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Tuesday, October 26, 2021 Leer en Español

Should Parents Have Any Say in What Their Kids Learn in School? Virginia Voters May Soon Decide

Terry McAuliffe's statement about parents and schools has been seen by some as just another political gaffe. But the comment is much more than that.

Image Credit: Miller Center

On November 2, Virginians will head to the polls to vote for their new governor. In the race between Democrat Terry McAuliffe and Republican Glenn Youngkin, an unexpected issue — schools and education — has taken center stage. I say unexpected because even though education didn’t even make it onto Pew Research’s list of the 12 most important issues to voters ahead of the 2020 election, recent polling shows that, in this race, it has become a top-three priority.

It’s not hard to see why. In the final debate before the election, while discussing parents who have objected to sexually explicit material in Fairfax County schools, McAuliffe made a shocking statement: “I don’t think parents should be telling schools what they should teach.”

While McAuliffe’s statement has been seen by some as just another political gaffe with no deeper meaning, it seems far more likely that it was, in fact, a rare moment of honesty.

Education Extremism Rising

Over the past year, it has become clear that McAuliffe’s statement represents a widely held attitude towards parents’ role in their child’s education. Further, many now believe that the role of government in education is not merely to teach children, but to shape them.

Many now believe that the role of government in education is not merely to teach children, but to shape them.

One of the ways this has been done is by implementing what is known as “action civics.” This type of civics is not merely about learning the functions of government, basic history, and the ideas our country was founded on. (In the past, I have written about the serious lack of knowledge many young people have today, and the importance of learning about such topics). Rather, “action civics” is characterized by a focus on, well, action — as in activism. The USC School of Education says that “action civics” aims to “[Meet] Student Interest in Activism.” In practice, this often means campaigning for left-wing causes ranging from gun control to the Green New Deal.

Illinois has taken this idea one step further. The Joint Committee on Administrative Rules (JCAR) of the Illinois General Assembly officially enacted “Culturally Responsive Teaching and Leading Standards” earlier this year. These standards mandate that teachers instruct “through an equity lens” while “leverag[ing] asset thinking toward traditionally marginalized populations” and “integrate the wide spectrum and fluidity of identities in the curriculum.”

Most people would be hard-pressed to explain what any of that actually means in practice. However, the ways in which identity-focused curricula have already been implemented in schools across the country may give us a clue. Chris Rufo, who is a contributing editor at City Journal, has done penetrating reporting on this. Here are a few of the things he found:

An elementary school in Cupertino, California, “force[d] third-graders to deconstruct their racial and sexual identities, then rank themselves according to their ‘power and privilege.’”

In a presentation, “Seattle Public Schools tells teachers that the education system is guilty of ‘spirit murder’ against black children and that white teachers must ‘bankrupt [their] privilege in acknowledgement of [their] thieved inheritance.’”

In an elementary school in Philadelphia where 87 percent of kids will not achieve basic literacy by graduation, “fifth-graders [were forced] to celebrate ‘Black communism’ and simulate a Black Power rally to ‘free Angela Davis’ from prison.”

These are some of the most radical examples, but they are by no means isolated. The ideology underlying much of this has become even more widespread over the past year or so. In fact, the two largest teachers unions in the country have both come out in strong support of this type of race-essentialist education, signaling that they want to bring it into as many classrooms as possible.

This approach of infusing education with far-left politics is dangerous not only because it leads to state-sponsored indoctrination of our nation’s youth, but also because it violates the most basic rights of parents. After all, when did they approve of this curriculum for their kids?

This is what you get when you put Terry McAuliffe’s words into action.

To tell parents that they do not have the right to have a say in what their children learn is to tell them that their children are nothing more than government property. It is to tell them that their children are mere widgets that are to be programmed in the exact right way — in the way state bureaucrats decide is best.

But far from promoting diversity and inclusion, this line of thinking destroys it. It squashes the spirit of free inquiry, discovery, and questioning that leads to a productive society. It creates a world in which everybody thinks the same.

School Choice Is Winning In America

Most parents recognize just how important the education of their children is, and they are witnessing its integrity being systematically attacked in real-time. It should therefore be no surprise that more and more Americans are not only supporting school choice, but choosing alternatives to the traditional public school system for their children.

Most parents recognize just how important the education of their children is, and they are witnessing its integrity being systematically attacked in real-time.

A recent poll conducted by the American Federation for Children found that support for school choice has reached 74 percent, an all-time high. This included 70 percent of Democrats, 69 percent of independents, and similarly high numbers across all races and ethnicities.

Yet while rhetorical support is important, parents have also acted on their displeasure by turning to alternatives for their children. The US Census Bureau has found that homeschooling has increased by 11 percent over the past year and the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools recently reported that enrollment has gone up by 7 percent during the pandemic.

In short, school choice is winning. Even with teachers’ unions and the politicians who support them doing everything in their power to prevent educational freedom, parents are increasingly supporting it because they know what’s best for their children better than any state bureaucrat could.

For Many, Monopolies Are Bad… Until It Comes To Education

Most Americans, both on the right and left, can generally agree that monopolies hurt consumers. When choice and competition are limited or non-existent in the private sector, we understand that companies will get away with inefficient practices, and consumers will be stuck with bad products and high prices.

In a competitive market, on the other hand, the consumer has the power in the relationship between himself and the firm. As Ludwig von Mises’s explains in his book, Bureaucracy:

The real bosses [under capitalism] are the consumers. They, by their buying and by their abstention from buying, decide who should own the capital and run the plants. They determine what should be produced and in what quantity and quality. Their attitudes result either in profit or in loss for the enterpriser. They make poor men rich and rich men poor. They are no easy bosses. They are full of whims and fancies, changeable and unpredictable. They do not care a whit for past merit. As soon as something is offered to them that they like better or is cheaper, they desert their old purveyors.

This is only possible because the consumer can choose between numerous firms. If Firm A jacks up its prices or has poor customer service, for example, the consumer is at liberty to take his business to Firm B. However, when there is a monopoly, the consumer has no such ability. He is forced to do business with Firm A no matter what. In consequence, the monopoly firm has little incentive to do anything for the benefit of the consumer. After all, where else would he go?

What the school choice movement aims to do is afford all families, regardless of income, similar opportunities by allowing parents to decide where the money for their child’s education goes.

But, for some reason, when it comes to education, this idea — which is nearly universally agreed upon in the private sector — is simply forgotten. This is a tragedy because of just how crucial education is. If we understand the harms of monopoly when it comes to industry X, Y, and Z, it is hard to see why anyone should be fighting to maintain an education system that forces students into a given school based solely on their zip code, irrespective of their needs, desires, or values.

Of course, there are indeed private schools that parents can send their kids to if they are dissatisfied with their traditional public school. However, parents are still forced to fund the public school through their taxes even if they send their kids to private school. Therefore, in practice, private schools are only accessible for students from high-income families.

What the school choice movement aims to do is afford all families, regardless of income, similar opportunities by allowing parents to decide where the money for their child’s education goes.

If we did that, then educational entrepreneurs could develop new and creative ways to help students, parents could choose the school that best aligns with their values, and the presence of true competition would keep prices down and quality up.

  • Jack Elbaum was a Hazlitt Writing Fellow at FEE and is a junior at George Washington University. His writing has been featured in The Wall Street Journal, Newsweek, The New York Post, and the Washington Examiner. You can contact him at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter @Jack_Elbaum.