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Sherronna Bishop: In America today, the political polarization of teachers has never been more obvious. Richard Malone is one of those teachers who has decided to stand up and be vocal for his conservative values. In a time where you are publicly shamed, shut down, persecuted, given disciplinary action, and pushed out of the classroom. While the children are not able to read, they can't write, and they can't do the math. And the only focus is what is your political affiliation? We know we're in big trouble in America.
Sherronna Bishop: Richard, thank you so much for being with us today on America's mom. I'm so excited to hear from you. You have over 20 years of experience. You have a master's in education. You are an expert in your field of teaching and critical thinking, and not to mention you also are an expert in technology. And so you've had this massive long career, and you're sitting here with me today because you're also a conservative in a very polarizing atmosphere for teachers today who decide to dial into reading, writing, math, and teaching critical thinking. Tell us a little bit more about you and how you got to this place where you're willing to come out publicly and talk about what's happening in our school systems.
Richard Malone: Well, thanks for having me, and thanks for the opportunity. And, you know, just looking at the context of how things are going and our society and our schools in our classrooms. I don't think that it's an equal playing field for having our personal opinions and our personal beliefs and keeping those private and not bringing those into the classroom. And I think we're doing students a disservice when we start to bring our ideologies into the classroom instead of focusing on learning and helping kids to make up their own choices on how they want to personally believe on content and political ideology.
Sherronna Bishop: So you're a father. You've got two kids of your own, and you've been watching, you know, the erosion of the school system anyway. And you've got a lot of experience. We're going to get into that in our conversation today from all different backgrounds of teaching, all different types of children and different economic backgrounds, and even reservations. I mean, we're going to hear a lot of good things from me today, but I think what I'm most interested in right away is telling us what it means to be a conservative in the public school district.
Richard Malone: I would say it's changed over the course of 20 years. I spent ten years in New Mexico teaching, and I've spent ten years in Colorado teaching. And it's been very different between the two states. And it's changed over with the way that our political divide has changed and escalated over the past 20 years. But I would say in Colorado, you know, I definitely have had to be very careful on my opinions in asking certain questions or bringing up content or questioning other teachers or principals on their beliefs with education and what we're bringing into the classroom. I've definitely felt that it's challenging to have all sides equally voiced.
Sherronna Bishop: So what would be some examples of that? So there's you mentioned a little bit about CRT and gender ideology. What are some examples that you've run into where you don't feel as a conservative, you can bring your values into the conversation?
Richard Malone: Well, I think one of the big things is, is, you know, when you just by how you talk, people know who you are. And I would say that once you kind of get found out that you're not like them and not in the club per se, you know, you kind of feel tension and you feel different kinds of pressures that sometimes can either suppress your ability to voice concerns when you're having conversations, how to best serve kids or possibly just not being given equal opportunity at times to solve problems with a broader scope that doesn't fit the narrative of the political way that they're going about solving some of the problems that our kids are facing and teachers are facing in the school system.
Sherronna Bishop: So what have you seen firsthand that that raises alarm bells for you?
Richard Malone: You know, basically, you kind of get pushed to the side a little bit on, you know, as far as it depends on the content, on what we're talking about. But I think the big thing is, you know, are we teaching kids to think, or are we telling kids what to think, and are we bringing our political affiliation into the classroom? And I think depending on the grade level and whatnot, when we try to address kids' needs, sometimes the focus doesn't seem to come to best practices on what absolutely works with research on how to solve some of these problems. Sometimes we get more focused on why a kid can't succeed in the problem and using some of these new philosophies with possible CRT concepts of equality and equity and these kinds of things to precurse the need to help these kids.
Sherronna Bishop: So if I'm understanding you, the idea that they're already victims and so we're going to focus on that rather than figuring out how to educate them, how to make sure they can read, they can write, they can do the math. We're going to focus on the fact that they have all these things against them. And so that's why they can't learn, and that's why they can't do basic things.
Richard Malone: And I think sometimes we're reading content, and it is unneeded in these situations where since the 1970s, we know what best practices are for how to help kids learn, how to read and write and how to think. I think we start to change the focus on are we teaching them how to think or what to think? And I would say that there's so much content that you can use to educate kids that whether it be the curriculum that districts and principals decide to bring into the school system or whether it be the way that we focus on specific content depending on that lens, you know, there's a discrepancy there. There's plenty to teach kids how to think and how to read and how to learn without bringing controversial topics or politically difficult topics into the classroom.
