Much will be written about the impact education had as a political issue on the 2021 election in Virginia. Many people and organizations across the country are taking credit for leadership on this or that issue. The danger of believing your own press releases is very real in the heady days after an election win. When all is said and done, voters win elections. This year in Virginia, parents and grandparents made the difference.
Parent engagement in schools in the post-COVID era is sustained and widespread. This uprising stood on a foundation laid over many years by the work of individual parents, parent groups, and state level family policy organizations. While school choice advocates were largely silent in the face of transgender model polices and diversity, equity, and inclusion initiatives sweeping through schools, parents stood up and fought back. Parents attending their first school board meetings in 2020 and 2021 met folks at those meetings who are leaders of community groups and communities of faith who had been working on cultural issues in schools for years.
People who felt unappreciated and ignored before the 2021 election cycle have proof that their work and engagement on behalf of children finally bore fruit. More and more parents are waking up to the challenges faced in public schools. This can and must lead to real reform that will benefit children and families. School choice has an important role to play in school reform, but it is not the only answer.
Before we help our new school board candidates and elected officials roll up their sleeves and get to work, a few "thank yous" are in order.
We say "thank you" to all those parents who have sounded the alarm over comprehensive sexuality education. This issue has been on the back burner since the 1980s when "family life education" was first introduced in Virginia. Many parents have worked to make sure that children received respectful and age-appropriate information about the human body and God's plan for human sexuality, ensuring that the marital context for sexual expression was emphasized. When national progressive powerhouses like SEICUS and Advocates for Youth pressure school districts to sexualize children, it's parents who push back. Efforts like parentandchild.org and are proof that work on behalf of families is never wasted.
We say "thank you" to parents who fight for transparency in schools and curricula, including books shelved in public school libraries and classrooms. Parental notification bills and parental rights efforts have been met with maniacal resistance, hysterically characterized as "book banning" or "racist." Parents who try to read objectionable content at school board meetings are admonished by the school officials who allow the same pornographic material in classrooms and libraries. Library associations and national publishing houses, teachers' unions, and artist/illustrator trade associations want to make sure parents are not notified in advance that children might be assigned reading with sexually explicit content. Bills like this one in Virginia and efforts to rid school library databases of pornography were just the beginning of the parent pushback that propelled candidates like Governor-elect Youngkin to victory.
Thank you to parents and academics who fought race-based ethnic studies curricula and other early versions of critical race theory. Efforts across the country to reckon with racist school curricula, from bills banning CRT to parents sounding the alarm on "social justice standards" promoted by political groups like Southern Poverty Law Center, have been an important backdrop for the newly formed coalition of anti-CRT parent groups that have formed across the country.
When politicians and advocates analyze education issues or school choice or teachers' unions, they can forget that schools and teachers impact children personally in classrooms every weekday. It is now more important than ever that parents and the public continue their vigilant protection of children. When we elect leaders like the historic and diverse GOP ticket in Virginia, we must be sure that promises made on the campaign trail are kept. Banning critical race theory, repealing and investigating the evil fruits of policies like the "transgender" student model policy, repealing laws that endanger children in schools and other public institutional settings, must be Day One priorities.
As "culture war" parents, we know this reckoning has been a long time in the making. As our ranks of "Mama Bears" grow and thrive, we will continue to elect leaders who protect the family and children. America's children and the nation will be the ultimate beneficiary of these labors of love.