As a former homeschool and public school student, Josiah Gaiter has a well-rounded perspective on education choice. But his expertise doesn’t stop there—he’s also a teacher with experience in the classroom and one-on-one tutoring. In today’s episode, Josiah and Melvin explore the separate, yet complimentary, roles of parents and teachers. Understanding the distinction of each role helps parents and teachers do their jobs more effectively and sets children up for success.
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Josiah Gaiter Video Transcript
Interviewed by Melvin Adams
ADAMS: Our guest today, on The State of Education, is Josiah Gaiter. Josiah works with Freedom Works. I’ve really learned to respect him, he’s a tremendous young man—great mind, very articulate and really has some things of value to say to us.
And so I’ve asked him to join us today on The State of Education, so Josiah, welcome to the program today.
GAITER: Well thank you so much for having me, Melvin, and thank you for the kind words. I just feel fortunate to be here and to be able to work in this arena with you.
ADAMS: Well it’s a privilege. So, Josiah, for those that are watching, why don’t we start off with you sharing a little bit more about yourself: about your upbringing, your personal education, and maybe even your own stint as a teacher for a while.
GATIER: Yeah, absolutely. So, I feel fortunate to have looked at the education system from a few different angles at least. My parents had this, maybe crazy to some, idea that they were going to homeschool their kids.
Not only that, they were going to homeschool 9 of them. Some of them all the way through, some a little bit mixed in between. To be honest with you, I don’t actually know how they managed to do it with 9, especially since 7 of us are boys, so…
GAITER: So, props to my parents just for doing that. So I grew up as a homeschooler and I was homeschooled until my junior year in high school. And at that point we had made a decision and I had talked to my parents about it, that—at that time—there were going to be some benefits for me to go to the local public school.
And [I] made that transition to public school. So I went from being homeschooled my entire life to going into an entirely new environment. And I happened to excel in that environment and some of my other siblings didn't excel in the homeschool, or didn’t excel in the public school, environment.
But I happened to do quite well there so I did two years in the public school for my junior and senior year of highschool. And then I went on to college and that’s actually when I started one-on-one doing tutoring and getting an idea of what it’s like.
And then I went to grad school and was a teaching assistant there and taught undergraduate students and continued to teach highschoolers as well when I was in graduate school. And then, finally after all of this education that I had gone through, I started teaching middle school and high school in Texas, actually, for a handful of years.
And that was a whole other level. So I’d seen the homeschool system, been acquainted with colleges, teaching that and attending of course, and then I had been teaching part-time and had been doing a lot of tutoring. But then really stepped into the public school system as a teacher for a handful of years.
And was able to take away what I hope is a lot of information about how we can improve: what’s going well, and why different opportunities might work better for different students. So that’s the quick overview [and I’m] happy to talk about any of those, but that’s a little bit of my journey into some of those parts.
ADAMS: Super. Well I appreciate you sharing that because everybody's story is a little different and understanding a person’s background, what they’ve experienced for themselves, certainly helps bring perspective into everything.
Now, if I remember correctly, you were raised in Colorado, is that where you were homeschooled? Is that where you went to junior, senior, and maybe even college? Tell us about that
GAITER: Yeah, exactly. So I was homeschooled in Colorado until junior year of highschool and then I went to Poudre High School and I did my undergrad in Colorado as well.
So I actually didn’t live anywhere other than Colorado until I decided to go get my master’s degree in Texas. And that’s where that switch happened. And interestingly enough, at the time, not a ton of people (especially just outside of a college town in Colorado) were homeschooling their kids.
And what was funny is that my parents would always get the exact-same question about homeschooling and that was, “Aren’t you worried about your kids' social development?” and to that they always said the exact-same thing: “Of course we are, that’s why we homeschool them.”
ADAMS: And that’s why they had 9 kids, right?
GAITER: Yeah, exactly, exactly. And we felt really fortunate and very prepared. When I went into the public school system, I think there were two things that happened: I got a lot of very good teachers my first year (and the good news is there’s great teachers all over the country). I was just particularly blessed my first year.
