Below is a letter that I recently sent to the Idaho Senate. The upper house of the legislature was considering a bill to provide vouchers for private education. My thoughts centered on the role public schools play in ensuring an American identity.
My name is Gail Chumbley, and I am a retired teacher now living in Garden Valley. Those of us who spent our careers working with children know we always remain teachers, and why I write to you this morning.
Public schools were established in early America as a place where children learned the tools of literacy; reading, writing, and computing numbers. The thinking behind these first American schools was to prepare contributing members of society, insurance for the continuity of the community. Enlightened self-interest guided public instruction, confident that the future rested in good, capable hands.
During the 19th and 20th Centuries schools spread across the growing nation to continue investing in the future, and curriculums added more courses that created citizenship. History provided a sense of belonging and common cause, while Civics added the structure of the political system, explaining the “how” of active participation. Students pledged the flag, sang patriotic songs, and shared in the remarkable story of our shared experiment in self-government.
Today this common foundation of America is crumbling. With so many choices for education, a crazy quilt of competing curriculums, home schooling, online classes, magnet schools, alternative schools, and private schools increasingly fray the fibers of our shared American experience. And this morning you have the option to approve another blow to all of us , vouchers for private schools.
HB590 has threatened not only legal problems, but ethical issues which concern not only our State but our Nation’s unity. Public schools have historically provided a vital link for students; our children find more that bind them together, than tear them apart. The growing exclusivity of “choice,” has had a dire outcome socially and economically.
As educators of America’s past have recognized, our kids deserve to learn what holds them together as a people, and in that understanding ensure Idaho’s and America’s future are left in steady hands.
Please vote no on HB590
Gail Chumbley is the author of the two-part memoir “River of January,” and “River of January: Figure Eight. Available at http://www.river-of-january, and at Amazon.com