Ryan Zinke guest column: Fixing the country’s department of miseducation

Bozeman Daily Chronicle 

Like my mother and father before me, I am a proud graduate from Whitefish High School and was equally proud that after a 23-year career in the military with multiple overseas tours, two of my three children were also able to graduate from Whitefish. We are a Bulldog family. This was the same high school that excelled in academic and athletic excellence. It was a time when the principles of our founding fathers were honored, the pledge of allegiance was recited, and the flag was respected. When our boys graduated, Lola and I were confident that they received a similar education. Today, the learning environment has radically changed and we should all take notice. Our children are being conned into believing that America is not the land of the free and brave but rather a racist country built on oppression and inequity.

Something has gone terribly wrong. Mandated COVID-19 lockdowns gave parents a peek behind the curtain. Montana parents saw what was really being taught in the classroom and it was not the classics, math, or Lewis and Clark’s Corps of Discovery. Critical thinking is being replaced by Critical Race Theory and even our greatest conservationists, Teddy Roosevelt and John Muir, are being labeled as racists and excused from classroom.

Political activists and out-of-touch teacher unions have taken over the U.S. Department of Education and they are working to control what our children read and learn. Classrooms are becoming more focused on indoctrination rather than teaching core curriculum. This is common practice in China, North Korea and Cuba — it should not be in Corvallis, Norris and Cut Bank.

Last year, the Biden Administration launched a plan to remake public schooling, advancing radical policies at every turn and forcing a radical woke agenda into the classroom. If you don’t submit to their demands, they harass, intimidate, and threaten defunding. Biden’s priorities for American History and Civics Education mandate CRT via “culturally responsive teaching and learning” through “anti-racist practices” and “identity-safe” learning. And my opponent, Monica Tranel, is in lockstep.

The Biden-Tranel indoctrination agenda does not end there. Their plan to redefine Title IX would put girls and young women at a clear disadvantage in school sports — allowing biological boys and young men to compete in their leagues. Even the Department of Agriculture is being weaponized, threatening to withhold School Lunch Program funds if schools do not adhere — literally withholding food from hungry children. My boys were well over 6-feet tall and about 200 lbs in high school. I do not think they should have been allowed to compete on the girls’ soccer team.

This all comes after a pandemic in which political leaders bent to the demands of the progressive radicals instead of focusing on what was best for kids. Schools were shut and virtual courses were a poor substitute for in-person classes. Children were masked, their social and educational development stunted, and the consequences are stark. Montana test scores in math came in at just 34% proficient in spring 2021, and 46% proficient for reading.

But it is not all doom and gloom. We can fix this and get public education back on track if we work together at the local and state level. COVID-19 clearly reminded us that you can’t just drop the kids off and think everything will be just fine. It takes active participation from school boards, teachers, and most importantly parents. As a former state senator, I chaired the education committee and have faith that Montanans care and support education. We expanded options for rural education and skilled trades, knowing that not every kid learns the same way or excels in the same subjects. We need to do the same at a federal level and implement national school choice where the funding follows the student regardless of the venue they receive their education.

It is also time to dismantle the Department of Education replace it with a downsized office under the Office of Management and Budget where it can be audited and better managed. We don’t need an army of D.C. bureaucrats pulling the strings on what is largely a state and local responsibility. If elected to Congress again, I would maintain my seniority and go to the Appropriations committee and work to empower Montana to the make right decisions for our kids. The original intent of the department might have been noble, but like many government programs, it has turned into a bureaucratic nightmare that is reaching too far into our personal lives and has strayed too far from Constitutional authorities.

Lastly and most important, parents deserve to be treated with respect, not like domestic terrorists and teachers need the resources in the classroom where it matters. Any school that receives federal funding should be required to adhere to a Parents’ Bill of Rights where all parents have the right to see, on-demand, the assignments, reading material and lesson plans, and observe classes. Children do not belong to the state or the teacher’s unions and the vast majority of teachers just want to teach free from forced woke agenda, politics, and checking identity boxes.

My grandmother was a one-room school house teacher on the eastern plains of Montana and ironically I think the profession has become more difficult for different reasons. Let’s not make it worse by putting them in the crosshairs of the radical experiments coming out of social media and Hollywood.

Ryan Zinke is a former Montana State Senator (2009-2013), Montana Congressman (2015-2017) and U.S. Secretary of the Interior (2017-2019), and current Republican nominee for Montana’s western congressional district.