Education Politics

Inane, effective, and part of a far broader ideological debate.

Photo by SLT

My wife brought the following to my attention last night via Alabama’s Barry Moore co-sponsors bill to abolish U.S. Department of Education. The full press release on the legislation can be found at Moore’s congressional website: Rep. Barry Moore introduces legislation to abolish the Department of Education. Not that it really matters, I will note that Moore represents the district wherein I reside.

The very first thought I had about this is that this is such an old-school move. I have been hearing Republican politicians seeking to abolish the Department of Education since Reagan. Indeed, the DOE was one of the three departments that were part of Rick Perry’s “oops” moment which was over a decade ago, believe it or not. Indeed that debate performance underscored that eliminating Education (along with Commerce and Energy) was just a talking point that Perry really didn’t care about. After all, if you he had a truly passionate view about the subject, it would have been one heckuva a lot easier to conjure all three departments (and it will never not be funny that Perry eventually was the Secretary of Energy).

The fact that despite four decades or so of rhetoric on this issue these departments continue to exist, even when unified government opportunities to dismantle them have existed, is a testament to the vacuity of the calls to disband. Still, targeting the DOE in particular dovetails well with our present political moment.

From the piece linked above:

U.S. Rep. Barry Moore, R-Wiregrass, is among six co-sponsors of a House bill to eliminate the U.S. Department of Education — an agency he said pushes “indoctrination schemes of radical anti-American ideas.”

The bill co-sponsored by Moore would directly fund elementary and secondary education in the states with the money normally budget for the Education Department.

“The Department of Education is a nest of radical D.C. activists masquerading as educators pushing indoctrination schemes of radical anti-American ideas. For our children’s protection, it must be abolished,” Moore said in a statement. “Across our country, we have seen taxpayer dollars used to expose children to radical gender and race ideologies without the consent of their parents. The education of our children should not belong to the federal government – it is time to return those rights to parents.”

In simple terms, this is a way to bring up trans/gender issues and racial politics linked (often very loosely) to CRT–often under the umbrella of “wokeness” (never mind the lack of serious definitions of most of these terms–but one cannot dismiss their significance as political signifiers).

Let me first remind the reader that the vast bulk of K-12 spending in the United States is done at the state and local levels. Indeed, only about 8% of funding comes from the federal government. As such, calls for K-12 funding to come from states and not the feds ignore the structure of funding as it already exists (something the story should have noted, in my view).

For what it is worth, the bill’s co-sponsors are Reps. Ralph Norman (SC-05), Matt Gaetz (FL-01), Byron Donalds (FL-19), Marjorie Taylor Green (GA-14), and Eli Crane (AZ-02). Crane, Donald, Gaetz, and Norman all were part of the bloc that voted against McCarthy. MTG famously stood by McCarty, literally, and Moore also supported McCarthy. Still, this configuration of co-sponsors gives one an idea of where the proposal lands on the ideological spectrum.

Of course, the bill has no shot at success. I am not even sure it will make it to the floor of the House (although given the power dynamics in the chamber at the moment, maybe it will?) but it will DOA in the Senate. Mostly this just feels like typical performative legislation.

Still, even if this proposal belongs in a home for geriatric talking points if not the graveyard of legislative ideas that will never come to pass, I would note the broader power of the current attacks on public education, which we see clearly manifested in the actions one Ron DeSantis, but also in legislation aimed as trans persons across the country.

I was going to comment on this issue on some thread a week of so ago, but this DOE story allows for a return to the topic.

Specifically, let me note the power of the following phrases: “without the consent of their parents” and “it is time to return those rights to parents.” This is the crux of this current political movement, fed by lingering frustration over Covid shutdowns (along with vaccine and mask rules), the hysteria over CRT, and trans students.

It is a powerful thing to appeal to parental rights.

It is a powerful thing to appeal to the innocence of children.

It is a powerful thing to appeal to simplistic views of “normalcy.” (And the commensurate, mostly unspoken–or at least downplayed–degree to which a given view of “normal” is linked to distributions of power in society).*

The comment thread (and I can’t find the post) that this reminds me of included a commenter noting that the opponents to DeSantis’ education policies should argue from a basis of free speech rights. After all, it is pretty appalling (certainly in my view) that teachers in Florida are worried that their in-classroom libraries now have to be pre-approved lest these teachers face the possibility of a felony charge. I vividly remember by wife amassing such a book collection, usually on her own dime (as well as the fun I have had over the years moving that library from classroom to classroom and school to school).

