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Personal Reflections on 2021

December 31, 2021

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Robert B. Hubbell

Dec 31

[Audio version of newsletter here]

Legendary House Speaker Tip O’Neill was fond of saying that “All politics is local.” I would add that “All politics is personal.” My effort to interpret the news each day through “a lens of hope” begins and ends with my family. Above all else, I am trying to sustain and lift-up my family by staring into the noisome stream of information that passes for “news” to find the thread of decency and hope that binds us together as a nation. You get to ‘listen in’ as I write for my wife, my daughters, and (now) my granddaughters.

Every story that passes through the pages of the newsletter affects each of us in very personal ways—some immediately, others over the long term. As we come to the end of 2021, my wife and I are taking this opportunity reflect on how four developments affected our family. We hope that our personal reflections on daily life will resonate with you and encourage you to reflect on 2021 with your family and friends. As you do, let me issue a spoiler alert: 2021 was a rough year, but we endured by binding together as families, communities, and Americans (at least, enough of us did to carry all of us forward). We face many challenges ahead. But having made it through 2021 should give us confidence as we face the challenges of 2022 and beyond.

The coronavirus pandemic.

Twelve months ago, we lived in a constant state of apprehension and anxiety. A vaccine was approved for emergency use but was not generally available to the public until mid-year. My wife and I essentially sheltered in place. We left the house to take walks (with masks) and made a daily drive to a local burger joint to get a diet coke at the drive-through window. (The staff behind the window eventually took pity on us and started giving us a “military discount” on a tab of $2.65.)

In April, we sat in our car in mile-long lines in the Dodger Stadium parking lot to receive our first and second vaccinations. It was reminiscent of standing in line in 1964 with hundreds of children at the local National Guard armory to receive the polio vaccine. The sense of relief was palpable. Despite the long lines, we were filled with pride at the efficiency of the national vaccination effort and the scientific accomplishment of developing a vaccine in less than a year. Our daughters were filled with relief that their “elderly” parents had received protection from the coronavirus. And we heaved a sigh of relief as we were able to gather with family over the summer months and early fall.

And now, Omicron. With two unvaccinated infant granddaughters in the family, we have essentially returned to lockdown. Despite the frustration and new round of anxiety, we feel better prepared and protected (everyone in the family is triple vaccinated). But this wave is more complicated because partisan politics tinges every aspect of the effort to contain the coronavirus. It is difficult to feel charity towards people who turned their backs on science for partisan reasons and now clog the emergency rooms in many states, preventing care for others with conditions unrelated to coronavirus. They are, of course, victims of the disinformation peddled by the right-wing news media and cynical politicians who are seeking re-election by endangering the lives of their constituents.

For me, the biggest casualty of the pandemic is trust in science. The rapid development of the vaccine saved millions of lives. But 40% of Americans believe nonsense about the vaccine and the coronavirus, including its origin, treatment, and damage to the human body from Covid-19. We have a lot of work to do to overcome that blow to science. The health and safety of our children and grandchildren depend on scientific progress, and it is up to us defend science and scientists if we hope to prevent future catastrophes.

January 6th.

There is a “before” and “after” aspect to January 6th. Before the insurrection, the notion that some members of Trump’s base would resort to violence to intervene in the democratic process seemed unthinkable. January 6th changed everything. On that day, for the second time in five years, one of my daughters said, “I told you it would happen; you didn’t believe me.” She was right, and it is humbling to be proven wrong after giving assurances that something would not come to pass. (The first was the accidental election of Trump.)

Perhaps the worst part of January 6th was that, after a few days, Republicans overcame their shock over the assault on the Capitol and began to talk themselves into believing that “It wasn’t so bad; just some overenthusiastic patriots getting rowdy.” In that sense, January 6th is about the utter, complete, and final collapse of the Republican Party. It is not only irredeemable, it is unworthy of being redeemed. It has become an apologist and propagandist for an insurrection against the United States. It doesn’t get any worse than that.

And yet, the media treats Josh Hawley like he is a U.S. Senator rather than a traitor to the Constitution. The same with Kevin McCarthy and Ted Cruz and Ron Johnson and Marjorie Taylor Green and every other member of Congress who encouraged or excused the violence on January 6th. The insurrection continues to this day as Republicans in Congress refuse to cooperate with the Select Committee’s investigation of the assault on the Capitol.

But not every act of partisan politics amounts to rebellion and not every threat by an unhinged Trump supporter portends civil war. January 6thchanged everything, but we cannot let it change us. We must remain vigilant without surrendering to exaggerated fears; we must take threats seriously but retain our ability to assess the scale of threats and likelihood of materialization. We must not suffer from a lack of imagination in anticipating new threats, but we must remain firmly rooted in reality as we defend democracy. Those competing demands will challenge us as we move toward the next presidential election, but we are up to the task.

Climate change.

