The Culture War on Public EducationBreaking News
tags: education, culture war, public schools, critical race theory, school privatization
Peter Greene has been a classroom secondary English teacher for more than thirty-nine years. He lives and works in Northwest Pennsylvania, blogs at Curmudgucation, and is Midwest Regional Fellow with The Progressive’s Public Schools Advocate.
It seems like ages since so many of us suddenly had to take a crash course in critical race theory (CRT). Then, seemingly five minutes later, just as Christopher Rufo, a fellow at the conservative Manhattan Institute, had promised, the CRT panic broadened into the “culture wars,” fought on a dozen different fronts by educators: “Don’t say gay” laws, “anti-woke” legislation, calls to ban books, gag laws for teachers, and private rights of action, so that parents could sue schools any time they felt a line had been crossed.
Culture wars continue to flare, but we should be discussing their true victims.
This widespread uprising is framed by conservatives as a tug of war between parents and “government schools.” It’s a potent argument because that tug of war has always been part of education. Parents are crucial partners in public education—and yet that partnership can sometimes break down.
There are certainly some over-earnest educators who are a bit too eager to substitute their own judgment for that of certain parents. My mother still tells the story of the administrator who explained that “since you’re just a mom, you might not understand.” At the same time, a non-zero number of parents are not interested in or capable of safeguarding their children. I’ve sat in parent conferences where a parent berated her “stupid” child. Every teacher has these stories—the student whose mother was jailed for trying to run the child down with a car; the student whose father threw him out after they fought over sharing drugs.
Schools must balance the needs and concerns of all of their many stakeholders. Parents absolutely have rights when it comes to public schools, but so do non-parent taxpayers and other community stakeholders. It’s up to the school district to balance all of these concerns, while also depending on the professional judgment of its trained personnel.
It is a tricky balance to maintain, requiring nuance and sensitivity. It is correct to argue that “schoolchildren are not mere creatures of the state.” But framing the issue as parents versus schools has served some folks with a very specific agenda.
Every debate, every accusation, every school board screaming match, every point on Parents Defending Education’s “indoctriNation map” represents a local argument, but in combination, they also help drive a sales point for those who want to dismantle public education: Public schools cannot be trusted.
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