So, on the one hand, pointing out the free speech aspect of this policy seems really important.

But on the other, the power of parental input and impulses for “protecting children” should not be ignored, whether one believes those claims to be based on defensible objections or not.

Look, I expect that a lot of readers of this site would object if their child’s teacher populated their in-class library with books from a religious point of view, or from any number of political points of view. There are numerous books that are otherwise innocuous that explicitly promote specific religious traditions. The availability of those books in a public school classroom might trigger reasonable objections from parents on Establishment Clause bases, for example.

Certainly, if you knew that a given teacher had Holocaust denialism in their in-class library, then you would expect that material to be removed, and no appeal to First Amendment rights would sway your position. I bring up that example to simply illustrate that we all have lines wherein we would weigh certain value propositions differently (such as the rights of teachers to select materials in their classroom versus the rights of parents to object to said materials). And I bring up the example also because while I think we in the US still find Holocaust denialism to be sufficiently reprehensible that generally its removal would be supported, there is also a nonzero chance these days that a specific teacher might hold those views. Tangentially, if a teacher who subscribed to QAnon had such books in their classroom, what would you want done with them?

Don’t get me wrong (as I fear some will), I am not making a both-sides argument here. I am simply noting that it is difficult to apply absolute rules to what books ought, or ought not, be in K-12 classrooms and that teachers don’t have (and shouldn’t have) absolute autonomy. There are legitimate lines that need to be drawn. The trick is drawing them reasonably and trying to function in a pluralistic society.

And, more to the point, I am noting how these issues can generate very passionate responses from parents and that those passions are easy for politicians to tap into and to stoke.

At a bare minimum, one should see the political power of appealing to parental input on education.

It would be nice, as I frequently note, if people took the Golden Rule to heart and really did treat others as they would like to be treated. And yet, people tend to want pluralism for themselves and not for others.

To that point, I understand the concern about these broad attacks on curricula focused on racial justice and on policies designed to accommodate individuals whose gender identities and/or sexual orientations do not conform to dominant societal norms. My most basic view of all of this is that we need to learn to be nice to one another and especially for persons who have been privileged by their own ascriptive characteristics to understand that maybe everyone else doesn’t have the same experiences in life and a little compassion and understanding is necessary–not to mention the acknowledgment that existing power arrangements are rather obviously the result of long-standing practices (and not the results of natural law and inherent justice–not by a long shot).

But, of course, acknowledging that being part of Group X is advantageous and being in Group Y isn’t often means re-assessing one’s own life story, and people tend not to want to have to do that. This is especially true if a person assumes that their success is due solely to their own hard work (or maybe the hard work of their parents) and that others’ failures are due to their lack of similar hard work. I think back to Obama saying “you didn’t build that” and the way it was taken out of context and the political hay that was made of it.

At the core of all of this is that conservative (broadly defined) ideologies are founded on the principle that the existing social order exists due to tried and true, slow development and that attempts to fix its problems will upset a delicate balance. This is the essence of Burkean conservativism and is reflected in the work of people like Russell Kirk.** It should never be surprising, however, that persons who benefit from the prevailing social order might be prone to cleave to the conservation of that order, and why those who do not benefit as much would seek to critique that order, and indeed may seek to see it changed, often in substantial and fundamental ways.

Put another way, “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it!” is the way a lot of people view the world because for them, it ain’t broke. It takes compassion (and some willingness to shed privileges) to acknowledge that the world is, in fact, broke for some.

This is the crux of fear and anxiety over “CRT.” I put it in quotes because almost no one in public life who uses the term really knows what it is. To critics, “CRT” means anything that underscores or emphasizes that Black people were poorly treated in the past and that that fact helps explain current social arrangements. Such statements inevitably lead to having to acknowledge who was responsible first for chattel slavery, Jim Crow, and opposition to the Civil Rights movement (i.e., white people). It leads to having to acknowledge the impacts of segregation, both de jure and de facto. It means having to deal with things like redlining and any number of other factors.*** And it means dealing with the fact that if more Blacks, Hispanics, women, etc. are going to have opportunities in society it means that white men will have fewer such opportunities because letting in groups of people who previously didn’t have access means more competition for slots.**** All this leads to defensiveness and resentment by groups who have long had the most power.