Sherronna Bishop: I'm a parent. I'm getting what you're saying. I'm thinking, well, give me some examples of that. Where have you seen where teachers acted inappropriately and brought content that just would have undermined the parent, maybe victimized the child? Where have you seen that specifically with all your years of experience?
Richard Malone: Most recently, I would say that we have had some issues. Well, I'll just talk about COVID because that's just on the top of my mind. There's a big press for vaccinating kids. And so, you know, I know of several teachers that had gone into the classroom and asked kids to raise their hands if they were getting vaccinated and putting pressure on kids into getting vaccinated. And this isn't have anything to do with education. And so the focus the past couple of years hasn't been completely fair to kids because we're looking at things that are a parental choice, and that's something that should take place outside of the classroom.
Sherronna Bishop: How have you seen the scores? I mean, we look at proficiency scores. We look at what the public school system was set up for, which was to make sure kids could read, write, they could write, could do the math. And along the way, they would learn to think for themselves. Right.
Richard Malone: Right.
Sherronna Bishop: Are we doing that?
Richard Malone: To an extent. I think one of the big problems with schools in education and a lot of the systems I've seen is how much time we spend on these tasks. And because we're trying to put so much into the school day and because we're focusing on so many different things that people believe need to be part of the education, we're losing time where we actually spend on learning how to read or learning how to write or breaking down these skill sets that help instill critical thinking skills for the kid.
Sherronna Bishop: You've been in a really liberal school district. I'm curious to know why do you think it's so important to those who are pushing these agendas? Why is it so important to them to make sure that children know about gender ideology? And why is it so important to them that children believe in critical race theory, that they are just by design, by the color of their skin, their status, that they are just automatically born victims and have to overcome that? Why is this an important ideology to get across to kids?
Richard Malone: You know, I can't say that I understand why it's important. I feel like it's not fair to kids because I think at the base of this is that you can't succeed if you have a certain disposition or a certain problem or you had some kind of adversity. And I think that a big part of this theory is that you will never be successful because, and to me, that's the big lie, that it is our adversity. It is the challenges and the problems that we have that we identify and we work through that create strength. And when people can work through those processes, they're able to become a better self. And I think some of what's playing out is we focus on the problem, and we make the problem a wall that we can't get past. And in the end, I think it serves people in political landscapes. It can keep in position when people don't understand these bigger ideals of what is at the base of freedom. And true education and people thinking for themselves actually empowers them.
Sherronna Bishop: It's kind of convenient, too, right as we're seeing the dumbing down of education that we would find this victim status that we could attach to kids to explain why teachers can't seem to teach them and why everybody needs a special curriculum, and everybody has an individual educational program. I think it's very convenient that right now, we're seeing this happen more and more.
Richard Malone: So, going back to one of the first questions you asked, I think this SEL curriculum, social-emotional learning is one big example. And in this, you know, there's been laws that have been passed that when we have a behavior disruption, the behavioral kid cannot be removed from the classroom. And the behavioral kid has more of a right to be in the classroom than the kids that are doing the right thing. And I think this is a big thing that's happening. And so what that does is the kids that do want to learn, and they are there for the right reasons, they become held hostage. And then, with this background noise of behavioral issues and a lack of respect and whatnot, teachers have very limited tools on how to deal with that. And so when you look at the amount of time we have in a school day to focus on these skills, some of these laws that have been passed and some of the ideology that with the SEL and the and the amount of time that's being focused on this is taking us away from the time to move kids ahead.
Sherronna Bishop: I can actually testify directly to that. I have watched the implementation of this SEL disciplinary action that they take where they literally will remove all of the children who are following instructions, doing what they're supposed to be doing out of the room and leave this child that's literally allowed to throw chairs, scream and rant and rave. They disrupt everyone else's education in order to accommodate this one person, this one child, that just needs probably to be home with their parents. And it was interesting to be the parent calling the parent of that child and saying, you need to get your kid under control. My child's not going to suffer and not be educated properly because we constantly have to stop to accommodate your child. And, you know, that kind of verbiage is not normal. Principals don't hear that kind of talk from other parents who are willing to kind of intercede and reach out to those parents who have children who are not for whatever reason. You know, everybody's got their own situation, but for the most part, they're just is a lack of discipline and a lack of expectations over that child.
