Valley News – Editorial: NH public education is under attack
Posted: 05/29/2022 06:02:48
Modified: 05/29/2022 06:00:45
Even as educators grappled with unprecedented pedagogical, logistical, behavioral and public health challenges over the past two years of plague, New Hampshire Republican lawmakers and bureaucrats brought a poisoned apple to the day of belittlement of teachers.
This antagonism, combined with the stress of coping with COVID and other societal pressures, has resulted in a flood of educators leaving their jobs, and sometimes the field entirely, as Liz Sauchelli documented earlier this month. An accident? We do not think so. In fact, it is reasonable to infer that the purpose of the persecution of teachers and administrators is to undermine public education in an effort to limit students’ exposure to information and concepts that the Republican Right deems objectionable.
The New Hampshire state government’s hostility has manifested itself in so many ways that it’s hard to know where to begin. But we’ll start with the Education Freedom Account program, which encourages parents to pull their children out of public schools. This allows them to siphon off the state’s per-pupil matching grant from their local public schools and funnel those taxpayer dollars to largely irresponsible private education entities.
And then there’s the “Dividing Concepts” Act, which circumscribes teaching about racial and gender equity in a way that’s vague and punitive enough to lead any educator who wants to keep their teaching credentials to avoid the subject completely. What’s the point.
Also on the legislative agenda this year was an update and expansion of a Cold War-era “teacher loyalty” law that would have limited the teaching of American history to the creation of myths at the expense of truth. This one failed, but you can expect it to return in different guises in future legislative sessions.
Governor Chris Sununu recently took credit for vetoing a bill that would have barred schools from implementing mask requirements. “Just because we don’t like a local decision doesn’t mean we have to take away their authority,” Sununu said. “One of the main responsibilities of the state is to know the limits of its power.”
The legislator obviously knows no such limits. Sununu, however, did not explain how his endorsement of local control squares with directives issued by his state education department in February that maintaining mask mandates would be against laws. of the state requiring that every student have equitable access to education. This warning was combined with new rules released the same month that prohibited schools from moving to full remote or hybrid learning due to the COVID-19 outbreaks. The predictable outcome is what happened this month at Lyme School, which had to close for several days due to an outbreak among pupils and staff.
And let’s certainly not forget the “Bill of Parental Rights”, which narrowly failed in the Legislative Assembly after Sununu promised to veto it. This legislation would have required school staff to betray the trust of students who confide in them by disclosing to parents discussions of intimate matters such as issues of gender identification or sexual orientation. This bill has been described as an effort to empower parents to help and support children in making transformative decisions; more likely, it was an effort to discourage young people from exploring these issues with adults other than their parents. Proponents of this legislation have argued that parents can be trusted to pursue the best interests of their children; the prevalence of emotional and physical child abuse and family dysfunction in New Hampshire, as elsewhere, strongly suggests otherwise.
Such legislation has undoubtedly played a role in encouraging a small but vocal minority of parents to imagine that their educational policy preferences are “rights” that can be asserted at the expense of the well-being of the majority of students and public school staff.
As Mascoma Valley School Superintendent Amanda Isabelle said, “There’s a very vocal minority who keep complaining that the schools aren’t good enough, that we aren’t doing enough, that there is not enough communication and discipline. It’s hard to do a job when you don’t feel appreciated by your community.
Undoubtedly, parents and others who believe that public education is a pillar of the democratic experience should take every opportunity to express their gratitude for the heroic efforts that teachers, administrators and staff have made to minimize the effects of the pandemic on children.
But this is not enough. People who believe in the importance of vibrant and responsive public schools must devote time, money, organization and energy to breaking the grip of Republican extremists on the New Hampshire Legislature during the November election. They went to war against public instruction; those who cherish it must fight.