Editorial: Educators, push back on Edelblut

Published: 03-20-2023 8:55 AM

State Rep. Linda Tanner, who represents Sullivan District 5, argued in a recent op-ed in the Valley News that public school teachers are not the enemy that New Hampshire Education Commissioner Frank Edelblut likes to portray them to be. She’s right about that: In general, teachers are dedicated and conscientious professionals who skillfully discharge their duties; and many go the extra mile to help kids learn and thrive.

In another sense, though, teachers are the enemy — of fear, falsehood, ignorance and intolerance. As such, they have always been the target of some parents who are afraid that their children will be exposed to information and ideas that circulate in the larger world and which may contradict what has been imparted to them at home. And then there are politicians and ideologues who exploit those concerns for their own purposes, which is what is happening now in New Hampshire. This coalition consists of libertarians, religious conservatives, free-marketers and anti-union Republicans who are hostile to public education for a variety of reasons — and also because they have no other policies worthy of the name to talk about.

So, Edelblut and his legislative enablers seek to dismantle what is, as Tanner pointed out, a pretty darn good system of public education and replace it with a patchwork of charter schools, home-schooling, online instruction and private schools, including religious ones.

Thus New Hampshire is shackled with so-called Education Freedom Accounts, which are siphoning off millions of taxpayer dollars to subsidize unaccountable private education that is subject to little state regulation and oversight. And a “divisive concepts” law enacted to restrain teachers who seek to honestly explore some of the most important and controversial aspects of American history, culture and society. This comes complete with an Edelblut-approved web page soliciting complaints of alleged violations. And now pending in the Legislature are two bills that purport to establish a “parental bill of rights” — that is, a law that would require schools to breach student confidentiality. This is presumably for parents who do not trust that their relationship with their children is close enough to ensure that they will confide important information about their lives.

Edelblut’s latest attempt to intimidate educators is seeking subpoena power in investigations into alleged violations of the code of conduct and code of ethics to which licensed teachers in New Hampshire are subject. Educators are rightly alarmed that if granted this power by the Legislature, political appointees in the Department of Education will engage in fishing expeditions for documents and other information of doubtful relevance to whatever code violation is alleged. They point out that the Education Department can already ask the Department of Justice to issue subpoenas in the course of such investigations, so what’s the sudden need? We suspect the answer is that the Justice Department lawyers are simply too scrupulous for Edelblut’s tastes.

It seems unlikely that this campaign of vilification will stop of its own accord. Teachers are a too inviting target for politicians who want to capitalize on the discontent of a small minority of parents who are unhappy with the public schools. Edelblut, a once- and probably future candidate for governor, stands to burnish his reputation in right-wing circles by systematic persecution of teachers. (He also holds a master’s degree in theology, which perhaps helps explain his enthusiasm for lavishing public money on religious schools.) The question for educators becomes, how do they react? They can try to keep their heads down and hope not to attract any fire. And we’re sure that many teachers who just want to be left alone to do their jobs are taking that course and hoping for the best.

Others may decide to vote with their feet, either by moving to neighboring states where the climate is more favorable to letting teachers teach free from legislative attacks, or by leaving education for a less-demanding and higher-paying profession, of which there are many.

A third alternative is to fight back, either as individuals or as union members acting through their leadership. There is strength in numbers and in unity. Arenas for action include the political process, the law courts and the court of public opinion. This militant road is the hardest one to travel, but perhaps in the end the most effective. We believe that teachers will also find they have a large reservoir of public good will to draw upon if they choose to take up the fight. And we hope they do.


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