Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Deficiencies of Public Education

*This article was written by Teri Paulson & circulated by Illinois Family Institute.

I am a product of Illinois public schools. I was raised in the Wheaton area and attended public schools for 14 years, including a four-year degree at a public university. I paid attention in class. I studied. I got good grades. I learned what they had to teach. I only mention that because of the next thing I'm going to say: I did not learn what I needed to know to understand or appreciate my country, either its history or the principles upon which it was founded. And I did not learn what I needed to know to defend liberty and self-government.

I have learned more about my country and the tremendous truths upon which it was founded in the last few years than I learned in the first four decades of my life.

When Benjamin Franklin emerged from the long debates of the Constitutional Convention of 1787, he was asked, "Well doctor, what have we got? A republic or a monarchy?" He cryptically replied, "A republic,
if you can keep it." That was not a joke.

Our Founding Fathers believed that future generations of Americans would need three things in order to keep the republic they had created. Those three things were religion, morality, and knowledge. They were so convinced of this that they enacted legislation that embodied these principles that same year. The Northwest Ordinance states: 

"Religion, morality, and knowledge, being necessary to good government and the happiness of mankind, schools and the means of education shall forever be encouraged." 

Our Founding Fathers believed that children needed to be educated and well-versed in these three things in order to preserve the freedom they had been given, and that America's schools were to be the vehicle for that education. These beliefs were so strong in America's early years that for some time thereafter state after state incorporated this same wording into their constitutions. 

If their convictions were true, we are in deep trouble because we have already eliminated religion, and from what I have experienced in my children's classes, morality and even knowledge are under attack. 

I did not learn what I needed to know in order to maintain and defend the great freedoms I have inherited, and I'm afraid that our children are learning even less. 

I'm the mother of two teenagers, both of whom attended a District 211 high school last year. Here are just a couple of the troubling experiences we encountered in just one class: 

My son came home from the first day of school last year and told me that his social studies teacher had announced to the class that he was a passionate liberal and he hoped that there were a lot of conservative students in class because he liked to debate them. When I emailed this teacher to ask if my son had understood him correctly, I received an angry denial in return. 

When I was in this teacher's classroom for Parent Orientation Night last September, I noticed several posters on the walls: one of Malcolm X, four of organized labor, three posters of Che Guevara, and one of Chairman Mao. If these posters of historically important figures had been balanced with posters of historically important conservative figures, there would be no problem. But they were no posters of conservative men or women. This teacher's posters clearly were not intended to educate students about history but to announce the philosophical and political viewpoints of the teacher -- a paid public servant. 

Like many teachers these days, this particular teacher shows a lot of videos in his class. Here are just a few: 

  • A film about a boy who was raised as a girl 
  • Walmart: The High Cost of Low Prices 
  • 30 Days: Straight Man in a Gay World 
  • Tough Guise (This is a film that claims that the media is controlled by rich, white men and American men are becoming more and more violent as a backlash against gains made by women and gays.) 

Consider also, the following: 

  • Highland Park High School cancelled a girls' basketball team trip to AZ because, according to the District 113 spokesperson, "the trip would not be aligned with our beliefs and values." Whose beliefs and values? The students? The taxpayers or the educators? If that's what's happening on the basketball court, what is happening in the classroom? 
  • Former Weather Underground terrorist, Bill Ayers lectured students at Naperville North High school and was invited to speak at Hersey High School. 
  • Students in a Freshman Honors class at Hersey High School were given a handout which blamed the Catholic Church for poverty in third world countries. 
  • The Things They Carried is a book taught in our District 15 junior high schools and many Illinois high schools. It is an ugly anti-military novel about the Viet Nam War that declares, "A true war story is never moral...If a story seems moral, do not believe it..." There is no morality in war? Really? In one scene, a stereotypically deranged soldier dismembers a live baby water buffalo by shooting it apart piece by piece. Is that the image of military service we want to give our children? How terribly insulting to our courageous young men and women now fighting for us overseas! 
  • For the last four years, to commemorate Constitution Day, William Fremd High School has brought in speakers from only the ACLU to lecture students on the Constitution. 
  • The chapter on the Constitution in my son's American history textbook was titled, " The Living Constitution. " 
  • My daughter's 8th grade social studies book had a chapter on 911 and the recent rise of terrorism. The words 'Muslim' and 'Islam' were never used once. 

Are our kids receiving the knowledge they need to become informed and responsible citizens capable of preserving freedom and self-government? 

I don't believe they are. It would appear that one whole side of the conversation is missing as conservative materials and thought are largely censored in our public schools. This shouldn't be a fight between liberals and conservatives. We should all be able to agree that a good education includes both sides of controversial issues. 

