Classrooms are No Place for Partisan Politics
January 11, 2023
January 11, 2023
–Dr. James J. Fedderman
What we teach our children in Virginia’s public schools is supposed to be about preparing them for successful futures in an ever-changing global society. It’s not supposed to be about sending them into that society with a particular political philosophy.
We’re seeing way too much interference in what goes on in our classrooms now that seems not to be focused on what’s best for our students, but what’s best for some of our leaders’ political interests. And it’s not right.
Take, for example, the proposed changing of our K-12 history standards. As is periodically done, those standards were recently reviewed by a group of qualified educators, who also incorporated input from some of Virginia and the nation’s top historians and curriculum experts. The process was transparent and was moving forward smoothly.
However, the Youngkin administration apparently felt the need for a re-do. First it delayed the process, then it released its own set of draft standards after bringing in its own set of “experts” who share the administration’s politics.
The new drafts are the worst kind of politically motivated meddling with academic curriculum. The disruption of the process brought this reaction from Virginia Board of Education member Ann Holton: “I don’t understand who are the voices that want to weigh in on this that haven’t been paying enough attention to have weighed in by now.”
I don’t either. The new draft standards are loaded with political bias, they use outdated language to describe enslaved people and American Indians, and they create additional pressure on educators to present “balanced” views of historical issues like discrimination and racism while restricting “teacher-created curriculum,” which is allowed in other subject areas.
Political intrusion in our classrooms shows up in lots of ways. As I write, we are also absorbing the impact of the senseless tragedy at the University of Virginia. Classrooms and campuses should be safe havens where young people feel welcomed and where learning is celebrated. We are brokenhearted about the lost lives and the trauma for the students and educators who survived this terrible event and will continue to feel its effects for years to come.
We are also angry. How have these events become part of our national culture? We cannot stand by. We challenge elected leaders at every level across the country—and here in Virginia—to no longer side with the gun lobby and instead speak up for the students and communities who are caught up in the preventable epidemic of gun violence. Our students and their families, as well as our colleagues and our communities, deserve safe schools—and we all deserve leaders who value our lives over their campaign contributions.
It’s time—long past time, actually—for self-interested political thinking to be put aside as we work toward creating and sustaining the kind of public schools we all want.