School is starting. Let’s ditch toxic politics

As students head back to school in districts all across North Texas, we have only two requests.

To students, learn all you can and make every minute in class count. And to the adults, can we have a school year without politics polluting education?

The past two years have been among the toughest for educators, marred by contentious local battles over school COVID-19 safety measures and how race, bias and racism are taught. In a nationwide survey of teachers and principals, RAND Corp., a nonprofit public policy research organization, found that roughly 24% of K-12 teachers surveyed said their school or district leaders asked them to avoid teaching about social or political issues.

Given how these issues divided schools, teachers, principals, school board members and parents, that decision isn’t surprising. Roughly 54% of teachers and principals said there should not be legal limits on classroom conversations about racism and other contentious topics, while about 20% of teachers and principals said there should be limits.

Of course, there are limits, and age-appropriateness of lessons also must be considered. But too often such considerations devolve into needless and dangerous conflicts that negatively impact working conditions and classroom cultures. About 48% of principals and 40% of teachers said such conflicts added enormous stress and uncertainty to an already stressful job. About 37% of teachers and 61% of principals cited harassment, often from parents, at scales and intensities that prompted educators to consider leaving their jobs.

Without a doubt, parents have a role in their child’s education. But there is a difference between curriculum discussions and curriculum wars. The former is part of the educational process; the latter too often imbues national politics into school district decisions and makes targets of administrators and teachers. The tenor of their attacks is peppered with misinformation and dirty political claims designed to stoke parental fears and energize voters about cultural wars, and to bully school boards and administrators.

Career educators and administrators who have the best interests of students in mind deserve support, not the level of derision and threats that make a difficult task considerably more difficult. Schools are places of learning where students have an opportunity to see their futures and reach their potential. Student academic achievement requires inspired school leaders who are committed to educational excellence and are not motivated by, or the target of, the crass language of national politics.

After two years of pandemic upheaval, teachers have worked hard to reverse learning losses, no easy feat. And school boards have a responsibility to refocus on delivering better-educated children, keeping them safe in their classroom, investing in technologies and programs, and finding ways to recruit and retain high-quality teachers. Our children are our future and their teachers and parents should be their guiding lights, not combatants in a culture war.

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