Public schools are challenged by competing interests | Livingston

While I would like to believe that we can find a better path, I know that changing one’s heart and mind usually involves a crisis.

What we do, believe, who we follow, and how we change in the course of our lives makes each of us unique. Our nation’s current trajectory is less about finding common ground and more about the theater of politics driven by monied interests that benefit from distraction.

While I would like to believe that we can find a better path, I know that changing one’s heart and mind usually involves a crisis. There is a poem, “Amazing Grace,” written in 1772 by John Newton and set to music 60 years later to the tune of “New Britain” that emotionally resonates with most of us.

Mr. Newton’s life experience was of being a survivor of many near-death experiences and a sea captain of a slave ship who initially enjoyed the profits of the trade but over time evolved to believe that the allowance of slavery within the Christian belief system and its practice supported by the bible was wrong. He evolved, questioned his beliefs, and became morally enlightened against the business, slavery, and mistreatment of his fellow man. In the vernacular of today, some might say he became “woke.”

Politics and belief systems seem to be recycled every 70 to 100 years and we currently are in a let’s “un do” any progress benefiting Black and Brown Americans, immigrants, LGBTQIA+, marriage rights, and birth control moment. It is framed as a this is a what is right versus wrong argument, often supported by misguided religious doctrine, and is part of our country’s never-ending set of unresolved challenges starting with race and a civil war based on preserving the institution of slavery.

The forces of anti-slavery prevailed in our nation’s civil war but as a nation, we have never coalesced around realizing the ideals of unity, inclusion, and equity for all. The war that was fought maintained the structural union of the United States but never settled the underlying issues. The 1920s was the heyday of the Ku Klux Klan as well as the study of Eugenics as a way of proving the superiority of the white race.

The Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) in 2022 identified 1,225 hate groups, anti-government groups and white supremacy groups across the United States. We currently are working through another cycle of white nationalism trying to impose a present-day nuanced twist on denying the right to vote for many Americans, impugning certain religions, and immigrants — past and present — with race being at the core of our problems.

Each of the hate groups identified by the SPLC has a point of view specializing in their brand of demagoguery with a few of them focusing on public schools. Many school boards are being targeted by local citizens who are using the rhetoric or tools espoused by organizations such as Moms for Liberty, the Parental Rights Foundation, and No Left Turn.

These are well-funded ultra-conservative groups with the goal of activating parents to contest what is taught, what books are available, the authority of teachers, and administrators to carry out their work. Parents sharing antagonistic views, promoting their brand of censorship, and what gets taught in our classrooms are failing to see the potential for change within themselves or their children. Living in the past will not build a better future.

History is about telling the story from a holistic perspective, examining the motivations of the participants, the outcomes as well as the legacy of problems resulting from what occurred. It is through self-examination of our nation’s history as well as our global interactions that we will see a better path for maintaining our democracy plus continue striving toward the ideals laid out in our nation’s Declaration of Independence: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

Many conservative politicians want to rewrite our history in ways that support their bigotry as they elevate their prominence and find followers in their quest for power. Former President Trump blamed immigrants and Black and Brown people for our crime and border issues. Florida Governor Ron DeSantis has been busy in his state banning books and white-washing history to carve out a path toward national prominence using racist, anti-immigration, anti-LGBTQIA+, and conservative dog-whistle tropes.

Education done well today is about securing a better future for all tomorrow. However, our public schools are challenged with navigating a multitude of competing interests. That is why it is critical to know who our school board members and candidates are and what they stand for beyond the simple rhetoric of being for better schools, looking out for students, and budget accountability.

It would be good to know if any school board members, currently representing our districts regionally as well as candidates running for school board, agree with the Supreme Court’s decision removing affirmative initiatives for entry into institutions of higher learning was the correct decision. Many individuals, mostly white, in our current political climate, believe affirmative action programs are “racist” policies. There are school board members, candidates, and parents as well challenging the premise that diversity, inclusion, and equity education for students and staff has any relevance to providing a better education or positioning our students for a better future.

Our nation will continue diversifying and in the south Puget Sound region we have the six most diverse public-school districts in Washington state — Kent, Federal Way, Renton, Auburn, Tacoma and Tukwila, according to These school districts will not get better by allowing the current crop of conservative political power brokers to energize a minority of like-minded parents to sow hate or division. The bridges of unity begin with educating young minds to realize their fullest potential regardless of skin color, country of origin, religion, disability, or economic status.

Schools and education need to be the heart and soul of our communities. They position us for a better future by assuring that all students excel with dignity, while allowing an honest consciousness and curiosity to grow, enabling minds to question what is and see with clarity other possibilities for realizing their potential, improving themselves, mankind, finding empathy, and sharing the gift of amazing grace.

Keith Livingston is a retired municipal managament professional, lifelong artist and Federal Way resident. He can be reached at