On January 6, 2021, the country witnessed what happens when conspiracy theories are valued over facts.
As a school director and advocate for education, I want to stress the importance of an educated citizenry. Make no mistake, there are people in power who do not want our children to get the best education possible. Educated people are harder to control. There are powerful people who want to control their own interests in power and finance by manipulating our citizenry. And that manipulation comes in the form of only telling one side of the story – the side that says America is free from imperfection, and is faultless and perfect. The side that will have you believe that any deviation from American exceptionalism is unpatriotic.
I reject that.
I believe that teaching a full history – warts and all – is instructive and supports our ability to be better going forward. I believe that allowing students to explore their interests and look at issues from a 360 degree perspective lights a fire of intellectual curiosity that is more important than any particular date or name one might learn in history class. I believe that 21st century learners need to know and understand how to vet sources. They need to know the difference between facts and opinion, between journalism and editorial, between an expert and a non-professional idea.
Education is not about control. Education is not about telling children what to think. Education is not about withholding information. You might hear the word indoctrination thrown around: Indoctrination is when people are taught to accept information without critique. Indoctrination is controlling every aspect of what students can access and consume. What you saw on January 6th is the result of indoctrination.
We need to take back our schools. We have long known that the schools that produce the most academically prepared students are those that are student centered. The most elite schools have long understood that allowing students the freedom to explore their interests, follow their passions, and create real world connections lead to success. On the other hand, schools that seek to control and limit freedom do not produce students who achieve the kinds of successes we all hope for our children.
More than 50 years ago, James Baldwin wrote the essay, “A Talk to Teachers.” In this essay he explored the purpose of education. The purpose of education, he says, is “to create in a person the ability to look at the world for himself, to make his own decisions … to ask questions of the universe, and then learn to live with those questions and achieve their own identity.” Then, he goes on to say that societies struggle with that because what they really want are citizens who will simply obey the status quo.
I agree with Baldwin and in his assertion that if society succeeds in making education just about obeying the status quo that will not lead to the betterment of our society. All of us that care about the future of our children, our country, and society more broadly have an obligation to champion education that teaches children to examine their world and work toward positive change.
Let’s not continue down a path that seeks to control teachers and students, limits access to information, and is lead by fear. Instead let us use this incredible gift of education to inspire young people to make the world a better place. One where everyone is welcome, where media literacy is taught, where ideas are informed by facts, and one where we are demonstrating that we know that our democracy is stronger when our citizens are well educated.