Public education demands critical thinking, not culture war tactics, say Democratic leaders

As residents of this great state, we all can share a justifiable pride in the value that we place upon a public system of education. Since its founding, Vermont has depended on public schools in every city and town to produce informed and critically-thinking citizens who are able to participate in our democracy.

However, recently we have seen nationwide efforts to censor public schools and prohibit the critical examination of American history, particularly in regards to the lasting and corrosive effects of institutional racism.

In states like Texas, Idaho, and Arizona, state legislatures are censoring history curriculum, reducing it to sanitized propaganda. Here in Vermont, this attack has come into our state under the guise of “information sessions” that use vague language, innuendo, and distortion to attack our public schools and the teachers who serve our children. 

Whatever Critical Race Theory was originally, it is now presented as a composite of right-wing conspiracy theories focused on undermining a fundamental public good. We can try to ignore or laugh off these extremist attacks on our community schools and on our neighbors who serve there. But, as we have seen on the national level, fringe conspiracies, when left unchallenged, become accepted truth.  

So, as representative members of the Vermont Democratic Party, we are proudly stating what we believe as both a majority political party, and as members of our Vermont communities:

• We believe that a strong public education system serving all Vermonters is essential for our state’s future and for the health of our democratic system of government. 

• We believe that the teachers, staff and school board members in our communities are our family, our friends, and our neighbors. They deserve our support as they educate the next generation of Vermonters.

• We believe that when teaching social studies and history, our schools have to address both the triumphs and the failures in our ongoing American Experiment so that we can further create this more perfect union.

• We believe that systemic racism still exists and that to end it, we first have to acknowledge it and also to understand it — and this requires age-appropriate discussion, not denial.

• We believe in educational equity. Public schools should provide every child the means they need to succeed.

These are not solely Democratic beliefs. Rather, they are commonly held beliefs across Vermont, products of a New England heritage that values public education. Now, more than ever, we need to support a strong public school system that produces critical thinkers.

Note: This letter to the editor is by Bruce Olsson, Claire Cummings, and Martha Allen, leading members of the Vermont Democratic Party. Allen is also a 30-year educator and former President of Vermont-NEA.