A little more than a decade ago, my family and I were heavily involved in the local public school system in one county in Mississippi. The school district was monumentally corrupt in many ways, from the fact that one could place a majority of the teachers in one school on the same three family trees, to the blatant insertion of political agendas into class lectures, to the county superintendent of education’s inclination toward vicious revenge and abuse of power. We fought many well-intentioned but extremely bad ideas that probably actually originated in the bowels of a state-level office. Of course, every now and then something would crop up to which we could not even give the benefit of a doubt. One example that immediately springs to mind is that the district handbook allowed administrators to let certain students take foreign language in the eighth grade “at their discretion,” but because my family and I had already tied up with the school district, my school principal vindictively abused this “discretion” and refused to let me, the top student in my grade and recently coming out of Washington, DC as a National Spelling Bee finalist, into the class.
We were active in the process. We took our grievances first to the administrators, then to the school board. We helped manage a campaign to unseat the superintendent of education, which failed. We wrote letters to the local newspaper, including one that I wrote as a freshman about ridiculous “security” policies instituted in the wake of the Columbine school shooting. By all measures, we did the activism part right.
However, we were up against a strongly apathetic populace and a small group of people who were very committed to their agenda, and that agenda was not just ill-conceived educational policy. Over the course of my high school education, I was informed in a history class that, in the teacher’s opinion, “Nixon was innocent in Watergate and the Democrats just set it all up because that’s the kind of thing they would do.” This was after the Nixon tapes had begun to trickle out. In a social studies class, I was told that a single president could undermine years of legal precedent by changing the Supreme Court makeup “like the current president (Clinton) has done.” Never mind that Roe v. Wade, the case that was almost certainly on this teacher’s mind, had been settled law for 25 years. I was “taught” evolution in one of my science classes by being told to outline the chapter as a single night’s homework assignment. I don’t recall learning anything in school about the Big Bang, though in private reading I had long moved on to articles about the theorized heat death of the universe.
Our efforts to fix that particular school district ended in complete, total failure, and my three sisters and I all withdrew from school long before graduation. (Read more…)