Local rivalries abound in public schools, where parents and students rally around their local mascots. Likewise, collegiate supporters bleed the colors of their alma mater.  Such wholesome rivalries create a sense of community and an opportunity to cheer on our kids and the corresponding cartoon characters. On a national scale, however, the rivalry is not nearly as good natured. We are told to see our local public schools exclusively through our Cable News Goggles, and when we do that, we can only see Pollyanna Public Schools or Evil Public Schools.  

The Pollyanna Public Schools (PPS) hero myth paints all public schools as perfectly motivated institutions in need of no improvement or innovation, regardless of the facts or outcomes. The only thing Pollyanna Public Schools need is more funding to achieve educational utopia. The Pollyanna Public School crowd demonizes all public-school critics as greedily motivated to destroy public schools at all costs. PPS heroes stubbornly refuse to acknowledge that anything is systemically wrong within public schools, even in the most egregious situations.

The Evil Public Schools (EPS) villain myth, on the other hand, paints all public schools as corrupt and incompetent institutions with no redeemable qualities or outcomes, regardless of the impossible challenges or expectations they face. The only option for the EPS antagonist is to dismantle public schools entirely and give more public funds to private entities. The Evil Public Schools crowd asserts that public school supporters are only motivated by greed and protecting existing educational power structures at all costs. The EPS villain stubbornly refuses to acknowledge that the school district does anything right, even when presented with truly stellar examples.  

Predictably, both sides faithfully scream, “Keep politics out of education! ”And both sides profess to be fighting “For the Kids!” Nevertheless, both sides willingly ignore the obvious complexities of kid-level situations because nuance does not lend itself to high drama.  Few educators, however, have any Pollyannish delusions about their public schools, and likewise, few parents think their local educators are evil. Our modern Cable News Goggles focus almost exclusively on the extremes, incessantly keeping parents and educators on edge. It sure seems like we are being forced to choose between either a progressive march toward Marxism or a progressive march toward crony capitalism.

Unfortunately, the kid-level voices of common-sense parents and educators disappear in the din of extremists. Ultimately, the PPS and EPS perspectives are simply two sides of the same political coin, for neither side has much of a message besides demonizing each other and asking for more money, without accountability.  One side refuses to consider any model wherein money follows the kid.  The other side rejects the idea of any public rules following the money as it is passed without oversight to private entities. 

Critics of public schools have many valid points, especially after the issues that developed during the pandemic.  Champions of public schools also have valid points, and most educators are dedicated, selfless professionals. Yet, the endless back-and-forth between PPS and EPS has resulted in stacks of legislation unrelated to the three R’s and seemingly designed to control kid-level options.  On one hand, legislation forces people to celebrate what they should tolerate in a free society, and on the other hand, legislation restricts people from tolerating much individual freedom at all.

Local parents working with their local educators can work miracles, but both sides will need to cede a little more local control for this to happen. The conditions, causes, or solutions are rarely simple, so let’s take off our Cable News Goggles when we look at our neighborhood schools, parents, and educators.  They probably aren’t evil or Pollyannish, but they are undoubtedly dedicated to the local mascot, and as long as we can agree about cartoon characters, we have hope.  Please pray for kid-level wisdom, and please pray for the safety of our schools this Second Sunday of the Month.

Tom Deighan is author of Shared Ideals in Public Schools. You may email him at  deighantom@gmail.com and read past articles at www.mostlyeducational.com

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