It’s always a good day when an elected official holds to his campaign promises. And as the newly elected Superintendent of Public Instruction, Tom Horne has done just that. During his campaign, Tom said he would make it a priority to stop indoctrination like Critical Race Theory while fighting back against cancel culture and improving student performance. Last week, he took important steps to make this a reality.
Under Tom’s direction, the Arizona Department of Education (ADE) has eliminated social-emotional learning (SEL) from its administration. Among his first moves, Tom has not only removed references to SEL, but he has gotten rid of other leftist initiatives from former Superintendent Kathy Hoffman like the division of Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion along with sex chat rooms for minors like “Queer Chat.”
But while Tom is working hard to end the woke indoctrination of our students, he’s not stopping there…
America’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic was possibly the most consequential public policy blunder in our history.
The enormous costs included $5 trillion or so in unproductive federal spending, inflation, reduction in our standard of living, and permanent economic damage that will be felt for generations to come.
There was massive learning loss and the specter of loved ones dying alone. The incidence of depression and drug addiction skyrocketed. Businesses were shuttered while many Americans seemingly lost their work ethic.
What happened? The short answer is that we panicked and listen to “experts” who vowed we could halt this virus if we were willing to sacrifice enough.
At first, with imperfect information around a deadly new phenomenon, projecting a worst-case scenario and drastic measures to prevent it made sense. However, more data and experience with the virus soon tended to support a strategy of containment (“stop the spread”).
Still the decision makers at the World Health Organization (WHO) and the National Institutes of Health (NIH), doubled down on their zero-COVID based recommendations. Lockdowns ensued. We scoffed at cost-benefit analysis. “If only one life…” and “in an abundance of caution…” became the guiding standards of policymaking.
The American people mostly went along with it. Why wouldn’t they? They were provided little awareness of alternate approaches.
Once the narrative had been established that eradication was the only permissible strategy, opposing viewpoints were excluded to a degree any Third World dictator would have envied.
Dissenters were shamed and censored. Professional reputations were attacked. Dr. Fauci informed us that “I am the science” and thus all who disagreed were “science deniers.”
Consider the case of Dr. Jay Bhattacharya, a Professor of Health Policy at Stanford. He also directs Stanford’s Center for Demography and Economics of Health and Aging and is a research associate at the National Bureau of Economics Research. So, the doc isn’t exactly an empty suit. He was also a co-author of the Great Barrington Declaration (GBD), signed now by thousands of medical scientists and practitioners, which advocated for “focused protection” against COVID.
Since COVID is dangerous only to a relatively small proportion of the population, it was argued that the greatest efforts should be in protecting people most at risk, the chronically ill and elderly. This would focus resources where they do the most good, saving lives and money.
Agree or not, there is nothing looney about this notion that one-size-fits-all doesn’t make sense for COVID-19. It was mainstream common sense, advocated by highly qualified, non-political scientists.
Yet the blogosphere and leading scientific opinion channels exploded with vitriolic denunciations. The authors were accused of promoting infections among the young to achieve a cruel herd immunity strategy. The claimed the GBD was promoting a wholesale return to our pre-pandemic lives—that they were encouraging fringe groups who distrust health officials and prioritizing individual preference above public good.
None of it was true, but to the social media tyrants, that didn’t mean that Dr. Bhattacharya should be vigorously debated. It meant that he must be threatened and silenced.
We just recently learned that he was indeed censored and intentionally shadowbanned by Twitter. His account was tagged with a label of “Trends Blacklist.” He was censored before he tweeted a single message.
He had violated no rules. He spread no “misinformation.” He only defied the approved consensus. He was silenced by the mob at Twitter, none of whom had anything like his knowledge or experience.
The GBD authors were right, of course. None of the isolations, lockdowns, or school closures affected the eventual course of the virus. We received virtually no benefit from the massive self-inflicted harm.
It’s ironic in our supposedly modern, enlightened age that dogma won out over science. That is, we based our societal decisions on knowledge rooted in deemed authority, not the open inquiry of the scientific method.
We paid a big price for listening to the Fauci’s of the world with their refusal to balance benefit with cost. Dr. Fauci bragged of not caring about the cost of his demands.
They convinced our leaders to spend money we don’t have in a vain attempt to achieve the impossible.
Bad idea. We can’t afford to let it happen again.
Dr. Thomas Patterson, former Chairman of the Goldwater Institute, is a retired emergency physician. He served as an Arizona State senator for 10 years in the 1990s, and as Majority Leader from 93-96. He is the author of Arizona’s original charter schools bill.
But after watching Republican Tom Horne win the race for Arizona’s Superintendent of Public Instruction this November—while 19 conservatives picked up school board seats—Democrats went into a tailspin. That’s why it shouldn’t come as much of a surprise that Governor Katie Hobbs is willing to do whatever it takes to change the narrative, including lying to voters about K-12 education spending…
Not all students in our schools are destined for college, but this does not mean that they are lesser in their social standing. Every student is different, and each one deserves the opportunity to explore alternative pathways with equal standing in their career development.
