When America’s students brought the classroom to their living rooms, everything changed. The incredible wave of parental involvement collected momentum and formed a grassroots army. If you want to take part in education reform, it’ll never be a better time to dig in and fight. That’s what Josiah Gaiter tells our host, Melvin Adams, in today’s episode. It may feel like a giant weight, but with a little self-education, parents can, together, become the strongest advocates and protectors of our nation’s kids.
RESOURCES MENTIONED ON TODAY'S EPISODE:
GET CONNECTED WITH NWEF
Like us on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/nwef.org/
Follow us on Twitter: https://twitter.com/NWEF_org
Follow us on Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/nwef_org/
Subscribe on YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCtdHayyOqPftVoiGEqxYdsg
To hear more from NWEF, subscribe to our other podcast: https://www.buzzsprout.com/1898310
– WHAT IS THE NOAH WEBSTER EDUCATIONAL FOUNDATION? –
Noah Webster Educational Foundation collaborates with individuals and organizations to tell the story of America’s education and culture; discover foundational principles that improve it; and advance practice and policy to change it.
Reach out: email@example.com
Josiah Gaiter Video Transcript
Interviewed by Melvin Adams
ADAMS: So what encouragement can you give to parents and grandparents who are really trying to protect their children and would really like to see education in this country reclaimed?
GATIER: So, for those individuals the encouragement I have to offer—some of it I’ve already said so I’ll quickly recap that—one is that things like homeschooling, co-ops, microschools, all of those are easier than ever before.
Also, we’re living in a time when the moment is really now and we’ve done a lot of great work in the last year. So we are absolutely on the right track. When I say that we have more momentum than ever before in my life, that is a really exceptional thing to be able to say.
So then the encouragement is, now is the time to continue. Before other things come up, before all this other stuff happens, when this is still the focus of society and in the media regularly, now is our chance to make a big change.
Because other issues are going to come up and we’re going to have to wait a little while before most people are still focused on this exact same thing.
The other encouragement that I have to offer to these individuals is that you are the only ones that are able to do it. The lobbyists, the policy-makers—all of them—the only thing that can overcome the power of teachers’ unions and the lobbyists that they have and corporate interests—whatever it might be working against what you want and parents’ rights—are the parents. It’s that grassroots army.
And there’s nobody that cares more about your kids than you. So you have the power, we’ve seen it work over the last couple of years. So we’re looking at an extremely exciting time for that. It’s easier than ever, the time is now, the momentum is now.
It’s a fantastic and opportune time. Last year saw… I think it was about 18 states that passed laws that expanded education freedom and opportunities for funds to follow students, as opposed to educational systems. We’ve heard congressmen and legislators across the country making this a top priority because many of them are afraid of what these parents will do.
We’ve seen associations that called parents domestic terrorists lose a third—I think it may be more, maybe two thirds—of their membership. [Like] the national school board association.
So the power is real, but parents, grandparents—those individuals are the ones that have it. And so a friend of ours, Cory D’Angeles, likes to say, “There’s a new interest group in town and it’s parents.”
And that’s really exciting. They have a lot of power and if you look at what we’ve accomplished [since last year], I hope that they realize that that is a ton of power.
And the last thing I’ll say is that I said that we were going to get caught up with other things—but if you’re playing chess, you know, if I’m playing chess and, Melvin, since I work in this area a lot and I lobby on behalf of things like parents’ rights—part of my job is to try to play that chess.
If you’re just thinking about education and you put yourself in a silo as a parent who’s like, “Well what is most important for my education?” Those things like your state legislators, or who your superintendent is (and your school board decides who your superintendent is in your school district) are probably going to impact you more for your education.
Now there’s other issues [that] parents care about and I understand that. Then worrying about who’s in the white house… So if you’re thinking, “What’s going to impact my kid’s education the most?” you need to be thinking about those state legislators who are going to let the money follow the student, or that state superintendent who’s setting up those policies and enforcing them. Or your school board who’s hiring that superintendent first.
And then, after you’ve got that in the right place, you can worry about it. But, day-to-day the person in the white house does not have as much impact on what’s going to happen to your kid when they step into a government school, as you might think.
ADAMS: Absolutely. That’s great stuff. So I think what I would say [is], first of all, you’re absolutely right. In this conversation and at this particular time, the parents and grandparents who are engaged—let me clarify that, those who are engaged—definitely have the loudest voices in the room.
