- Educators may have forgotten that as the foundation of civil society, families are the core institution by which culture is transmitted. Tweet This
- What is driving the wave of parental discontent sweeping the country is actually a growing sense that schools are challenging too many time-honored cultural traditions. Tweet This
- If the educational establishment is truly serious about preserving and promoting diversity, it should cease devaluing the work of families. Tweet This
Last month, a crowd of Muslim parents converged on a Board of Education meeting in Dearborn, Michigan. The object: to protest a number of sexually-explicit school library holdings the parents believe contravene the values they are teaching at home. One might be disposed to view the ensuing vigorous demonstration as just one more depressing skirmish in the ongoing war of attrition between religious and secular Americans. But scenes of irate moms and dads facing school boards are becoming more and more familiar, and—as many commentators have observed—they do not solely involve the religious.
In fact, the number of recent parent protests over matters ranging from pandemic school closings and library selections to anti-racist programs and gender-identity education suggests there is a widespread culture war between parents and educators over the direction of America's schools. But in this war, it turns out, American parents are generally not divided. And neither, more generally, are American voters. Two recent surveys measuring voters' views on education indicate that there is fairly broad agreement across class and party lines, even between religious and secular Americans, regarding the contentiousness of current classroom trends. So united, in fact, are Americans on educational issues, that one is tempted to echo the placard carried by a Dearborn parent demonstrator, “If democracy matters, we are the majority.”
Last winter, in a Rasmussen online survey of 1200 voters, 84% of those polled affirmed that parents should as a matter of course be granted access to curricular materials. Another 68% agreed with the statement that quality in public education is declining; 56% believed that educators do not properly respect the role of parents in schooling; 44% said educators are promoting ideologies harmful to children.
If one is to judge from both anecdotal evidence and polls, what is driving the wave of parental discontent sweeping the country is actually a growing sense that schools are challenging too many time-honored cultural traditions.
This fall, the annual American Family Survey asked the question, “Who should have the final say in controversial school issues?” In each of the following matters—religion, gender/sexual orientation, sex education, school library holdings, and the history of race—an impressive plurality of respondents answered, "Parents."
Unfortunately, public schools have consistently frustrated parents in their efforts to review and comment on curricular initiatives they find worrying. Instead of being transparent about new school programs, educators and administrators have in many cases chosen to conceal their particulars. In May of 2021, for example, a Michigan public school district wanted to charge parents $409,899 for a look through its Equity, Diversity and Inclusion curriculum, according to the Goldwater Institute. That same year, a Minnesota school district demanded $900,000 for parents to see its social justice syllabi. At a more recent committee hearing on a newly introduced parental rights bill in the Pennsylvania legislature, one parent testified that it took three separate “failure to comply” rulings from the state's Office of Open Records to get her county to release requested records of its plans to implement Critical Race Theory in the classroom.
Matt Taibbi's four-part report, Loudoun County, Virginia: A Culture War in Four Acts, offers an illuminating depiction of the contemporary struggle between parents and schools. In it, he debunks the mainstream media's narrative that a fringe polity of small-town Southerners were behind the now famous parent rebellion that broke out against the Loudoun County Schools in the fall of 2021. According to Taibbi, the long-brewing conflict that exploded in this D.C. suburb right before the Virginia gubernatorial election was an uprising of mainstream moderates against a school system that had gone fringe. These public school parents had watched in consternation as clumsy “anti-racist” experiments in their district dumbed down college prep STEM courses in the name of “equity,” and demoralized elementary school children of all races in the name of “diversity.”
Educators, as well as many in the government and media, would have us believe that when parents reject the introduction of new and experimental social programs in schools, that rejection is based in knee-jerk bigotry. But if one is to judge from both anecdotal evidence and polls, what is driving the wave of parental discontent sweeping the country is actually a growing sense that schools are challenging too many time-honored cultural traditions, along with highly cherished standards of academic excellence and social decorum. Educators may have forgotten that as the foundation of civil society, families are the core institution by which culture is transmitted. If the educational establishment is truly serious about preserving and promoting diversity, it should cease devaluing the work of families, and redouble its efforts to retain as many diverse examples of them as possible in the public school system.
Dana Mack, the author of The Assault on Parenthood: How Our Culture Undermines the Family, is a writer and musician living in Connecticut.
Editor's Note: The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or views of the Institute for Family Studies.