Feedback on the Education Win-Win-Win Issue Position

By Josh Leonard

Editors Note: We received some thoughtful questions and feedback about our recently published Education Issue Position, and would like to share our response publicly in the spirit of dialogue and open inquiry.

1. How will enabling the pursuit of different sets of beliefs and values in different schools assist in teaching people to listen to one another and find common ground and learn civics? How will separating and isolating differences teach children to consider points of view other than their own?

Considering that many public schools have already been captured by progressive ideology that tends to devalue finding common ground and developing civic pride, these proposed changes would not be likely to make this situation worse.

What they would do is significantly reduce the culture war from being fought in our schools. Yes, we realize that in the short term, it may create some worldview/value silos at particular schools, but we also believe that a more competitive school choice environment would encourage schools to moderate their ideological-based curriculums in the long run, as it is likely that those schools that didn’t would not fare as well academically. Regarding civics and character education, we address that in the section on “The Nordic Secret” and bildung, which would actually create more of an opportunity for schools to build civic-pride and create national social solidarity.

2. How are you defining “old-fashioned civics education”? What is its content, aim, focus and goals? How are you defining character education? It seems as though you are conflating the two. What is the connection between civics education and social justice? Is it possible to have character education that does not address social justice?

For a more in-depth sense of what we mean by character and civic education, we encourage you to read “The Nordic Secret”, which is the model we are using for this issue position. Under our proposal, schools would be free to include elements of social justice into their curriculums if they wanted to, but they would not be required to do so. Your question about the inseparability of civics education and social justice reflects the entire challenge going on in education right now. Everyone wants to define the goal and role of education in such a way that it enacts their particular worldview and values. Our proposal gives schools some degree of latitude to define the goal and role of education differently and then subjects their different pedagogies to the competitive pressure of a dynamic educational marketplace. Our hypothesis, which has some data already supporting it, is that this rising tide of educational pluralism would raise all boats.

3. Is it possible to pursue social justice and not confound it with identity politics?

Yes, certainly, and we think that school choice might spur schools to develop social justice curriculums that do not stray into identity politics in order to be more attractive to a wider array of families. But it should be noted that many of the schools employing social justice curriculums, and sometimes even the curriculums themselves, are already creating this conflation by essentially teaching identity politics. The solution we propose allows those families who don’t want an education in identity politics to have an option to choose schools without this emphasis.

4. Have you read and/or listened to the 1619 project? What does it have to do with ‘wokeness’?

Yes. We would encourage you to check out Free Black Thought’s compendium of “heterodox black thinkers” and go to the first section on the 1619 Project to see some of the refutations and criticisms of the 1619 Project. (This article by John McWhorter is one example listed in the compendium). While there is certainly some value in the 1619 Project as a counterpoint to previous US History narratives that often whitewashed US injustice, its use as a school curriculum is concerning because it often becomes a Trojan horse that actually has three components (historical facts + epistemic interpretation + political opinion), but is treated by proponents as just containing the first (historical fact). Many progressives are advocating for curriculums that contain significant levels of political opinion by disingenuously arguing that they are only advocating for the accurate and complete teaching of historical fact. There are many public school families from the left, right, and center who we believe are justified in not wanting their children to be taught using curriculums that dress political ideology up as incontestable fact. Keep in mind also, that the 1619 project is just one example of ways that progressive political and social ideology is being pushed in schools. This article in The Atlantic points out others.

5. What is the mechanism that enables families to run the schools?

We were not suggesting that this proposal would allow families to run schools. We were suggesting that school choice would give families more control over their educational priorities for their children.

6. How do families get what they want when the State is dictating curriculum?

We did not suggest that the State would be mandating curriculum. We suggested that the State would manage the funding, accreditation, and evaluation of schools, and would play a role in establishing new character and civic educational objectives. Families would get what they want by having more school choice.

7. Public schools have different rules than Charter schools since Charters were initially conceived as schools that would be innovative. How does your proposal level the playing field between charters and public schools in terms of the bureaucracy that ties the hands of public schools? What rules, if any, would religious schools have to abide by?

While we don’t explicitly address this, our proposal implies that public school bureaucratic restrictions would be lifted to give all schools more freedom to pursue educational innovation. Moreover, the difference between public schools, charter schools, private schools, and religious schools would be generally reduced, in that they would all be subject to the same basic minimum academic achievement standards, they would all have the same flexibility in curriculum, and they would all be eligible for public funding (as long as they can meet these standards). This is the value of robust educational pluralism.

8. Leveling the playing field financially by having the States pay for education is a step in the direction of equity; however, will it really level the playing field if people living in affluent neighborhoods can contribute lots of money to their schools while people living in poor neighborhoods will not have the resources to do so?

If our proposal would go a long way to addressing the biggest and most direct part of the school funding problem, which is property tax-funded local schools, it seems disingenuous to criticize us for not addressing the much smaller and far less direct “problem” of wealthy people donating to their kids’ schools. If anything, school choice and public vouchers would increase lower-income access to higher quality schools in wealthier areas, which would mean that these lower-income students would benefit from donations to their schools by wealthy families.

If donations to local schools became so significant that they began to reduce overall school funding equity, one can imagine policies that could be put in place to mitigate this. As an example, requiring any school donation to be split between that particular school and the general fund would both “share the wealth” and incentivize wealthy families to continue to invest in local schools that would be increasingly accessible by lower income families.

9. Where does effective teaching and well-educated teachers come into this picture?

This is beyond the scope of our issue position. Please look carefully at the “problems to be solved” section of the issue position.

10. Can one fully understand the history of the USA without an examination of institutionalized racism? If the answer is no, is there an assumption that the history or social studies or civics curriculum should mandate that exams in those subjects include this issue for ALL schools?

Again, there is significant gaslighting happening in the CRT-in-schools debate by not differentiating between teaching historical facts and teaching progressive anti-racist ideology. In this article, Erec Smith explains that being concerned about “Applied CRT” in primary and secondary schools does not mean that one is against teaching the systemic impact of racism in US history:

“The presenters said that CRT opposition comes from right-wing racists who disdain discussing the truth about race in American history. This is also inaccurate. Most of the people I know, or know of, who take issue with CRT’s educational manifestations identify as liberals who have long been vocal about the importance of accurate history. What’s more, both sides of the political aisle should be concerned that CRT (both theoretical and applied) is adamantly opposed to traditional concepts like free speech, equality, individuality, and the concept of merit, to name a few. You can imagine what kind of ‘education’ would ensue if teachers implicitly and explicitly demonize these concepts.”

Moreover, the state testing that is a cornerstone of our proposal can ensure that students in religious or traditionally-focused schools are learning the historical facts of slavery and other negative features of U.S. history. And for progressive schools, the test can also make sure that students are learning about America’s positive achievements as well.

11. You state that the standards movement pushed out civics and character education. It also brought in a big emphasis on standardized tests. How is having a standardized test and curriculum designed by the states (50 states—50 different tests and standards) going to ensure that kids have an education ’that empowers schools to foster the growth of each child’s ‘whole person”?

Standardized tests of some kind would be necessary to establish educational accountability for public voucher-funded schools. As stated in the issue position, standardized tests, if done poorly can become “narrowly focused on content outcomes, rather than on the ability to critically think through a problem and to apply new knowledge systemically”. Were our proposal to be enacted in full, we are confident that professional educators could devise quantitative and qualitative tests that could assess student knowledge, critical thinking, and applied problem-solving ability. The bildung civic and character education curriculum, if established as a requirement to receive voucher funding, would go a long way toward improving schools’ capacity to foster the growth of the whole child.

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