In recent months, parents have marched to school board meetings complaining about the subject matter being taught in their children’s schools.
Parents’ concern with what their children are taught is as old as public education. Of course, parents have a direct interest in the quality and content of classroom instruction.
They should be rightly concerned, for example, if their high school consistently performs poorly on the SAT, does not offer electives such as teaching foreign languages, or lacks sufficient support staff such as counselors. orientation.
But these latest complaints seem less about the quality of education than about a phantom sense that their children’s teachers are propagandists.
These parents don’t like the way history is taught, for example, fearing it doesn’t sufficiently tout American exceptionalism. Or they find books on class lists that deal with slavery, transgender rights, or abortion.
In their quest to stamp out suspicions of brainwashing, they file public records requests or demand the release of program outlines. Words like “Black Lives Matter” or references to The New York Times’ 1619 Project on slavery in America become red flags for parents who have been told schools promote critical race theory.
They think if they dig deep enough, the secret evidence will come to light.
A request unfolded at a recent Norwich School Board meeting, when board member Heather Fowler inquired about the scheme, saying: ‘There are things being taught that we are not aware of or that we think should not be taught.”
Fowler offered no evidence to support this claim, but if she hoped the resistance to her claim would prove her point, she must have been disappointed. Superintendent Kristen Stringfellow pointed out that the district has a curriculum committee to hear complaints from parents and that the school curriculum is available online.
In fact, never before in the history of this country has the school curriculum been so transparent. Common core state standards that schools meet are also online, as are individual grade plans.
Thirty years ago, parents would indeed have had to request hard copies of these documents, if they were available.
So why do parents think schools are hiding something?
Simply because it’s an online they’re powered by think tanks and experts. The Federalist ran an article in 2020 titled “Why Public Schools Are So Likely to Teach Left-Wing Propaganda.”
Among his claims: that “most public schools in red and blue states regularly use left-wing or ‘revival’ materials while quietly removing older materials that promote American patriotism, Western civilization, and Judeo-Christian values” .
If schools are “quietly getting rid of old materials”, good for them. Schools should not use old textbooks that have not kept up with current knowledge, whether for teaching math or Civil War history.
What is really at issue here is the purpose of education. Is it the job of schools to produce patriots or graduates with the essential skills to participate in a democracy?
Should schools give up nearly two centuries of scientific thinking about evolution because some don’t believe in it?
If parents object to any material being taught, they have options. They can request that their child not be allowed to take a book out of the library or be excused from a lesson or class that the parents find objectionable.
In extreme cases, parents sometimes opt for homeschooling as the best option to ensure their religious and political values are honored.
What they shouldn’t be able to do, however, is dictate the resources and lessons available to all students because of their personal objections. It smacks of Senator Joseph McCarthy’s communist witch hunt, not John Dewey’s educational reforms.
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