The United States Free Fall Starts Here

With a decline in public support for public education and a concomitant decline in quality.

George Packer in The Atlantic argues that we’ve turned schools into battlefields, and our kids are the casualties.

“It isn’t clear how the American public-school system will survive the COVID years. Teachers, whose relative pay and status have been in decline for decades, are fleeing the field. In 2021, buckling under the stresses of the pandemic, nearly 1 million people quit jobs in public education, a 40 percent increase over the previous year. The shortage is so dire that New Mexico has resorted to encouraging members of the National Guard to volunteer as substitute teachers.

Students are leaving as well. Since 2020, nearly 1.5 million children have been removed from public schools to attend private or charter schools or be homeschooled. Families are deserting the public system out of frustration with unending closures and quarantines, stubborn teachers’ unions, inadequate resources, and the low standards exposed by remote learning. It’s not just rich families, either, David Steiner, the executive director of the Johns Hopkins Institute for Education Policy, told me. ‘COVID has encouraged poor parents to question the quality of public education. We are seeing diminished numbers of children in our public schools, particularly our urban public schools.'”

Packer states what’s increasingly obvious:

“The high-profile failings of public schools during the pandemic have become a political problem for Democrats, because of their association with unions, prolonged closures, and the pedagogy of social justice, which can become a form of indoctrination. The party that stands for strong government services in the name of egalitarian principles supported the closing of schools far longer than either the science or the welfare of children justified, and it has been woefully slow to acknowledge how much this damaged the life chances of some of America’s most disadvantaged students. The San Francisco school board became the caricature of this folly last year when it spent months debating name changes to Roosevelt Middle School, Abraham Lincoln High School, and other schools with supposedly offensive names, while their classrooms remained closed to the city’s children. Republicans have only just begun to exploit the fallout.”

And then concedes he’s “not interested in joining or refereeing this partisan scrum.” Poignantly adding:

“Public education is too important to be left to politicians and ideologues. Public schools still serve about 90 percent of children across red and blue America. Since the common-school movement in the early 19th century, the public school has had an exalted purpose in this country. It’s our core civic institution—not just because, ideally, it brings children of all backgrounds together in a classroom, but because it prepares them for the demands and privileges of democratic citizenship. Or at least, it needs to.

What is school for? This is the kind of foundational question that arises when a crisis shakes the public’s faith in an essential institution. “The original thinkers about public education were concerned almost to a point of paranoia about creating self-governing citizens,” Robert Pondiscio, a former fifth-grade teacher in the South Bronx and a fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, told me. ‘Horace Mann went to his grave having never once uttered the phrase college- and career-ready. We’ve become more accustomed to thinking about the private ends of education. We’ve completely lost the habit of thinking about education as citizen-making.'”

Packer and Pondiscio nail it.