For nearly two months in 2021, we believed that our small cabin in the Sierras would be destroyed by wildfire. After a monumental effort by CalFire and other agencies, the southern edge of the fire stopped one mile from our cabin. Even then, it smoldered for several months more—until December snows finally extinguished it.

It is always a mistake to point to a single event and declare that it was caused by climate change. But the 2021 wildfires in the Sierras followed a historic drought that killed more than one hundred million trees in the southern Sierras. That is not a once-in-a-generation event. That is a once-in-recorded-history event. Although the snows have returned to the Sierras in December 2021, one wet winter cannot recharge aquifers depleted by a decade of drought. The vast San Joaquin Valley, which produces 25% of the nation’s table food, depends on snowmelt from the Sierras to recharge groundwater basins and aquifers. Friends who farm in the San Joaquin Valley tell us that 100-foot wells are being replaced by 800-foot wells as farmers chase ever receding groundwater. These dramatic changes happened in a generation. Are they permanent? We won’t know the answer to that question until it is too late to do anything about it. The sensible course is to assume that the historic droughts in California are caused by climate change and act accordingly—before it is too late.

The next generation.

At root, this newsletter is about redeeming democracy for the next generation. With the birth of two granddaughters in 2020 and 2021, that task took on greater urgency and a broader time horizon. Being a grandparent is wonderful, but it is also an awesome responsibility—especially so during a pandemic. It is impossible to look at their beautiful faces and not wonder what type of world we are leaving to them. Like climate change, we won’t know the answer to that question until it is too late to do anything to change the outcome. So, the only option is to do everything in our power now to ensure that they will live a country that is free, tolerant, safe, healthy, and peaceful. As one reader reminded me recently, we must “govern for our grandchildren—and their grandchildren.” Taking the long view in governing requires discipline, sacrifice, and wisdom. We should elect our leaders accordingly. In 2020, we made a good start. And yet, despite all we hope to do for them, what they have done for us is incalculable. They are our joy, our hope, and our reason. We feel blessed.

Concluding Thoughts.

This newsletter started in response to Trump’s accidental election in 2016. After Biden’s inauguration, I had no definite plans for the future of the newsletter—except to write the next edition each day. I entertained the vague hope that it would outlive its usefulness and slowly fade away. But the events of 2021 had other plans for the newsletter. Its growth in Biden’s first year has exceeded the newsletter’s growth during four years of Trump. It is clear that we are engaged in an extended fight for the soul of democracy. We will win, but it will require decades of vigilance and effort on our part. I will be by your side every step of the way, offering encouragement, consolation, information, and the collective wisdom of the community of like-minded people who comprise this newsletter. Thank you for accompanying me on this journey. It is an honor.

Davyon Johnson, a sixth-grader in the MuskogeePublic Schools saved two lives in one day. In the morning, he performed the Heimlich maneuver on a classmate who was choking on a bottle cap (he says he learned it on YouTube). Later the same day, he pulled a woman from a burning building.

If he is in any sense representative of the children of America, our future is in good hands.

An 11-year-old boy from Oklahoma is being honored for his heroism after he saved a choking classmate and rescued a woman from a house fire in one day.

Davyon Johnson was named an honorary member of both the sheriff’s office and the police force and was recognized by the board of education in his hometown of Muskogee, a city about 50 miles southeast of Tulsa.

“Davyon performed the Heimlich maneuver on a classmate on December 9 and that evening helped a woman from her house that was on fire,” the Muskogee County Sheriff’s Office wrote on Facebook last week.

Adults used to say that the young today are “going to hell in a hand basket,” and “why can’t they be like us?” (From the musical Bye Bye, Birdie: “Why can’t they be like we were, perfect in every way/What’s the matter with kids today?”)

Now we have to worry about the adults, many of whom are behaving stupidly and dangerously, undermining democracy and fighting common sense public health measures, while the kids are all right. Maybe the grownups need to find role models like Davyon Johnson.

As we wade through the muck of a national effort to privatize public schools and replace them with “school choice,” via privately-run charters and vouchers, it’s important to recall why we have public schools. Education is not a consumer item. It is an integral part of a democratic society. Contrary to the propaganda from the right, our public schools do not indoctrinate children. They are tasked with transmitting the knowledge and skills to help young prople become productive citizens and to keep our democracy strong. At their best, they teach young people to question authority and to think for themselves. Thanks to Professor David Berliner for sharing this essay with me.

This article was written by a Canadian educator who was educated in the U.S.

Why public schools are public

Charles Ungerleider, Professor Emeritus, The University of British Columbia

Parents seeking programs that they believe are in the “best interests” of their own children sometimes act as if the education they seek is a private benefit. In seeking an education that is in a child’s or grandchild’s best interest it is easy for parents or grandparents to lose sight of why public schools are public.

