Dear Mr. Hockema,
Congratulations on this week’s election victory, and welcome to the board of the Lafayette School Corporation. Although you don’t know me and I don’t know you, I commend your desire to support public education in our community. I firmly believe that our schools are some of our most important cultural institutions, and I can only assume that you share that conviction.
In the days since your election victory, you have been unapologetically vocal about your agenda as an incoming board member. As a teacher and the parent of four LSC students, I appreciate your honesty. It’s helpful to know what you stand for and how you plan to fulfill your new role.
That being said, I am one of many educators, parents, and community members who has serious concerns with the posture you have taken. I’m not the only one to find your comments inflammatory, uninformed, and in many cases, downright hurtful. Perhaps you wear that criticism as a badge of honor; at the very least, you seem perfectly comfortable with the prospect of stirring up controversy. But since you have been so open with the community in voicing your opinions, I would like to honor that sincerity by responding in kind. I do so in good faith, assuming that you are a reasonable man who is willing to listen, learn, and adjust your course of action when necessary.
As a high school English teacher, I appreciate a good case of irony. Although irony can manifest itself in many forms, we often encounter it in instances of surprising contradiction. In literature, ironic characters are usually ignorant of their own situation: a vegan who works at a butcher shop or a dentist who constantly gets cavities. But irony isn’t confined to novels and stories. The same irony that gives flavor to our favorite fiction also seasons real life scenarios, too—such as when a school board member with an anti-indoctrination platform is thoroughly entangled in the very indoctrination he claims to oppose.
Mr. Hockema, I’m willing to take you at your word that you want to see ideology kept away from public education. And believe it or not, I agree with you. I agree that our schools should be places where children are educated and given the tools to exercise free thought, honest inquiry, and critical reasoning. I agree that our classrooms should never be used to force one person’s doctrine, creed, or conviction upon another.
But isn’t it a little bit ironic that someone who wants to keep ideology out of public education is so adamant about infusing it with his own?
Based on what you’ve shared recently with local reporters, you seem like a man of conviction. I respect that. It takes courage to believe in something strongly enough to take a public stand. In your case, the convictions at the core of your identity seem to revolve around traditional social values. Perhaps these arise from your own life experiences; perhaps they arise from a more essential commitment such as your religious faith. Whatever the case, you clearly know what you stand for, and I commend you for that clarity.
But now that you have earned a seat on the school board, you have become a part of something much larger than yourself. Your new role is not a personal soapbox; it’s a position of public service. The individuals who have been elected to this office—including you—have been placed there to pursue the good of our entire community in all of its complex and beautiful diversity. This is no place place for ideological crusades. This is no place for someone with an ax to grind.
Mr. Hockema, you have every right to believe what you believe. But whether you’re on the school board or not, you have absolutely no right to impose those beliefs upon others. Are you prepared to embrace those limitations? Are you prepared to serve from a posture of sacrifice and inclusivity? Are you prepared to set aside your personal agenda in order to advocate for every single student within our district?
Education without indoctrination isn’t about protecting the idyllic 1950s traditional values you happen to be partial to. It means flushing out close-mindedness. It means confronting hate and bigotry. It means guarding against any enforced ideology, including the ideologies that say white voices are the only ones worth listening to, gay kids have something to hide, and students should be able to learn like robots without any consideration to their social and emotional needs.
As I’ve read your post-election remarks, I can’t help but hear the voice of someone who is fundamentally afraid—afraid of a world that has changed drastically during his lifetime, and afraid of a reality that he no longer understands.
I get it. Change is scary. I’ve had to adapt to change in my own life, and I can attest to the difficulty of having to adjust my own expectations and evolve as a human being. The classrooms in 2022 are different from the ones you graduated from in 1959, and I imagine that might be hard for you to accept. But as a society, we’ve been learning and growing in many positive ways during those years, and perhaps the changes that have taken place in our schools are the result of that. Perhaps many of those changes are for the best.
You may not understand why teachers would use a student’s preferred pronouns in class. You may not understand why they would challenge a historical narrative that marginalizes people of color. But here’s a little piece of inside information as someone who is lucky enough to work alongside many of them every single day: They do it because they love the children they’ve been called to teach.
That’s it. That’s the secret ingredient. Love. And if there’s one thing that never changes, it’s that the way of love is always better than the way of fear.
If you want to score political points with a small, disgruntled slice of the population, then go do it somewhere else. There’s too much at stake in our schools to be playing those games.
But if you truly want to make our school corporation the best institution it can be, then I invite you to leave your paranoia and censorship at the door, and instead to step into your new role on the LSC school board with only one motivation and only one agenda: love for the students you will be serving.
This isn’t about you. This is about them. Do your part to help them thrive. Do your part to help them succeed. Do your part to cultivate classrooms in which they belong, in which they feel safe, and in which they can become the free thinkers they were born to be.
In other words, love them.
That’s why I’m here. I hope that’s why you’re here, too.
P.S. The views expressed in this letter are purely my own and do not necessarily represent those of any school or other employee within LSC.