Start with this: It’s in everyone’s interest for parents to be involved in their children’s education. Indeed, one of the problems of public schools is that, too often, parents are little more than bystanders.
But there’s more to what’s happening than mere educational interest. Here and around the country, Americans are witnessing a national effort to inject local school boards with the kind of right-wing politics that has infected American governance.
With that comes a bid by some parents not just to influence, but to direct the education that all children can receive. Call it too much of a good thing.
Rebelling against Covid restrictions, the books available in school libraries, the 21st century issues revolving around gender and more, some parents seem determined to redefine public education as “what I want your kid to know.” It’s an approach that ultimately has to fail, but possibly not before doing its own damage.
Energized by the fights against face masks and other pandemic mandates, candidates in a number of local districts are running with the help of groups who have platforms such as parent partnered curriculum and medical freedom.
It’s become a cliché, but for a reason: The aphorism that “it takes a village” to raise a child is borne of fact. Parents are, and should be, the main director of their children’s lives, but they can never be the only ones. It has always been the case that children were subject to the influences of other adults. Beyond public school teachers, they included ministers, rabbis, Sunday school teachers, Scout leaders, older children and the parents of friends.
People are also reading…
It’s a big, interconnected world and, today, it’s bigger, still. In addition to those ancient analog influences is the unrelenting bombardment of digital manipulations, not just from television, but the drone of social media. Those outlets have nothing to do with schools, but it’s hard to shake the sense that their disruptions are a prominent driver of parental dissatisfaction. Schools are an easier target. And the groups backing these candidates foresee higher offices for them.
Also influencing this phenomenon is the pandemic. In a strange twist on reality, many adults blame schools and government officials for requirements such as distancing and masking when the fault – if that’s what you call it – lies with the unforgiving fact of a frightening new virus.
The irresponsible thing would have been not to take those precautions. Nearly 1 million Americans have died from Covid-19 and many more than that sickened or bereaved. If the American right cares about such things, its loud-talkers are making it hard to see.
Some significant number of parents made their dissatisfaction known by refusing to wear required masks during meetings of school boards and other public bodies. It was ironic: Grown-ups behaved childishly while their children cooperated in an effort to respond to a legitimate and observable public health emergency. The fact is that without masks, Covid-19 would have infected many more people and killed some share of them.
Elections are about choices and voters should consider wisely as the May 17 school board elections approach. Some candidates are running on platforms that include gauzy planks such as “parent-partnered curriculum” and “medical freedom.” What they conceal is an effort to turn school boards into the dysfunctional replica of Congress and many state legislatures.
That would count as a terrible turn in American life. We see what it’s done in higher governments, but at the local level, we’re talking about our friends and neighbors – people who want to contribute, who want education to be better, who are willing to grapple with difficult issues in the demanding effort to prepare young people for the challenges of a highly competitive world. That’s the job, not making schools a new battleground of the American culture wars.
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