Finding common ground on education in Utah

Aug 15, 2023, 8:30 PM | Updated: Aug 17, 2023, 5:37 pm

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Sydnee Dickson, Utah State superintendent of public instruction, discusses how common ground on education in Utah can be reached. (Photo: Adobe Stock)

(Photo: Adobe Stock)

SALT LAKE CITY — Around the state, teachers and students are getting ready to go back to school. Part of that process, for at least some teachers, includes gearing up for a fight because in recent years the public education system has become a political battleground in Utah.

And that leads to an important question – will the state continue down a divisive path, or will students, parents, teachers, and educators find some sort of common ground?

Sydnee Dickson, the Utah state superintendent of public instruction, told KSL that a good place to begin working toward common ground is simply to care for and about our children.

“We all want our students to be their very best and do their very best,” she said. “And that takes sitting down together and caring about each individual child and finding common ground to do so.”


Politics in Utah education

Dickson’s belief that politics has become more and more involved in education, isn’t hers alone.

The Constructive Dialogue Institute, a research organization self-described as “dedicated to strengthening democracy by helping people recognize our shared humanity,” asked 14 teachers about their daily experiences as they relate to polarization.

The CDI found that:

  • the teachers felt compelled to look at their teaching decisions through a political lens,
  • some teachers fear harassment from parents, or being fired,
  • shouting matches, name-calling, and denial of historical fact by their students, leading teachers to avoid controversial topics,
  • and an increase in political intolerance, with a “notable rise since the 2016 election.”

The report concludes that the nation must start to address the issue of political polarization in the classroom, “before more teachers burn out.”

Politics, education, and students

Dickson adds another factor to the equation. She said that politics in education is also demoralizing students. 

“I’ve been watching politics involved in education for a number of years,” she said. “But the last couple of years it has become the focal point of frustration of many parents, education stakeholders, and outsiders.

“I’ve watched it be demoralizing to our educators and really impact our students.”

Dickson says everyone has things they can do in order to find that common ground. She says sitting down together has to be part of the solution.

The group effort toward common ground

It will take a group effort. Students, parents, teachers, and administrators all have a part they can play.

“There’s room for improvement for all of us,” she said. “I think we need to acknowledge first and foremost that parents are their children’s first and primary teacher, and they know their children best.”

She also mentions the significant and important role that teachers play in the lives of their students.

“We also need to acknowledge that teachers show up every single day,” Dickson said. “Because they care deeply about the children that they serve, and they bring expertise to the table as well. So, they have insights that can help parents in making sure that children get what they need.”

Dickson says helping children reach their full potential is the foundation of common ground.

“What do you want your children to know and be able to do to reach their full potential,” she said. “That’s a critical and very fundamental place to start.”

Inside Sources with Boyd Matheson can be heard weekdays from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m. on KSL NewsRadio. Users can find the show on the KSL NewsRadio website and app. 

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Finding common ground on education in Utah