So I went into it with high energy, very highly skilled teachers in public school. But also my parents had set me up for success. I really thought that public school was going to be pretty hard, I thought I was going to get C’s and D’s—there were some areas where I had to take courses and catch up—but honestly, I was able to achieve all A’s with what I thought was a relatively simple amount of work.
And so I attribute that, and many other things in my life, to the foundation that happened partially and mostly because I was homeschooled and had that opportunity prior in life.
ADAMS So you’re a relatively young man, so let’s just say in the last decade or so, what are some of the kinds of changes that you have seen in education?
GAITER: Sure, so maybe I’ll tie this into a little bit of my story first and then talk a little bit more about politics and policy. One of the things I noticed (and I distinctly remember and I don’t know why this young kid had this thought in his head) but maybe several months into being in the public school and the high school, I thought to myself, “Wow, it’s really hard for these teachers to parent.”
And the real question that I came away with is what is the balance [in] society of how teachers parent versus teach and where are we at with that? So what should it be and where are we at?
And that was, hopefully—I think—an astute observation for a high schooler. Maybe not. Maybe everybody else was thinking the same thing. But when you spend so much time in that school system, it can be hard to draw that line.
And so I’ll start off by saying that’s one of the things that I think shifted over time, and potentially not in a good way. And we’re starting to see a lot of that come to light over the last 18 years where people are saying, “Wow, okay, we need to make sure that we’re parenting our kids.” or, “The line is too far.”
Teachers are being expected to parent when they should just really be able to focus on subject matter expertise. And the important thing here is that it’s not fair to try and ask these teachers to try to parent, either.
So that’s one of the things that I see through my experience that I’ve thought about ever since that day in high school [and] throughout all these items and these phases that I just talked about that I was involved in.
The other [thing]... when we look at my lifetime and education, we really have two events. Those are Common Core and then COVID, if you will. Common Core was the last big shift that we had in an effort and ability to push for education reform.
And then we had, with COVID, all of the opportunities to promote parents’ rights, to promote curriculum transparency, to promote educational freedom, but those are way, way bigger than Common Core by a factor of 2 to 3 probably.
The opportunities and the changes being made are so much better. So what I had been seeing was a whole lot of shift towards government schools taking over more of, let’s loosely say, “parenting” for the students. But now we’ve been presented with this opportunity—the biggest one in my life, for sure—and it’s not particularly close… to reverse that.
GAITER: To make sure that we’re equipping educators, we’re equipping parents and that students have the freedoms and that parents have the transparency and the rights to be able to be the best educators for their students.
ADAMS: Josiah, let me just pop in on a quick response to something you’ve said. You know, I have talked to many, many teachers. I certainly witnessed this myself, so many teachers are there for the right reasons: they love kids, they love their subject matter, they’re passionate, they want to do a great job.
But so much of what they get saddled with is really parenting issues, as you very-well articulated. And that becomes exhausting because it’s not 1or 2 kids, it’s not 9 kids, it’s a whole classroom full of kids. [And] they’re trying to take care of and juggle all of those needs—sometimes, quite frankly, because of neglect at home, sadly. And sometimes just because the system itself is pushing them to do that.
Where the system, for monetary purposes, has increasingly taken over more engagement in those spaces just because there are dollars that can be attached to that and are attached to that. And so that has really escalated the workload, the responsibility and the frustration, quite frankly, on our teachers.
As far as the other changes, those are certainly the big changes—no child left behind and all of the dynamics of that. Many times early on it sounded like a good idea, but like many things, often the legislation comes with unintended consequences. And we certainly saw that in that program.
Now with COVID, and in some respects it’s the parents—and maybe an educator’s—best friend, because all of a sudden the realities of the classroom came right into the living room. And significant awareness took place with parents. And now folks are saying we want to see change.
And like you said, some significant movement is happening in that direction, I think we are going to continue to see it happen and I believe some very positive things can be ahead of us if we will pursue it with diligence and with intelligence as well.
GAITER: I was going to add one other thing—and you kind of reminded me as you said some of that, so I’ll be very brief. The thing that I didn't’ mention was that homeschooling, particularly, is easier, more accessible and the resources available to you are at a higher quality than ever before.
