Public education is the incubator for a great Arkansas. Let’s keep it that way.

As education becomes further entangled in political debates and agendas, Arkansas stands at a crossroads: either we see the danger right-wing extremism poses to our public schools and fight back, or we do nothing and accept the death of public education as we know it. 

Our public schools are homegrown hubs of learning, community building, citizenry training, and so much more. In public schools, we learn who we are and who we can become. They are a precious American gift, available to any and every child who dares to dream of a brighter future. 

Why would anyone on God’s green earth, especially our state’s public servants who have pledged to educate our kids, want to destroy these nooks of wonder? 

It feels as though a shadow has been cast over Arkansas’s public education system almost overnight. But it’s nothing new; challenges over the past few weeks have reminded us that many cowards in the past and present have tried to stymie education’s role in progress. History, being the artful teacher that she is, also reassured us that these cowards failed then and will fail now. 

Politicizing our public education system is the hottest game in politics, and it poses a serious threat to both the quality of education our state can offer and the well-being of our kids. We can neither ignore this fact nor the recent outrageous attempts by our state leaders to undermine public ed. 

Casualties of Culture War

When politicians weaponize education, the quality of the system weakens.  That’s intentional. When education is used as a pawn in political battles, stakeholders are no longer concerned with things like a well-rounded curriculum, a school’s ability to foster critical thinking, or whether teachers are equipping students with the skills they need to contribute to society and live healthy, happy lives. 

When we politicize public education, its essential functions take a backseat to culture-war toxicity. This, of course, is by design; weaponizers want attention on their partisan demands, not on educational opportunity. For them, it’s about power and control. But unfortunately, the fallout is that our students are left with a compromised education experience. 

Winners and Losers

Advanced Placement African American Studies. Maybe you’ve heard that course name mentioned one or a hundred times over the last two weeks alongside these terms:

Indoctrination. CRT. Intersectionality.

These undefined, fuzzy boogeymen are terms that are tossed about — dice politicians roll in culture war craps — hoping to land a winning bet. Using non-defined terms is very much a game, and players shoot to win power or to retain it. The simplest way to keep one’s power is to ensure the exclusion of certain topics, viewpoints, or historical events taught in public schools.

Here’s why: a balanced, comprehensive education leads to an informed electorate. An informed electorate is unlikely to relinquish certain unalienable rights to extremists obsessed with control. 

Today’s political education game sets students up to lose, and we’re seeing this play out in Arkansas. Our students will lose their right to a wide range of perspectives that encourage them to think critically for themselves. They’ll lose their right to an informed future. They’ll lose their right to opportunity. This is more than unfortunate; Arkansas is supposed to be about providing opportunity to all. 

Erosion of Trust 

Educators are another casualty of Arkansas’s weaponized education system. More and more our teachers, librarians, and administrators find themselves in the crossfire of political warfare. 

Schools should be spaces to foster understanding, cooperation, and so much more. They certainly should not be political battlegrounds, but that is exactly where we find ourselves. Arkansas’s state leaders seem to unleash new attacks on public education every other day. Instead of supporting one of the greatest public services, lawmakers are chipping away at our educational foundation. It’s left others scrambling for ways to shore up the fissures leaders have intentionally caused.

Yes, it’s true: leaders charged with protecting and nurturing Arkansas’s public education are the very ones destroying it.

This erosion of trust in public schools and in educators’ professional judgment is not only unfair, it has a profound and lasting impact. There is a reason teachers are leaving the profession in droves: they feel undervalued, disrespected, and downright tired. Using our educators as political pawns undermines their ability to teach. In a near universal experience, most of us have had a teacher who has shaped us for the better. Teachers are foundational to fostering a positive and supportive learning environment. We must not undercut this opportunity. We have to support educators by putting student needs over political agendas, and the students have made it clear what they need

A Brighter Future 

If the politicization of our public education has left you disheartened or sickened, you’re not alone. If it’s left you alarmed, good; it means you’re paying attention. 

The way state leaders have weaponized public education is not just discouraging, it’s dangerous. The coordinated attacks threaten the very foundation of our public education system, which is built upon the American ideal that every person deserves a chance at life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. This opportunity begins with the free and accessible education that only public schools can provide. 

Arkansas, we must fight for the depoliticization of education. We must refocus on cultivating a high-quality, inclusive, and balanced education for our kids — one that equips them with the skills they need to not just survive but to thrive. We must demand better from our lawmakers, especially those tasked with protecting public education. 

We believe in the value and integrity of our public schools. We believe in our teachers and librarians. We believe in our kids. And we will not stop fighting for public education until we ensure a brighter future for every kid in the state of Arkansas.