A Casualty of War: The Takeover of Mississippi Education

The hostile attitude held by so many Republicans toward education in Mississippi is sickening. Their view that Mississippi educators have let the people of Mississippi down is preposterous. The lip service they pay to supporting public education is highly questionable. Their refusal to work hand in hand with state educators to fix education problems in favor of resolving issues on their own is dangerous. Their desire to tear down every existing education fence without first understanding why it was built is absolutely crazy. Their methods that often smell of Orwellian “Big Brother” is horrifying. That they are Mississippians waging war against fellow Mississippians is disheartening.

I have nothing against the Republican Party or the Democratic Party; over the years, I have probably voted Democrat or Republican an equal number of times. My vote has always gone to the man or woman I believed had the credentials, experience and integrity to lead and do what was right for the people. Lately though, with the lack of cooperation exhibited by both parties, I find support for either to be difficult. It is problematic for me to support what has become a messy Red and Blue political war at the expense of the American people. What went wrong with the political party system? How did politicians at both the national and state levels come to believe they know more about what is best for the people than the people? When was the Constitution amended to give Republicans or Democrats the power and authority to rule over the people rather than serve the people?

Some say it began with the election of Barack Obama as the 44th president of the United States. That may be true, but I believe the roots go much deeper. I believe it began when we lost respect for ourselves as a nation and a people. Recently, I watched the combined United States House of Representatives and Senate act like bad-mannered schoolboys as they riddled the President’s State of the Union Address with unrelenting disrespectful side chatter. Members of Congress do not have to like the man in power, but the man in power is the President of the Greatest Nation the world has ever known, and he is the elected choice of the people. Regardless of the man, the office of the President deserves to be treated with respect, but maybe respect is too much to ask when apparently so many no longer respect themselves or the Congressional offices they hold.

Since 2009 when the childlike pettiness and mule-headed refusal to work together began to truly escalate, the party system (Democrat and Republican) in the United States and at the state level has served little purpose other than to take up space. In his Farewell Address, George Washington warned this would happen, “It (party) serves to distract the Public Councils, and enfeeble the Public Administration. It agitates the community with ill-founded jealousies and false alarms, kindles the animosity of one part against another. . . It opens the door to foreign influence and corruption . . . .” Doesn’t that sound exactly like both political parties at the national and state levels today? Their inconsequential jealousies and blatant animosity toward one another have nearly crippled our nation, and it is threatening to do the same to Mississippi.

The spirit of war that this jealousy and animosity has created between the Red (Republican) and Blue (Democrat) political parties is destroying the very foundation of our state. Unfortunately, in Mississippi, children, teachers, and school administrators are the first to be caught in the crossfire. Education has become a convenient rallying point for the Governor and Republicans’ obsessive fears of takeover by the extremes of the Obama socialist left on one side, and what they deem an incompetent education system that has strayed too far from the conservative values of the Republican Party on the other side. Yet, as the Republicans stage their own state takeover, they refuse to listen or work with state educators, and they propose bills just as heavy-handed and to the left as any regime with intentions of suppression. When it comes to education, not working hand in hand with state educators for improvement is shameful. When it comes to taking away the rights of the people, it does not matter if it is Obama or the Republicans leading the charge – both are wrong.

Although wariness of big government is not completely unhealthy, tearing apart an education system without knowing what you are tearing down, and then trying to legislate it back together is foolish. That’s like putting together a commercial airliner with Elmer’s glue; it looks good on the runway, but falls apart in the sky. You cannot fix the state’s education problems with Elmer’s glue/rhetoric nor can the problems be fixed with legislated band aids; it sounds good in theory and in the media and looks good on paper, but such superficial solutions will still fall far short of the educational needs of the state’s children. The first steps in improving an organization is to establish stringent guidelines for the product produced, secure funding, and hire the best people possible. Therefore, the first steps to improving education are to stabilize and strengthen it with stronger education standards, provide adequate funding that provides adequate resources and facilities, and secure incentives for recruiting bright young minds to be teachers. The Republicans who often speak of operating education more like a business do not seem to understand this, or they choose to ignore it. Instead, they are convinced Mississippi will be better served if they simply crusade to save the people of Mississippi from the incompetence of state educators and the socialist left of the Obama regime by increasing rhetoric and passing more laws.

I am afraid there is much more going on here than just a fight against incompetent teachers and protecting the people from Obama’s socialism. If you look closely at the Republican education bills proposed by the 2015 Mississippi House and Senate, it becomes clear this fight has very little to do with incompetent educators or the socialist left. This is a fight for power; a fight to dismantle the public school system in Mississippi to ensure the socioeconomic status of the “haves” and the “have nots.” Under the pretense of parental choice, this fight is about directing public dollars to charter schools, private schools, and homeschooling to ensure a segregated education. This is a fight that if lost will set Mississippi back at least a hundred years.

With such Republican sponsored bills as HB (House Bill) 449, designed to take away the First Amendment right of state educators, and SB (Senate Bill) 2249, which will create the Mississippi Commission on College and Career Readiness and strip the State Superintendent of Education as well as the State Board of Education of their duties as education policy makers, it is fast becoming clear that the “bad guys” on the left the Republicans have so vehemently cried against may have been on the right all along. Proposing a law to hush educator questions and concerns or imposing Gestapo like laws to strip the Constitutional authority granted a state agency are actions Americans may expect of hostile socialist and communists takeovers, but not from an American political party. There is nothing conservative or American about such actions; such actions go against everything Americans believe! Yet, this is happening in Mississippi. There is always hope that such bills as HB 449 and SB 2249 will not make it out of committee, but since the state’s Republicans have appointed themselves as education’s judge, jury, and executioner, I would hesitate to bet money against either of these bills. The Republicans often paint themselves as conservatives, but some of the recent bills they have proposed are anything but conservative. As unbelievable as it may sound, the Republican Party in Mississippi has moved so far to the right that they are now on the left. The only positive I can see is that their red colors fly well on the left.

JL

©Jack Linton, January 26, 2015

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