Washington Education Watch, February, 2021

Last month’s column prompted more messages of both objection and support than any other column I have written. Thanks so much for taking the time to share your thoughts. The responses from members provided a broad perspective that I could not have done alone. I would encourage you to look over that column and the responses.  You will find in the responses some helpful Bible verses, sincere prayer for guidance and truth, a link to a good column from World magazine on how Christians are responding to the deep divisions in our culture, as well as other thoughtful comments from members.  

 The diversity of opinion among members on the current state of affairs seems to be tied together by a spirit of unity. Holding differing positions on public policy issues is not necessarily division in the kingdom, particularly if we are all in pursuit of having, “the mind of Christ” (1 Cor 2:16).    

 Now, on to what has been happening over the past few weeks. New policy directions are beginning to emerge as is to be expected with a new administration.   

 President Biden reversed what is known as the Mexico City Policy constraining American foreign aid from going to international organizations that support abortions. This policy originated with Ronald Reagan and since then has typically been rescinded by Democratic presidents and reinstituted by Republican presidents. In recent years President Trump reinstituted the policy after it had been rescinded by President Obama.   

 Legislatures in 19 states have introduced legislation in reaction to President Biden’s executive order on transgender rights. These bills would restrict women’s sports to individuals who were born as biological women. Last year Idaho passed such a bill, and the American Civil Liberties Union filed a suit challenging its constitutionality. A judge issued a temporary restraining order delaying enforcement of the law and it is waiting to be heard by the ninth circuit court of appeals. US Senator Mike Lee (R-Utah) has also introduced federal legislation, the “Protection of Women and Girls in Sports Act,” that is similar to the state legislation. It seems certain that this is an issue that will ultimately find its way to the Supreme Court. 

 President Biden also issued an executive order disbanding the 1776 Commission, which President Trump had convened to “research and promote patriotic education.” Of course it was also promoted to counter the New York Times 1619 Project which was developed to reframe the traditional narrative of American history around the history of slavery in the United States. I am hoping that education policy makers will come to realize that curriculum development should not be under the purview of either the New York Times or the federal government, but rather should be controlled by each of the fifty states with a healthy amount of input from parents and teachers. History curriculum is particularly sensitive to local culture and history. Some areas of the country may wish to ensure that their children are exposed to more or less information from our history about the impact of slavery, or religion, or unions, or immigration, or industrial development, or the impact of technology, or westward expansion, or colonialism. It is completely unlikely that the New York Times or a federal government commission is going to get it right for every location. This is just one particularly good reason why it is so healthy that our constitution sets aside the delivery of education and formulating education policy for the individual states.   

 Michael Cardona, President Biden’s nominee for Secretary of Education, sailed through his Senate Education Committee hearingreceiving a bipartisan 17-5 vote from the committee signaling that he should easily be confirmed by the full Senate. Bipartisan support for a president’s cabinet nominees has long been a tradition of the Senate. However, such a display of comity was not accorded to President Trump’s nomination of Betsy Devos four years ago when the education committee narrowly approved her nomination by a 12-11 vote strictly along party lines. This was followed by an historic vote to confirm her in the Senate in which for the first time in history the vice president, in this case Michael Pence,  was called upon to cast a tie breaking vote to confirm a president’s nominee for any cabinet secretary. The DeVos vote four years ago was a clear signal that the next four years would be rough sailing for President Trump in Congress. Whether the willingness of Republicans to support Biden’s pick for education secretary signals calmer waters of cooperation between Democrats and Republicans in Congress remains to be seen.   

 While all this has been transpiring in DC, for many teachers the biggest question has been when they will return to traditional teaching in a traditional classroom. One big factor that may impact your comfort level in returning to your school is whether you have been able to receive one of the vaccines. This helpful infographic from Education Week  indicates that 28 states are providing some priority for teachers to receive the vaccine ahead of others. The education unions have been flexing their political muscle on this issue. While I respect unions that prioritize the health and safety concerns of their members, I am not so sure that the NEA and AFT have handled member advocacy during COVID well. Along with many others I wonder if they pushed too hard, and in so doing, have lost valuable public support for teachers and the public schools. It is one thing to say that members should be vaccinated before returning to a classroom, but it is quite another thing to suggest that teachers who received early access to the vaccine should not return until all students are vaccinated or improved ventilation systems are installed. This is a particularly precarious position when many private school teachers as well as teachers in states like Florida have been working with students in classrooms without the benefit of vaccines. Data indicates that public school enrollment has dropped this year while private school enrollment has increased and according to the Associated Press, interest in homeschooling has “exploded.” This erosion in public school enrollment and support is deeply concerning to those who value the important role that public schools play in our country. While each local affiliate of the teacher unions is free to find their own way on this, it seems that some are not concerned about possible long term damage to the institutions in which their members serve.    

 As division and controversy continue to swirl around political matters, we should not become discouraged. As one of our readers reminded me, Psalm 121 is just one of many scriptures where we can turn for comfort and assurance that the Lord is in control: 

1 I lift up my eyes to the hills.  

From where does my help come?  

2 My help comes from the Lord,  

who made heaven and earth.  

3 He will not let your foot be moved;  

he who keeps you will not slumber.  

4 Behold, he who keeps Israel  

will neither slumber nor sleep.  

5 The Lord is your keeper;  

the Lord is your shade on your right hand.  

6 The sun shall not strike you by day,  

nor the moon by night.  

7 The Lord will keep you from all evil;  

he will keep your life.  

8 The Lord will keep  

your going out and your coming in  

from this time forth and forevermore.1

Please share your thoughts on this column that you would like other readers to see by entering them in the form below. Personal comments can be sent to JMitchell@ceai.org.  John Mitchell is the Washington, D.C. Area Director for Christian Educators Association International.

1 The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016. Print.

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Washington Education Watch 2/2021. Used with permission.

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