Californians Cognitive Dissonance on Public Education

Written by T. Logan Dayne

Cognitive Dissonance is the remarkable human ability to hold two contradictory and incompatible ideas as simultaneously true. As absurd as this may sound, it is actually quite common among people. Take Californians’ view on public schooling for example. A new poll from the Public Policy Institute of California found some surprising results when it came to Californian’s opinions on children’s education, some of which seem contradictory in nature.

Of the most surprising of these finds is the discrepancy in how many adults see the quality of education over the past few years. 42% of adults polled believe the quality of education K-12 has gotten worse. An equal amount believed that relatively nothing has changed and only 13% believe the school system has improved. A stark difference from 2020 when 20% believed the schools were improving. All this despite 60% of them approving of Newsom’s policies regarding school and 57% of adults believing that the school system is going in the right direction. However, data paints a different picture. Sources from several organizations, including, confirm that California has the lowest literacy rates of any state in the Union, with 23.1% of adults lacking basic literacy skills. More than half of adults believe that the public schools are doing a good job at preparing students for college and jobs but data shows an increasing number of students put through public education in California without being taught or prepared for even the most basic things. All of this, despite California’s massive spending on a problem that is not being solved.

Another point of contention comes from the seeming approval of parents and adults of the public education system, yet half of them would quickly choose to put their children in a private or religious school if money and distance were not an issue.  More odd is the approval of Newsom’s policies of shutting down schools during COVID yet private schools were largely exempt, Newsom himself continued to send his children to private school while many others fell behind during the shutdowns, another point of concern shown in the polling. This shows that there may be a good overlap of those who would approve of schools being shut down and as a result, many fell behind while simultaneously wanting to send their own kids to an exempt private or religious school.

Much of these opinions have been split down party lines, something that has been exacerbated in the last few years and increasingly so. 77% of Democrats believe the schools are going in the right way and 79% of Republicans believe it is going the wrong way. Increasing the partisan divide, a recent bill was also shot down that aimed to increase transparency in schools. A leading vision of many progressives has been that teachers should have increasingly more say in what children learn while conservatives lean toward believing that it is parents that should have the final say as to the education of their kids. This lack of trust and transparency will only further divide this partisan issue.

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