While the show’s atmosphere was captivating, it ultimately followed in a long line of derivative survivalist tales that borrowed the “Most Dangerous Game” trope.
But it resonated on an entirely different level for me—one that, appropriately, has also captivated headlines in recent weeks: the Virginia education system.
I spent six years working within that system, which now has entered into the national spotlight amid scandals with the Loudoun County School Board and a closely watched, neck-and-neck gubernatorial campaign that has seen education has become the No. 1 issue.
Both sides see the race between Republican Glenn Youngkin and Democrat Terry McAuliffe as a mandate that extends far beyond the Old Dominion. It may be the biggest test yet of whether the Left’s radical ‘re-imagining’ of America during the Biden administration—culturally, economically, socially and otherwise—will take root or be rejected.
My brief and unhappy tenure as an English and journalism teacher involved working in three different Northern Virginia school districts (two of them adjacent to Loudoun) before I followed the path of many a failed and frustrated educator in leaving the field altogether.
I have no doubt that my own temperament and philosophy played a role. And yet, after having been persuaded beyond all reason that I was the sole source of my struggles, the current uproar over school indoctrination has left me feeling vindicated.
I know now that it was the system that was broken—not me—and I thank my lucky stars that I was able to escape and rebound into a better professional path, one in which I could fully believe and invest myself.
For others, though, the Kafkaesque nightmare continues.
TEACHERS VS. PARENTS?
Without a doubt, Glenn Youngkin is the right candidate for Virginia—if only for the deep corruption that the Biden–McAuliffe regime would continue to sow in every aspect of life.
The Left’s China-beholden hucksters have no intention of making America better; their own investments and financial ties reveal that they have short-sold the country and stand to gain significantly from its failure.
And nowhere does a greater opportunity present itself than in efforts to re-educate the nation’s youth to see their own inherited values as evil and shameful.
“I don’t think parents should be telling schools what they should teach,” McAuliffe said at a debate in late September, sending his campaign scrambling to do damage control.
For every concerned parent who is working in the best interest of promoting students’ education and well-being, there are dozens of helicopter parents trying to browbeat teachers into lowering the bar for their kids and conferring upon them an un-earned A.
However, when it comes to the question of who should be running the show—parents vs. teachers—both McAuliffe and Youngkin may be wholly mistaken in setting up a false dichotomy about who is in presently charge.
And for all the focus on what is being taught, those just taking notice should be as worried about how it is being taught.
KIDS IN CONTROL
Much of my time as a Virginia teacher overlapped with McAuliffe’s prior term as governor. But the real problems began with then-Attorney General Eric Holder’s 2014 “Dear Colleague” letter, a precursor to the recent efforts—including “defund the police“—to undermine the prevailing order by dismantling systems of accountability.
“Alarming numbers of young people are suspended, expelled or even arrested for relatively minor transgressions like school uniform violations, schoolyard fights or showing ‘disrespect’ by laughing in class,” Holder said during a speech in Baltimore, as reported by The Hill.
By then, administrators and other pedagogical decision-makers outside the classroom already had embraced the pernicious mindset that “student-centered” instruction was the only proper way to teach.
That idea was passed down from original progressive John Dewey, whose work has become the holy text of contemporary educationalist training programs. If concerned parents would like to know how Marxism began its seep into the schools, Dewey would be the place to start.
With Holder’s letter, administrators who already were trying to navigate the precarious path of placating all “stakeholders” suddenly had permission to stop doing the most unpleasant part of their jobs. Instead, when dealing with disciplinary issues, they were able to pass buck back on teachers to maintain order in the classroom without the underlying support of serious consequences for students.
Instead of removing disruptions from the classroom, teachers were told to deal with it themselves or they would be the ones punished through practices like “restorative justice.”
(Side Note: Danny McBride’s hilarious take on the broken education system in HBO’s Vice Principals may have been informed by his experiences growing up in Spotsylvania County, Virginia, where a former teacher of his was also a close teaching mentor of mine.)
Not surprisingly, Holder deceptively framed school discipline as a racial issue—the precursor of today’s “systemic racism.”
But rather than ensuring that at-risk students received the benefit of their education, it was the already privileged and over-coddled students who took advantage of their newfound empowerment and entitlement.
‘SEAT WORK TO FEET WORK’
What began with discipline also trickled into curricular matters, where “inequity” became an even bigger problem for pencil-pushers at the State Board of Education to solve.
The well-behaved students were funneled into advanced-track classes, and the once remedial students got a friendly new label: “grade-level.”
But the growing achievement gap gave way to a new push for mixed classrooms that would strip “advanced” students of their advantage—even if most of it involved their personal upbringing and work ethic.
Enter “differentiation”—the Marxist concept applied to classroom instruction that says teachers cannot offer uniform instruction but must provide to each according to their needs.
That was code speak to pragmatic teachers for “lower the bar.” As for the ones who believed in the value of traditional instruction, a shift to “project-based” learning meant dealing with ongoing class-management issues and negative performance evaluations.
Career administrators—many of whom have non-instructional backgrounds in periphery areas like special education, counseling or extracurricular subjects—failed to see the bigger picture as they checked boxes on their rubrics.
“Feet work, not seat work,” they demanded—upon pain of non-renewal.
If pleasing students is the top objective and the main metric for success, why would anyone choose calculus over coloring books?
While going through old boxes of office supplies following a recent promotion, I came upon a lanyard that had ribbons hanging down like the chevrons of a military uniform but with “morale boosting” statements like “superstar teacher.”
They had come from one of the many professional-development workshops that teachers are forced periodically to suffer through, during which the latest politically correct theories and bureaucratic best practices get unloaded on them.
The ribbons reminded me, in a way, of Squid Game, in which the games’ sinister aspect is couched under a veneer of silly, mindless childishness.
Warning: The clip below contains disturbing images of graphic violence… and possible spoilers.
It is a stark and unsettling juxtaposition for the show to use, reinforcing the themes of corrupted innocence and inherent vulnerability among the masses.
Yet, the infantilization of teachers is yet another symptom of the deterioration in our schools—a subtle cue to that they, too, are pawns in the eyes of the corrupt, leftist system that oversees and regulates everything.
It is little wonder that Terry McAuliffe doesn’t want parents in control. But he isn’t bestowing more agency onto teachers and schools so much as the state to dictate instruction.
The Left’s stranglehold on education ensures that few competent teachers can flourish in that environment without capitulating to the woke mindset, and agreeing to lower the standards to meet the needs of the least common denominator.
The debasement of disciplinary and curricular standards has all been packaged under more palatable buzz-words like “student-centered.”
But parents are now waking up to what a wicked game it truly is, designed to appease them with platitudes and easy A’s so that they fail to see the root causes of the problem.
Ben Sellers is the editor of Headline USA. Follow him on Parler at parler.com/user/Sellers.