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Is Education No Longer the Primary Mission of Our Public Schools?


Did you know that the state of Oklahoma is currently experiencing not one, but two pandemics? Until yesterday, neither did I. According to the Oklahoma City School District, the state is currently experiencing the “dual pandemics of COVID-19 and Systemic Racism,” and has decided to spend valuable time and resources to ensure that their teachers learn how to “practice alternative ways of relating to…[their]students.” In the meantime, teachers are supposed to conduct their classes online   into November. Unfortunately, if the District doesn’t adequately prepare their teachers to use the available online learning platforms, it won’t matter how woke they are, they won’t be interacting with their students at all. 

At this point, we really have no idea what the school year will look like, and school districts have given little basis for optimism that students will actually learn anything. Oklahoma City public schools closed in March and “went online.” However, due to lack of sufficient technology, internet access, or proper training, the actual schooling that occurred was slim to none. Since that time, they have had the entire summer to gear up for the upcoming school year. What has the district done? Rather than come up with a strategy to reopen schools or preparing teachers for online school (developing platforms for online learning, ensuring a seamless transition, ensuring teachers can effectively use resources, etc.), the district has prioritized so-called professional development meetings that are more akin to Black Lives Matter (BLM) cultural indoctrination classes than something teachers can actually use to educate amidst the challenges of COVID-19 

This brings us to a serious question: is education even a primary goal of public schools anymore? The evidence presented by the Oklahoma City School District seems to point to the contrary, and this isn’t just a local phenomenon. A recent  feature article in the New York Times by Sarah Darville, the managing editor at Chalkbeat (a non-profit news outlet focused on education), discusses the extreme difficulty of reopening schools in the fall.  She spends the vast majority of the article discussing three things that make the decision to reopen difficult: child care, meal programs, and mental health counseling. Where is education?

Darville’s article is meant to show just how essential schools have become, but the author unknowingly highlights the issue with public “education” in the United States today: educating children is no longer (and hasn’t been for quite some time) a primary goal. In fact, it is a secondary goal at best. Other services such as child care, meals, and mental health counseling have taken its place. All of these services might need to be provided to some degree in some context. But it’s no surprise that with so many missions on their plate, the ostensible primary mission of schools has been crowded out and schools simply don’t do education very well. 

This quote from the article emphasizes the point: “If taking on the child care, food and the mental health challenges facing American children this fall were not enough, there is also, of course, the matter of making sure those children learn.” This comes three quarters of the way through an extensive article. The fact that the discussion about educating the children is tacked on to the back end of the article, almost as an afterthought, clearly indicates just what has been prioritized in public education, and it’s not education. Whether you think the first three programs are good, bad, or you are indifferent to them, the fact remains that they should not overshadow education as the primary goal of schools. 

Given the direction of the Oklahoma City School District, and the fact that it merely reflects what is happening in public education nationally, it is clear that schools no longer exist primarily to educate students. Unfortunately, there is not much parents can do about it. If they truly want their children to attend a school where education is the number one priority, they will have to consider an alternative to the public school system. 

Tyler Williamson is a Research Associate at the 1889 institute and can be reached at twilliamson@1889institute.org.

The opinions expressed in this blog are those of the author, and do not necessarily reflect the official position of 1889 Institute.


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