AMAC Exclusive – by David P. Deavel
They’re getting bolder in their tug-of-war over who has the primary responsibility for educating our children. But the parents are not going to let go. In the last debate before the November election, Democratic Virginia gubernatorial candidate Terry McAuliffe was challenged by Republican candidate Glenn Youngkin about his own veto, in his earlier term as governor, of a bill that would have created an alert for parents when sexual material was present in educational materials. McAuliffe responded that he was proud of his veto: “I’m not going to let parents come into schools and actually take books out and make their own decision. I don’t think parents should be telling schools what they should teach.”
When asked about it later by a local CBS affiliate, McAuliffe doubled down. “Listen, we have a Board of Education working with the local school boards to determine the curriculum for our schools. You don’t want parents coming in in every different school jurisdiction saying this is what should be taught here, and this is what should be taught there.”
Youngkin clearly thinks this is a winning issue. He tweeted that McAuliffe might like to look at what Virginia law says about the rights of parents: “A parent has a funmental right to make decisions concerning the upbringing, education, and care of the parent’s child.” He also released an ad the next day based on the debate exchange in which he replied to McAuliffe, “You believe school systems should tell children what to do. I believe parents should be in charge of their kids’ education.”
The message from progressive politicians and education bureaucrats, however, is clear: parents ought to have no say in what local public education is about. Terry McAuliffe is not alone in this view. At a hearing of the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor & Pensions, Republican Senator Mike Braun of Indiana asked Education Secretary Miguel Cardona whether parents ought to be considered the “primary stakeholders” in their children’s education. Cardona would only agree that they are “important stakeholders,” but that “educators have a role in determining educational programming.” The refusal to acknowledge parents as primary gives us an indication of which role “educators” have in educational programming: it’s the final word. Parents don’t count.
While teachers used to think of themselves as acting in loco parentis, the Latin phrase meaning in place of the parents who were not present, they now think of themselves having taken over the place of parental authority entirely.
Fortunately, there are still enough parents out there who think this idea is plain loco—Spanish for crazy. School boards in Virginia and all over the country have been seeing more outraged parents coming to school board meetings to complain about the ways in which their own views are ignored on a whole range of issues, but especially sexual content in curriculum and the use of Critical Race Theory (CRT) as the guiding philosophy of education and its corresponding destruction of educational quality in the name of “equity.” While Democrats and their legacy media and higher ed adjuncts have attempted to brush off this rebellion as some sort of partisan or racist (the all-purpose progressive rebuttal when they have no answers) anger, it’s clear that there are many Americans upset with the way in which American public education has become hazardous to children’s intellectual health.
Alas, on the same day that Secretary Cardona refused to acknowledge parents as primary stakeholders in their children’s education, the National School Boards Association, which claims to represent 90,000 school board members across the country [Narrator: That’s pretty unlikely] wrote a letter to President Biden asking him to crack down on parents who are upset at mask mandates and the teaching of CRT in schools using every federal agency and statute they could think of, including the Patriot Act. Not only does the letter repeat the laughable notion that schools don’t teach CRT because it is “a complex law school and graduate school subject well beyond the scope of a K-12 class” (no doubt schools don’t teach gravity as it is a complex subject for graduate physics students either), but it gives a hint as to which offenses the Feds should be cracking down on. Among incidents in which parents or concerned citizens have actually become violent, they also include incidents in which people have mocked school board members and accused them of attempting to sneak CRT into the curriculum.
Sticks and stones may break my bones, but names are also a violation of the Patriot Act, according to the Education Blob.
So what are parents to do to fight back against the blob? Trafalgar Polling conducted a nationwide survey in July asking over one thousand parents how they should react if CRT becomes part of the curriculum in their children’s public schools. Overall, 29% of parents said they would teach their children what to believe at home without interfering in the school, almost 28% said they would remove their children from public school and send them to private schools or homeschool them, and 24% said they would work to take over the school board (19% said they had no opinion on the matter). These three options seem to be the main ones available.
