The state of the Union and polarization in education


“Our schools are open,” said the President of the United States. “It simply came to our notice then. Our children have to go to school. ”

Why Joe Biden felt the need to utter these three short sentences in an hour-long address to Congress about the state of the Union is a testament to the continued importance of education for American life. His words also respond to the blows of public schools, which have faced both a prolonged pandemic and sustained political polarization.

While the president prepares a message on the state of the Union, as required by the Constitution, questionnaires typically use the opportunity to assess the state of public opinion. A few days before Biden’s speech, the results of several polls shed light on the complex atmosphere in which public schools operate in 2022.

Education ranked fourth – after strengthening the economy, reducing health care spending and combating COVID-19 – in January list of the Pew Research Center of the top public priorities. In the essay Combining the results of several surveys, the Pew Center reported that “only one in five adults (22%) said that the quality of K-12 education in public schools is a serious problem in their local community, which has not changed since 2018. . ”

And yet, this essay by Pew has yielded alarming conclusions about the widening of guerrilla discord in schools. Pew, an independent nonpartisan research organization, said that “amid high-profile debates over a range of K-12 school policies, from mask mandates to teaching race-related issues, the proportion of Republicans in the United States who say they are confident is declining. that principals of public schools will act in the public interest ”.

Certainly, Pew was not going to target principals, most of whom remain widely respected in their communities and who follow policies set by principals and school boards. The findings are based on a recent survey designed to measure the level of public confidence in leaders and practitioners in key civic institutions. Pew asked about medical scientists, police officers, journalists, business leaders and religious leaders, as well as principals of public schools.

An overwhelming majority (52%) of Republicans and independents who lean towards Republicans said they have a greater or fair share of trust in public-speaking principals of K-12 public schools, up from 79% two years ago. Now almost the majority (47%) say they have little or no trust in directors. On the contrary, 76% of Democrats and Democrat supporters express a greater or fair share of trust in directors, compared to 87% two years ago.

“In March 2020, when the US coronavirus outbreak first struck, the vast majority of Republicans (85%) and Democrats (94%) said closing K-12 schools was a necessary step,” Pew said. “But as the pandemic continues, disagreements among guerrillas over school closures have sharpened.”

Loud protests in state capitals and local school boards certainly influenced politics and politics, although they did not represent a body of public opinion. “In a poll last January – if the omicron option spread rapidly and some schools are closing their doors again, ”Pew said. – Republican K-12 parents much more often than Democrat parents (55% vs. 26%) preferred schools that provided only personal education. Democrat parents are more likely than Republicans (64% vs. 39%) to prefer a combination of full-time and online learning. ”

The division of public opinion on education is one aspect of the broader “serious guerrilla polarization on issues” explored in Hoover’s 2022 poll. as reported by RealClearPolitics, an online news site. The study is based at the Hoover Institution, a conservative think tank at Stanford University.

Guerrilla disagreements, the report says, “manifest themselves in the differential support of American institutions. Most Democrats support universities, unions, the media, the United Nations, public schools, local authorities and the judiciary. The Republican majority supports the police, churches and organized religion, while the majority trusts state and local authorities. There was an inter-party agreement that neither the corporations nor the Congress had given much confidence. “

Against the backdrop of a general revelation of severe polarization, Hoover’s scholars offered an intriguing observation: “It seems that many Americans have friends in another party and don’t feel they can’t say what they think … 71 percent of Democrats with Republican friends report that discuss politics, and 67 percent of Republicans with fellow Democrats say they discuss politics. ”

Undoubtedly, President Biden welcomes such a conclusion. As the country’s top official, the president has been pushing for a “unity agenda” and defining Americans as “one people.”

As a political leader, the Democrat president must contend with the reality of polarization and try to persuade a narrow group of convinced voters. Declaring that “our children need to learn in school,” Biden is looking for a solid foundation for participating in the tumultuous education policies that will take place during the 2022 and 2024 election years.

Ferrell Gillory

Ferrell Gillory is Director of the Public Life Program and Professor of Practice at the UNC Hussman School of Journalism and Media, as well as Vice-Chair of EducationNC.

The state of the Union and polarization in education

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