Kandiss Taylor, currently running for governor in Georgia, has spent decades in the school system fighting human trafficking, homelessness, domestic violence, suicide and against progressive ideals. And she reminds me of a gone-but-not-forgotten public figure who championed for liberty in our school systems: John Taylor Gatto.
Mental health in the school system, and informed consent, are important issues that are close to the vest for me. Recently, I was writing an article about John Taylor Gatto as part of a series of book blogs I am doing for Ablechild.org, and found him to be an inspiration of a very unique nature. Gatto wrote Dumbing Us Down: The Hidden Curriculum of Compulsory Schooling, a wildly popular radical treatise on how the formal education system is damaging our children and families, originally written in 1992. Gatto, who was a teacher for decades, explains in this book how the modern public school system is driving out the natural curiosity and problem-solving skills children are born with, and how the system is designed to prevent the natural genius of a child from emerging.
Sad to say, after writing the review about his book, I was forlorn to discover that Gatto had passed away in 2018. But as I learned about him, all I could think about was another public figure with decades of experience fighting for more liberty in our schools: Kandiss Taylor (no familial relation to John Taylor Gatto), who is currently running for governor of Georgia. During her years as a school administrator and educator, Taylor has also fought human trafficking, domestic violence and served as a homeless liaison.
In his books and in the speeches he has given, Gatto makes a strong case for why the mass education system that has developed in America does not support democracy or any of the values the United States developed as a result of the American Revolution. After 30 years of teaching in New York City, Gatto left the school system and subsequently devoted the rest of his life repairing the damage he couldn’t unsee that had been done to the public education system. He has received awards for his contributions to the cause of liberty.
Likewise, below is some background on Kandiss Taylor’s contributions to both the school system and the community.
Taylor’s Executive Orders Related to Public Education
Taylor just released her list of ten executive orders she will sign the day she becomes governor. For executive orders number six (Groomer ban in public education) and number seven (Dress Code for Public Schools), Taylor is able to draw upon her own experience, having spent twenty years in the school system, as both an educator and counselor. Taylor, who has her PhD in counseling, is well aware that 70 percent of the governor’s budget is allocated towards education.
Taylor has explained that there is an ethics division called the professional standards commission that issues certificates for teachers. Teachers cannot receive government income without a certificate. “So what you do is say ‘If you’re taught teaching communism, oppression, etc. to my children – because they’ll just change the name, i.e. critical race theory, social emotional learning, so be specific – if you get caught teaching these things to children you get sanctioned for 90 days and lose your income, hit them in the pocketbook,’” said Taylor in an interview back in December. “And the second time they are caught doing it, they will lose their job because they will have no certificate.”
Kandiss Taylor Has Helped Pregnant Youth and Rape Victims, and Assisted with Jailing Predators
Taylor, who recently received an endorsement from Georgia Right to Life, has personal experience dealing with cases of rape in her time in the school system, helping girls decide to forgo abortion and instead choose to give up their baby for adoption. This gave her the facility to issue executive orders number two (Defund Abortion) and number three (Adoption Law Commission).
In a recent speech that garnered Taylor a standing ovation (and the highest amount of votes) at the Georgia Republican Assembly Endorsement Convention, she stated that “There’s no exclusion, there’s no exception. I have a good friend she’s a counselor and I refer people to her and in fact I referred family to her, who were having marital problems a while back, she’s awesome. She’s a product of rape, and her parents saw her value and wanted to save her life and she has a state senator as her son and she is a godly woman, and what lives has she touched over and over and if she had been killed, wouldn’t have happened. Every child has a destiny.” In that same speech given at the GRA on April 2, Taylor mentioned how she has testified in court on behalf of rape victims, and even helped put predators behind bars.
Taylor’s Expertise Around Juvenile Suicide Prevention
I had the pleasure of conducting a recent interview with Taylor, where we discussed her experience in the school system, as well as her insights on adolescent mental health and how treatment is currently being applied in the schools.
Taylor, who has her PhD in counseling, did her dissertation on suicide when she was in school to get her doctorate. This topic encompassed suicidal ideations, suicidal attempts and suicidal completions, and non-suicidal self-injury. She explains how one of the major findings from her dissertation was that most people with suicidal ideations started out by showing signs of non-suicidal self-injury, which involves behaviors like cutting and other methods of destroying body tissue, such as pulling hair or biting nails really low. This is not to say that having self-injurious behaviors will automatically lead to suicidal ideations; it just means that there is a pattern of these past behaviors in people that end up contemplating suicide. Taylor discussed how children that are self-injuring are doing so to relieve an emotion, and they hide it from counselors, often because counselors tend to overreact to these types of behaviors. In the end, this overreaction exacerbates the self-injury taking place with these children. “And so school counselors have not been taught how to deal with that, and so I feel like that has increased the cutting, and it’s also increased the suicidal ideation and attempts and completions. It’s something that the school counselors really are going to have to be educated on fundamentally in education programs, counselor education programs, because then they will know how to respond,” says Taylor.
Taylor says she implemented the Columbia suicide rating scale into her school, which has helped her prevent a lot of suicide attempts in children. This allows the children to get the mental health treatment they need, which is often inpatient treatment, and then it helps get them reintegrated back into society. Of course, COVID created a challenge in this area, says Taylor, since not only were there restrictions on hospitals, but “that’s when the suicide rates increased, and the ideations increased because people were not going to school, and they’re at home and they’re depressed, scared and anxious from COVID, not knowing [what was going on with the virus].”