Which is extremely exciting. It was hard to homeschool and it does take effort to keep your kids involved and engaged in their own community that you might have to build. Heck! Let’s say you get a new job and you move states while you’re homeschooling, it’s hard to build a new homeschool community for your kids.
I’m not discrediting that. That’s the work that needs to be done but it is easier work than ever before. There are more neighborhood schools, there’s more access to experts who can help with math, they can help with physics classes.
It’s easier to get your kids into extracurriculars, even if they’re homeschooled, than ever before. So that’s another exciting change that I see. Homeschooling for my parents was a lot scarier than it is for parents today. And that is a wonderful, wonderful thing to be able to say.
ADAMS: Yeah, that’s great and it’s so definitely true. The resources available now to homeschoolers are so much better and abundant. I would also add that there’s all the co-ops, there’s partnership opportunities with private schools, Christian schools, and of course that whole element of education is growing and flourishing as well.
So these are days of tremendous opportunity for parents. The bottom line is, if something isn’t working, there are multiple options out there, you just have to pursue them, find them, find out what works best for you and for your children.
So, Josiah, here’s a question that just seems like a no-brainer-type of a question, but let me ask it anyway. Why is the education of our children so important to you?
GAITER: Maybe there’s a couple of ways to look at this. So the obvious…and of course I think the same for everyone, is that the hope for our children is that they are able to live lives that they desire, that they’re able to contribute to society, they’re able to contribute to their family, and they’re able to pursue what matters most to them outside of those as well—any personal goals that they have.
So the idea is to create an environment where they can succeed. And some of that success, in most of it, is determined by them. So you have to have a varied approach. But also we need to think about how we can decide what should be taught? Because that’s very, very broad.
So part of the reason it matters so much to me, is [because] to reach that success, you have to take into account a couple of realities. The reality is that this world that we all live in is hard for most of us. Most people aren't making a ton of money and those who are still have tons of hardships that they face in life.
Many people struggle to find out exactly how they want to contribute to society and how they can achieve that. Many people are struggling with what it is to be an expert and be credentialed and what the difference is and how they can succeed there.
So the question is, when you look at all the challenges that your child will face, how can you set them up to overcome as many of those challenges as possible? Because the main thing that we can offer, that they can’t, is foresight.
Children don’t have the ability to foresee as far as adults and they haven’t failed enough just yet, thank God, as much as we have. So it’s very important to me because it’s easy to say, “Oh I want kids to know how to learn, not just know what to learn” but that’s why that is so important to me.
So a successful education system has the foresight to say, “Here’s the challenges that you’ll face and here’s information that allows you to operate in a very challenging world in the way you see fit.”
So we’re not telling them what to do, we’re giving them the tools to do what they want to do so that they can be a member of society, a member of their family, a member of their community that is productive, and, Lord willing, happy!
ADAMS: Absolutely. Well that’s a great answer. Thank you for sharing that. I think at the end of the day, that’s what all of us want, we want our children to flourish. Because when your children flourish, our communities flourish, our family’s flourish, our society flourishes.
And we’ve got to have that or we’re going to be in decline. And some would argue that we’ve been struggling in that space. So that kinda leads into another direction. Let’s zero in, just a little bit, into the public education space because this is what the area that’s probably most impacted by what I’m going to ask you.
How much of the changes that we’ve been seeing going on in our public education have political influences behind them? Talk to us from your own experience, your own engagement, how do you see all of that happening? What has happened? What is happening now on the political front that is driving…? Because, honestly, what we have here are ideological collisions in some respect. Talk to us about that.
GATIER: At the risk of going too broad to start off with… with some of the changes that we’re seeing now, I think it is a reaction to a long-term strategy from maybe the ideological far Left. And much of that strategy is to say, “Here are our priorities and we want them mirrored throughout the government.”
So typically the far Left side of the aisle, or those in support of a larger government are also going to want their values instituted throughout those different parts of government that they create.
So there’s nothing unique about the federal department of education or how they would go about doing that—just like any other part of the government. Create a new part of the government and then put our values, to the best of our ability, into that part of the government.
So that’s not exactly anything new and that was continued throughout the department of education. And so what we’re seeing today, to really zero in quickly, are things like critical theories, whether it be race or critical gender theory, we’re seeing a lack of transparency.
