Public education is essential to a democracy. It is not simply education that is funded by the commonwealth, rather, it is an institution designed to teach citizens how to live in a free society. It must be rooted in a curriculum that is free of indoctrination, religious coercion, political intimidation and intellectual bias.
Thomas Jefferson said: "I know of no safe depository of the ultimate powers of the society but the people themselves; and if we think them not enlightened enough to exercise their control with wholesome discretion, the remedy is not to take it from them, but to inform their discretion by education. This is the true corrective of abuses of constitutional power."
Jefferson and others believed that the newly formed republic could not survive without public education. He believed citizens should be enlightened, free of misinformation and ignorance. Good, authentic education teaches children to think critically, rather than inculcating them into a prescribed set of rote facts or rules. This critical thinking applies to mathematics as well as science, art, and social studies. It includes the sharing of ideas and the interactive process of testing conclusions and formulating opinions. It allows students to hear what others think and then the opportunity to test those ideas against their own.
In order for a public school system to enlighten students and guide them to be critical thinkers, it cannot pander to a religion, even one that is in a majority. It cannot pander to a partisan ideology, even one that is in a position to dominate. It cannot pander to an interest group, even one that is shrill and relentless.
Public school classrooms are not controlled by religious sects, political ideologies or partisan politics. The curriculum must be inviolable to intrusion from the whims of extremism and secure from intellectual trespass by those who would use it for their private purposes.
In public schools, children learn to respect their classmates. They learn that not all Americans share their beliefs. They are taught civility. Students are exposed to the sacrifices made for this country by people of all races, religions and dogmas. They learn that beliefs that are different from their own are valued and protected.
Whether students read Kant, Stegner or Harper Lee, they learn that the principles this culture was founded on will disappear if not vigilantly protected. As they learn addition, geometry, calculus or statistics they learn that the opportunity to be taught to rigorous standards of academics is one of the many privileges that come from living in a country that keeps ideological tyranny out of classrooms.
Parents have the right to refuse public education and to choose private schools or home schools or parochial schools for their children. Parents do not have the right to impose hate, prejudice, fear, ignorance and social intolerance into our public schools.
As a member of the Utah State Board of Education, I encourage citizens to support the new mathematics and language arts Core Standards because:
• They benefit all Utah students;
• They are politically neutral;
• They are rigorous and relevant;
• They are based on academically sound principles;
• They are superior to what is now available to students in our system.
• They are free of fear, prejudice and the zealotry de jour that is threatening the public schools in this state.
Contact the governor and your legislators and remind them that American values do not support the politicizing of the public school curriculum. Tell them to support high academic expectations by supporting the Utah Core Standards.
For more information on the core standards go to schools.utah.gov/core.
Leslie B. Castle is a nurse and a clinical faculty adviser for the University of Utah College of Nursing. She has represented District 7 (Salt Lake City and Park City) on the Utah State Board of Education since 2008. She lives in Salt Lake City.