The second front of our nation’s Civil Cultural War continues: The War of Education: Who Will Control the Schools and Our Children’s Minds — the Progressive Elites and Professional Educrats? Parents? Or Politicians?
Perhaps another way to state the above is that we have reached the climax of the predictable results of our nation’s 175-year-old, government-controlled, taxpayer financed education system: Inevitable failure.
More and more parents aren’t going to take it anymore. The war for dramatic change — total parental choice — is underway. And Florida has become one of the fiercest battlegrounds.
Gov. Ron DeSantis and the Republican Legislature are using the force and power of the law as heavy artillery; ordinary, grassroots parents are in hand-to-hand combat with school boards; and the deeply entrenched, establishment-elitist, progressive educrats are scrambling inside their institutional fortresses to fortify the gates.
For nearly two centuries, the public-education rulers, university presidents, tenured professors and education union leaders have fooled most Americans into believing the taxpayer-funded, state-run public education systems have been the bedrock and source of America’s societal success.
But shame on us baby boomers.
More than any generation, baby boomers have ignored the obvious signs of what was always known about socialism and socialistic institutions: In time, they fail, leaving incalculable devastation behind.
Employers know the effects well. Just talk to them about the quality applicants coming from our schools.
As these socialistic, central-government systems reach their end, as happened after more than a century with Communism and the Soviet Union, their failures are exposed for all to see. And that’s what happened with the Chinese coronavirus and resulting shutdown of our schools. They brought to light what has been happening for decades in our children’s classrooms:
The nation’s public education institutions became indoctrination factories and laboratories to spread anti-American, radical, leftist beliefs, emphasizing diversity, equity and inclusion at the expense of academic achievement and teaching students how to think.
For three generations, American students have flatlined in academic progress. U.S. fourth graders rank 36th out of 79 countries in math and 13th in reading, according to the National Assessment of Educational Progress. But from the pandemic in 2020 to 2022, average scores for 9-year-olds declined five points in reading and seven points in math, the largest average score decline in reading since 1990 and the first ever decline in math, according to the National Center for Education Statistics.
As a state, Florida has been a rising star, compared to its long-held and earned reputation as a terrible place for public education. In the 2022 National Assessment of Educational Progress, Florida’s fourth graders ranked second in reading (behind Massachusetts and Wyoming) and third in math (behind Wyoming, Massachusetts and Nebraska).
While that is worth celebrating, when you look at student proficiency in these subjects, the percentage of students who are proficient is dismal. Reading proficiency: 39%; math: 41%.
Ok, we know the argument: The teachers and schools cannot control what parents are doing or not doing at home. Garbage in, garbage out.
But that goes back to pointing fingers at baby boomers. Products of an era when there was more emphasis on fundamental academics and almost none on saving the earth or DEI, baby boomers sent their children to the state-controlled public schools with confidence that the schools did what boomers experienced as students. We boomers let our children be treated as wards of the state.
But public education succumbed over the decades to what Milton Friedman wrote: the Theory of Bureaucratic Displacement. That is, “in a bureaucratic system, an increase in expenditure will be matched by a fall in production.”
In Florida and every other state, per-pupil spending increased year after year. Teacher unions flourished, embedding themselves with their legislators. Lawmakers in turn meddled and increased the state’s control over what went on in the classrooms.
Education became monolithic; parents had almost no choice.State centralization reduced the power of the consumers (parents) and increased the power of the producers (educrats and the state).
In 1999, though, Gov. Jeb Bush single-handedly began the state’s shift toward school choice and vouchers. Since then, Florida has become among the top three states for offering choice to elementary, middle and high school students.
But expanding choice has been an intense battle for nearly 25 years. Proponents of choice still encounter fierce resistance at every step from the public-school believers. While Republican lawmakers continued to pass additional school-choice legislation, unbeknown to many, on the state’s university campuses the tentacles of the social justice believers (e.g. America is systematically racist) spread.
In May 2021, this space reported for our readers how the state’s major universities had entered the vortex of incorporating Critical Race Theory into every aspect of their operations.
Then UF President Kent Fuchs sent a letter to all students and faculty outlining the school’s plans:
- “UF will require training of all current and new students, faculty and staff on racism, inclusion and bias.
- “UF’s Office of Research will make available this academic year competitive grants to faculty on topics of race, equity, justice and reconciliation.
- “The 2020-21 academic year will focus on the black experience, racism and inequity. Each of our colleges will feature speakers, seminars and courses.…”
Simultaneously, when the pandemic required Florida public school children to attend school remotely, many parents suddenly became shocked by what was being taught. The Sarasota County School Board became ground zero for parent-school board confrontations.
The War on Education hit full scale — with Gov. DeSantis the Gen. Patton of being determined to destroy education wokeness in Florida.
“We will never surrender to the woke mob,” DeSantis told his inauguration audience. “Florida is where woke goes to die.”
Yes, get rid of woke in the schools.
But in the process of eliminating woke-ism in education, DeSantis is also demonstrating what has been and will forever be a mortal flaw of State-funded and State-controlled education: It will be at the mercy of whatever politicians are in power. Customers will never be in control.
To be sure, DeSantis is working on behalf of Florida parents and students to shift the state system’s focus back on teaching students how to write, read, do math and think. That’s the way it should be.
But consider his handling of New College of Florida and the Legislature’s new laws governing what books are allowed in the schools.
Dissatisfied with the school’s performance, DeSantis used his authority to pursue what he wants — a state-supported version of Hillsdale College.
With his authority and the belief he is doing what is right, he hand-picked conservative trustees to change the direction of the school. In turn, the trustees abruptly fired President Patricia Okker, giving her and the board no time to determine whether she could do the job.
The perception of this to the public was not good: Authoritarian governor ousts university president because he thinks she is woke.
And then, DeSantis pledged, according to the Tampa Bay Times, an infusion of $15 million into New College to be spent on hiring new faculty and scholarships for students, with $10 million more every year thereafter.
Again, the perception: Authoritarian governor funneling taxpayer money into a university venture that in its 60 years of existence hasn’t proven to be financially viable. Call us a skeptical cynic, but it reminds us: Throwing good money after bad.
In DeSantis’ and the Legislature’s efforts to keep inappropriate LGBTQ and transgender literature and pornography out of elementary and middle schools (Hear! Hear!), the Legislature created a new layer of education bureaucracy. It has the right intention, but when you read about the labyrinthine process for vetting books and multiply that by 67, you can’t help but think: More government control, more bureaucracy. The Politburo at work.
To be fair, you can argue DeSantis is doing what any governor would do — trying to shape state institutions to reflect what he believes is best for the taxpayers of Florida.
But therein is the fatal flaw of State-owned education: The power is in the hands of the politically powerful, not the hands of the marketplace or customer.
As long as Florida and the United States continue to have State-controlled, taxpayer-funded schools, the nation’s education system will be what it is today — in turmoil, mediocre at best, at the whims of political power. Ugh.
Longtime readers know we have advocated over the years (12 years ago, the last time) that U.S. education should be entirely privatized. It’s not a realistic proposition, given how Americans have been so bamboozled over the value of taxpayer-funded education.
But in this War of Education, great progress is occurring toward giving parents choice. Arizona is the model. For all Arizona children in kindergarten through high school, they can receive from $6,000 to $6,500 a year from the state to attend any private school or purchase state-approved tutoring, educational courses and materials for home schooling.
The tax dollars go with the child. In Florida, that should be the next step.
The results will create what is needed capitalistic competition — the true bedrock of America’s social success.