Monday, May 29, 2023
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Politicians Need to Stay Out of Classrooms

From governors to university trustees, public pressure is mounting to dictate curriculum in the classroom and get involved in micromanagement of education. Much of this has come from a political party that used to espouse the ideas of limited government and local control of education.

What we’re seeing now is hardly the stuff of limited government, but rather a conjuring of Orwellian and Bradbury-esque control. The buzz word is indoctrination. Anything being taught that we don’t like is part of some conspiratorial indoctrination being used to warp the minds of America’s young people.

The front man for all of this is Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, who believes there is a massive political upside fighting a strawman conspiracy with applause lines that write themselves. His favorite line is that Florida is “where woke comes to die.” 

His voters want the governor to impose his will on the educational system, including micromanagement of curriculum. The latest is the rejection of an AP Black History class. They’ve combed the syllabus to pick it apart. But if you truly develop students’ minds, you need not fear indoctrination, that is unless you want to impose your own brand of indoctrination. 

But vain people resent flaws in the narrative that includes difficult subjects in American history. There are numerous examples in Black history in this country that call up dark examples of man’s inhumanity to man.

But there are also incredible and inspiring triumphs in Black history. These triumphs run counter to the misplaced belief that western civilization is the basis for all that is good in the world. Black history teaches us about triumphant women and men; among them bold thinkers, leaders, inventors, writers and musicians creating massive contributions to the very foundations of our American history and culture.

But it’s not really about the academic value of the lessons in that one class. We’ve reached a time where some people are vilifying the education system and pushing for the retreat of academic freedom. They are advocating for centralized government control of what can and cannot be taught, provided it aligns with their beliefs.

Big states have imposed politically motivated editorial control on textbooks. College students video and edit professors’ statements out of context to ignite their own 15 minutes of social media fame. Professors and teachers are hesitant to challenge conventional wisdom to spark critical thinking skills.

Even at the Penn State trustee level, we’ve heard from people who want us to monitor curriculum. We’ve rightly avoided so, and not because we are part of a coordinated conspiracy. Believe me when I tell you that our trustees represent a broad range of opinions and ideas. That’s a good thing.

Neither governors nor trustees should be micromanaging classrooms. We should not be demanding monolithic classrooms that arm students in hardened silos of ideology.

We should stand back. Our most important input on teaching is to foster open dialogue in classrooms free from the fears of censorship or retribution. That is how we must develop what I call Factual Understanding and Critical Thinking (F.U.C.T.)  

F.U.C.T. means honest exchange and debate in the classroom. It means classrooms free from manipulated snippets being used to create faux outrage news cycles. It means presenting opposing viewpoints to develop skills to divine truth from fiction.

We should bulldoze the bunker mentality of a society that assigns teams to everyone and assigns nefarious motives to every act from the opposing team. The blood sport of all conflict all the time makes for good TV and for political gain, but it makes us weaker as a society. 

If we fail to teach our students that differing viewpoints exist, we fail to help them understand the world around them. The days of one group beating another into thought suppression are over. The myth of conspiratorial indoctrination is but an applause line on the campaign trail. Our current generation of students is here to challenge old ways of thinking. If our old ways of thinking can’t stand scrutiny they weren’t that justified to begin with.

Truth is that we live in an increasingly complex world — a world where economic competition can and will come from anywhere and everywhere on the globe. As the world grows more connected by the day, stubbornly believing that our way is the only way, believing that we have nothing to gain through understanding and believing that control is essential… that is the surest path to failure.

In the end, we should reject the top-down dictation of ideological education from politicians with grandiose personal aspirations. They know that uneducated people are easier to fool and lead. They fear Factual Understanding and Critical Thinking because those skills are essential for a democracy that can hold people in power accountable. F.U.C.T. is the very foundation of a society that can adapt and compete in an ever-changing world. Trying to control that is a fool’s errand.

In the end we either get F.U.C.T or we’re…