If you assumed that teachers’ unions, Democratic officials, and education technocrats began the new school year humbled by the parental backlash against their harmful pandemic-era tactics (closing schools and embracing ideologically motivated efforts to rewrite school curricula among them), you would be mistaken.
Yesterday, Randi Weingarten, the head of one of the nation’s largest teacher’s unions, tweeted, “Great piece on parents’ rights and #publicschools.” The piece, which ran in the Washington Post, argued against the idea that parents have rights, as its headline made clear: “Parents claim they have the right to shape their kids’ school curriculum. They don’t.”
In other words, Ms. Weingarten and her union members (who are among the Democratic Party’s top donors and have repeatedly succeeded in getting the Biden administration to kowtow to their unscientific demands for draconian public health guidelines in schools), are now embracing the claim that parents should have no rights when it comes to what their children are taught in taxpayer-funded schools.
The op-ed, written by Jack Schneider, an education professor, and Jennifer Berkshire, a writer, is a wildly disingenuous effort to portray parents’ legitimate concerns as extremist. It is a perfect distillation of the current misguided reasoning on the left regarding education.
It begins by casting parents worried about their children’s educational experience as being in a “frenzy.” It claims that it is the parents who are radical in their demands for more information about what’s being taught, rather than the schools that refuse to respond to them. “What’s actually radical here is the assertion of parental powers that have never previously existed,” they write. “This is not to say that parents should have no influence over how their children are taught. But common law and case law in the United States have long supported the idea that education should prepare young people to think for themselves, even if that runs counter to the wishes of parents.”
In fact, the law is not at all as clear-cut as they suggest. In Virginia, for example, where a toss-up gubernatorial election has focused a great deal on educational issues, the law states the opposite. Virginia Code, § 1-240.1 (titled “Rights of parents”), reads, “A parent has a fundamental right to make decisions concerning the upbringing, education, and care of the parent’s child.”
The authors’ most egregious claim, however, is that the “sudden push for parental rights, then, isn’t a response to substantive changes in education or the law. It’s a political tactic.” They liken today’s parents to Richard Hofstadter’s description of conservatives and their “paranoid style,” with their “heated exaggeration, suspiciousness, and conspiratorial fantasy.”
This is a lie. Parents were not “suddenly” politically galvanized. Their attention to these issues has been growing for some time and accelerated in the past year because of two developments. First, a pandemic that revealed just how much unaccountable power teachers’ unions, Democratic school boards, and blue-state politicians felt entitled to exercise over decisions about safety and schools. Second, a push in recent years to introduce Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion initiatives (often inspired by Critical Race Theory) to ever-younger school children, even though such initiatives are seen by many as divisive and much of the material used to teach it is historically inaccurate.
This isn’t paranoia. It is the parents of mixed-race students, like this one in Nevada, who are wondering why the schools their sons and daughters attend are making them choose whose “side” they are on: white (oppressors) or black (victims), and who end up filing lawsuits to get answers from school officials. It’s parents in Loudoun County, Virginia, who are angry that their school board lied to the public about the fact that a girl had been raped by a trans student at a public middle school. The school district then transferred the assaulter to another school, where the trans student sexually assaulted another girl. And yet, the school board had the father of the victim arrested for demanding answers about the assault during a public meeting.
It’s also the response parents receive when they do ask for more information about what is being taught in schools. In Rhode Island this summer, the National Education Association, the largest teachers’ union in the country, filed a lawsuit against Nicole Solas, a parent who was trying to find out more information about what her daughter was being taught in elementary school after the principal told her the school used “gender neural terms” rather than “boy” and “girl” to describe students. When the principal of the school refused to provide her with information about the curriculum, Solas was forced to file Freedom of Information Act Requests to try to learn what her own daughter was being taught every day in a school funded by her tax dollars. The teachers’ union responded by suing her, asking a judge to block the release of public records, citing “teacher’s individual privacy rights.”
Those on the left who are doubling down on this strategy are harboring a deep misunderstanding about what is going on regarding parents’ perspectives about their involvement in public schooling: the difference between rights and responsibilities.
Parents don’t view being able to weigh in on curriculum choices as a right; they understand it as a responsibility, one of many they take seriously because they care that their children receive a decent education. This is why they have been flooding school board meetings to protest what they view as harmful decisions by school boards.
By contrast, teachers’ unions and Democrats, blinded by their deep faith in statism, speak of the “rights” they claim parents are unfairly asserting as though they conflict with their own rights to do as they please as technocratic “experts.” They treat parents as nuisances, or, in the case of the National School Board Association, as potential domestic terrorists. Indeed, the Biden administration recently rewarded the person behind the NSBA effort to label parents terrorists with a plum federal job. As the Free Beacon reported, Biden’s Education Secretary Miguel Cardona just appointed NSBA president Viola Garcia, who was the driving force behind the letter urging Biden to use the power of the Justice Department to monitor parents at school board meetings, to head the National Assessment Governing Board, “which develops the tests used to track student achievement across the country.”
Rather than engage parents’ concerns, teachers’ unions and Democrats like Virginia gubernatorial candidate Terry McAuliffe would have parents simply follow orders. “I don’t think parents should be telling schools what they should teach,” McAuliffe said during a recent debate. The casual contempt he is signaling here is having political consequences: In an October 25 Cygnal poll of support for Republicans vs. Democrats in Virginia, K-12 parents chose Republicans by a margin of 58 percent.
Whatever the outcome of the governor’s race in Virginia, parents should continue to make their voices heard, because in doing so they are reminding public officials and public employees of a fact that far too many of them seem to have forgotten: They answer to the public.