They have authority because they are voters and they are engaged and they have the most direct, and actually the most legal, rights when it comes to their children. And so that is a huge block of voters.
And we’re seeing just amazing responses from parents and grandparents. We see all these different moms groups across the country, other organizations that are coordinating at a local county and city level, parents coming together [and] engaging with their school board members.
I will say this—it’s not good enough to get mad over whatever the issue is that you most dislike. What is important is that parents educate themselves well and then engage with their leaders in a way that helps those folks understand that they’re not going to go away, that they have opinions, that they have votes. So that those leaders clearly know the changes that they expect.
And of course, [the] bottom line is, if those leaders don’t respond to their constituency then the constituency can respond to those leaders. And we have seen that happen in a massive way over the last year. And I think we’re going to see it even increase in the year to come—particularly at the school board races.
But you talked about the different levels of folks involved, you know, where the bigger impact is. I guess I would encourage parents and grandparents [to] get educated on the issues, know who the players are (the good ones and the ones who are not supporting your issues) engage with them, and then when you go to the ballot box, start at the bottom and work your way up, okay?
Because, typically with the ballot box, you start at the top and you go with the highest offices and you work your way down, but the ones at the bottom are the ones that actually impact your lives the most—especially when it comes to the education of your children.
A lot of people don’t even vote on those issues. They start at the top, check off the first couple of issues, then leave. So those lower-level elections are absolutely critical. So, Josiah, anything you want to add to that?
And then let’s talk just a little bit about teachers and school board members and legislators. Because those kinds of folks are listening as well. And, look, our goal here is to support people, to give them the best resources they can get to be problem solvers…
GATIER: I like to say something very similar to what you said. When this all started, there was a whole lot of anger. And it’s okay to have anger—the question is, what do you do with that? and you don’t want to marinate in that emotion for very long.
So your anger quickly turned into passion when parents, grandparents, and people who cared across the country, said, “Okay, I’m over the anger, but what am I going to do for the good of the children?” which we discussed earlier.
GAITER: Then, your passion needs to turn to action. And in between the passion and the action is the education step that you talked about. So the last encouragement that I would say is [to] keep thinking about what is achievable for you and look at the resources around you.
So I hope that you’ll look at FreedomWorks, at Noah Webster Educational Foundation and say, “Okay. Maybe I can’t do everything all at once. I can’t solve all the education problems, but you know what? I can really help with curriculum transparency in my school district. And I’m going to focus on that first. I’m going to use the resources—from groups like us—to get that done”
And then if I’m also going to engage… “Okay, I care about school choice, but maybe I can’t spend all my time on that, but maybe I could engage a little bit with another group that’s doing that. So, there’s so many resources around, don’t try to do everything by yourself.
Get educated about what’s going to make the most change, try to make that change and then keep moving from there. So like everything, take steps to make sure that you’re successful. Because none of us are going to solve this overnight, there’s a lot of opportunity for each of us to focus on a couple of problems and get some progress there.
And if we’re all working on these problems together, but different groups focus on things, we’re going to get a lot further. But we don’t want anybody getting burned out. But yeah! I’d be happy to talk about the different levels of teachers all the way up to congress maybe.
ADAMS: Yeah, so… first of all, well-said about the steps there. So you’ve got teachers who listen to this program, school board members, legislators. Just quickly, and I don’t want to belabor this, but what do you have to say to them, specifically to core principles and best practices in education?
Here’s what I learned a long time ago. Teachers are there to teach our kids and they need to be supported. They need to have the shackles taken off and they need to have liberty and freedom to actually do the job—not all the extra curricular stuff but the real focus of their profession needs to be promoted.
When it comes to school boards, when it comes to state legislators and even federal, congress and so forth. Everybody is looking for solutions because that’s what they’re there for. They’re there to fix things. But most people aren’t experts in all of these things.
And so just some simple solutions that can be encouraged for those who are listening, that they can take actionable steps or at least inquire into. Do a little bit of study and research to really find out [that] these are some of the best things that can happen in our schools if we can make these kinds of policies. Without going too deep into this, just highlight a few things.
GAITER: So, the first—especially for policy-makers, whether that is school board members, all the way up to congress, is to consider it from the perspective of the parents’ job to educate the child. And everything we do is to help supplement that. So they’re the expert. We’re not experts on their child.
So we’re trying to facilitate and make it easier for parents and provide services for those parents to educate their child—and opportunities to do it in a variety of ways. So if you start with that perspective then you set up a nimble education system and environment that allows the parent to say, “Okay, what is working? What isn’t working? Where do we need to increase discipline? What’s happening here?”
