Teach Children How to Get Jobs, Not to Be Social Justice Warriors | Opinion

Over the past year, school leaders in Oxford, Mississippi—the small town an hour south of Memphis where I live—have been thinking hard about the future of work and education, and how to best prepare young people for an ever-changing marketplace. And world. They're worried about such things because parents in our town are worried about such things. Really worried.

We're asking tough questions: How do we best deploy our hard-earned tax dollars to train our kids for the 21st century workplace? What skills are required? And what character traits—traits like grit, inquisitiveness, and cooperation—are we cultivating, too?

And all while teaching what will always matter: reading, writing and critical thinking. And teaching our nation's history. The foundational things that made and still make this country a beacon of hope for people around the world.

Prominent progressive academics at the college in town, The University of Mississippi, have their own ideas about what the future of K-12 education should look like: they want to prepare students for a life of political activism and social change. They want to turn our local public schools into mini versions of themselves. Mini Ole Miss's.

For the moment, our education leaders are listening to the parents in town and our practical concerns. They are also resisting the social justice warriors on campus, and their ideological conceits.

Parents and educators alike agree that for too long, our public schools have been preparing students—assembly line style—for a bygone industrial era. We're working to disrupt that model. On our school system's website, a bold mission was recently revealed. The stated goal? Prepare students for a "dynamic, technologically connected and service-oriented workplace with civic responsibility spanning local and global perspectives."

It was music to the ears of most parents—who finance the local schools with our property taxes. But it set off Professor J.T. Thomas, and progressives like him, at Ole Miss.

In a recent editorial in the town paper, sociology professor Thomas let adults in town know his objections.

"Public education is not and should not be workforce training," he declared. Ironic given that his salary is paid for by the workforce around him.

"Public education should give students a common understanding and toolkit from which to engage their worlds as ethical citizens with responsibilities to each other and to the common man," he declared.

Toolkit? To engage their worlds? Huh?

Thomas wasn't talking about real life toolkits that a carpenter or mechanic might use. Or anything approaching vocational training, for which there is a desperate need in America.

There are millions of good jobs chasing too few skilled workers, but apparently our public schools should train up students to be the next generation of community organizers and social justice warriors.

What's Professor Thomas's toolkit filled with? Read his columns and you'll know: A dab of social justice training, and some wealth redistribution and anti-capitalist literature. Add to that a healthy measure of modern socialist "scholarship" that academia pours out in abundance. And a dose of white privilege, trigger warnings and safe spaces to make the socialist sugar go down a bit easier.

How do we best deploy our hard-earned tax dollars to train our kids for the 21st century workplace? iStock

"Among the most pressing problems facing our world today are climate change, widespread and growing inequality between the rich and everyone else and the rise of popular authoritarianism," he continued.

Really? Getting a good job isn't a pressing problem for students and their parents? Finding a wife or husband? Starting a family and a home? And a life?

How about keeping America safe at home and abroad? Or keeping the American economy firing on all cylinders? What about creating a more hospitable atmosphere for Americans to start their own businesses—and own a piece of the American Dream? And creating jobs in the community—and a tax base, too?

That's a social justice program lots of us can rally behind! And it won't cost us a dime.

And what about building some wealth of our own in our 401K's by owning stock in the corporations progressives seem to so dislike?

Global warming and inequality may be the top two issues on the professor's list, but according to Pew Research, neither global warming nor inequality showed up in the top 15 issues for voters in the 2016 election.

Moreover, the mention of authoritarianism in the professor's column was a not so vague slam aimed at President Trump, and the people who voted for him—and lots did in his home state.

What too many progressives don't seem to understand is a simple truth: giving more power and control over our lives and our money to a centralized power is actually the path to greater authoritarianism. Conservatism, by its nature, is anti-authoritarian because it believes in the dispersal of power.

The election in 2016 was, in part, about just such matters. The gap between what the elites think, and those who disagree.

As the battle over what to teach—and how—rages on in K-12 schools across the country, the battle in Oxford is worth contemplating.

One side is trying to prepare young adults for meaningful work, and self-sufficient lives. That's what most parents wish for. And we're doing our best to leave political ideology at the schoolhouse door.

And then there's the progressive's vision and their desire to turn teachers and students into warriors for the cause of socialism. And the Greater Good.

Here's hoping the former vision prevails. Because the thought of living in Professor Thomas's Orwellian world is—for most Americans—unappealing.

Most of us understand that if you want to change the world, you'd best start with the person looking back at you in the mirror.

If you want to change the world, change your world first.

Your family's second.

And then your neighbors.

That—despite progressivism's most craven attempts to prove otherwise—is still the American Creed.

Lee Habeeb is a Vice President of Content at Salem Media Group, and is host of Our American Stories, a nationally syndicated radio show and podcast.

The views expressed in this article are the author's own.