We’re seeing a commitment to allies of particular parties, like unions, associations, and coordinations between them and specific parties. And those, really, once you have an entity established, the goal of that entity sometimes can be to retain itself.
So for example, when you have a budget in most parts of government but especially in several schools, if you haven’t spent your whole budget at the end of the year… not many people go back and say, “Hey, we didn’t spend our whole budget” because then they won’t get as much money the next year.
So they go and spend all their money at the end of the year, they order 30, 40, 50 (maybe more), thousand dollars worth of equipment just to make sure that they always spend their entire budget so that they can ask for more the next year.
So oftentimes, the goal is to retain itself. And that’s oftentimes the goal of unions [and] many government bodies. So a lot of that does come from a political place because they build a part of government and then they try to maintain it and insert their values.
ADAMS: Now in all fairness, I think both sides of the political aisle do this.
ADAMS: It’s just the nature of government, right? It’s the nature of government. I think what is perhaps the most impactful here is… really the far Left have been very intentional about having dominance and having control over our educational system… and this had been for years.
And so little by little, systematically, they have inserted themselves, put their people in place and so forth, until it has become a well-oiled machine that accomplishes their goals.
And so I think what’s happened is that influence starts to permeate back out into the broader culture because we are what we think as we think [and] we typically think as we are taught. And so when generations of people are taught in a particular way, new ideas are brought in and they’re being introduced to new values and so forth.
And that’s how you see culture shifting. And I think that’s just the natural, political process but I think maybe what we’re seeing today is a little bit of an overreach (personally I think it’s a way overreach), particularly in the area of some of the social sides of things.
And so what we’re seeing now is reaction from parents and others that are saying, “Wait a second. Look, it’s okay for you to educate my kid but my kid is not going to be a laboratory animal that you’re going to experiment on in these ways.”
And maybe that’s an overstatement of how people are thinking, but I think a lot of parents are starting to think in that way and that’s how we’re starting to see some of the push-back against some of the things that have been very—without a lot of people in broader society knowing it, it’s been gradually worked into the curriculum [and] worked into the system and some of us have known this for a long time but now, all of a sudden, the blinders were pulled back when the classroom came to the living room and people have been startled at what’s really been going on in the instruction of their children. Speak to that a little bit.
GAITER: What people were not startled about was specifically the way that they were teaching math. They didn’t have tons of problems with the teachers’ understanding of the subject or ability to teach multiplication.
It was that these ideologies were being inserted into math or English. Or that they were having people do privilege walks where, if you’re black, you take a step back and if you’re part of the LGBTQ community, you take a step back because you’re inherently disadvantaged from the start and there’s nothing you can do about it.
That’s what many parents had a problem with. And you’re exactly right—this was the first time they were seeing all of the extra things. Because if you think back to high school Josiah who said, “Huh, I wonder how much parents and teachers should parent and teach?”
What they’ve realized is like, “Wow, I honestly just thought these teachers were just having to teach my kid multiplication and addition and mirror generally good values.” But if we take a look at the Overton Window, it’s the idea of what’s acceptable within society and everything within the window is acceptable within society.
And for a long time people on the right have been saying, “Oh, colleges are indoctrination camps that are certainly not politically neutral.” But what they didn’t realize was that the exact same thing was happening in your highschools with those same sorts of values.
So these people have tried to exclude many ideas that would typically be relatively politically neutral—not even Right or Left—outside of the Overton Window and say. “No, only our ideology is inside of the Overton Window” and then teach kids that from a very young age and say, “Okay, here’s what’s acceptable within society.”
So that’s what parents were concerned about the subject matter outside of the subject-matter expertise. And I like to say that what we need is for teachers to be able to be subject-matter experts who teach content. And that parents need to teach character.
And as you said, that means that there is a lot more involvement at home. It is hard when your kids are not home for at least 8 hours a day and they’re with somebody else. And that’s why it’s a hard part for the teacher to balance as well. Because things are going to come up.
They might have to take care of a situation [and] the kid is going to act out, something has to happen at the school too to deal with it at that moment—so I understand that that’s a balance. But those are a couple of the issues that we run into.
ADAMS: Yeah, absolutely.