If education were primarily a private benefit, it would not be something supported by governments; it would be left to families to determine the why, the what, and the how of educating the young. But in enrolling their children in public school they do not have that discretion.

Governments provide for schooling because it is a public good, something of benefit to everyone. Few people read the legislation establishing public schools but doing so is instructive. The purposes of education are often set out in a public schools or education act that is readily accessible.

The Public Schools Act in Manitoba, for example, proclaims that “a strong public school system is a fundamental element of a democratic society.”[i] Alberta’s act simply says, “Education is the foundation of a democratic and civil society.”[ii] Ontario’s act declares that “a strong public education system is the foundation of a prosperous, caring and civil society.”[iii] Despite differences in the way it is expressed, the contribution of schooling to a democratic, civil society is among public education’s paramount purposes.

Several acts speak specifically about the active connection between public schooling and the health, prosperity, and well-being of society. Manitoba says that “public schools should contribute to the development of a fair, compassionate, healthy and prosperous society.”[iv] Nova Scotia describes that the primary mandate of its publicly funded school system is “to provide education programs and services for students to enable them to develop their potential and acquire the knowledge, skills and attitudes needed to contribute to a healthy society and a prosperous and sustainable economy.”[v]

In the context of setting out the purposes of public schooling, the various statements of purpose refer to individual students. However, they make clear that the development of the individual is in service to the [re]creation of society. Some are quite explicit about the link between the student and the student’s social contribution. Alberta, for example, states “the role of education is to develop engaged thinkers who think critically and creatively and ethical citizens who demonstrate respect, teamwork and democratic ideals and who work with an entrepreneurial spirit to face challenges with resiliency, adaptability, risk-taking and bold decision-making.”[vi]

In addition to the general references to democracy and civil society, some statements of purpose are more specific. British Columbia’s School Act says that educational programs are “designed to enable learners to become literate, to develop their individual potential and to acquire the knowledge, skills and attitudes needed to contribute to a healthy, democratic and pluralistic society and a prosperous and sustainable economy.”[vii] BC complements its School Act with a ministerial order devoted to the mandate of the school system that provides the rationale for the emphasis on social and economic goals:

Continued progress toward our social and economic goals as a province depends upon well-educated people who have the ability to think clearly and critically, and to adapt to change. Progress toward these goals also depends on educated citizens who accept the tolerant and multi-faceted nature of Canadian society and who are motivated to participate actively in our democratic institutions.[viii]

The BC ministerial order makes clear that individuals have an obligation to contribute to the development of that society, and specifies that the educational program is designed to produce citizens who are:

  • thoughtful, able to learn and to think critically, and who can communicate information from a broad knowledge base;
  • creative, flexible, self-motivated and who have a positive self-image;
  • capable of making independent decisions;
  • skilled and who can contribute to society generally, including the world of work;
  • productive, who gain satisfaction through achievement and who strive for physical well being;
  • cooperative, principled and respectful of others regardless of differences;
  • aware of the rights and prepared to exercise the responsibilities of an individual within the family, the community, Canada, and the world.[ix]

The public schools and education acts and related policies make clear that education is instrumental in developing the knowledge, values, and behaviours that citizens need to maintain a socially cohesive and productive society. The territory of Nunavut is perhaps the most explicit about the importance of the education system in preserving Inuit values and traditional knowledge.

It is the responsibility of the Minister, the district education authorities and the education staff to ensure that Inuit societal values and the principles and concepts of Inuit Qaujimajatuqangit are incorporated throughout, and fostered by, the public education system.[x]

The principles and concepts of Inuit Qaujimajatuqangit define what it means to be a citizen in Nunavut:

  • Respecting others, relationships and caring for people (Inuuqatigiitsiarniq);
  • Fostering good spirit by being open, welcoming and inclusive (Tunnganarniq);
  • Serving and providing for family or community, or both (Pijitsirniq);
  • Decision making through discussion and consensus (Aajiiqatigiinniq);
  • Development of skills through practice, effort and action (Pilimmaksarniq or Pijariuqsarniq);
  • Working together for a common cause (Piliriqatigiinniq or Ikajuqtigiinniq);
  • Being innovative and resourceful (Qanuqtuurniq); and
  • Respect and care for the land, animals, and the environment (Avatittinnik Kamatsiarniq)

The curricula of the provinces and territories are intended to express what students must know and be able to do to prepare for adult citizenship. Public schooling benefits all of us by making sure that each student is prepared for adult citizenship. Public schooling is not about you or me, but about us.

 



[i] Manitoba, The Public Schools Act C.C.S.M. c. P250,

[ii] Alberta, Education Act, Statutes of Alberta, 2012  c. E-0.3

[iii] Ontario, Education Act, RSO 1990, c. E.2 

[iv] Manitoba, Ibid.

