The following is a conversation between Sen. Melissa Wintrow and Boise High student Shiva Rajbhandari on the exclusion of students in discussions about public education.
Wintrow: You were in school when allegations of teachers indoctrinating students started to circulate this year. How did you react?
Rajbhandari: It was like, “Wow, they are attacking teachers when they are already putting in double the work and paid so little, over something that isn’t even happening.” It was shocking, and also seemed incredibly hypocritical coming from people who say they want limited government, while simultaneously trying to micromanage everything at the local level.
W: It looks like history is repeating itself. In the 1980s, the Reagan administration launched a similar attack against teachers and public education in hopes of privatizing schools.
R: The people in the Statehouse who are attacking teachers and pushing this idea of indoctrination say students should be taught to think critically. What is critical thinking if not allowing us to learn about an issue and then making our own decisions as to its validity? We don’t want to be “indoctrinated” with an abridged version of history anymore. Censorship doesn’t prepare us for the future.
W: You were one of many students who protested against legislation further censoring academic discussions on the impacts of racism. What prompted you to speak up?
R: This was the first year I paid attention to state politics, and I’m glad I did. They weren’t listening to students at all, and that’s who this is actually going to affect. We are stakeholders, and deserve an opportunity to share our thoughts like anyone else.
W: Problems are solved when we work across generations. Now is the time to listen. The lieutenant governor continues to bolster this idea of indoctrination — a narrative she and special interest groups created out of thin air. She even formed a team to address this non-issue, wasting taxpayer dollars and distracting from the real problems. I was struck by her comment in the latest meeting to students who attempted to speak. “This is not a dialogue,” she told them.
R: Of course it’s not a dialogue. They don’t want to listen, because this isn’t about students or teachers: this is about maintaining power by instilling irrational fear. This is no task force; it’s a press conference for Janice McGeachin’s campaign. I’m going to remember for the rest of my life who is listening to me now. There are lots of students watching — a lot more than you think, and word gets around. We’ll vote accordingly when the time comes.
W: Then where should we focus?
R: Funding schools at all levels, and that’s on the Legislature. Boise schools are some of the best funded in Idaho, but our buildings are still crumbling. I know rural districts are struggling even more. Teachers aren’t being paid enough, and young people aren’t learning how to navigate our global economy. We don’t have preschool or even full-day kindergarten.
W: We should be investing in our students, not leaving them to work with less. I was shocked to hear GOP legislators say they were “proud” of cutting $2.5M from public education. That vote will forever stain our record; it was shameful. They are underestimating students; thankfully you’re not going away. They may win a skirmish or two, but the battle hasn’t been won.
R: We need more students to be aware of what’s happening, then show up. We also need decision makers to open that door and listen.
W: And if the door isn’t open, your intelligence and perseverance will unlock it.
Melissa Wintrow is an Idaho Senate legislator. Shiva Rajbhandari is a Boise High School student.