Should public school board members be required to have children enrolled in the district they serve? No

All taxpayers have a vested interest in the quality of public schools

As a recently elected school board member who does not have children in the public schools, I ran for the position for both practical and philosophical reasons.

Abraham Lincoln said that the philosophy of the school house in this generation will be the philosophy of the government in the next. With that in mind, everyone in America has a vested interest in the quality of our public education system. They also have a responsibility to hold local school boards and administrations accountable for what the schools are teaching our community’s children and how they are spending our tax dollars.

Public education began as a way to increase literacy and ensure that every American child received a basic education. That slowly changed, over time, as we can see from John Dewey’s statement in the 1930s that, "You can’t make socialists out of individualists – children who know how to think for themselves spoil the harmony of the collective society which is coming, where every one is interdependent."

As this example of "education reform" has taken hold in the past 60 years, government, including schools, has become increasingly involved in our lives. From welfare to tax increases to proposed national health care, America seems to be sliding towards socialism. I find this trend both dangerous and disastrous for our country. The role public schools play in this trend, and challenges facing our local schools, prompted me to run for the Howell School Board.

Some have labeled me a "right-wing radical." A recent letter in our local paper said that people should fear me. The truth is I am a former liberal, pro-choice, feminist, who jumped ship in 2000 and voted for George W. Bush. I graduated from public school in California. I am a mother of three, a college instructor and a military wife. My children are home-schooled and I enjoy the time I spend with them. I embrace my role as both mother and teacher. I can now add School Board Trustee to my list of activities.

I don’t believe that having children in the public school system makes someone any more or less qualified to serve on a school board. In fact, it could be argued that their children’s presence may result in a conflict of interest. It is hard enough to make the tough decisions facing school boards without having to face your child’s teacher or bus driver at the end of the school day.

We can benefit from school board members who come from outside the system. Our schools have become a bastion of groupthink. We need fresh perspectives about how to approach education. Board members can bring invaluable experience to the table. For example, a recent Howell School Board member owned an insurance agency and was able to give guidance on insurance issues. The board member who replaced him is a civil engineer who will prove a great resource as we finish building our new high school. By bringing in professionals with varied backgrounds, our schools will have more expertise to draw upon as they make decisions.

Board members need the courage to stand for what they believe in. Instead of following the prescribed "unified front," board members need to ask the tough questions and hold their administrators accountable. I believe the public wants to see how and why decisions are made, not just the outcome. Wendy Day Schools are too important to have board business conducted in between, instead of at, board meetings. Current trends in school board training place too much emphasis on harmony, at the expense of good public discussion.

Board members should have a keen awareness of what public schools were and were not meant to do for our children. Schools are designed to give our children a foundational education. This foundational education should focus on helping them to reach their potential as a scholar, not as a person. Schools were not meant to be health clinics, job training facilities, day care centers, social welfare agencies or agents for social change. Schools need to get back to the basics of teaching a foundational education.

The oppressive mandates and regulations that come from federal and state governments need to be curbed. Nationwide test scores are not improving, even with all of the new laws regarding curriculum. The lowest performing schools may be getting better, but why subject all schools to these regulations when some are doing just fine?

Parents who have pulled their kids out of public schools have left for a reason. I pulled my kids out after much thought, research and discussion with my husband. He was deployed to Iraq last year for a 15- month assignment. His mission was dangerous and his absence was difficult on our family. My children were struggling with this tense and scary experience. This seemed like a good time to bring the children home to be schooled.

The second reason was that I wanted more control over what they are learning and when. Home-school parents can move ahead in a subject when the child is ready. We can also tailor the lessons to meet the needs of our child. Public school teachers simply don’t have that luxury. Third, I am concerned about moral issues in our public schools. There is a general trend toward an "anything goes" environment that is often hidden behind the banner of tolerance. My children get one chance at an education. It is my responsibility as a parent to make sure they get the best education possible. For our family, that means home schooling. With more and more parents opting out of the public school system, it is time school boards and administrators started finding out why they are leaving.

Even though the numbers of parents choosing not to send their children to public schools is on the rise, 80 percent of students still graduate from public schools. These young adults will become the business owners and leaders of tomorrow. If our future government depends on the condition of the public schools today, every person should pay attention and get involved in what is happening in our schools. Whether or not they have children in those schools is irrelevant. I hope to bring to the table a healthy discussion about where our schools are headed and how best to spend the tax dollars we have been given. Will I put my kids back in the public schools, as some have asked? My husband and I are taking one year at a time. So far, home schooling is working for us. My goal as a school board member is to improve our schools for all students, not just mine.

Wendy Day was the top vote-getter among six candidates in May for a seat on the Howell board of education.