For Immediate Release
Posted: April 22, 2024

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Thank God someone is looking out for the children

This op-ed was written by Commissioner Frank Edelblut

 

Children are facing an increasingly uphill battle. All the signals have been setting off alarm bells since 2010.

Jonathan Haidt, in his book “Anxious Generation,” painstakingly lays out the case for alarm about the state of our children. These red flags include accelerating rates of major depression among teens, skyrocketing rates of anxiety and emergency room visits for self-harm or suicide rates. Abigail Shrier, in her book “Irreversible Damage,” similarly weighs in on the transgender social contagion rampant among teen girls.

This is on top of eroding academic performance since 2012. Beverly Perdue, National Assessment Governing Board chair and former North Carolina governor stated, “U.S. students are struggling across the board. Educators, policymakers, and families need to work together urgently and decisively to address this generation’s learning needs." 

With all of this going on, it is not surprising that educators and parents frequently reach out to the Department of Education to raise concerns. In almost all cases, when this outreach occurs, it is after the educators or parents have already attempted to address the situation at the local school level and experienced what they perceive as an inadequate response.

When the Department receives one of these concerns, it first reaches out to school leadership. It is important to validate the facts of a concern and then determine what, if any, action is appropriate.

In preparation for its articles, How NH Education Commissioner Frank Edelblut used his office in the culture war and A trans teacher asked students about pronouns. Then the education commissioner found out, NHPR contacted the Department with its own list of questions, which can be seen here. Please note, NPR has come under fire recently for its alleged bias that was reported in this Free Press article.

How should the Department respond when educators have reached out to express concern about diversity, equity and inclusion trainings that they are required to attend, believing they may be discriminatory? Or when educators have reached out believing that it was inappropriate for school counselors to encourage students to transition their gender without involving a parent? Or when a student teacher reports that their mentor teacher is drinking on the job and other educators turn a blind eye to the behavior? Or when, allegedly, an educator lies by calling in sick so they can take a student – without parental knowledge – to get an abortion. Should we turn a blind eye?

How should the Department respond when a parent has reached out to express concern that a teacher had called a student a “White supremacist” and confiscated their Trump flag while ignoring the student wearing the Pride flag? Or when a parent raises concern about depictions of oral and anal sex in a school text. Or when a teacher, in a unit study on World War II, inserts a reading list of “LGBTQ Books You Need to Read.” Or when an art teacher, rather than teaching art, introduces children to Black Lives Matter and LGBTQ for Kids, without consulting with parents or school leadership. Should we look the other way?

What is missing from the NHPR list of questions is a lack of curiosity for the educators and students who have raised concerns about these circumstances in their schools. The articles go to great lengths to explore the feelings of educators that the Department has reached out to, but seems short on perspectives of the educators, students and parents who initially raised concerns to the Department. 

In education, we serve students and families. Educational leaders serve this constituency and their community and the educators in their system. All of us in the public sector serve the taxpayer.

Service to these constituencies means that we are responsive to them. It means that when they raise concerns, we listen to them, carefully consider the feedback and act appropriately. When a constituent complaint reaches the Department, it is almost universally because the individual did not feel heard when they tried to resolve the situation locally. Rather than view it as an intrusion into their world when the Department reaches out, school leaders should view it as feedback. Educational leaders should be able to reflect and determine if that feedback means that they should modify their approach or not. 

Great organizations and good leaders thrive on feedback. I see the NHPR articles as feedback for me and the Department.

It reinforces to me that, in all of our endeavors, we should continuously be thinking about the children. In Africa there is an Indian Tribe, Maasai, with a traditional greeting, “Kasserian Ingera.” This greeting translates to, “How are the children?” It denotes that life is good when the children are well and protected, therefore placing the highest value on children and their well-being.  

When I assumed this role in 2017, I committed to being 100% focused on the children. Thank God someone is looking out for the children. 

 

NHPR Questions

Right-to-Know Responsive Documents