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Living in a democratic society, we as Americans have the right to vote on just about all aspects of our lives. The votes that we cast either have a direct or an indirect representation of our beliefs. In cases such as city and statewide laws, our beliefs are directly represented; in all national and organizational matters our votes have an indirect impact. The decisions are made by elected officials who we vote into office to represent our beliefs. One example of this indirect representation can be found in any citywide school board where the elected members make decisions on everything ranging from teacher employment to class curriculum. It is debatable whether, on situations as sensitive as class curriculum, we should be directly involved in such decisions or have them made for us by our elected officials. As we will find, however, class curriculum is something that must continue to be an indirect representation of the public’s beliefs, rather than the direct result of a democratic vote.
The people we have voted onto the school board were elected because they have the education and experience to make the decisions that the public is not qualified to make. They try, to the best of their abilities, to represent us with their decisions, but no matter what there will always be people who are not satisfied. In some instances the school board must make a decision which the majority of people will not agree with, but nonetheless will benefit our children. Our representatives have done the research and the public has not, which is why the public should not make judgement calls on the importance and relevance of certain materials and subjects within our school systems. An example of what happens when the public is allowed to decide can be found in the case of evolution vs. creationism. Some states have, in the past, outlawed the teaching of evolution because the public didn’t agree with it, even though almost all scientists had accepted it. The children in school at that time were deprived of important information. There is no reason why a scientifically recognized subject should be banned from schools simply because the public doesn’t “agree” with it.
Our society is obligated to keep our citizens informed. A direct vote on class curriculum only perpetuates the older generation’s perspective, as their children grow up to take their place.
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We must also consider the consequences of letting our children’s education plans be a democratic decision. One danger is the possibility of a small group influencing others with skewed logic and false propaganda. There are too many instances where ignorance would be allowed to spread like an infectious virus, keeping our children from getting the education they need and deserve. An even greater warning, however, can be drawn from history. As Isaac Asimov states in Armies of the Night:
There are numerous cases of societies in which the armies of the night have ridden triumphantly over minorities in order to establish a powerful orthodoxy which dictates official thought. Invariably, the ride is towards long range disaster.
These “armies of the night” are not literally legions of soldiers, but rather those who would throw away reason for blind faith, and do everything they can to push their standards upon others. It happened to Spain in the 16th century, and as a result the country’s scientific development fell behind while the other main powers of Europe continued to grow. More recently, the fanaticism of the Nazis drove the Jews (including many scientists and doctors) out of Germany. They never recovered from this, and lost World War II. Americans should pay heed to these warnings. There are already many things in our country that are not directly decided by us. There is no reason to add something as important as our children’s education to the ballot.
Some people would point out that it was the corrupted regimes forcing their will upon the people, rather than the armies of the night, that caused the countries’ stagnation. That is why, they say, we should vote on what our children are taught in school, rather than having it decided by a small group of people. What they fail to point out is the circumstances in which these regimes were created. In the case of Germany, for example, the Nazis started as a small organization. They gathered more and more followers with their twisted logic, and before long had gained so much support that Adolf Hitler was actually voted into office. What had begun as a small minority opinion and non-violent criticism of Jews had turned into the non-rational massacre of millions of people. Aside from this is the fact that as it is right now, there isn’t just one person in charge of deciding what our children are taught. Currently, there is a group of people, all of whom were voted in, which collaborates and comes up with what they think will best serve our children. So after all, it isn’t as if we have absolutely no say on our children’s education. Our vote is an indirect representation of the wishes we have for our children rather than a direct one.
Once the distinction between direct representation and indirect representation has been made, the arguments for a democratic vote start to crumble. One of these possible arguments claims that if we take away the peoples right to vote on their children’s education, the next step will be to take away their right to vote completely. This is a weak argument because their right to vote has not been taken away at all. Instead, their vote is an indirect representation of their beliefs through their school representatives.
Another argument claims that, since different regions have different learning priorities, the class curriculum needs to be decided democratically in order to ensure that the important materials of the region are taught. For instance, an agricultural district might want to stress science more than English. A democratic vote is not required for this, as the people they elect on to the school board will be from the region and share the same priorities. Their beliefs are indirectly represented. The advantage of not having this decided democratically is that the school board knows that, although science may be more important in the case of the agricultural region, other subjects are important too. They will find the right balance to stress what is important, and also give our children the rest of the education they need to contribute to society to their fullest potential.
Finally, a last argument might be, if there is something excluded from the curriculum, without a vote, there is no way to have it added. This is not true. Even though the public does not decide our children’s education, this doesn’t mean the school board will be completely deaf to the public’s wishes. If there is something the community feels strongly about, and the school board finds enough scientific ground for teaching it, they should be reasonable enough to fit it into the curriculum, even if it is covered only briefly. However, if the public requests something unreasonable or lacks any proof that their subject will benefit the children, the board will also have the wisdom to keep it out of the curriculum.
Since the public is not qualified to make decisions concerning class curriculum, we must leave it to the school board we elected as an indirect representation of our beliefs. All a direct vote on the curriculum would accomplish is the projection of the adult’s opinions, and as history shows us, there can be terrible consequences. We are not being denied any rights by not being allowed to vote on the curriculum, and just because we don’t vote directly on it doesn’t mean it isn’t flexible. There is still the option of adding materials specific to certain regions, while also leaving in the subjects the rest of the country’s children are taught. Leave the decision making to those who know what’s best for our children’s education.