Recently, someone sent me the online newsletter for Mt. Pleasant’s Cario Middle School. At the time, the school was participating in a program sponsored by the Southern Poverty Law Center. The program, Mix It Up at Lunch Day, encouraged students to sit with different students at lunch, so they would learn how to interact with more of their classmates. Innocent enough.

But the problem wasn’t the program. It was with the other initiatives the SPLC promotes. Upon clicking on the link to the Southern Poverty site, I discovered that the civil rights organization referred to several Christian groups as hate groups. Like the Family Research Council, which the SPLC calls a hate group simply because the faith-based group believes in traditional marriage. The same goes for Focus on the Family, another group opposing same-sex marriage.

In my opinion, Cario Middle never should’ve linked to the SPLC in its newsletter or on its website. The Southern Poverty Law Center arbitrarily labels groups “hate groups” and creates divisive dialogue that should not be present within our schools, and the SPLC shouldn’t be trying to influence our teachers and faculty either (the link on the Cario Middle website has since been taken down).

Unfortunately, this type of social engineering is all too common. Our schools have become laboratories for social programs and places that advance social ideas and agendas that go beyond reading, writing, and arithmetic.

When schools focus on social movements, teaching takes a back seat to an agenda. And when they do, we’re doing little to address the true reason why our schools are struggling — poverty, crime, and the breakdown of the family — all of which affect student performance. If our school leaders think they can fix these problems in the classroom, they’re arrogant. And while the issues of same-sex marriage and gun control are all part of the great American debate, this debate should not be overseen by our public schools. Parents, not teachers, impart social values.

If we want to give hope to the downtrodden, improve the family unit, and increase educational standards in our community, it’s time to stop focusing on improving test scores in schools and start focusing on improving our city’s conditions. And we have to start embracing programs that help citizens who are struggling the most.

First, we have to grow jobs, and in Charleston that means jobs in the cruise industry, the aviation industry, manufacturing, tourism, etc. We have a community ripe for such growth, but our local leaders and others spend most of their resources fighting these advances for one selfish, social reason or the other.

Second, we have to improve the quality of teachers within our schools. Most teachers are strong, principled people who do a great job. But if we began to fire the bottom 10 percent of teachers based on performance and replace them with more qualified candidates, you’d see an increased focus on teaching lessons in school than advancing radical social agendas. In fact, I bet the teachers with the poorest classroom results place the biggest focus on teaching social issues and agendas.

If we continue down the path we’re on, there’s little hope for improvement. If we simply keep working on what one person or group thinks is best for their agenda and not what’s best for everyone, we’ll continue to trail the rest of the natio. And our children’s education will suffer because of it.

Bryan Crabtree has been a radio broadcaster for 20 years, as well as a local leader in the housing industry. He hosts The Bryan Crabtree Show, 8-10 a.m., on WQSC 1340 and AM950 The Voice in Charleston.

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