Richard Malone: There used to be laws in place where it was expected that a child was dropped off, ready and prepared to learn. And that was part of the belief going back 15 years ago, 18 years ago. And as that tide has changed, the focus has changed. And so, these disruptions are a part of the problem, and it does have an effect on the entire classroom and on teachers. You know, one of the things that's really important is where does a teacher set the bar of expectation? And if we set a high expectation in the classroom, it's been my experience that if you have the skillset and you're able to meet kids' needs and create scaffolding and create differentiation to meet kids at different levels, but always expecting that high expectation, you can suppress behavioral issues. That being said, when you have these extreme personalities that are in the classroom, and those numbers seem to be growing, it seems to be a bigger problem, and the focus isn't always on learning. You know.
Sherronna Bishop: As an expert in education, do you see a difference between the public school system and public charter schools versus private schools? Parents are always looking at different options. How can they pull their kids out of this over here where the parents are not being respected, their rights aren't being acknowledged, and they feel it's a real detriment to their children, which I agree with that. And are they better off putting them in these other options? I mean, what do you think?
Richard Malone: You know, I think that's a very loaded, difficult question to ask. And there's, you know, if you're paying for education generally if you're in a private school, you're paying for an education, general discipline and disruptions are going to be looked at much differently. There's definitely going to be more pressure on teachers to perform. So there are some advantages there. I haven't worked in a private school, but I have worked in a charter school, a public charter school, and I have worked in public schools, and I've worked in two states, and I've worked on an Indian reservation. I've seen a lot of different systems. I do want to say an excellent teacher is the difference. And when teachers are given the tools they need, and they're given the time they need, and they do know what they're doing, and they are able to have some autonomy in what they do in a classroom. Excellent teachers can beat the odds, and I've seen that happen. But a lot of times, the pressure of new curriculums and just stacking on expectation after expectation without looking at the actual needs of what the kids need that's usually the discrepancy that starts to dismantle the ability to move an entire classroom of students.
Sherronna Bishop: Do you think that's part of teaching to the test and teacher pay being linked to testing outcomes?
Richard Malone: You know, that's an interesting question. So we just went to Colorado through. I guess this was like seven years ago. They created a new evaluation system, and so they wanted to do some kind of merit-based pay. And so far, to my knowledge, I haven't seen that be a positive effect. I do think higher teacher pay does bring in possibly better teachers, or you hold on to better teachers for longer periods of time. That being said, the key to educating kids is really going back and looking at the research and really finding best practices and making sure that we're focused on best practices as opposed to content. And I think that's the divide is, are we going to focus on what helps kids to move forward? And we have factual research-based strategies. We see actual teachers perform these tasks where they move students based on just putting this new colored curriculum into the classroom because it has new colors and new vocabulary words. There's a whole story on how the district and the curriculum companies, and the test system works. I kind of look at it as a triangle, and so a lot of the money gets trapped in this upper triangle where the testing company gets paid enormous amounts of money to test every student. The results go to the district.
Richard Malone: The district looks at the test results, and then at some point, they decide to buy a new curriculum, and then a lot of times these curriculum companies are repackaging ideas that we've just changed the language, we've changed the layout of the textbook, and we're reselling some of the same ideas. Now in these textbooks, if you're a good teacher and you know how to really look for higher-level ways of teaching kids, these concepts are in these curriculums. But by the time we recycle curriculum every three or four or five years, you know, we're confusing teachers at some level. They do say that teachers, in general, are the fastest group of people to change from one direction to another. When you look across some of the industries, there's an enormous amount of stress, and there's a learning curve to that. And, you know, a lot of times, you already have a good curriculum, but the ideals of what creates higher-level thought aren't really brought out and utilized and really focused on. And as we've moved forward in the past 20 years, we're now getting more content that's more progressive or based on these CRT concepts or these concepts or equity. And once again, these aren't focused on how you teach kids how to think for themselves.
Sherronna Bishop: So what is it that's so dangerous then, about those concepts? I mean, I think about critical theory and, you know, reimagining America, you know, diminishing our exceptionalism. What's wrong with raising up a generation to believe this stuff? What's wrong with that?
Richard Malone: Well, from what it sounds like, a portion of this is making students question who they are and question their identity, and question how they feel about themselves. We're focusing on emotions. There is a need for emotional intelligence. But the divide that is creating and the questioning that is coming into the students isn't a positive thing, and it's not what's going to create higher-level thought. When I started teaching, I believed that my job was not to do the thinking for the student but to teach and give the student the tools to think for themselves.
Richard Malone: And these new curriculums are diverting from teaching kids how to figure out students who learn and fall in love with learning and build confidence from going through the challenge of learning will find these answers for themselves. We don't need to give them these answers. And if we're giving them pre-described outcomes based on how false history and we're focusing on why people can't be successful and give them falsehoods on why that is, they're not going to become successful.
