Let's take them at their word

Joseph Backholm is Senior Fellow for Biblical Worldview and Strategic Engagement at Family Research Council. This article appeared in World on November 1, 2021.

It is time for parents to believe what the architects and central planners of American public education are telling us.

In early October, President Biden’s Department of Justice (DOJ) released a memo addressing “threats against school administrators, board members, teachers, and staff.” No specific evidence was provided, but the memo appears to respond to increased parental activism with school boards.

The DOJ memo was not spontaneous. It was released because, days previously, the National School Board Association (NSBA) sent a letter to President Biden asking for protection from parents. The letter said, “these heinous actions could be the equivalent to a form of domestic terrorism and hate crimes.”

Given the passions involved, some parents have crossed the line in their behavior toward local school officials. Still, no evidence of physical harm or even property destruction was cited. Instead, the letter appears to show deep concern over the fact that parents are deeply (and rightly) concerned about what their children are learning at the behest of government authority.

The overreaction from the Department of Justice could have more to do with the nature of the parent’s concerns than their behavior. After all, if these same parents demanded formal recognition of more gender identities, does anyone think the outrage would be the same?

During a recent debate, Virginia gubernatorial candidate Terry McAuliffe was surprisingly honest about the subservient role he thinks parents should take in education. He said “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.”

Fortunately, not everyone agrees. In response to McAuliffe, former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo tweeted this statement: “I think parents should decide what their children are taught in schools. That is all.”

In years past, Pompeo’s statement would be unremarkable, but not today.

Nikole Hannah-Jones is one of the leading educators in America. Her history curriculum, the 1619 Project, is one of the hottest—and most controversial—curriculums in education. In it, she claims the real founding of America was in 1619 when slaves arrived rather than 1776 when the Declaration of Independence was signed. Her curriculum is now taught in more than 4,500 schools.

Her influence in public education makes her response to Pompeo noteworthy. She said, “Believe it or not, it’s not just parents who pay for public schools and not just parents who have a vested interest in public schools. Public schools are a common good designed to create an informed citizenry in a multiracial democracy—two things I know you abhor.”

Petty insults aside, Hannah-Jones makes a point every parent should understand. In one sense, the goal of public education is to indeed foster a learned citizenry. The question we should ask, however, is whose definition of “learned” is in control. From her perspective, the purpose of the public schools is to “create an informed citizenry in a multiracial democracy” which, given her own body of work, is code for make sure all the kids are woke.

Here we see the deep divide between parents and those running America’s public education system. You likely believe the purpose of your child’s education is to help them think critically, solve problems, learn discipline, and one day support themselves and contribute something meaningful to the world. The primary goal of public education for those in charge is to make sure your kids are “informed citizens,” which is another way of saying cooperative with our political goals. After all, you prove that you are “informed” by agreeing with them. Only the backward do not.

They do not object if your child is also good at math—it’s just not the priority.

None of this guarantees that your child’s teacher or principal is trying to indoctrinate your child. And it would be wrong to assume that every public school teacher is an evangelizing ideologue. There are, fortunately, still many good people trying to do real education within the system. As a result, a child’s experience can vary dramatically state by state, school by school, and teacher by teacher. But it remains true that the same system trying to obstruct parental involvement is also trying to remove teachers who refuse to tell children that boys can become girls, and none of it is an accident.

Whatever emotions we feel—alarm, frustration, or sadness—we should never again claim to be surprised. After all, they have told us what they want to do and why. It is time to take them at their word.