[v] Nova Scotia, Education Act,

[vi] Alberta, Ibid

[vii] British Columbia School Act, RSBC 1996

[viii] British Columbia, Statement of Education Policy Order, OIC 1280/89

[ix] Ibid.

[x] Nunavut, Education Act, S.Nu. 2008

oneducationcanada@gmail.com

It’s happening across the nation: Angry anti-maskers and anti-vaxxers are undermining democracy, science, and civil society. They are disrupting school board meetings, town council meetings, any gathering where a loud minority can shout down elected officials.

What’s happening in New Hampshire is emblematic of a frightening national trend. Garry Rayno of indepthnh.com writes here about the collapse of civility in the Granite State.

He writes:

Anyone who follows politics in New Hampshire had to be disturbed by what happened at the Executive Council meeting last week at Saint Anselm College.

To have the workings of government halted by a small group of aggressive and vocal mobsters is new for New Hampshire and a sad day for state government.

The meeting was halted after Department of Health and Human Services employees felt threatened and left the building under State Police escort, not something that has happened in New Hampshire before.

The state has long been known as fiscally conservative, but socially moderate or tolerant. That has changed in recent years, largely over abortion or reproductive rights for women.

But what happened last week is far more than the erosion of the state’s moderate views on social issues and that is also apparent in this year’s legislative session, when bills passed that never would have in the past.

New Hampshire’s political discourse can be heated and passionate, but it has always been essentially civil.

A new group of activists is creating foundational change to the political playing field.

The anarchistic outburst that halted the Executive Council meeting, was not the first and it surely will not be the last.

Traditional political philosophy is not the driving force for Free Staters, Libertarians, Rebuild NH or Liberty 603, individual freedom at all costs is and the consequences are monumental.

The goal of the uproar was ostensibly to prevent the Executive Council from approving $27 million in contracts to expand the state’s lagging COVID-19 vaccination programs to protect more people from the virus.

The COVID-19 pandemic and government actions to stop its spread have been the target of the groups, some that even propose the state secede from the union.

This movement does not follow the usual political processes to achieve its goal, but instead uses intimidation, threats and other tactics best described as bullying.

What they want to achieve is minority rule, because the vast majority of the state’s citizens do not agree with them.

The insurrectionists have had help along the way, as they have been allowed to drive the “Republican agenda” in the legislature and Gov. Chris Sununu, who was one of their main targets at the council meeting, tried to placate the near anarchists and signed a budget largely dictated by the Free Staters and Libertarians.

What happened at the Executive Council meeting was a significant victory for a couple hundred protesters who achieved far more than stopping the approval of a couple of contracts.

And that is the real problem New Hampshire faces going forward.

With about 50 law enforcement officers at the meeting, a number of particularly vocal, abrasive and threatening activists were allowed to “do their thing” to shut down the meeting and not one was arrested.

The next time there is no reason to stop going a little further and a little further.

Many of the same people picketed Sununu’s Newfields home after he instigated a mask mandate, the last one in New England and the first to be rescinded.

Protests at the State House or where a governor is making an appearance are acceptable behavior, but a governor’s or senator’s or official’s home has always been off limits, but not any more.

The anti-maskers planned to disrupt Sununu’s outdoor inauguration ceremony in January, but Sununu cancelled the event.

Instead he was sworn in with few present at the State House and gave his inauguration speech remotely.

Several weeks ago, a public hearing on proposed rules for the state’s vaccination registry had to be cancelled when the same groups turned out protestors and overflowed a hearing room in Concord.

And last month, they shouted down Republican legislative leaders at a press conference called to criticize President Biden’s vaccine mandates. The protesters told GOP leaders they and the governor had not done enough to protect them.

At a press conference after the council meeting Sununu downplayed the council protest and said it was a few unruly aggressive actors who crossed the line and that there was passion on both sides.

That sounded similar to President Trump saying there are good people on both sides after white supremacists’ violent protest in Charlottesville that claimed one life and injured many more.

And while Sununu, the Executive Council and state employees had a couple of dozen police to protect them, many school boards and selectmen do not and face the same aggressive behavior and unruly people objecting to whatever the boards decide.

People need to understand what the protesters and some politicians want. They want to stop the state from spending federal money on programs to increase vaccinations to stop the spread of COVID-19.

They do not want to be vaccinated, which is short-sighted in itself as they are willing to infect others for their “personal freedom,” and they are trying to stop anyone else from being vaccinated.

It is not enough for them not to be vaccinated, they don’t want you to be either and they don’t want you to wear a mask.

That is not freedom, that is tyranny. And it is just as tyrannical as they claim Biden’s mandates are.

While the state has fallen behind others in the percentage of citizens fully vaccinated, still almost 60 percent of the state’s residents are showing at least that many people do not agree with the anti-vaccers and maskers.

What is happening with disruptions like the one at the Executive Council meeting and at school boards around the state is tribalism and not democracy. It is mob rule by intimidation and threats. How civilized is that?

