by Donna Martinez
Former Senior Writer and Editor, John Locke Foundation
With civic and political conflict headlining the news nearly every day, I’ve been searching for a bright spot on which to pin my hopes for reconciliation in this country. I’ve found a glimmer, thanks to Carolina Journal Opinion Editor Ray Nothstine. Ray writes about the collapse of civic instruction and understanding, particularly among the young. And he makes the case that giving parents the choice of how and where their kids are educated can be a vital component to ensuring that those who want their kids to have the knowledge and understanding of our history and founding aren’t impeded by the barriers of a status-quo, one-size-fits-all system.
Only a third of Americans can pass a multiple-choice test consisting of questions taken from our citizenship test. Unfortunately, even if an improvement in civic knowledge emerges, there is no longer broad agreement about what those facts or ideals even mean. That some school districts in the state think the agenda-driven 1619 Project is an adequate response to the dearth of civic instruction and knowledge only serves to reinforce the need for more educational options.
In an increasingly ideologically diverse society, it makes even more sense for education dollars to follow the child and not merely to prop up an educational system packaged as one-size-fits-all. If parents want to send their child or children to a school that will champion and not scoff at America’s founding principles, there is no legitimate reason a bureaucratic system should halt it.
Rest assured, the John Locke Foundation continues to lead the discussion about how we empower parents with more choices for their kids. Our education expert, Dr. Terry Stoops, is very concerned about learning loss during the pandemic. We face incredible challenges. We’ve never needed choices more than we do today. I believe empowered parents will help lead us to a more personalized approach to educating our kids.
It is often said that parents are the very first, and most consequential, teacher. We shouldn’t forget that. COVID-19’s school shutdowns have put a real face on that notion. Many moms and dads have never been as connected to the day-to-day education of their kids as they are now. They haven’t had much of a choice since the science about the low level of COVID infection and transmission among young kids has largely been ignored. That’s left many North Carolina classrooms empty most or all of the time, and kids sitting in front of a screen at home.
But here’s the silver lining of this horrible pandemic. Because parents are seeing their kids up close and personal — their aptitudes, their challenges, their social skills and more — parents have a better sense of who their kids are, and what their kids really need. This new awareness will lead more parents to demand more education choices. They’re already learning to innovate by participating in pandemic learning pods, for example.
The pandemic has further exposed the pitfalls of static education systems in North Carolina. Whether it was necessary, the mass cancellation of in-person learning will stunt student achievement and damage the well-being of many young people for years to come. Yet, the crisis of civic illiteracy remains just as relevant with potentially even graver consequences for the state and republic. Don’t believe me? Just jump on social media or watch the news. If freedom-minded citizens and conservative lawmakers are going to make more progress on school choice, sounding the alarm on the civic illiteracy crisis must be a top priority.
The question is where we go from here. How do we build on the innovations and the involvement of parents during this pandemic? Terry Stoops and I talked about the future in this interview for Carolina Journal Radio.