By Rob Roper
The week of Sept. 20-27 has been dubbed by several activist, special interest and lobbyist organizations as a “Global Climate Strike and Week of Action.” The idea is to convince a bunch of people to walk off their jobs, block traffic, picket offices and businesses, and generally disrupt the rest of the citizenry from being able to function in their daily lives — effectively holding peace, tranquility and freedom of movement hostage in exchange for a radical “Green New Deal” type agenda.
The big problem here is that the shock troops in this strike are expected to be public school students who will march out of class in order to participate in the mayhem. In many cases, if not most or all, the kids will be taking part with the encouragement and facilitation of teachers and administrators on the public dime. This is not OK.
First of all, the kinds of demonstrations being called for — along the lines of what we’ve recently seen with the blocking of the Strolling of the Heifers parade, shouting down business on the floor of the State House, and stopping traffic in Montpelier — are illegal. Those taking part are subject to arrest. It is totally irresponsible for public school officials to aid and abet their students in breaking the law.
In addition to potential legal jeopardy, instigating physical confrontations with people and machines — which is what you’re doing when you block traffic or otherwise stop someone from going from point A to point B — can be dangerous. Some activists could take things too far, or unwilling victims of the protest might overreact, resulting in violent injury. Again, school officials charged with keeping children safe should not be involving students in this kind of activity.
And lastly, what we’re witnessing here is the abandonment of an educational mission in favor of political indoctrination. It’s not just climate change. Over the past year we have seen elementary, middle and high school students encouraged by their teachers to walk out of class over gun control, racism, gender politics — anything to get out of learning (and apparently teaching) algebra.
If these students were being exposed to all sides of these issues, weighing the evidence pro and con, reaching their own conclusions, and then protesting on their own time, that would be one thing. But that’s not what’s happening. They are being told one side of the story, and other arguments are either absent or, worse, being mocked by the people in charge. That’s not education, that’s propaganda.
What we will witness on Sept. 20 and the following week is public schools being willingly co-opted by special interest groups so that children can be exploited by adults in order to push a partisan political agenda. This comes at the expense of the children’s real education. They are not being taught how to think, they are being told what to think, and then what to do.
Is this really what we are paying some of the highest property taxes in the nation and, by some estimates, $22,000 a year per child for? Brainwashed children pouring out of their classrooms to disrupt our daily lives on behalf of political lobbyists? For parents and taxpayers, there’s a hefty combination of insult and injury wrapped up in this equation! For the children, it’s just a sad waste of their true potential.
The solution to this problem is statewide, parent-driven school choice with the money following the child. If you want a school to turn your kid into a left-wing activist playing in traffic, fine. But if you don’t, as a parent you should have the right and the ability to choose a school that reflects your values and priorities. Parents who think schools should be focused on teaching their children reading, writing, math, etc. (and are wondering why our student proficiency levels stink) should speak out and demand the right to move their children somewhere else.
The public school system is a monopoly, accountable in reality only to the politicians who control the flow of tax dollars into its coffers. This unhealthy dynamic is at the root of why we are seeing an increasingly political agenda replace traditional education in our public schools. It’s time to break up that monopoly and make the schools accountable not to politicians, but to parents and students through school choice. That’s something to think about when you’re stuck in traffic on the way to work because a dozen eighth graders have chained themselves together in the middle of the highway.
Rob Roper is president of the Ethan Allen Institute. He lives in Stowe.