By Rod Miller, columnist
These days, anybody can be an expert on public education. The bar is pretty damned low. Case in point: the slate of candidates presented by the Wyoming Republican Party to replace a vacancy as Wyoming’s Superintendent of Public Instruction..
So, I’ll write this rant as an expert in the field of education.
As an aside, I’ll resist the temptation to write about the bizarre, uber- partisan but statutory process that puts that much power over public institutions in the hands of a private organization. Maybe another time. This rant is about public education.
The GOP, predictably, delivered to Governor Gordon a list of three replacements for the former Superintendent who had all the qualifications for the office of a diesel mechanic in a chess tournament.
Any of the three candidates could have fulfilled the duties of the Superintendent’s office if the goal of education in the Cowboy State was to produce a new generation of young Wyomingites proficient in snake-handlin’, book-burnin’, marksmanship and castin’ out demons.
Either one of them would be qualified to push Wyoming’s public school students into wearing matching uniforms (complete with little red MAGA hats), memorizing scripture and keeping their mouths shut. None of them are qualified to lead a public education agency.
But I don’t think that’s our goal. So I’ll put on my Expert in Education hat and talk about just that.
The educators who really influenced my life all agreed with that first among teachers, Socrates, when he said, “I know nothing. I just ask questions.”. There can simply be no education if there are no questions asked.
I’ve been blessed to have educators in my life that embodied Socrates’ method, educators who not only presented information but taught me to ask questions.
I’ll name three of them here: Jo McFadden, my eighth grade teacher at Rawlins Junior High; Margaret Demorest at Casper College and Tommy Thompson, who taught comp and writing at the University of Northern Colorado.
All three, and many others, educated me by shoving me out of my intellectual comfort zone and making me challenge my own preconceptions. They made me realize that I can’t learn anything new if I am convinced that I already know it all.
They taught me by opening my mind, not closing it. They challenged me to explore the unfamiliar, not to retreat into the warm security of dogma.
I believe that is the essence of education, to help human minds grow and not to be mere pigeonholes for propaganda. In that, I have been fortunate to be educated by good educators. So that makes me an expert.
That does not seem to be the direction that the GOP wants to see Wyoming take. It rather appears that they want to use public education as a didacttic tool to further partisan hegemony. That is not education, it is indoctrination.
This posture by the Wyoming GOP represents the true “brain drain” that will hold Wyoming back from reaching its potential.
The three teachers that I mentioned are probably all dead now, and it has been over fifty years since I sat in any of their classrooms. But their lessons stuck with me, and I still have the annoying habit of asking questions when presented with dogma. So I consider it a quality education, and would hate to see young Wyoming citizens deprived of that kind of public education.
After all, their teaching made me a certified Expert on Education, and for the past fifty years I have been able to resist joining either Antifa or the Oath Keepers.
Here endeth the lesson.