Sherronna Bishop: Absolutely. You're already creating the narrative for them. And by default, we tend to be negative anyway. And if somebody gives us a doorway out where we don't have to strive, we don't have to do better. You were sharing with me some stories about your teaching career on the reservation. Talk a little bit about that and what you saw there with its socialism.
Richard Malone: So my first three years I spent teaching on the Mescalero Apache Reservation. And it was a really empowering experience. And, you know, there's a lot of trauma that obviously our reservations have had some very huge hardships that are not fair. But on this one particular reservation, the families would be getting a certain amount of money. And the money was not utilized in a way that they were enhancing their lives to the level they could. There was a lot of animosity and whatnot, and there are a lot of beautiful things about their culture and their people as well.
Sherronna Bishop: A lot of animosity between each other or between you and the people on the reservation.
Richard Malone: Being a white individual on an Indian reservation, you know, there were definitely some boundaries I had to work through to be accepted. So there's absolutely some animosity there. But then, you know, one of the things was they didn't want their people to leave the reservation. So they were afraid that by going to higher-level educational institutions that their kids wouldn't come back. And a lot of their students wanted to get educated and become nurses and doctors so they could come back and help their people. And so it was just a really unique experience.
Sherronna Bishop: And that was diminished by the actual, you know, authorities on the reservation was this idea of upper education for these kids?
Richard Malone: It was just pressure of don't become like them. They didn't want to lose. And rightfully so. They don't want to lose their languages. They don't want to lose their culture. They don't want to lose their traditions, and rightfully so. And I think out of fear of getting off the reservations and going to higher-level institutions. There was a lot of fear that maybe, you know, they wouldn't come back.
Sherronna Bishop: Were there a lot of happy people?
Richard Malone: There were some. There is trauma. You know it depends because there are different sectors. But there is one of the things that I kind of felt like when I left was that there was they've never forgiven, or they've never been able to let go of like what happened, which is truly unfair to them, but to the point that at some level a percentage of them weren't forgiving one another. And so very much there's a lot of violence where they would hurt one another.
Sherronna Bishop: You know, what's fascinating about what you're saying is, is that's a real situation in critical race theory. We're creating and manufacturing the same type of situation, trying to create angst with kids, to hate where they've come from, to hate their heritage, to be unforgiving of people who didn't don't live in 2022. They don't have the incredible advantages that we have. And I guess I want to ask this, too, because you are obviously very educated, you know, what you're talking about. And you're conservative, and you've already faced lots of backlash for that. And you're here on America's Mom, right? Do you have any worries about being on about coming on here and talking to us about your experiences?
Richard Malone: You know, I do. I certainly do. But I've already experienced, you know, being a teacher, having kids in the system, you know, and I am not the norm. I am an outlier in how I think, and I ask questions. And as soon as you start asking questions and talking, people start to kind of pin you in a certain way. But I love kids, and I love what I do. And I will say that I'm not one to sit there and judge and hate when people don't think as I do. But I definitely have felt pressure on not fitting into the norm. And it's more liberal, you know, it's more progressive, and it's getting exponentially more progressive on how we're trying to work in the district and in the systems. And I don't think that we're giving a balanced approach that creates if we want to use equity, we're disenfranchising people that don't think all the same.
Sherronna Bishop: Isn't that kind of contrary to what you thought education was about?
Richard Malone: You know, I will say I think this is an important concept. I think there are a couple of big things that I think are really important that parents need to think about. And the best thinkers, if we want to talk about science and talk about what truth is. Some of the best thinkers know that you can never solve difficult problems if you have a stacked side. So if you have ten people on one side and two people on the other, and you're trying to have different beliefs, and you're trying to solve a difficult problem, you'll never come to an authentic solution. And there are more than two sides. That's the irony. It's not just a right and a left. There are many sides. There are a lot of families with many different beliefs. So to think there's only one way to do something. We're not solving problems and working through some of these difficulties because we're not bringing everybody's voice in and really understanding everybody's voice and taking these different voices into consideration before mandating how we're going to fix the problem.
Sherronna Bishop: As an educator, a parent, and a community member moving forward, the path that you see to improving what's happening here in Colorado. I mean, I was just looking at stats in Texas, and even in the most poverty areas, the economic low economic areas, their proficiency scores are dramatically higher than in Colorado.
Richard Malone: Right.
Sherronna Bishop: And so I sit, and I say, well, it can't necessarily be a matter of money. Right. What is the difference? What's happening to states like Colorado, Washington, and even New Mexico? You know.