So, what about when a child threatens to harm others, or bring a weapon to school, or makes any other kind of statement or takes any action indicating violent intentions? Taylor has found threat assessments, which were implemented by the government for these situations, to be helpful. “It kind of helps them to know if they’re safe to return to school and that the populous of the school is safe, and to know if the child needs more consequence with juvenile justice, or a mental health evaluation,” explains Taylor. “It prevents kids that make a dumb choice or a dumb statement from being arrested and sent to DJJ [Department of Juvenile Justice] youth detention center, because that’s traumatic, and sometimes you don’t need to go that far.”
Taylor on Domestic Violence
In our interview, Taylor touched on her experience handling domestic violence situations with children, and why Georgia has had some significant achievements in this area. She referred to research that was reported in 2019 by USA Today, which found that witnessing domestic violence carries the same harmful effects to a child as being a victim of the actual physical abuse. The research reported by USA Today found that “brain imaging in infants shows that exposure to domestic violence – even as they are sleeping, or in utero – can reduce parts of the brain, change its overall structure and affect the way its circuits work together.”
But Taylor says one thing Georgia has done right is “we have a new law that’s probably been out about 5 years maybe, where if there is a domestic violence complaint, the law comes, the defenses are called, and the child is automatically put in safety resources for a period of time while a home evaluation is done, that assessment is kind of done with the family.” Taylor says this law changes things for both children and parents living in domestic violence situations, in a good way, “because before the kids just stayed and they just covered it up a lot, and now the family has to kind of go through some counseling and an assessment. It has helped these families get to the bottom of some issues and women have left, and men have left and kind of gotten out of a very toxic situation because [the domestic violence victims] get that little bit of support that [they] didn’t have before.”
Taylor on Bringing Back Phonics to the Classroom
During my talk with Taylor, when we got to the topic of phonics, she quoted John Taylor Gatto without even realizing it, by saying “We’re dumbing down our children.” She talked about the importance of having both phonics and sight words, giving the example of “when you have a sentence, ‘the girl went to the beach,’ and ‘the’ and ‘girl’ and ‘went’ ‘to’ ‘the’ are all sight words, and then ‘beach,’ ‘b-each,’ ‘beach.’…You can’t sound out every word.” So for this reason, says Taylor, it makes no sense that such a high level of education methods being used in our school systems are negating phonics, which is research-based and has worked for decades. Case in point, according to Taylor, is the Common Core State Standards Initiative which was introduced to America in 2010. This initiative has “totally changed math and mathematical concepts and how kids learn and made it really complicated and convoluted and backwards, and now they don’t have a foundation,” says Taylor.
Taylor on Psychiatric Medication and it’s Role in the School System
Then I asked Taylor what her thoughts were on psychiatric medication and how diagnoses for psychiatric labels such as ADHD were being given to so many more children today. I asked her about one particular concern, which has been a premise for the founding of Ablechild.org, an organization I have been involved with in the past: the increase in recent years of the school system’s involvement in placing psychiatric labels on children. Taylor then shared a personal experience about a family member that was placed on psychiatric medications as a young child, and has now turned to addiction. Taylor doesn’t rule out the possibility that these medications may be necessary in some situations. However, she also feels that often the medications can cause more harm than good, and serve as a gateway drug to other addictions later on in life. “I’m just saying that you gotta be careful; children’s brains are delicate.”
Taylor says that public schools shouldn’t be cookie cutter in their expectations of children. “We’re way beyond that, and we can let them go play really hard on the playground for 20 minutes and then come back in for two hours and go back out and do it really hard again, take more breaks and meet their developmental needs, and quit just sticking to a [standardized] test,” says Taylor. “There’s so much more we can do to alleviate this mentality of needing to put children on medication to make them seem normal, like what is normal for a child? We’re trying to put them in a box.”
Taylor and Gatto on Giving Teachers Back their Individuality
And just as the schools should not expect children to be cookie-cutter, same goes for teachers, according to Taylor. Once again, the values of Gatto and Taylor align; they are both passionate about allowing teachers to have their individuality.
Taylor notes that teachers have different learning styles, varying in their levels of creativity, organization, etc. But this aspect actually benefits the student, Taylor believes. Because as these children go through life, Taylor explains, they will encounter all different kinds of people along the way, from family members to co-workers, and “they might think ‘well that reminded me of my third grade teacher or that reminded me of my kindergarten teacher and she used to have this tick thing she did with her eye and it drove me crazy and this coworker does this…God what are you trying to teach me?’”
This, in turn, teaches children how to respond to and co-exist with different personalities, says Taylor. “We don’t need every teacher to be a cookie-cutter, we could have a robot teacher [for that]. We don’t need a warm body in a room, we need somebody to be passionate and relational with children, not social emotional learning; relational.”
While Gatto believed that the school system itself is setting children up for failure, he also believes there are many humane and caring teachers in our schools that are just caught in a faulty system. Taylor also touches upon this idea. During our discussion, Taylor expressed concerns about how teachers, burdened with so many mandates and restrictions, are feeling overloaded and their spirits are lagging. But we need these teachers desperately, according to Taylor, to “tell a child who they are and that they can do it and be their cheerleader and give them attention because their parents may not be giving them attention and [their parents] may not have anything left to give because they are in a domestic violence relationship [or some other type of hostile situation].”
Most teachers go into teaching because they love children. “It’s all about that lightbulb moment [that the teachers see in the child],” says Taylor. In the end, it’s critical that we flip the script, Taylor insists. “We’ve gotta get back to loving children, loving school, loving education, learning should be fun, it shouldn’t’ be work, the kids should be hungry for more, and we’ve gotta break that cycle.”