I haven’t had much opportunity overall…and especially not lately…to have guest posts on the blog. However, I was recently contacted by someone with strong feelings on education in the United States, and since I don’t talk about education directly much (though I discuss several issues that intersect with it, such as race and religion), I’m happy to give her the floor. Thanks, Sofia!
Education in America: Pulled from Two Sides
By Sofia Rasmussen
At the mercy of both state and federal governments, the American education system is caught in a game of tug of war: as liberals and conservatives gain and lose power, the education system is pulled and pushed into policies and directions consistent with the party in power. To be fair, some controversies have proponents and opponents within each party, e.g., the controversy surrounding the credibility of online doctorate programs. But, most controversies are party-divided. For example, as Arizona becomes more conservative, they have passed laws and legislation that outlaws the teaching of ethnic study classes in public schools. The exact language willfully obfuscates this fact, using language such as “…advocate ethnic solidarity instead of the treatment of pupils as individuals.” The intent, however, can’t be hidden behind a shield of words: the law itself reeks of vitriol and racism.
This is but one example of an education law where controversy is raised: there are many such laws throughout the United States passed every year. Many of these laws are passed in the south and southwest, where racial tensions are already high; many of these laws deal with conservative ideology, such as a debate raised over a law in Texas regarding the teaching of evolution in schools. The original law didn’t outright ban the teaching of evolution; rather, the law began by asserting that an intelligent design option be presented alongside the theory of evolution. At the time of this writing, several laws are in legislatures, or are already passed, that allow the teaching of creationism in schools.
One example is a law in Louisiana that opens the doorway for intelligent design to be taught aside creationism in schools. This law, again, is worded vaguely and willfully obfuscates its intent. Although there are quite a few laws like this on the state level, as far as controversy at the federal level goes, the examples are quite a bit fewer.
No Child Left Behind
Perhaps the greatest example of controversial education law is the passing of No Child Left Behind during the administration of George W. Bush. The law itself is quite lengthy, although the points of controversy are rather succinct: to wit, schools that demonstrate lower test scores and have students that are behind grade level on subjects such as reading, mathematics, and science, lose federal funding. This law raised the ire of thousands of liberals across America, and was lauded by their counterparts on the conservative side.
These laws are symptomatic of the problem facing education in America today: when you rely on partisan funding for your program to work, you must cater to their ideals. Ideally, the separation between education and politics would be much greater, allowing more teachers to educate our children without our ideals and political theory intervening. The reality is something completely different, something that educators everywhere are grappling with on a day to day basis: what our children can and cannot learn is dependent entirely on what the people in our legislature say. The quandary facing the educators themselves is one of personal decisions against what that legislature says: from both sides, can someone teach, impart knowledge, that they themselves do not believe? The tightrope walked by an educator is one of personal belief, sometimes faith, beliefs that can influence their decisions on what to teach to students, and what to abstain from teaching.