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Left-leaning politicians and special-interest groups have shown their hand: They think parents are dangerous and do not have rights over their child’s education. Yet the reaction to such messaging so far reveals that the talking points are having the opposite effect on families, lawmakers, and even some school board members than interest groups and their allies intended — all of which works out well for students.
Three examples of such aggressive rhetoric appeared this month. Recently, an op-ed in the Washington Post announced that while “parents claim they have the right to shape their kids’ school curriculum,” they actually do not. The writers say schools are in charge of what happens in the classroom, “even if that runs counter to the wishes of parents.”
The column quotes selectively from seminal court cases, including a case from Oregon decided in 1925. The Post’s commentary emphasized that the U.S. Supreme Court decision in Pierce v. Society of Sisters said lawmakers should be concerned with “the public welfare.” The writers conveniently left out what the opinion said further down the page: “The child is not the mere creature of the state,” ruling against the Oregon law requiring students to attend only public schools and reminding lawmakers that, among other things, their governing authority comes from the consent of the governed.
This deserves repeating today. Before the Post’s oped, Terry McAuliffe, former Democratic Virginia governor and campaign manager for former Sen. Hillary Clinton’s 2008 presidential campaign, said, “I don’t think parents should be telling schools what they should teach.” And this was not even a “hot mic” moment — he said this out loud before an audience of Virginia residents — who, you know, might pay taxes and have children.
These statements are not isolated. Earlier last month, the National School Boards Association (NSBA) collaborated with President Biden’s administration. It released a letter stating that parents who object to school officials’ decisions over masks and critical race theory constitute an “immediate threat.”
And the threat now requires federal intervention. Without citing any examples of parent activity that would rise to the level of prompting a federal investigation, the NSBA said community members’ and parents’ objections to school officials’ decisions are “equivalent to a form of domestic terrorism.”
Interest groups and their allies are trying to paint parents as the enemy. How’s it working out so far?
Nearly two dozen state school board associations have either rebuked the NSBA for its letter or withdrawn their membership, including state associations in Louisiana, Missouri, New Hampshire, Ohio, and Pennsylvania. Political commentator Juan Williams recently tried to defend the NSBA in a column, saying they had to “plead” with the Biden administration to step in and “protect” school boards - not mentioning that watchdogs had evidence that the association had talked with the White House about the letter before it was released.
The NSBA’s own governing board apologized to its members for the letter, saying they regretted sending the missive to the White House asking for the Biden administration to take “extraordinary” actions. According to the Daily Wire, the incident even inspired school board members in Arizona to form their own association as an alternative to the NSBA.
Mr. Williams should check his sources on critical race theory is not taught in schools. Districts such as Portland Public Schools, Loudoun County schools in Virginia and Hayward Unified in California have educators using the very words “critical race theory.”
Meanwhile, telling parents they are not wanted will not motivate families to send their children back to assigned schools. Federal data shows that public school enrollment decreased by 3 million students this fall. Enrollment has dropped in Los Angeles, Seattle, Chicago, and in Maryland’s largest school district, Montgomery County, along with statewide declines across California and Wisconsin, to name just a few states. The pandemic may have led to the exodus, but how could messages that undermine parents make families more likely to send students back?
State and local school boards across Alabama, Colorado, and Washington state have adopted proposals rejecting the discriminatory ideas in critical race theory and demanding that students not be taught that individuals from any race are superior or inferior to anyone else.
Legislators in 18 states even gave parents more freedom to choose how and where their children learn in 2021. Lawmakers created or expanded learning options such as education savings accounts, charter schools, and other private and public learning opportunities. These lawmakers are responding to student needs by affirming parents’ rights over their child’s learning experience.
Interest group statements calling parents dangerous has led to school board members reaffirming their support for families with some disaffiliating from left-leaning associations, all while families are leaving assigned schools. At the same time, state lawmakers are giving students more learning options.
So parents should take heart. Radicals’ talking points are working out in their favor.
• Jonathan Butcher is the Will Skillman Fellow in Education at The Heritage Foundation (heritage.org).
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