Take trade craftsmen, for example. These people work with their hands to create the things that stand all around us, and their respected professions have long histories of easily identifiable accomplishments—like the buildings we live in and the roads we drive on.
But to acquire these skills, students need trade school education, which often involves apprenticeship programs typically offered by trade union associations and sponsored by the business contractors that need these skilled employees. They usually start at age 18 and require a high school diploma or GED along with a willingness to work. Most of the time, the training is free to the student, except perhaps to purchase tools, and can involve a job placement during the apprenticeship so the student “earns while they learn.”
“North America’s Building Trades Unions’ (NABTU) world-class registered apprenticeship programs train workers to become highly-skilled, six-figure earning construction workers through a debt-free, technologically-advanced education. These earn-as-you-learn programs pay family-sustaining wages and provide health care coverage and retirement benefits from day one.”
At the end of the apprenticeship program, which is usually three to four years in length, the student can be certified as a journeyman and be free to apply for employment in the general workforce or even start his or her own business.
Why Do I Have to Go to School?
Inevitably, just about every student wants to know why they have to go to school, but how do you explain to them the importance of learning the things that schools are required to teach?
Perhaps one way is to start presenting various career pathways to students as early as fifth and sixth grade, and then develop their interest in these pathways through middle school. This would prepare them to specialize their education in high school and help them to understand that they need to learn basic education skills in reading and math so they can progress to the more practical applications of developing a career pathway.
What Is My Exit Strategy?
Presenting career pathways to students earlier in their education is an important first step, but it’s not enough. It is critical to prepare students for the next step in their lives once they graduate. Unfortunately, many of them have no idea what they will do after high school, and that demonstrates a disappointing failure of the school system.
I often hear from trade union recruiters that they cannot get any serious attention from guidance counselors and that they do not get much opportunity to talk to students in the way that college recruiters often do. The education system appears to favor college enrollment at the exclusion of other viable alternatives. This does a disservice to our students and to the community which needs more skilled workers.
A working wage through school with no debt, job placement after completion, and in-demand skills are very attractive features that should appeal to students trying to decide their future after they graduate from high school. Schools and career counselors should take these trade career pathways more seriously and include them as options they promote.
How Do We Do This?
One way we can begin to implement this is by looking at what is working well in other areas. The NABTU has already developed a curriculum in use by several high schools around the country. It introduces students to the apprenticeships and career opportunities available in the building trades. They call it “The Other Four-Year Degree.”
In addition, we should start taking an honest look at our communities and the skills that are needed to make it function effectively. Below is one arbitrary list of skills, but there are plenty more.
The “Big Three” – professions where we often heat about critical shortages: teachers, police, and nurses
Trade Craftsmen – electricians, plumbers, pipefitters, HVAC, steelworkers, brick and tile workers, plasterers, boilermakers, and more
Health Care – doctors, nurses, medical technicians, therapists, medical assistants, medical records
Engineering and Technology – hardware and software research and development, design, manufacturing
Business (Public and Private) – general management, legal and accounting, human resources, sales and marketing, project management, entrepreneurs
Who Provides the Training?
One of the primary objectives of public education should be to fulfill the needs of the community. Below is a list of the educational organizations that can address that objective. But the key is they need to work together cooperatively and seamlessly to be effective and show value for the funding that is invested in them.
K-12 Schools(District, Charter, Private) – general education, career pathway development, and introduction to job skills training
Trade Schools (West-MEC and EVIT) – trade union apprenticeships
Community Colleges – technical certificates, professional degree programs
Universities – research and development, professional degrees
Military – probably the largest and most sophisticated job skills training organization available
Local Businesses – job specific skills
Why Should We Spend So Much on Education?
In Arizona, we spend more than half of the state budget on education. There should be a very clear and convincing reason to justify this massive expenditure. If this funding is regarded as an investment, where is the demonstrable economic benefit that shows a return on that investment?
The practical answer to both questions may lie in the concept of economic development at both the personal and community level.
The student attends school so they can develop into a productive adult capable of supporting themselves through employment.
The community benefits by having skilled employees available to move forward on growing business enterprises that provide goods and services to the community.
That’s why we should focus on providing all viable career opportunities for our students, By doing so, we can make this investment pay off for their futures—and for ours.
Kurt Rohrs is a Chandler resident and incoming member of the Chandler Unified School District Governing Board.
Right now, there’s a growing conflict between whether our schools should be focused primarily on academic instruction or social instruction.
Randi Weingarten, President of the American Federation of Teachers (AFT), stated recently that teachers must assume the role of “Social Justice Warriors” in classrooms across the country. The National Education Association (NEA), another very large teachers’ union, urged the U.S. Justice Department to label concerned parents as “Domestic Terrorists” in an attempt to silence their objections. It’s clear that these teachers’ unions simply want to dismiss parents as being unworthy of advocating for their own children.
But parents need to be involved in the education of their children now more than ever.