All those sorts of things. So you start from that perspective and say, okay, ultimately, at the end of the day, it’s not the state’s kid, it’s not the teacher’s kid (it’s the teacher’s student, for sure! But not their kid.)
So who is responsible at the end of the day? The parent. Which means our perspective should generally be [about] how we can support the parents and the families so that they then can be that primary person. So we’re in a support role. That is really, really helpful.
And then when we’re at the school board level, there’s a couple of key things here. So we talk a lot about curriculum transparency, we talk a lot about these critical theories. A lot of these school boards are implementing these policies already.
So there’s a couple of things that school board members can be doing. School board members can work to make sure that these things are more transparent, and make sure that their superintendents are implementing more policies that are transparent for teachers.
Because you know what parents need? Parents need to be able to be that involved party that I just described because they need to know exactly what’s going on. Why did they get involved when COVID started happening? Because they knew exactly what was going on! It’s not rocket science here.
ADAMS: Yep, yep.
GAITER: So let’s make it easier. We don’t need full-year requests or open-records requests for parents to know what’s going on. And then for state legislators what we will see… What Melvin and I talked about through my experience and for several of these students, since COVID, was really all just saying, “We gave the students the opportunity to succeed.”
So, our job [is to] support parents as a state legislator and give parents the opportunity to succeed. Don’t say, “We know what’s best for your child and we think that it should only be these two options: this government school or paying, yourself, for private school.”
Say, “Hey, with your money, through your local and state taxes, we want you to be able to take advantage of a variety of opportunities because we’ve said our perspective is to support the parents, not to decide for them.”
So all this comes from a very liberty-minded influence, which is [to] support people in their decisions. We’re not the experts in their kids. They are—and it’d be kind of foolish to say I was the expert in somebody else’s kid.
Now, when I was a teacher I wasn’t. I was an expert in the subject matter and that was it. I knew where the students were on that subject matter but I didn’t know what was going on at home. You know, I just didn’t know that kid that well. So it’d be kinda foolish for me to say otherwise.
ADAMS: Yeah. And so, particularly, like to legislators, I would add this. In every industry, we find that we get better products and cheaper costs when there are more choices. You get more people engaged in that space, more business involved in that space, and that competition will—all by itself—make things better.
Both from the standpoint of production, and also from the standpoint of the consumer. They get a better product at a lesser cost, almost always. And education is exactly the same thing. And unfortunately in way too many states (particularly in Virginia) government education is an extreme monopoly.
And we should be encouraging more choices for parents, more opportunities for them to make the decisions for their children and taxpayer money should follow the student. Always. Not the organization, as you stated.
Because education is not about the educational system. Education is about the future of our children. And so that’s where the investment needs to be made. And so, I think if we work hard together—everybody understands these basic concepts… and if we can bring more agreement around these things, I think some great days are ahead for us all.
GAITER: Yeah, absolutely. I said one time that buildings, or schools, are not sacred. The building that it happens in—there’s nothing sacred about that. What happens in that building is sacred. And we have great teachers…
We have a variety of great schools across the country, but we have a lot of work to do to make sure that we’re truly capturing those best teachers, allowing them to focus, capturing those best schools are doing and copying that across the board, and making sure that we trust parents.
Because this process doesn’t have to happen in any particular building. It can be in a church basement, it can be in a house with other kids from across the cul de sac and a retired science teacher of just one parent who happens to know that subject well.
There’s nothing about a building that is inherently valuable. It’s what happens in the building and that can happen in any building. And so when we trust parents to come to that perspective, I know there’s a ton of untapped opportunities there.
ADAMS: Well that’s awesome. Let me kinda sum up what you just said there this way. Buildings are important, but they don’t educate.
ADAMS; Well hey, Josiah, it’s been great having you today, this has been fun. I hope those who are listening had some really good take-aways today. Thank you for all the work you are doing. And we’re just going to keep working hard for the American people and for our families and children and schools, our teachers—everybody involved.
This is such a critical part of our country, of our communities right now, and certainly for the future. And so let’s keep working at it and [with] all of us together, good days are ahead.
GAITER: Absolutely. Thank you so much for having me, Melvin, and I’m looking forward to working together!
ADAMS: I hope you enjoyed this show, and if you did, let me encourage you to like our channel and follow it. You can certainly learn more at our website, which is www.nwef.org. The organization is Noah Webster Educational Foundation