The real target here is not masks and mandates, it is government and their hate for it or anyone they perceive to be telling them what to do.

Please open the link and read the rest of this important article.

Billy Townsend zeroes in on Lakeland, Florida’s mayoral campaign to illustrate how far off the rails the Republican Party has gone. The Republican candidate is promoting an extremist agenda that shows no concern for people who don’t agree with her. She is a Trumper through and through. Townsend sees her as symbolic of the loss of citizenship as a unifying principle.

She is running to represent people who agree with her. She reflects the bitter partisanship that is tearing the country apart.

He writes:

Saga Stevin will not represent the people who don’t believe the same way she does. She can’t — or won’t — even see them. They exist outside her frame of citizenship.

In a debate with the incumbent mayor, Stevin states bluntly:

“I don’t believe in equity,” she says to start the answer and then she ends it like this: “Lakeland’s a lovely mix of people. And I think we’re people who have American values that want a traditional family kind of lifestyle, conservative views…”

Shrinking Lakeland’s frame of citizenship to conform to her frame is the entire reason she’s running. Not representing the people who think and believe differently is the entire point of her campaign.

When you read Townsend’s post, you will worry about the fate of our democracy.

Jeanne Dietsch writes regularly about politics and social welfare in New Hampshire. She is a former legislator. The Republican legislature recently voted to cut public school funding, to launch vouchers for private schools and homeschooling, and to cut property taxes.

She wrote:

A decade ago, I read a story in The Atlantic about a boy stranded at sea, in a boat that had been carefully crafted and tended by his grandfather, but neglected by his parents. The motor died and the dinghy was beginning to leak, amid tall waves, while he was still far from shore.


I see New Hampshire’s children in that boat. One in every nine children in NH lives in poverty – less than $22k per year for a family of three – compared with one in fifteen adults. Between 2008 and 2018, the proportion of children on free and reduced lunch rose almost 40%. NH has among the highest rates of college debt, highest tuition, highest growth in teen suicide. Educational achievement has been demonstrated over 50 years to vary with poverty and parental education more than race. Mental health problems can be caused or exacerbated by the stress of poverty and depression.

Are NH leaders ferreting out the causes of child poverty, the causes of mental illness, to root them out? No, because they would have to admit that defunding government and giving the private sector free rein is not working. They would have to stop steering tax cuts to the wealthy and powerful and start investing in children and the future.

Instead, the G.O.P. is defunding 22 positions at DCYF, the people tasked with protecting children, at a time when reports of abuse have increased. Is it because the state is short on funds? No, revenues exceed plan. It is because the pay scale for those positions is so low that DCYF has been unable to fill 41 vacancies. Last time NH let case loads rise to 70 per employee, two children died. The problem is not lack of funds, it is lack of interest from the G.O.P.

The G.O.P is also cutting the education stability grants that the Senate allocated to property-poor districts last term. This burdens those towns local property taxpayers. This increases poverty in those towns. Public schools hand out take-home meal bags to children who cannot rely on being fed over the weekend. Public schools must try to educate children of parents struggling with addiction, children who have no one at home to care for them.

Rather than address poverty and its impact on educational achievement, G.O.P. leaders merely bandage the wounds of a sick society.[1] They inserted “Education Freedom Account” vouchers into the budget. The EFAs give $4600 per year to people already paying their children’s private tuition. For a family living in poverty, whose parents work extended hours to get by, a partial tuition subsidy is useless. And at least one for-profit company is already raising millions in startup money at the prospect of raking in NH taxpayer dollars for providing cut-rate instructional services. The goal of the company is to replace schools and certified teachers with aides who educate children in their homes. This, according to EFA supporters, will cut local taxes because: Professional teachers will be laid off. Schools will close. And taxpayers will no longer need to maintain the stranded assets of the school districts.These new “micro-schools” cater to people of similar economic, cultural, and educational background. Any sociologist can explain that the way to increase upward mobility is to create networks across boundaries. This approach traps children in bubbles of like-minded people, just as social media does.

Similarly, for mental health, the NH G.O.P majority is funding band aids, increasing budgets for treatment resources. For people already suffering from mental illness, treatment is crucial, of course. However, to ignore poverty’s role in depression and mental illness is like foregoing COVID vaccination and only treating patients after they are sick. It is foolish, expensive, and cruel.

New Hampshire has the second lowest birth rate in a country with less-than-replacement rate nationwide. Each child is that much more precious, as a result. Yet the G.O.P. refuses to invest in them. Is it not obvious that this is a recipe for future decline?

Are NH G.O.P. members so determined to prove that government can do no good that they refuse to use it to help children? Are they so self-indulgent that they only care about their own? Or are they just drinking the kool-aid of the cult?