Democrats, who made up 39% of the respondents, and those claiming no party/other, were much more likely to say they would just teach their children at home and not interfere (39.9% and 36.2%) than Republicans (12.9%). Republicans were much more likely to take their children out of the schools or try to take over the school board (38.1% and 33.2%) than Democrats (20.9% and 17.9%) or No Party/Other (22.9% and 20.8%).
To put it bluntly, Republicans are more in the right here. Without any effective action, public school bureaucracies will continue to embrace CRT, critical gender theory, and every other destructive fad that comes down the pike. To push back against all this has to be a matter of pushing back—and that involves either getting into their governance (Trafalgar’s third option) or putting pressure on them economically by pulling kids out (the second).
The difficulty with the taking over of school boards is that it takes a lot of time and effort. That doesn’t mean there are not groups out there who are dedicated to doing it. In fact, there are a lot of groups doing it. Ballotpedia has been keeping track of school board recall events since 2006, recording on average about 23 recall efforts against 52 board members per year up to 2020. In 2021, however, they have recorded as of September 71 recall efforts targeting 183 board members. These grass roots efforts to recall board members, win elections, and influence existing boards have been helped out by groups such as Parents Defending Education, a Loudoun County, Virginia, group, and No Left Turn in Education, an organization started by Elana Fishbein in Lower Merion, Pennsylvania (Philadelphia suburb). These groups have themselves been aided by about thirty national conservative organizations and foundations, according to an Associated Press article focusing on efforts in Mequon, Wisconsin (a Milwaukee suburb) to recall board members who have been pursuing divisive “diversity” goals.
In addition to the recall efforts, Politico reports that parents are putting up campaigns for school board that are explicitly against diversity and oppression curricula. While dutifully repeating the “no CRT is really taught here!” lines, the article notes that candidates all over the country are opposing them, many successfully in Ohio, Indiana, and elsewhere. In Houston all the anti-CRT candidates in a recent school board election won while in Southlake, Texas, two such candidates won with over 70% of the vote. It can be done in many parts of the country.
Many parents, however, do not have the time to both fight City Hall—or its educational equivalent—and make sure their own children are being educated apart from and often against what they’re learning in their public schools. This is why the move to opt out of public schools has been so great over the last decade. This year, 1.45 million children left the system, a number that was made even greater by so many schools’ determination to stay online. (To say that makes me vulnerable to the Patriot Act, I suppose.) If parents can no longer influence public schools, the best option for them is to take their kids elsewhere. To facilitate this, however, takes money.
That’s why the development of school choice options is so important. Now is the time, given that a RealClearOpinion poll in June showed a striking 74% of American parents support school choice—a full 10% increase since 2020! Perhaps the best development this year has been the passage of HB 2013 in West Virginia, known as the Hope Scholarship program. This education savings account allows students leaving the public school system to take up to $4600 with them to pay for tuition, books, and other costs at private schools or in homeschooling. The American Federation for Children has interactive maps showing the expanded school choice programs in 2021 as well as all those available in the U. S. right now.
Simply helping parents take control over their children’s education where they cannot influence their public schools is a big first step, but one final one remains. State and local governments can work toward building an accountability mechanism into the equation. I mean something guaranteeing local school budgets will be cut when there are lower class sizes. School board members may go along with the wokeness for a while, but if their budgets shrink, they may well ask whether they ought to rethink what kind of loco they want to be in relation to parents.
Legendary basketball coach Bobby Knight used to say that one should lead, follow, or get out of the way. More parents are demanding to be recognized as the “primary stakeholders” in their children’s education. They are refusing to “follow” educators who think that good education involves explicit sex, divisive and harmful notions about race, or the denial of opportunities in the name of equity. They are either going to lead the fight to take back these schools or get out of the way, taking their money with them and building up an education that is truly fit for the public.
David P. Deavel is editor of Logos: A Journal of Catholic Thought and Culture, co-director of the Terrence J. Murphy Institute for Catholic Thought, Law, and Public Policy, and a visiting professor at the University of St. Thomas (MN). He is the co-host of the Deep Down Things podcast.
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