Teachers Decide Votes
The influence of education on the course of the republic cannot be overstated.
When the president of Hillsdale College, my alma mater, said this summer that teachers are trained at the dumbest parts of the dumbest colleges, he was not saying something others hadn’t thought before. The know-betters who immediately responded had to frame Larry Arnn’s remark as a slight against all teachers in order to rebut it. This, of course, was beside the point. Teachers as a group are not dumb. But many particular teachers, and an increasing number of those who congregate in public schools, are dim and unserious. As we cast our votes on Tuesday, the weight of this fact in our decisions cannot be overstated.
Education is, without a doubt, one of the most important issues driving this election cycle, second only to the right to life. After nearly two years of school closures that resulted in failing math and reading scores across the nation, it’s hard to imagine a more pressing issue. Even inflation, which cuts deep, doesn’t hit quite as close to home as the failures of public education, not least because it’s hard to understand the real impact of a devalued dollar when you are failing at math. Not only have high school students’ math and reading scores fallen, but those who graduated during the pandemic are struggling to adapt to college, both socially and academically. It appears that class on Zoom is not a fair preparation for the academic rigor of higher education (which, it should be noted, is also hardly the rigor it once was).
In addition to pandemic-induced learning setbacks, the last two years have shown us just how many public schools are home to salacious curricula. While failing to teach children math and reading, many schools have laid before them a spread of explicit material, intended to mainstream queer behavior. The phenomenon is not reserved to Cape Cod and San Francisco, but can be found in places as normal as Wisconsin, Ohio, and Tennessee. Only a month ago, reporter Chris Rufo revealed that the largest teacher’s union in the country was providing its affiliated school in Ohio with resources on “Queering Sexual Education”—lessons in fringe sexual behaviors. It’s enough to make Common Core look tame.
And of course, we cannot forget Rufo’s work in 2021 either. The curricula isn’t only sexually explicit, it’s also racially divisive. While a keyword search for critical race theory in your own district schools’ curriculum might not bring up much, the ideology that calls whiteness shameful and blackness praiseworthy is, most unsubtly, present in everything from social studies to the very standard by which children are graded.
But as Arnn’s comment suggests, it’s not just what the kids are reading, but with whom they are studying. It’s the principle of imitation that is at the heart of all learning. In ancient Greece, students learned to write by repeating the letters traced for them by their teachers in shallow dishes of soft wax. The hypogrammos, or the shape drawn by the instructor, was the exact groove in which the child copied his figures, often with the instructor holding his hand and helping him follow the curvature. It’s also the word Peter uses when he says that Christ left us “an example” that we might follow in his footsteps. The student in the hands of his teacher does not simply become smart. He also becomes like his teacher.
This is why we read the great writers, not simply because what they wrote is good and enjoyable, but because their craft is instructive to us as well. It is the same reason for the art student, who reproduces masterful works, not to learn that painting is difficult, but to learn, by mimesis, how to paint.
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This mimesis is also the reason Plato’s Socrates was so rigorous about what kind of music would be allowed into the ideal republic. It is the reason Aristotle writes the Poetics, as a sort of guide for what types of art instruct the soul toward virtue, and what types draw men toward vice. Even Jean-Jacques Rousseau, the secular Enlightenment thinker and favorite punching bag of conservatives, wrote a lengthy treatise in which he argued that a theater would corrupt the city of Geneva, by setting up bad forms that the citizens would subconsciously mimic.
What are students mimicking in school today? One glance at the video clips coming out of accounts like Libs of Tik Tok is enough to tell us it is not good. A frightening number of the mentally disturbed of our day are also, by day, public school teachers. The drag queen events and the teachers helping kids transition behind their parents backs are happening not only because so many public school teachers are allied to a radical movement, but also because many are themselves confused.
The teachers are not rogue actors. Their schools are publicly funded, and they themselves are chosen by administrators who are chosen by school boards, publicly elected. Every dollar they use, every dollar they are paid, comes from a program supported by a governor, or appropriations from state legislators, or a grant from the Department of Education. When we take to the booths on Tuesday, we should not forget precisely who is accountable for what has been done to our nation’s children.