Reagan-era education secretary blasts ‘social experimentation’ in schools: They should be ‘temple of learning’

Sounding off on declining metrics, President Ronald Reagan’s education secretary chided “social experimentation” while laying out the course to once again make school “a temple of learning.”

(Video: Fox News)

Serving as only the third secretary of the Department of Education, conservative commentator Bill Bennett joined Fox News’ “America Reports” to weigh in on the staggering increase in chronic absenteeism in the wake of COVID.

Host John Roberts cited data from Attendance Works that found schools with more than 30% of the student body marked as “chronically absent” had increased from the 2017-2018 school year to the 2021-2022 school year by nearly 30 points, rising from 14 to 43%.

Similarly, schools with 20% of the population considered “chronically absent” rose from 28% to a whopping 65% in the same period.

“We’ve got this missing student problem, which has now occurred. And this, I think, has a lot to do with COVID. I think a lot of adults…said by their actions, school wasn’t that important,” lamented Bennett as he put some blame on teachers’ unions for endeavoring to prolong virtual learning.

“The answer is to make it clear that school is important, and school therefore must become important,” he continued. “It must become again a temple of learning, not social experimentation, not crazy wild-eyed ideas, but math, English, history, science, art and music — and taught well and taught efficiently, the students will come.”

The former cabinet member, long a proponent of school vouchers, had also addressed concerns from parents regarding curriculum that resulted from eye-opening experiences during COVID before Roberts made note of an Ohio House Bill seeking to launch a pilot program to boost attendance. Setting a goal over 90%, the plan would offer financial incentives for students and their parents on a bi-weekly, quarterly and year-long basis for some students at the kindergarten and ninth-grade levels.

Bennett went on to raise the pull parents have felt toward homeschooling amid concerns over the growing presence of ideologies like critical race theory, transgenderism and others rooted in Marxism found in curriculums across the nation.

“The biggest increase we’re seeing…is in homeschooling. That’s where a lot of parents have decided that they can keep the best eye on what’s going on and teach the child what they want to teach the child and not subject the child to something that they have no business or interest in,” said the commentator.

Overall, when Roberts had asked Bennett to evaluate K-12 education as the four-year anniversary of lockdowns crept up, the former education secretary noted that while COVID made an impact, the downward trajectory was already underway.

“It’s not in very good condition. It needs to be a lot better,” he said. “We look at the scores — the reading scores have held fairly well. Math scores are way down. But let’s remember we were heading downhill before COVID. COVID certainly accentuated that.”

Kevin Haggerty

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