And then there is the third pillar of our founding fathers' vision for public education: morality. Consider the following: 

  • The Glenbrook North High School spring musical this year had a cast of characters that included a gay drag queen, a stripper and a bi-sexual performance artist. 
  • Palatine High School, Elk Grove High School and Highland Park High School have all mounted a student production of the musical Urinetown. 
  • Three years ago the Wheeling High School student newspaper featured an article that declared oral sex to be the "new romantic norm" for casual dating. 
  • A North Shore student was offered the option of spending time in the detention room after his parents opted him out of viewing an R-rated movie that included Demi Moore giving herself an abortion with 
  • knitting needles. 
  • Deerfield High School has a mandatory Freshman Advisory class in which homosexual, bi-sexual, and transgender upperclassmen discuss their sexual attractions with freshmen. 
  • Students in Glenbard North health classes were given a survey, which asked them how they knew they were heterosexual if they had never had a good same-sex lover? 

What are we doing to our kids? 

Contrary to our Founding Fathers' belief that public schools should be in the business of building up morality, much of this seems specifically designed to tear it down-especially sexual morality-an area in which our kids are so very vulnerable. 

Consider the books. Some of you may remember a few years ago when there was a controversy about obscene content in books used in District 214 English classes. I'm here to tell you that those same books can be found in high schools all across Illinois. 

  • Beloved is required reading in many junior and senior English classes. It's a novel set in the time of slavery that hits you between the eyes in the very first chapter with multiple references to men engaging in sexual activity with cows. One of the reasons this book is so widely read in our schools is that it is included on the Advance Placement Suggested Reading List. This suggests to me that the lack of sound moral judgment has become epidemic among our educators. To add insult to injury, although Beloved is commonly taught in Senior Advance Placement English, it is written at a sixth-grade reading level... 
  • A book called The Perks of Being a Wallflower is about the 'perks' of being a voyeur to lots of teenagers having lots of sex. It appeared on a suggested reading list for gifted 7th graders in District 15 and is taught in many Illinois high schools. 
  • Deerfield and Highland Park High Schools taught Angels in America: A Gay Fantasia on National Themes whose cast of characters includes a black, homosexual, drag queen nurse with a heart of gold, and an Angel whose 'activities' would cause a porn star to blush. 

Those are just three problem texts, but there are many more. Despite what they may think, teachers do not have the right to expose other people's children to this kind of material. 

Parents and other taxpayers are largely unaware that students are routinely being exposed to this kind of material at school. They are almost universally stunned when they actually read the content. Their first question is always, "Why? Why would teachers choose to give our kids this kind of material when there are so many other choices available?" 

It is important to refute the lie that educators have used so successfully to frame this issue. They have wrongly identified community concerns with obscene or highly controversial resources as book banning or censorship. This is not about book banning or censorship. It's about where to draw the line. Parents have a legitimate concern regarding the kind of materials chosen for their kids. This is a choice. Do we want educators to choose materials that inspire good character and elevate young minds or degrade them? 

But if you have doubts, I implore you to read the challenged books yourself or excerpts from them. Decide for yourself if these are the best resources we can find to shape the minds and hearts of students. 

I will close by saying that as concerned as I am about what is being taught in our classrooms, I'm nearly as grieved about what is not being taught. We sit on a mountain of wisdom accumulated over the ages and often at great sacrifice-wisdom from men like Plato, Augustine, Tocqueville, Burke, Madison, Hamilton, Jay, and Jefferson. In their stead, we give students gay drag queens, deranged soldiers, and men with cows. We sit on a veritable feast of true knowledge yet feed our kids crumbs. While most students graduate never having read Dante, Donne, Milton, or Austen, our best and brightest students almost invariably read Beloved. Public education is guilty of crimes of both commission and omission. 

Abraham Lincoln said, "The philosophy of the classroom in one generation will be the philosophy of the government in the next." Our nation is in trouble. Could it be that we are now beginning to reap an intellectual and cultural decline from the seeds sown for decades in the classrooms of America? What kind of government will the classrooms of today produce? 

These are public schools. 

This is our money. 

These are our kids. 

We are the public. 

We can do better. 

For the sake of our children and our nation, it's time to raise the bar. 

Terri has a BS degree in Marketing from U of I at Urbana/Champaign. She
is also a private piano instructor since 2005. Teri served on the
Culture Campaign Executive Team and was a primary contributor to the
Culture Campaign blog for 2+ years. Teri is married and has two children.


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