The Critical Significance of Education By Ed Emery, 31st District Senator

Ed Emery

“Who controls the past controls the future. Who controls the present controls the past.”  ̶ George Orwell, in the book 1984

For my entire term of office in the Senate, and much of my time in the House of Representatives, my priority has been improving education – which some say should be helping parents “turn children into adults.” Through those years, it has grown ever more evident to me that the most damaging absence in education is true competition. The district-public school monopoly has performed as is the nature of monopolies: It has protected the status quo and the bureaucracy that controls it. My view is strengthened by books such as “Let us Put Parents Back in Charge” and “The Beautiful Tree,” which further confirm the power of competition in the field of education.

Competition tends to reward the innovative and the exceptional, while driving out the defensive and ordinary. In my opinion, the one exception to the impenetrable monopoly has been charter schools which, although they are public schools, have escaped some of the more-damaging mandates and restrictions endured by district public schools, by their teachers and by their students.

The evidence that competition has worked within the charter school ranks is that some charter schools have been driven either into bankruptcy or to closure from underperformance. At the same time, other charters continue to outperform traditional district schools while spending fewer of your tax dollars per student. Nevertheless, instead of heralding the few charter school closures as evidence that competition works, my experience is that the public-school bureaucracy points to the closures as evidence that charters are failures, since district schools do not close. What some have pointed out, however, is that Missouri school districts have historically reported performance only by district, and not by school. Instead of closing failing schools, these districts are able to hide them within districtwide reports. Charters cannot.

For example, if we dig into the district report cards posted online at www.dese.mo.gov, we see one of Missouri’s “best” school districts has had as many as six failing school buildings within its administration for years. Ironically, this same district’s administrators consistently testify against any legislation that proposes competition. If those underperforming district buildings were charter schools, I suspect they would have been closed long ago and their students sent somewhere they could be better educated. Instead, students suffer, and there is nothing parents can do. For decades, no information was available on these individual school buildings, but finally the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education has begun differentiating the performance data. Parents can now find data on their children’s school(s) if they have the patience and perseverance to navigate DESE’s website.

One possible silver lining to the Covid-19 pandemic has been that many parents have discovered what their children are either learning or not learning in their public school. I imagine many parents have been unhappy with what they have found and are likely to become more involved with their children’s education. Some may even run for school board or become more attentive to state politics and what could be done legislatively to bring the powerful forces of competition into the world of education.

The George Orwell quote above suggests the power of education in shaping a nation and setting its course. The United States of America were conceived out of the teachings of the Bible, Thomas Paine’s “Common Sense,” “The Federalist,” “A Curious Hieroglyphic Bible” and “The New England Primer.” Reliance on these texts set our nation on a course of individual liberty and economic freedom, with a free-market economy recognized as the only economic system consistent with the founders’ vision of freedom.

Some of the most ardent critics of modern “education” point to failures in the teaching of history. Theodor Rebarber is CEO of AAT Education, a nonprofit organization working to provide teachers with a history curriculum that encourages healthy patriotism and civil discourse. In his remarks at the White House Conference on American History in September 2020 he described his concerns and proposed some solutions. The following remarks reflect some of his thoughts.

Some of us have already been warned there are serious omissions and misrepresentations in Howard Zinn’s book, “A People’s History of the United States.” You may have heard of the 1619 Project, a recent movement to reframe the teaching of American history from the perspective of institutionalized slavery (the project’s name refers to the year slave ships first arrived on American shores). In criticizing this initiative’s creator, Rebarger suggested “accuracy was not her priority . . .” However, his criticism of the College Board’s Advanced Placement U.S. History course is even more disturbing because this curriculum is considered the gold standard for U.S. history education. One subtle but significant flaw in our current history coursework is the absence of clear teaching on the constitutional protection of property rights. Rebarber wonders if the property destruction seen during protests earlier this year might reflect this shortcoming.  He also claims, “the Bible and Judaism are not mentioned at all,” in today’s classrooms, and “references to Christianity or Christians are mostly negative.”

Rebarber and AAT (American Achievement Testing) have partnered with Wilfred McClay, a nationally recognized historian and author of “Land of Hope.” Rebarber says McClay’s text is readable, positive and the best available. If you agree that a serious weakness in education is U.S. history, and that accurately knowing our history is critical to your future, you can access more information and get involved by searching the internet for the AAT Education website. Thank you for reading this legislative report. You can contact my office at (573) 751-2108 if you have any questions. Thank you and we welcome your prayers for the proper application of state government.

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