Whatever reason drives each individual official, they act as a block. We must replace them. And we must not send to Washington any who place profit, power or party over our nation’s future well-being. The seas are rough and the G.O.P. seem willing to let the boat sink, as long as their kids have life vests.

Jack Schneider is a historian of education at the University of Massachusetts in Lowell. He and Jennifer Berkshire recently published a superb book, A Wolf at the Schoolhouse Door, which I recommend to you.

The “Public” in Public Schools

There are two stories that we tell over and over these days about our schools. The first is that schools are a mechanism for getting ahead in our society. In a competition of each against every, schools are the ostensibly meritocratic sorting mechanism that determines who gets what. The second story is that schools are the engine of the economy. Education builds human capital, which in turn promotes economic growth.

These aren’t entirely wrong. Despite the fact that the privileged work feverishly to tilt the playing field for their children, schools can and often do serve a leveling function. And it is impossible to imagine the American economy thriving in the same way without an educated populace. Yet this is a torturously narrow way of understanding the value of public education.

We don’t have public schools in this country so that young people can win advantage in an unequal society (and we especially don’t have public schools so that racially and economically advantaged families can launder their privilege). Nor do we publicly fund education so that the private sector can reduce the costs of training labor. Instead, we tax ourselves to pay for universal K-12 education because public schools are the bulwark of a diverse, democratic society. 

The founders knew this. As early as the 18th century, leaders were making the case that education was too important to be left to the whims of the market. If the young republic was to be governed by the people, those people needed access to schooling. Of course, education wasn’t universal from the outset; racially minoritized students were excluded and segregated, low-income students attended poorly-funded schools, and students with disabilities were refused at the door. But access to public education increased in commensuration with the recognition of other rights. Over time, our notion of “we the people” has expanded most obviously in our schools, and the benefit of this has accrued to all of us. We live in a stronger and healthier society because of our investments in public education.

And public schools weren’t merely seen as purveyors of academic content. As early advocates like Horace Mann understood, an increasingly diverse society needed a mechanism for fostering civic relationships and mutual understanding. Schools could draw young people from various walks of life together under a common roof and teach them to work in common cause. Although this inclusive vision of education has often remained an elusive ideal, integrated schools are also a reality. They have strengthened all of the communities in which they exist, and at a time of increased social fracturing it is perhaps more important than ever to heed the wisdom of Thurgood Marshall—that “unless our children begin to learn together, there is little hope that our people will learn to live together.”

As Jennifer Berkshire and I document in our new book, A Wolf at the Schoolhouse Door (which Diane wrote about in The New Republic), public education in this country is presently facing an extinction threat. Those who wish to privatize it like to make the case that the “public” part of public education isn’t so important; in fact, they argue that it’s a liability. I vehemently disagree. In the nineteenth century, we had a system much like the one envisioned by the radical right. And is essential to remember that public education was developed as a replacement for that largely-private system, which had proven insufficient at advancing the public good. There are things that all young people in this country should learn, and common destinies for which they should be prepared. Moreover, this is work that should be done in equal fashion for all, since we all stand to benefit from the education of our populace.

We’ve been so distracted by the use of schools for social mobility and economic sorting that many of us have forgotten about the essential role education plays in making and sustaining an American public. Yet what other institutions do we have for fostering the kinds of civic virtues that increasingly seem so short in supply? Shall we leave it to private entities to build that public? Do we trust that the profit motive will advance the interests of us all? Whatever the flaws in our existing system, we risk tremendous harm in unmaking it. 

Joel Westheimer is a professor of education at the University of Ottawa. He wrote this article for The Ottawa Citizen and shared it with me. This is a good time for me to mention that I strongly believe in content. In the mid-1980s, I was involved with a large committee that wrote the California K-12 History-Social Studies Framework. We realized that whatever we wrote had to be feasible from the point of view of teaching and learning. We selected the key events and developments that teachers would focus on. When we finished our draft, we sent it to teachers across the state. We received more than 1,000 reviews and read each one carefully. We made many changes. We sought in-depth learning, not a swift canoe ride across the centuries. Depth matters more than breadth.

Westheimer wrote:

Three essential lessons COVID-19 has taught us about education

During the pandemic, we rediscovered what teachers and students have always known: that schooling is about relationships, learning is a social process, and a deep-dive into a topic of interest is worth more than a stress-filled endurance swim in the shallows.

When did the Assyrian empire’s reign over Mesopotamia begin and end?

If you don’t know, you have a lot of company and you’re about to have even more. Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, countless nine- and 10-year-olds missed lessons about one ancient civilization or another this past year.

History and geography aren’t the only subjects affected. Some middle school students won’t learn the three functions of mitochondria. High school math teachers may have skipped lessons in differential equations. And who knows how many missed the opportunity to read Paulo Coelho’s brilliant allegorical novel, The Alchemist.

So what?

