Letter to the Polk County School Board  

Published 9:26 pm Sunday, August 22, 2021

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Letter to the editor

The question I would pose to the Polk County School Board is this. Isn’t it time to put the focus back on student achievement and stop undertaking responsibilities that can best be described as ‘surrogate-parenting?

The distressing and avoidable debate of masking students should be a ‘wake up’ call to clarify the original intent of public education. To educate, pure and simple. American K-12 education used to graduate young adults ready to compete …to take on the rigors of college or enter the workforce and assume the demands of a working adult.

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Over the years, however, public education has been swamped with other responsibilities and interests. It can no longer boast of its achievements in academic excellence or proclaim the readiness of its graduates to enter the workforce. There are a few exceptions, like here in Polk County, but overall nation-wide, public education is broken.

If you were to attend their school board meetings, you would get a sense of the magnitude and expanse of programs with which they contend. Too much has been expected of public education and the predictable results show educational decline. U.S. students today can’t compete well with those of other nations. The creation of the U.S. Department of Education in 1980 was another step toward destiny. The vast sums of federal money poured into public education has been a bust. Public education has been in free-fall ever since.

In the writer’s opinion, the answer to the failure of public education is fairly simple. The vital influencers of strong K12 education have been ignored, replaced by a host of other special interest groups that in the end, just bog down and distress the system (federal and state agencies, teachers’ union, NGOs and even the departments of public instruction). Meant to enhance the system, they serve to overwhelm it with disastrous results. The mission statement of our schools is to “Do What’s Right for Students”. The goal is co-opted by other responsibilities inappropriately assigned or assumed. 

I would implore our educators to get back to the business of educating, not indoctrinating or parenting. Our school board and educators can better serve the students and families of Polk County by following a few guidelines. Resist any attempt to take responsibility for decisions that are clearly a parents’ purview. Reject any attempt to teach subjects that are more appropriately taught at home. Refuse to comply with any directive from a government or non-government organization that attempts to nullify your authority. Instead, get back to basics in the classroom. Focus on student achievement. Nourish minds with facts and truth. Instruct students to think critically. Inspire them to reach their potential. Promote good citizenship and encourage civic participation. Prepare them for life after graduation. Set aside everything else. And finally, find a way to restore the most important element to success and student achievement by once again involving parents and families in all aspects of the education process.

Dick Shaughnessy

Green Creek