For starters, the crazy and scary experiences that school boards have faced this year (for example, the police were called to one meeting in Manhattan when things got heated among attendees) all the way through the election season, have happened all across the country and they are not just going to go away. That is guaranteed because the current National Republican Party sees these so-called cultural issues, including masks and critical race theory (which is not taught in public K-12 schools) at the local level, in particular, as their bread and butter for future election success. The Republican Party in my opinion focuses on culture wars to cover the fact they have no real platform for leading positive change.
Leaders in public education need to understand that many potential supporters are not on board yet because they fail to connect the dots. The problem starts with folks not even thinking about off-year elections until scrambling at the end to decide who they should vote for and too often many just don’t finish the effort by casting their vote. This is despite local elections having a more direct impact than state or national elections on the issues citizens face every day.
Not understood and not used is that more and more businesses want to locate and expand in communities where the quality of public education is high. Why? Because the bulk of their employees as well as ones they are recruiting, especially those that have or will have kids, want quality public education. This would apply as well in any community with a public school of higher education and to some degree even with private.
Because anti-public education issues have gained traction, politically speaking, finding the right message, the right words, to respond successfully is essential. Not taking this specific challenge seriously as we look to the future only guarantees greater problems and a deteriorating environment for what most of us want. Framing the message correctly, that is avoiding “Defund the Police” mistakes, will make all the difference in the world.
Our public schools exist to make sure every single student gets a fair chance to succeed. But behind much of the anti-public school effort, especially from the Republican Party, is their opportunity, as they see it, to promote private education. Now they are not really thinking about private education replacing or taking over. They want more "quality" (as they define) kids with resources, pushed by their parents, drifting to private schools, expanding their numbers, lowering the cost per student, and at the same time very likely continuing their lack of state support for public education. While those already at the top may succeed in such a system, we would be failing the vast majority of the next generation.
So, what needs to be done? To begin with, we need supporters, official and unofficial, of public education to understand the dilemma we are in and appreciate that we must start right now working on a plan to restore strong support for the education of our children and their futures in Kansas. There will be positive lessons learned from other communities around the country that limited and discouraged such negative action, which could help. But in the end motivating leaders at all levels to step up, join hands, and respond to this challenge will be what has to happen. It will take good people speaking out, organizing, and getting involved in new ways.
We must, because this was no one shot deal. Using cultural wars to meet objectives is here and not leaving because, for now, the concept is working.
I close with a quote from Clay Wirestone in an opinion piece in the November 4th issue of Kansas Reflector. “If you want to know what is coming, read the memo from the 1776 Project PAC. In short, every single debunked bit of irrational absurdity we’ve heard over the last few months in Kansas and nationwide, will be repeated ad nauseum.”