In response to the coup attempt against him, Turkish President Recep Erdogan revoked the licenses of thousands of teachers, which sets the stage for them to be replaced by sympathizers to Erdogan’s brand of Islamist theocracy. This is not unprecedented: throughout history, would-be dictators have taken steps to indoctrinate their country’s youth by controlling the education system.
Talk of “dictators” and “Islamist theocracies” may seem distant to us here in America. But Erdogan’s actions should serve as a reminder that our K-12 education system is an important component in the development of our political future, and as such, a key check on government power. Ronald Reagan remarked that “freedom is only one generation from extinction.” This being the case, our education system is an important vehicle for ensuring that each generation safeguards the fire of freedom for the next.
Therefore, it is absolutely critical that our school system instill in our children an appreciation of freedom, individual rights, and the rule of law. In other words, it is important for our schools not only to offer an excellent education but also to emphasize that our constitutional system of government “by the people”, based on respect for life and liberty, has served as a catalyst for some of the most important innovations in history while allowing for a wide variety of perspectives to flourish. This idea is known as American exceptionalism.
Our K-12 educational system as a guardian of freedom has been under attack on two fronts for decades.
First, establishment politicians on both sides of the aisle who demand more centralized federal control have threatened this role. Examples include Common Core and No Child Left Behind: seemingly well-meaning oversight and funding programs that have done very little to increase the quality of education while also significantly increasing federal control. Further federal funding and oversight of education will only lead to more erosion of the key check on federal power that the education system is supposed to provide.
Second, progressive activists (who value the ever-nebulous concept of “social justice” more than truth itself) have hijacked decision-making with regards to textbooks and curriculum around the country. An example of this is found regarding the 19th century concept of “manifest destiny”, in other words American westward expansion. New AP History curriculum implies that this concept was motivated by racism, rather than by a belief that Americans had an affirmative moral duty to bring their cherished values across the continent. Essentially, modifications such as this rewrite history to ascribe nefarious motives to past activities. This serves to make children feel “guilty”, with the implication being that our values need to be replaced with something different. Unfortunately, these activists seems to be making inroads-almost half of millennials have a favorable view of socialism according to this YouGov poll.
In order to fight back against this growing problem, there are at least three key areas for activism:
First, we should support school choice programs at the state level. These programs, such as vouchers, tax-credit scholarship accounts, and education savings accounts, provide for increased access to private school through parental control of the student’s share of public funds. This market-based approach serves to increase quality and decrease cost of education, and also decreases the government’s direct involvement in education (provided the program protects the private/alternative schools/home schools from excess regulation). Quality charter schools are also a step in the right direction. These types of programs can help restore the role of an educated populace as a check on government power, instead of an extension of it.
Second, we can become involved in local school boards where decisions regarding textbooks and curriculum are made. Textbooks that teach from a perspective of American exceptionalism (to include constitutional originalism) are becoming harder to find in the mainstream. This makes it even more critical that school boards, especially in influential conservative states like Texas, give voice to parent’s concerns on these issues. Further, we can highlight particularly egregious examples of progressive influence through the media. Essentially, we must stay informed about what is being taught and take corrective action if needed.
Finally, even in the face of outside pressure, in our own homes we can teach our children the other side of the story-the truth about our exceptional American values. This way, at the very least, the flame of liberty will be passed from generation to generation within our families. We can further encourage our children to develop an appreciation for these values that they can share with their friends and classmates.
The truth is that this country and its founding principles do have the moral high ground on the stage of world history. Although the occasional inexcusable atrocity has been committed in its name (with slavery being the prime example), no other nation on Earth has been as tolerant, as just, and as successful at protecting the God-given rights of its people, while at the same time providing for free exchange of commerce and ideas that have allowed innovation and prosperity to make the world a better place.
However, because of the very freedoms it protects, every generation has the power to destroy America as we know it once and for all, setting us on a path towards socialism or totalitarianism. That’s why the fight to protect American values in education is too important to cede to “progressive” activists and the power-hungry Washington establishment. Our very liberty depends on it.