The first lesson parents, educators, and policymakers should draw from our collective school experiences during the pandemic is this: content matters much more than coverage. For more than three decades, the school curriculum has become increasingly consumed with all the things students should know before they graduate. That has resulted in an unprecedented global obsession with micro-managing teachers’ work to ensure the right information is taught and with standardized testing to find out if they’re succeeding.

Every day we read about children falling behind, but the curriculum is bursting at the seams. Falling behind what? Behind whom?

Research in teaching and child development tells us that learning how to think analytically is much more important than cramming in material that students won’t remember weeks or years later. We live in an age of instantly accessible information in an infinite number of domains. Living well in the 21st century does not require more information but rather the knowledge and skills needed to sift, understand and assess the quality of information. Teaching content matters, but covering every possible historical event and scientific or mathematical concept does not.

Let’s turn our concern over learning loss during the pandemic to focus on what was gained. We rediscovered what teachers and students have always known: that schooling is about relationships, learning is a social process, and a deep-dive into a topic of great interest is worth more than a stress-filled endurance swim in the shallows. What matters are the connections that teachers make, both to students and their families and between subject matter and the outside world.

A second lesson for education I take away from the pandemic is that inequality undermines the work educators do. This shouldn’t be a new lesson, but it was a wake-up call. COVID-19 has functioned like an x-ray, exposing already existing fault lines: poverty and economic inequality, unequal access to high speed internet and computers, and inadequate resources for those most in need.

Calls during the pandemic for parents to make sure their children don’t fall behind only increased these already existing inequalities. Some parents have the time, resources and education to demand their kids follow the curriculum, maybe even get ahead. Other parents are front-line workers, or holding down two jobs, or working at home with little time for other activities.

School cannot solve all of society’s problems, but they are a place we can acknowledge them. For example, some teachers brought new scrutiny to how they assign grades. Could the way we evaluate students’ prospects reflect the fact that students come from such different starting points? As children return to classrooms, let’s try — both within and outside of schools — to address inequality in meaningful ways.

A third lesson from the pandemic is that teaching is essential work. Remember those amusing memes from last spring when schools shut down?

  • Homeschooling, Day 1: And just like that, teachers were appreciated again;
  • Homeschooling, Day 2: We should double our teachers’ salaries;
  • Homeschooling, Day 3: I must apologize to the teacher for insisting that Suzie was “gifted.”

Funny, yes, but also revealing. Psychologists tells us that good humour often points to truths that everyone knows but nobody admits. I hope that we learn a newfound respect and admiration for the difficult and vital work teachers do. Will it be a little bit harder to claim teachers are lazy or have too much time off or that class size doesn’t matter? Teachers’ working conditions are children’s learning conditions and we should do everything we can to assist their efforts.

There are other lessons to take away. At the University of Ottawa, colleagues and I started the research collaborative CHENINE (Change, Engagement, and Innovation in Education) to make sure these lessons don’t get lost in the shuffle back to brick-and-mortar schooling. Already we’ve learned that educational technology can enrich good teaching but can’t replace poor teaching; that we could give students less homework and fewer tests; that the outdoors is a vastly underused resource for teaching and learning; and that trusting teachers’ front-line judgments is crucial.

When school returns to full swing, let’s give teachers latitude in what, how and when to teach any particular subject matter. Their primary job should be to restore a sense of safety, nurture a sense of possibility and rebuild the community lost through extended social isolation.

By the way, the Assyrian empire fell in 609 BC. I had to look it up. 

Joel Westheimer is an education columnist for CBC Radio and professor of education at the University of Ottawa. His most recent book is What kind of citizen: Educating our children for the comm

This story has justifiably gotten a lot of national attention. Tim Boyd, the mayor of Colorado City, Texas, resigned after posting the following message on his Facebook page. He has a philosophy of sink or swim. That Government has no responsibility to help you when the power goes out and the temperature goes below freezing. Surviving is your problem.

That worldview sounds like it derives from the late Rush Limbaugh. It is certainly not consonant with the core values embedded in the Holy Bible. I’m guessing ex-Mayor Boyd considers himself a Christian. From what I know of the words of Jesus, he taught love and kindness for one’s neighbors, not indifference.

For non-Christians, there is another source for believing that government has an obligation to help its citizens: the United States Constitution, which begins: “We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.”

”Providing for the general welfare” is a commitment that society makes to its citizens.

And then there’s the basic fact that the government in most parts of this country does control the power grid and the water supply. Texans should rightly hold their state government responsible for the lack of both. Individuals and families can burn wood in their fireplaces, if they have one, and they can draw water from a well, but most people don’t have a well. People in civilized societies pay taxes so the government will protect them, build roads, supply electrical power and potable water, provide free public education, and do those things that individuals can’t do for themselves.

When their lives are at risk because of a natural disaster, they rightly turn to government for help. At times of overwhelming crisis, only government has the resources and personnel (think National Guard) to save lives.

