Leo Morris: When politics influences education

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Indiana Republican lawmakers are considering several issues related to public schools for debate during their legislative session, begins the story in Newsweek, “including potentially adding the choice to be identified on the ballot with a particular political party when running for a school board seat.”

The reaction has been entirely predictable.

Adding politics into the races is “a really bad idea,” said trans-partisan former state schools Superintendent Jennifer McCormick, who was elected in 2016 as a Republican but has since changed her party affiliation.

“I think the people who will be encouraged to run are those that are going to be good soldiers for these political agendas,” McCormick said, according to The Associated Press. “It’s hard to find good people who want to do it for the right reason, and they’re out there, but it’s tough. And then you layer this on — it’s a whole other layer of difficulty.”

I am reminded of the times as a rabid IU basketball fan (back in the Bobby Knight days) when I noticed that the retaliatory foul was so often the one that got called. The refs would miss the initial foul but see the one committed in response, and that’s the one that was noticed.

Republicans are not seeking to add partisanship to school boards. They are reacting to the partisanship they already see there. There is a conservative education agenda and a progressive education agenda, and Republicans think the progressive agenda is winning handily. They merely want to level the playing field, or at least make it more transparent by giving voters a better idea of candidates’ core philosophies.

And that retaliatory foul, rather than the precipitating one, is what Democrats, journalists and educators are calling.

Basketball is such a good metaphor for Indiana; let’s try another comparison.

If you’ve observed a group of rabid fans watching a game, you will have learned that all the refs are crooks. And here’s the amazing thing: All the bad calls the crooked refs make – for which they obviously have been handsomely paid – are made against whatever team the rabid fans are rooting for. It’s the most cosmic unreported conspiracy in history.

That’s where we are with public schools today. Conservatives think the other side wants to tear down everything that’s made this country great. Progressives think the opposition wants to hold on to everything wrong with the country. And neither side thinks the refs will ever call the game fairly and honestly.

And when parents – you remember them, the ones who give up their children to these institutions – try to get more involved, the bureaucrats in Washington call them domestic terrorists.

How in the world did it come to this?

My parents never made a single complaint, or even raised a single concern, about what was being taught in the schools I attended. Neither did the parents of any of my friends.

They weren’t bad parents. It wasn’t that they didn’t care what we were being taught. It’s that they trusted the schools to give us what we needed to make our way, consistent with the lessons they tried to instill in the home.

For a growing number of parents, that trust is no longer there.

I realize I’ve said this before, and heaven knows I will say it again, but public education was once a trusted enterprise because it transmitted our civilizational culture from generation to generation, our Western values and American ideals. We no longer agree on the worth of that culture. We are fractured as a country, and now our schools transmit our sense of disconnect.

Right now, schools are just a symptom of our great divide. But ultimately, they will help sharpen and perpetuate it, or be our best way out of it.

First, we need to rediscover our common ground. If not, we will end up with two separate paths – a public school system for one group of Americans and a private-home school combination for the other – that will forever perpetuate two separate Americas.

It doesn’t really matter whether we call school board candidates Democrats or Republicans or nonpartisan. The game is bigger than that. And before we look for honest refs, we need to agree on the rules.

Leo Morris, columnist for The Indiana Policy Review, is winner of the Hoosier Press Association’s award for Best Editorial Writer. Morris, as opinion editor of the Fort Wayne News-Sentinel, was named a finalist in editorial writing by the Pulitzer Prize committee. Contact him at leoedits@yahoo.com.

Leo Morris, columnist for The Indiana Policy Review, is winner of the Hoosier Press Association’s award for Best Editorial Writer. Morris, as opinion editor of the Fort Wayne News-Sentinel, was named a finalist in editorial writing by the Pulitzer Prize committee. Contact him at leoedits@yahoo.com.

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