Spoon Agave: Brattleboro Town School Board (incumbent)

BRATTLEBORO — Upon joining the Brattleboro Town School Board two years ago, my first question was: Why do we educate children?

That question needs to be asked because the education we provide our children is the most important factor, outside of the home, that determines the decisions they will make as adults.

The country we have today closely reflects the education that U.S. schools have poured into children for generations. Our country today reflects what our public schools have been teaching for more than a century.

Every school teaches history. It also chooses what history to teach.

I have no doubt that my teachers in the '50s and '60s would have been taken aback - if not offended - at the suggestion that the history they taught was sorely inadequate, if not also misleading.

I learned that Lincoln freed the slaves and, since then, all Americans henceforth shared in equality, access to opportunity, and the wealth of our country.

Only after I graduated from the clutches of public education did I learn that until the 1930s - 320 years into our 410-year history - with the advent of a minimum wage, America's economy was built on the backs of slaves and to a large but lesser extent indentured servants and exploited immigrants. They comprised 70 percent of the entire Colonial population.

But the minimum wage was set so low, and so many working people were excluded, that in fact it produced only modest improvement in the American quality of life.

The burgeoning of labor unions and the introduction of social ideas like Social Security, unemployment insurance, and the like brought us a stable middle class, the real and necessary anchor of strength of any country. But this didn't materialize until after World War II, just 75 years ago.

Today, our schools are accenting diversity. Today? I was taught that slaves were emancipated in 1863. I had just graduated high school when the Civil Rights Act was passed in 1964, 101 years later. My public school education didn't mention that emancipation didn't bring black people their rights.

Now, with yet another 55 years having passed, blacks have to vehemently protest that their lives matter. It isn't clear that racism has abated at all since its seeds were sown in 1670, when the Colonial ruling class officially turned negroes, who had until then also been indentured servants, into outright slaves.

What have our public schools been teaching? Or not teaching? We adamantly insisted we were teaching the values of a democracy. Did we succeed?

What did we in fact teach that made it acceptable for a handful of people to have more money than half the population of the country while two thirds of the latter live in poverty or close to it?

What did we teach that permitted almost the entire population not to give a second thought about polluting its air, befouling its water, ravaging its land, driving countless species to extinction, and exhausting one natural resource after another?

For the last half century, the percentage of the citizenry going to the polls has steadily declined. When I went to school I learned that in our country we had a democracy. That meant that we had three branches of government, a bicameral Congress, and the right to vote. That was pretty much my education in civics. Oh, yes - we had a two-party system: Democrats and Republicans.

After high school, I learned that they were also called Tweedledee and Tweedledum, and if you wanted a member of one of them to listen you had to write a large check or burn down the inner city. Third parties - that is, a different perspective - have always been legal, but to be a part of one was to be a disloyal American.

William Mathis, vice chair of the Vermont State Board of Education, in a commentary published by the VtDigger on Feb. 14, concluded: “At a time when school shootings are common and governmental chaos reigns it is all the more important to remember that schools' historic and primary purposes were to teach common knowledge and democratic values. At a time when social and economic gaps are ascendant, universal and equitable public education is the only remaining viable institution that can address these needs. At a time when computers and technology are changing the fundamental structure of learning, it is an imperative that we focus on our North Star, the universals of a democratic society.”

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