This is what ex-Mayor Boyd wrote, along with his sort-of apology:

ORIGINAL FACEBOOK MESSAGE (since deleted):

Let me hurt some feelings while I have a minute!!

No one owes you are (sic) your family anything; nor is it the local government’s responsibility to support you during trying times like this! Sink or swim it’s your choice! The City and County, along with power providers or any other service owes you NOTHING! I’m sick and tired of people looking for a damn handout! If you don’t have electricity you step up and come up with a game plan to keep your family warm and safe. If you have no water you deal without and think outside of the box to survive and supply water to your family. If you are sitting at home in the cold because you have no power and are sitting there waiting for someone to come rescue you because your (sic) lazy is direct result of your raising! Only the strong will survive and the weak will parish (sic). Folks God has given us the tools to support ourselves in times like this. This is sadly a product of socialist government where they feed people to believe that the FEW will work and others will become dependent for handouts. Am I sorry that you have been dealing without electricity and water; yes! But I’ll be damned if I’m going to provide for anyone that is capable of doing it themselves! We have lost sight of those in need and those that take advantage of the system and meshed them in to one group!! Bottom line quit crying and looking for a handout! Get off your ass and take care of your own family!

Bottom line – DONT (sic) A PART OF PROBLEM, BE A PART OF THE SOLUTION!!

APOLOGY

All, I have set back and watched all this escalating and have tried to keep my mouth shut! I won’t deny for one minute what I said in my post this morning. Believe me when I say that many of the things I said were taken out of context and some of which were said without putting much thought in to it. I would never want to hurt the elderly or anyone that is in true need of help to be left to fend for themselves. I was only making the statement that those folks that are too lazy to get up and fend for themselves but are capable should not be dealt a handout. I apologize for the wording and some of the phrases that were used! I had already turned in my resignation and had not signed up to run for mayor again on the deadline that was February 12th! I spoke some of this out of the anger that the city and county was catching for situations which were out of their control. Please understand if I had it to do over again I would have just kept my words to myself and if I did say them I would have used better wording and been more descriptive.

The anger and harassment you have caused my wife and family is so undeserved….my wife was laid off of her job based off the association people gave to her and the business she worked for. She’s a very good person and was only defending me! But her to have to get fired from her job over things I said out of context is so horrible. I admit, there are things that are said all the time that I don’t agree with; but I would never harass you or your family to the point that they would lose there livelihood such as a form of income.

I ask that you each understand I never meant to speak for the city of Colorado City or Mitchell county! I was speaking as a citizen as I am NOT THE MAYOR anymore. I apologize for the wording and ask that you please not harass myself or my family anymore!

Threatening our lives with comments and messages is a horrible thing to have to wonder about. I won’t share any of those messages from those names as I feel they know who they are and hope after they see this they will retract the hateful things they have said!

Thank you

Tim Boyd(citizen)

Edutopia reports on new research by Professor C. Kirabo Jackson of Northwestern University, who finds that a “good school” does much more than raise test scores.

In a new study released by the National Bureau of Economic Research, C. Kirabo Jackson, a professor of education and social policy at Northwestern University, and his colleagues found that schools with robust impacts on student well-being may be helping students in ways that aren’t picked up by standardized tests. These schools may not have the highest test scores, but they’re the most likely to motivate students to graduate and attend college, especially those students who are less likely to do so in the first place.

“Test scores aren’t everything, and schools that promote socio-emotional development actually have a really big positive impact on kids,” Jackson told me. “And these impacts are particularly large for vulnerable student populations who don’t tend to do very well in the education system.”

This is the latest in a series of studies examining the broad impact that teachers and schools have on students. Jackson’s previous research looked at the impact that teachers had on noncognitive skills such as self-regulation, and found that teachers who improved these skills improved their students’ long-term outcomes, boosting not only grades, but also attendance and high school graduation rates. The skills that are valuable for future success aren’t usually measured on tests, Jackson points out. So while teachers and schools are often evaluated by their ability to improve students’ test scores, broader measures should be used.

In the current study, Jackson and his colleagues looked at over 150,000 ninth-grade students who attended Chicago public schools between 2011 and 2017, analyzing test scores and administrative records. They also examined responses on an annual survey students completed on social and emotional development and school climate. The survey covered a range of topics, including peer relationships, students’ sense of belonging, how hard they studied for tests, and how interested they were in the topics they were studying. The data were then combined into a three-part index: one that included test scores and other academic outcomes, a “social well-being” index, and a “work habits” index.

Jackson’s team found that schools that scored high on the latter two indices—those that promoted social and emotional development—were also the most effective at supporting long-term student success. In these schools, there were fewer absences, and more students graduated and went on to college. And perhaps more importantly, the benefits were greatest for student populations who struggled the most in school.