce a child. The school did not produce or nurse the child. Indeed, a school does not even see the child until age 4 or 5. Parents temporarily loan their children to the school each day to the end that the child should learn to read, write, calculate, think well, and express himself well. The school’s authority is derived, secondary, and temporary. Your child’s teacher (master’s degree) is expensive hired help and clearly, judging by Wyman’s OpEd, they need to be reminded of their place.
Schools have been serving in the place of parents thousands of years but since the early 19th century the conception of school has undergone a radical transformation. Beginning in the 19th century schools came to be considered in a different light. This is especially true of American public (i.e., taxpayer-funded) schools, which were established ostensibly to achieve general literacy (and succeeded for about a century). The real purpose of this public-school experiment was to socialize the influx of Roman Catholic Irish (and later Italian) immigrants to Protestant America. In other words, actual education as classically understood, i.e., grammar, logic, and rhetoric (the Trivium) has never been the prime function for schools. When parents began calling for schools to get back to “reading, writing, and ‘rithmetic” during the bussing controversy in the 1970s, they were calling American schools to become what they never really had been. This is not to say that they never performed that function. For a time they did but it was inevitable that they would become what they were intended to be: factories to socialize children in one direction or another.
Thus, the current crisis over the implementation of Critical Race Theory inspired curricula is only the latest fad in a series of fads. When I was in Junior High (think Middle School) the War on Drugs had just been declared and we spent hours in homeroom being drilled on every kind of illegal narcotic then known to mankind. Now school children are being catechized in the sexual revolution. I virtually begged one high school English teacher to teach me how to use commas correctly. She just turned on her heels and went the other direction. I was removed from class (where I might have learned to read music) in order to participate in a futile experiment called “Positive Peer Culture.” In the post-World War II era, public education has been a series of failed experiments having little to do with education.
The allegedly scientific education establishment of which Wyman boasts can no longer teach children to write legibly or coherently. When judged against other nations, American students are merely mediocre in math, reading, and science. Frankly, given the state of American public education, we might be happy enough if school children are able to escape the K-12 system without being sexually assaulted by a teacher (but she has a master’s degree!). This is not hyperbole. There is a new reported case of sexual assault by public school administrator, staff member, or teacher nearly every day in the USA. It is a seriously under-reported crisis.
As an educator at the undergraduate and post-graduate level since 1995 I have seen the consequences of the radically affective turn in education. Students are increasingly unprepared to study or succeed at the graduate level. Once prestigious undergraduate institutions (e.g., UCLA) are replacing term papers with podcasts. Students come lacking skills they might once have learned in high school (e.g., how to outline a term paper). The library has become a foreign country for students in the 2020s. The educational house is on fire in the USA and establishment figures such as Wyman can only toss gas cans at it.
Wyman’s essay is, to borrow from Pink Floyd, another brick in the wall between genuine education and what public school establishment is offering us now. The wall is tall enough for us to see its shape and function. They have been showing us what they are and now they are telling us. The Covid pandemic has carried a terrible cost in human life and suffering but it has accidentally put parents back in touch with their children’s education. Sensible parents do not like what they are seeing and that is a good thing.
Parents with Reformed theological convictions have long understand that dangers inherent in the public education system. The Dutch-Reformed immigrants to the USA in the mid-nineteenth century were scandalized that the earlier generations of Dutch-Reformed immigrants, who had formed the Reformed Church in America, were sending their children to public school. They responded by separating from RCA and forming private Christian schools. The Dutch Reformed separatists of the mid-nineteenth century were right. They saw the true nature of the public school project. 170 years later we need to re-learn what they knew all those years ago. Our children do not belong to the state or to state-schools. They were baptized in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. They belong to God and they are entrusted to parents for nurture and admonition and that is an order that may not be subverted without the gravest consequences.
©R. Scott Clark. All Rights Reserved.
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