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American Education Week Affirms Public Education’s Role | Layne McInelly

November 14, 2023

For you, as a member of the Idaho Education Association, every week is likely “education week.” You live it in your classrooms and through those cherished “light-bulb” moments with your students. You understand that what you and your colleagues do is essential for your students’ success in life. You’ve committed your career to the ideal that everyone should have access to a quality, free education if our society is to remain strong.

This week, however, we officially celebrate American Education Week to ensure everyone in our nation sees public education as an essential cornerstone of our national experience.

The National Education Association and American Legion co-sponsored the first observance of American Education Week 102 years ago in reaction to the fact that 25 percent of the country’s World War I draftees were illiterate and 9 percent were physically unfit. Not long after, the then U.S. Office of Education and the national PTA joined the event as co-sponsors. Today, more than a dozen national organizations are part of the effort.

Recent years have shown just how important this annual reaffirmation of the values behind public education are. Here, in Idaho, and elsewhere across the nation, public education is under attack by those eager to install an un-democratic and un-American worldview on our great nation. They see a well-educated and questioning public as a hinderance to imposing their intolerant values.

Even school board meetings and elections, once sleepy affairs that many of us took for granted, are now often caught in the middle of our nation’s culture wars. Nearly every vote, every policy decision and every dollar spent on education seemingly has deep political overtones that often obscure our most important goal: providing our young people with a quality education.

But as an IEA member and one of our state’s most important and influential public education experts you are not fooled. Nor is the voting public.

In October, IEA members commissioned poll of likely Idaho voters. When participants were asked to identify the top three challenges facing Idaho, they said:

  • The need for a well-educated workforce and giving children the tools they need to succeed (52%)
  • Political extremism (41%)
  • The growing income and wealth differences (36%)

Those same poll participants view Idaho’s public school teachers much more favorably than a long list of national and state politicians, including the entire Idaho Legislature.

As you know, the collective voice and influence of IEA’s members also made extraordinary education policy gains for your students, colleagues and schools in recent years. Plenty of work remains and the attacks will continue, but those victories and our continued momentum into the future are all due to you and your engagement with the work of this union.

So, as we celebrate American Education Week, be sure to remind your colleagues, family, friends and neighbors about the important role public education plays in creating an equitable society and fostering a well-educated populace. Only with that understanding — and your continued engagement with IEA — can public education continue fueling the egalitarian ideals at the center of America’s greatness.

Layne McInelly is president of the Idaho Education Association and a professional certified educator who taught in Idaho public schools for 12 years.

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