by J. Michael Atherton
The NH Republican platform makes important-sounding remarks about education: “We believe that every child is filled with potential and is unique in their own right; as such
we believe there is no one-size-fits-all education solution; we support expanded education choices, including but not limited to: education tax credits, charter schools, and home schooling. We believe in local educational control, beginning with parents, teachers and principals.” (https://nh.gop/platform/)
Much to unpack here because they offer a lot of empty phrases and hidden messaging.
First, what do they mean by “potential”? We have good potentials, such as belief in the scientific method, valuing historical accuracy, and promoting both business and environment. We also have bad potentials, such as belief in creationism, valuing history whitewashed of the embarrassing bits, and promoting business over the environment. Which “potential” do Republicans want?
Waving the term “potential” around without explanation moots their advice. It resembles telling children to do good without spelling out what you mean by “good.” Children can no more act on this advice than educators can act on the vague term “potential.” Republicans must do the heavy lifting of clarifying which potentials they support before we take them seriously.
Second, what do they mean by “unique”? They can’t mean that little Janice has absolutely no connection, reference, or similarities to Johnny or Janie. Is Janice an aberration disconnected from the rest of humanity? If they don’t go that far, then do they merely mean Janice has some needs that differ from Johnny and Janie? Of course she does, as do we all. Since nobody disagrees with such a bland and obvious claim, it makes no sense to declare it in the first place. Thus far their platform stance on education offers nothing but empty phrases.
If they mean Janice can’t keep up with the rest of the kids in reading, math, or history, or that she exceeds the abilities of her peers in those areas, then these claims need to be evaluated and taken into consideration when formulating curricular activities and goals. This latter view of “unique” is what every teacher does every day. Teachers should take offense when Republicans say public schools have a “…one-size-fits-all education solution…” Teachers spend most of their time and energy adapting their curriculum to the varied abilities of their students, not cramming them into a single-sized, outcome box.
Apparently, Republicans haven’t recently met real teachers in real classrooms adapting real curricula for real children. They should. When Republicans wave the term “unique” about, they just muddy the educational water. Worse, they waste our time with their grand sounding but empty declarations.
Third, notice how they clamber for vouchers, charter (read: private) schools, home schooling and plot to steal state taxes to fund these alternatives, all while they defund (read: destroy) public schools. We must ask if they have actually visited a public school? Do they realize the variety of public-school programs geared to address the needs of our diverse population?
Maybe their animus toward public schools serves as a red herring set to distract us from their larger goal. That is, does their public-school hatred rest on their eternal quest to cut taxes? It is reasonable to answer in the affirmative because these anti-taxers repeatedly show their antipathy toward any and all taxes throughout their entire platform.
Is it as simple(minded) as cut public-schools to cut taxes?
Closing schools will reduce taxes, but it will also do significant and even irreparable harm to the education of the vast majority of the state’s school children. Nevertheless, Republicans may well push their anti-tax ideology and accept defunded public schools as collateral damage.
The party-of-the-wealthy doesn’t worry about defunded public schools because elite Republican leadership can afford to send their darlings to alternative schools. However, realizing they need broad support, they offer a parachute for the larger number of less well-off Republicans: public taxes for private school vouchers.
Here we face a problem: private schools operate beyond the purview of any outside assessment. They can freely teach religious cult beliefs, racist bigotry, redacted history, classist arrogance, sexist stereotyping, and homophobic propaganda without oversight or restraint. As long as they also teach a minimum number of recognized courses, they can teach what they want without state supervision. Should public taxes be poured into private, unsupervised pockets?
Republican anti-tax zealots would eagerly place public schools as a burnt offering on their altar to tax reduction. Further, they would willfully ignore the long-term harm to our whole society from their historically blind and educationally unsound actions. Return to the platform statement in the first paragraph. Read it as a frontal attack on an institution that has educated the majority of our population since Horace Mann promoted the Common School Movement early in the 19th century. The Common School Movement helped make our nation the envy of the world because American public schools educate 90% of the school aged students in our country. If you doubt this number, then realize the reason the majority of you could read this essay is a public-school teacher.
About the author
J. Michael Atherton (Mike) has retired from 30 years of teaching philosophy (after 20 years of teaching a variety of subjects from elementary to graduate school). He spent four years in the Peace Corps in Swaziland (now Eswatini), followed by marriage to Cynthia Walter, the birth of their first child, and a PhD all at the University of Chicago. They moved to Southwest Pennsylvania where Cynthia taught ecology and he taught philosophy while they raised two daughters. They moved to Dover in 2019 to be near their two grandsons in Maine. He has consistently found the Dems to be a group that publicly and privately follows their stated values:
compassion, honesty, integrity, respect the dignity of all people, expanded freedom, responsible citizenship, promoting civil society, and protecting our environment. And they are great fun to be around. A winning combination!