Richard Malone: So some of it has to do with the triangle of the district, the testing system, and the principals and how they make choices. A lot of money gets tied up in that triangle, so that's something to look at and understand. And a lot of times, people arrive as a principal, and they don't perform in the classroom. And so, you know, that's the first thing I would say is like, are we getting people into these authority positions where they have a proven track record where you can see results that they have been in the situation that they're asking others to be in and they have results. And so I would say that would be my first thing is why do we get certain people that make these choices? What's their track record, and can they prove it? And more often than not, if you stay in the system, you know, you want to make more money, and you know. To be clear, the hardest job in a school is to be in a classroom with 20 kids, 20 plus kids, and be on stage all day long. And then you have people on the outside who know, and they know, and they come in, and they observe, or they make suggestions, or they have opinions, or they go to training, and they get comfortable with something, and then they want everybody to be just like that.
Richard Malone: Each teacher usually has a unique gift, and all our gifts might not be the same. But going back to reading and writing and thinking and really solving some of these issues, we need to start getting back to getting more time on working on reading and writing with differentiation, with scaffolding, with understanding where a student is using best practices. And then, we also have to have resources when we have these social-emotional learning situations where the class doesn't stop learning. And that's what's happening. Truth be told, when you have these anomalies where we have social distractions, well, the kids don't want to learn. They've got to wait. And if the teacher is not teaching at a high level and setting that bar for every kid in the student to meet this bar, if we drop that standard, you're going to have more behavior problems. And I think teachers perform at a high level. The reason they become a good teacher is they raise that bar, and they realize when they have the tools and the support and the research-backed ideas to be able to meet the kid's needs.
Sherronna Bishop: It's amazing. And I know you're really big on tools. And one of the things I hope we impart from this interview for other teachers that are in a similar situation to you that are trying to educate students is knowing what's out there, what kind of what do you lean on for number one, to hold the line and not give up, give in and quit? Because I'm sure, it's exhausting. I mean, not only do you have the culture that's been created, but you also have the lack of involvement with parents who have surrendered their children to the school. And that is also extremely difficult. There's a role that parents are not playing that they need to step into and start playing again.
Richard Malone: You know, we're in a very difficult time with some parents doing the best they can, and there are all sorts of adversity and hardships that they're going through. And so, that doesn't mean that we suddenly get to bring this political divide into the classroom. We need to stay focused on the content of how to teach kids to think for themselves, not what to think. And we also need to be making sure our schools and teachers are being provided with resources for those best practices. The key, though, is that at what point does a teacher's perspective and a teacher's political decisions supersede parental beliefs and a family's beliefs? And I think we're at this point right now that in our society that, you know, if parents are uneducated, they're usually intimidated by the system. And so there's a handoff with these kids into the system. So if we have a highly indoctrinated system that leans progressive, and that's all kids know, you know, and it starts to lead into what to think instead of how to think. And I think that's where we're failing kids.
Sherronna Bishop: You were sharing what Biden stated, that the children are ours when they are in the classroom. And as a father, how does that hit you? You are a teacher. But to have the president of the United States say, once your kid comes into my classroom, they belong to me.
Richard Malone: It's pretty easy to agree with that. If you're on Biden's side or if you lean that way, it probably feels pretty good. But, you know, I think that there's a lot more going on in the world than just what has been, you know, dictated to us over these past four or five or six years of the political divide that's growing. And, you know, to me, there's an agenda behind it. And in the agenda, I don't think it is positive. And I think that it limits kids' ability to understand the culture and to understand, you know, our country was founded on appreciating differences and being able to have an opinion and for our opinions to differ, but yet still be respected so long as we're not hurting one another. And, you know, the way that it seems to be is that we're at a place where we're pushing kids into a political framework to make a choice on how they might think about things. And we're bringing content like sexual orientation or, you know, skin color or reasons why you can't succeed into the classroom as opposed to creating tools for students on why they can succeed. And it's very concerning.
Sherronna Bishop: Richard Malone, thank you so much for being with me today. This is a really important conversation that we need to continue. And, you know, there's nothing you said today that in my mind, you know, I have liberal friends who are teachers that would cause them to be in conflict with what you said. So I'm very curious about what it would look like to get back to having real conversations about real issues apart from political persuasion. Thank you so much for your courage and for being here today.
Richard Malone: Definitely.
Sherronna Bishop: Thank you. Thank you all for being here with us. Have a tremendous weekend. We look forward to seeing you back here on America's Mom on Monday.