Just look at what’s going on with Arizona Superintendent of Public Instruction Kathy Hoffman. She was recently sued for advertising links to chat rooms where minors discuss sex and gender with adults present and without parents necessarily knowing.
Then, there’s Chandler Education Association Union President Katie Nash, who is on video at a Chandler Unified School District Board (CUSD) meeting actively promoting the teaching of White Supremacy Theory, the 1619 Project, and “Anti-Racism” programs typically derived from Critical Race Theory (CRT).
What does any of this have to do with academic instruction? Nothing.
But it’s being pushed in our schools, and while it can be tempting to blame teachers for this, we need to be careful. Most teachers should be considered as dedicated and trustworthy professionals. Instead, this is a failure of union leadership and their minions who have lost interest in academic education in favor of a growing obsession with political power. What has been the result? Declining academic scores across the country.
Of course, all of this is in direct contradiction with Arizona statute, which clearly defines these social activities as fundamental rights reserved to parents to be directed by them in the home. But these teachers’ unions don’t seem to care. They’d rather do whatever it takes to usurp these parental rights—even if it means lower academic scores.
Is Academic Proficiency Now a Secondary Consideration?
As social instruction grows, academic proficiency suffers. Consider a recent CUSD presentation of a “Portrait of a Learner” program, which described several social aspirations for students, yet somehow omitted any reference to academic proficiency. Shouldn’t we expect academics to be the primary focus of something that involves “Learning”? Either that, or you would think it would at least push students toward developing practical job skills training.
This continued lack of focus on academic proficiency is resulting in a continued decline in student test scores across the state. There does not seem to be any comprehensive plan to recover from this.
One of the unintended consequences of this movement to focus on social instruction is “Parent Flight” to other educational alternatives such as charter schools, private schools, and homeschooling. The recent expansion of the Empowerment Scholarship Account (ESA) program in Arizona now allows for parents to choose from these alternatives over unsatisfactory district schools.
But as you might expect, teachers’ unions and their political arm, RedforEd, vigorously oppose this legislative expansion, claiming that it defunds schools. But what they won’t tell you is that it clearly does not defund a student’s educational opportunities. Equally important, it enhances a parent’s choice as to where they believe their children would receive the best education.
The program has been so popular that parents already overwhelmed the website in an effort to get out of undesirable district schools. Yet somehow it does not seem to occur to opponents of ESAs that, if they had district schools that were satisfactory to parents, then those parents probably would not even consider moving their kids to another competing educational alternative.
Quasi-Religious Woke Doctrine?
Perhaps what’s most frustrating about the growing social instruction in our schools is that, for years, our nation has been gradually removing religious (mostly Christian) influences from our public schools. In fact, it feels like the First Amendment right to “Freedom of Religion,” which was fundamental to the first European immigrants to this continent, has gradually been reinterpreted by the Left to mean “Freedom from Religion.”
But you can’t help but notice how certain aspects of woke doctrine seem to have become “articles of faith” that cannot be questioned by anyone without facing severe social backlash. It’s clear that Christian doctrine has been suppressed in schools and replaced by Secular Humanism, the belief that humanity is capable of morality and self-fulfillment without belief in God, and the more extreme Cultural Marxism, the Neo-Marxist movement seeking to apply critical theory to matters of family composition, gender, race, and cultural identity within Western society.
If teachers’ unions want to apply the “Freedom from Religion” doctrine in public schools, they should also apply a “Freedom from Extremist Political Doctrine” as well. It’s the only way to ensure our schools remain on neutral ground for political ideology, and it leaves social development at home with the child’s parents—where it should be.
Finally, along with our First Amendment rights comes a prohibition on “compelled speech,” which prevents a person from being forced, under threat or duress, to say things they don’t really believe in. But we hear regular reports of teachers being bullied and harassed by other “activist” colleagues to force them to go along with their extreme Leftist political doctrine. Many teachers simply comply because they are concerned about having to work in a hostile environment or having their livelihoods threatened.
This implies that there is some sort of informal “political test” for teachers in our schools. It is often enforced by aggressive colleagues who are usually associated with a teachers’ union. The apparent message is: “comply and be welcome, or dissent and be ostracized.” It is no wonder teachers are under such workplace stress because of these implied threats.
However, there is a recent report of one brave, principled teacher, who, in looking over the daily SEL lesson, simply said, “we are not going to do this today” and put the controversial assignment aside. So, if parents have the right to “opt-out” their children from the presentation of controversial subject matter, that same rule needs to be extended to teachers who do not believe in these social lessons or deem them inappropriate for the children in their class. It’s time to give these teachers an “opt-out” choice as well.
In conclusion, here are a few ways we can start to clean up our public schools:
Return the primary focus of schools to academic instruction rather than social instruction.
Reduce the influence of the politically biased teachers’ unions.
Protect parents’ rights to direct the social upbringing of their children.
Prohibit political and social ideologies from being established in schools.
Protect teachers from being compelled to present controversial materials that they do not believe in.
Kurt Rohrs is a candidate for the Chandler Unified School District Governing Board. You can find out more about his campaign here.