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I toured our local public high school not long ago after some renovations. It’s my old school and my kids attended there as well, though it’s been largely stripped of its old character. Our sweet tour guide, when asked about school security and whether any staff are armed, said no, and then proudly informed us that the temperament of the school was “pretty progressive”, and that sort of thing would not go over well. Later, as I stepped into the new library, I happened to notice a table right up-front intended to showcase several books. The first title I laid eyes on was “Social Justice”, a topic emphasizing all manner of grievances, current and historical, the identification of culpable parties (and their unworthy descendants), and presumed correctives. The latter include reparations, redistribution, control of speech, criminalization, and often shaming. At best, these correctives deliver palliatives to the aggrieved that must be forcibly extracted by the state from others, with little consideration for the predictably disastrous second-order effects they engender.

The prominent display of the social justice book and our tour guide’s attitude regarding security were unsurprising manifestations of the educational emphasis our kids get today: the public schools have become indoctrination camps. Of course, a good class in American history will leave no doubt about the injustices that have occurred in our nation over 250 years. There were many individual victims and many groups were victimized. We could say the same about a good class in European history, or the history of events in any region of the world. However, the social justice doctrine being peddled to our children today assigns blame for victimhood to anyone deemed not to be a victim, as well as the growth and very success of western civilization, including capitalism, this despite the unprecedented comforts available today across the socioeconomic spectrum. It’s as if the SJWs wish to convince our children that all economic gains are of the zero-sum variety.

The politicization of the curriculum in our schools is an extremely dangerous phenomenon. Many schools are banning literature, distorting history, subverting science in favor of politicized orthodoxy, and teaching social justice math“, which I’m sure is heavy on zero-sum word problems. And how about this “Run from the cop” worksheet given to first graders in a Pittsburgh school! Federal and state education authorities are taking an active hand in much of this. For example, a new ethnic studies curriculum for California high schools proposed by the state Department of Education takes a notably anti-Israel perspective. At the federal level, there is the Common Core initiative (and see here) which, in addition to educational inefficacy, is a source of many of the same concerns cited above. President Obama’s school discipline policy, heavy in its emphasis on “disparate impact”, was perhaps even more disastrous (and see here).

Social studies textbooks today are increasingly written by leftist authors who distort U.S. history, present anti-science viewpoints on environmental topics, and promote the divisive tenets of multiculturalism. The U.S. history covered in this prominent textbook is subject to a variety of left-wing biases, but it is not unique in that regard. And it’s not only a matter of bias in favor of collectivist philosophy and leftist interpretations of historical events. For example, it’s way over the top to teach public school children that Christians are bigots.

But God bless the teachers, many of whom are indeed wonderful people, and many of whom are very good at what they do (my daughter being a prime example!). There is little doubt, however, that leftism dominates the faculty in most public schools. John Hinderaker writes of the political activism practiced by the faculty at a high school in Edina, Minnesota, where lessons about “white privilege” are part of the curriculum even in the feeder schools. It’s a travesty that many of our nation’s public school teachers are products of university schools of education with extremely low academic standards relative to other academic divisions within those universities. And these schools of education have been thoroughly politicized. Needless to say, a good many of their graduates are easily cowed by the typical “feel-good”, free-lunch, social justice arguments made by the Left.

In a sense, these civil servants are a local counterpart to the army of federal bureaucrats sometimes known as the “deep state”. They are funded by taxpayers and are often represented by powerful unions. Under-performing teachers are difficult to dismiss, and they are able to exercise great discretion in the messages they deliver to students. As Darleen Click writes, “The ‘woke’ want your children“.

The leftist thrust of public education today descends from a long evolution shaped by “progressive” education reforms, and most reforms receiving attention within today’s education establishment fail to address the single biggest problem: the public school monopoly. That inattention is reinforced by attempts to maintain ideological purity among participants in the debate over school reform. Social studies teachers Mike Margeson and Justin Spears, writing for the Foundation for Economic Education on the motives for establishing public education, say the following about historical reforms:

The objective was to nationalize the youth in a particular mold. … From Luther to Fichte, the idea to use the coercive power of the state to force kids into schools and indoctrinate them was clear. Horace Mann became instrumental in importing this system and helping it spread throughout the United States.”

Breaking the public education monopoly is imperative to improving both the quality and cost of education. That means choice, in all it’s liberating glory. J.D. Tuccille has a great take on this issue: choice is the only way we can assure that our children are taught from a perspective that parents most prefer. Many parents know that they must take an active part in educating their children. That includes their role in selecting the school they believe will be best for their kids, as well as ongoing scrutiny of the school’s performance. A simple by-product of choice is that schools and their faculties might be more circumspect about shading their instruction with their own political agendas.