Why Republicans Should Love Public Education
Full Disclosure: I’m no longer a registered Republican. I stuck it out for decades, but at some point between the Tea Party breaking Rand Paul and the crowning of Paul Ryan and Ted Cruz as voices of ‘moderation and reason,’ I simply couldn’t do it anymore.
And yet… the Right Wing are still my people, however far I’ve strayed, and despite their collective loss of sanity over the past decade. Evangelicals, gun-fetishists, the socially repressed – I can’t support their positions, but I treasure their possibilities.
The modern Republican Party is a backslidden mess. They are a bewildering diaspora of conservatism’s potential - particularly the minivan and Easter crowd smothered within their ranks. I hereby call on them to leave their false idols and begin the journey home… starting with an issue which should be a no-brainer: public education.
Forget that it's the right thing to do - it's a winning political strategy.
The Right is all about personal responsibility.
An equitable and effective public school system goes a long way towards promoting real-world opportunity and unlocking individual potential. Education doesn’t cancel out poverty, systemic racial discrimination, etc., but it gives students – soon to be actual people – the option of whistling Vivaldi along the way and dramatically improving their personal odds.
You’re welcome to point a finger at the downtrodden and underserved and ask why they haven’t done more to better themselves, but your judgment is untenable unless those at whom you point have reliable access to high-quality, fiscally prioritized, meaningful education.
If you really want to add teeth to your moral outrage, provide wraparound services addressing many of the underlying sources of disparity reflected in grades, graduation rates, and test scores. Inequity may remain, but the system enabling it would be far less overt – and your expectations regarding individual achievement thus much more persuasive.
The Right is all about the economy and being a productive member thereof.
Those with better educations tend to avoid prison. They tend to get and hold better jobs. They tend to become settled, have families (and stay with them), and galvanize into moderation.
Yes, the most educated in our nation often grow rather liberal in their ideals – but not usually in their lifestyles. They spend, invest, even donate – all of which lubricate the wheels of the commerce.
The Right is all about family values.
Despite the rhetoric coming from the fringe elements (who always seem to end up in charge these days), public schools consciously inculcate good character – hard work, honesty, empathy, personal responsibility, etc.
Constitutionally, these must remain distinct from specific theology or faith, but as I recall from my evangelical days, God’s truths are strong enough they can’t help but be reflected in the natural world all around us (the one He created, and for which he set up ‘natural laws’?) with or without appropriate credit attached. Gravity need not be labeled “God’s Gravity” to be just as true, or just as useful to understand; why would “do unto others” or “study to show thyself approved” require sectarian sanction?
Granted, public schools DO tend to welcome and value children of all cultures, colors, sexual proclivities, etc. Many of you have been told this equates to a collective sanction of ungodliness. Surely five minutes with the Jesus of the four gospels refutes such silliness?
The Right loves to talk about America’s Founding Ideals.
This one gets trickier, because so much has changed logistically since our nation’s inception. But if the ideals themselves are as timeless as we hope, they should find traction and demonstrate value in modern times. As with matters of faith, however, it’s important we not mistake the logistics of their historical application with the eternal principles those in the past were attempting to honor.
The Constitution (a set of rules) can be amended as situations evolve. The Declaration of Independence (a statement of ideals) cannot. The Ten Commandments (a list of rules) were superseded by the arrival of the Messiah (the supernatural made flesh). The goal of personal communion with an eternal Creator (an ideal) remained consistent, but we need not sacrifice birds or sit in our gardens naked to get there.
The particulars were always intended to evolve, even if the overarching principles were not.
America’s founding ideals are about equality in the eyes of the law – actual, demonstrable equality, not just theoretical equality. The principal was established in the Declaration of Independence; the expression of that principal has expanded in fits and starts ever since. We could get closer.
America’s founding ideals are about meritocracy. We’re unlikely to find the best hockey players in towns with no ice, or gifted writers in communities with no books. Merit must be sought, nurtured, and unleashed.
Finding it and growing it – as often and in as many varieties as possible – is great for the individual, but of exponentially greater value to the whole.
America’s founding ideals are about diversity. I know, I know – old rich white guys, etc. But what they started expanded true citizenship – economic, social, and political power – far beyond anything known in their worlds at the time. The expansion of those ideals to include people of other colors and both sexes was perfectly consistent with their vision, if not their temporal understanding at the time.
America’s founding ideals are about opportunity for the humblest citizen.
This is a big one.
We value our business-owners and investors, certainly, but 150 years of both state and federal land policy made it an absolute priority to redistribute resources – 160 acres of land, usually – in the name of opportunity, to any citizen, however humble, free of charge and with the obligation only that they utilize it as best they could.
John Adams, before we’d even declared independence, argued that “Power follows property.” Thus, the way to make sure we preserve a “balance of liberty” – a full, meaningful involvement of a wide spectrum of citizens – was to make the “acquisition of land easy to every member of society.”
The various statutes governing land distribution over the years generally discouraged (or outright prohibited) the hoarding of resources. Homesteaders could only claim as much as an average family could realistically use. This wasn't to be nice - it was best for society as a whole.
The best-known and most important of these was the Homestead Act of 1862. It was promoted and signed into law by THE founding Republican, Abraham Lincoln.
Today the key to opportunity is no longer land. Today’s “Homestead Act” is Public Education – the modern gateway to economic, social, and political opportunity, so sacred as to occasionally be oversold on just what it will and won’t guarantee in individual lives, but largely essential for anything else of value to become possible.
The Republican Party Was Created to Reduce Inequality.
The Republican Party sprang out of a combination of the ‘Free Soil’ party and a few other ‘not-the-Democrats’ groups in the 1850s. ‘Free Soil’ in this case had a dual meaning – they were against slavery, and they were for those without property being given land – and thus, a realistic shot at their own little version of the American Dream.
They had serious issues with polygamy as well, although we tend to brush that aside when covering the time period, meaning...
The Republican Party was quite literally born with THREE priorities –
(1) Let’s treat black folks better, because… America!
(2) Let’s give more free stuff to people who need an opportunity, because… democracy!
(3) Let’s tell people who they can and can’t marry because… icky!
We’ve held fast to the third, but forsaken the first two. Why?
The Republican Party would like to remain relevant and win elections.
The GOP has not done a very impressive job adjusting its rhetoric or expanding its reach beyond some very clichéd demographics.
There are a LOT of educators – public and private, teachers and support staff – in this country.
Can you imagine the electoral potential of a party which embraced public school teachers (most of whom are personally rather moderate)? Are there really SO many core values which would have to be jettisoned to pay teachers a living wage and get a bit more creative enabling schools to do what schools want to do best?
Wouldn't the payoff would be so, so worth it?
Come Home. Please.