About Katie Sluiter

Katie Sluiter is currently an 8th English teacher in West Michigan. She has taught middle school, high school, and community college and has her Masters Degree and is currently working on her doctoral degree in Teaching English. Her writing has been featured on Writers Who Care, The Nerdy Book Club, and Dr. Bickmore's YA Wednesday. She is a member of the National Council for Teachers of English (NCTE), the Michigan Council of Teachers of English (MCTE) and ALAN (the Assembly on Literature of Adolescents of the NCTE). She is a National Writing Project participant, has presented at both state and national conferences, and has been published in the Language Arts Journal of Michigan multiple times.

It began innocently enough.

I read a headline…just a headline…about Texas governor Greg Abbott appointing Republican State Board of Education member Donna Bahorich as President of the Board. Bahorich is a Christian extremist who home-schooled her children, and despite the fact that 94% of Texas children go to public school, apparently Abbott feels that this is the kind of leadership the PUBLIC School Board needs.

That headline was the edge of a rabbit hole that I tripped right into…one that seemingly contains endless attacks on public schools.

As a public teacher, I am well aware of the uphill battle that we fight with local, state, and federal politicians for funding, resources, and support. In the past, I tried not to consume too much “bad news for education” in one sitting, but this time I couldn’t stop reading.

Upon reading about Bahorich, I couldn’t help but read about her predecessor, Don McLeroy, who is also a Christian fundamentalist, and who approved the controversial social studies curriculum/textbooks. Among other things, this curriculum takes out Thomas Jefferson and replaces him with Thomas Aquinas and John Calvin as major influence in the formation of the United States. Instead of teaching about the “Slave Trade,” students learn about the “Atlantic Triangular Trade.” Students learn that Country Western music is a cultural movement, but never read a thing about Hip Hop.

McLeroy also rejected a proposal that would have students learn why there is a separation of Church and State, and he approved legislation that prohibits Texas teachers from using any of the Common Core State Standards, only allowing Texas State Standards to be utilized.

These moves to “Christian-ize” and “White Wash” Texas public school curriculum is dangerous for other states as well, since Texas is the leading purchaser of textbooks. Because they purchase so many, what they decide about curriculum often goes into many other states who order the same books.  In other words, if Texas wants its textbooks to be inaccurate and incomplete, this affects manufacturing of textbooks that will be available to other states as well.

I then began to think about Wisconsin and its governor, Scott Walker. Before announcing his bid for the Republican Presidential Candidacy, Walker pushed legislation through that would slash $250 million from the University of Wisconsin and abolished the state tenure protection law, leaving it up to the University Board of Regents, most of whom are appointed by the governor.  This assures K-12 public schools more massive cuts as well.  On top of that, just like Bahorich, Walker is a major supporter of vouchers.

Speaking of Republican governors who want to be president, Ohio is competitive there too. John Kasich is another charter-school and voucher proponent, even though Ohio has the worst performing charter schools in the nation. He also supports performance-based pay for educators (even though that model has been debunked as ineffective), and wants to evaluate teacher performance by standardized test scores in math and reading (another invalid method to assess teachers). Ohio’s education department is a mess of scandal, controversy, and resignations.

And then there is my home state of Michigan with the “tough nerd,” Rick Snyder. Like Kasich, Snyder is trying to rid Michigan of unions–specifically the teachers’ union.  In 2012, even though he repeatedly emphasized that right to work legislation would never be on his radar, Snyder made Michigan a Right To Work state.  He also cut $1 billion from education; although, he likes to claim he increased funding which he did, but we are still getting less than when he began.  If you take half a pie, but then put back an eighth, yeah I guess you technically added to the pie.

School take-overs are happening all over the nation, and it’s not for the betterment of the students. And when I mention any of this on social media, I get a barrage of “you should be in _____ (name any state)! It’s WORSE here!”

It makes me wonder if the conspiracy theories about politicians ridding us of a public school system have any truth to them.

Is there hope to make it better?

The easy answer is to stop electing people who want to see education privatized, but that is easier said than done. Many of those who vote in these politicians are one or two-issue voters, and education is not the issue they are concerned about.  I think too many citizens assume education will be fine if we just vote for the guy/gal who agrees with our stance on other things.

Guess what? Education is not fine.

We need to start voting in favor of education. And when governors and other politicians lie about their intentions (ahem, Snyder), we need to protest. Being an educator, or being someone who cares about education, is a political act.  Our voices can make change if we make education a primary focus in how we vote.

Share your stories, please. Let’s talk about this loudly.

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