So, this post kind of got away from me, and I say that even knowing that I made several conscious choices to reign in some other tangents. Still, let me state that attacks on education, founded in protecting parental inputs, are powerful and will continue to be. DeSantis, for example, (more than the bill to defund the DOE) may well be behaving in ways that are quasi-fascist, but pointing that fact out will likely be less useful than many people would like to think. On the one hand, book banning has a bad name in American culture, on the other, what one person sees as book banning, another person will see as protecting parental rights and the innocence of children. This is made all the more true because I suspect no one believes that teachers have an absolute right to put whatever they want in their classrooms.

The real issue is trying to find a way to promote real pluralism in the United States, but that’s not easy and it is made all the more difficult by the fact that our political structures encourage power-seekers to appeal to narrow, rather than broad constituencies on their way to power.

Of course, the other problem is that there are also some large constituencies in our broader politics that don’t value pluralism.

There is also the uncomfortable truth that a pluralistic society means finding a way to accommodate views and preferences that one does not like. And, moreover, representative democracy means public schools have to find a way to accommodate a wide range of preferences from the citizenry. It creates significant challenges over conflicting values as a result.

*Side note: the word normal means, in a technical sense, the dominant distribution of a phenomenon in a given population. It is defined by the group–such as what a normal height is for a male human being. We know that 5′ 11″ is normal, but 7′ 2″ or 3′ 6″ is abnormal. It is also true that while normal can have an empirical basis, it also takes on value-laden means when humans talk about what is “normal” and not–and what we accept as a society evolved over time. And, also, “norms” are value-laden concepts, such with the idea of gender “norms.”

**I will say that understanding American conservativism is complicated by the fact that it also share DNA with classical liberalism (e.g., John Locke, Adam Smith, etc.) and also with a generic libertarianism (which also is linked to liberal thinkers like J.S. Mill and others).

***I am reminded of a conversation my youngest son had with a member of our extended family a few years ago wherein the person with whom he was speaking didn’t know anything about redlining, despite being of an age where that person would have seen the effects. There was also the propensity of this person to see the past are merely the past (and over with, by definition) and with little desire to acknowledge the way the past shapes the present (let alone an unwillingness to acknowledge that the past in question wasn’t really all that long ago).

****For example, by definition, if more Blacks get NFL head coaching jobs, then that means fewer white can be head coaches. Such simple facts can cause a great deal of resentment by whites who now see their opportunities contracting–although, granted, without any self-awareness of what the status quo ante was built on.

FILED UNDER: Education, US Politics, , , , , , , , , , , ,
Steven L. Taylor
About Steven L. Taylor
Steven L. Taylor is a Professor of Political Science and a College of Arts and Sciences Dean. His main areas of expertise include parties, elections, and the institutional design of democracies. His most recent book is the co-authored A Different Democracy: American Government in a 31-Country Perspective. He earned his Ph.D. from the University of Texas and his BA from the University of California, Irvine. He has been blogging since 2003 (originally at the now defunct Poliblog). Follow Steven on Twitter


  1. Flat Earth Luddite says:

    Thanks for this post, Dr. T. This is an area that Cracker and I touch on during our morning coffees and dolset bibimbap suppers. My foray into edumacation was in a galaxy long, long ago (and my foray into actual teaching was brief and a firy death-spiral), but I’ve frequently thought about the failure of so-called Christians to adhere to the teachings they claim to follow. And the continuing desire of certain “leaders” to turn the population into ignorant sheep (and the happy bleating from many of those sheeples).

    Also, with regard to your redlining comment – I’ve frequently talked with people of all ages who have no idea about how the housing/gentrification issues in the Seattle and Portland areas relate directly to redlining policies that, depending on where/when you look, go back to the founding of those quaint hamlets.

    I’m fortunate that I grew up surrounded by people who genuinely believed that knowledge and learning were power, and who insisted that I learn to think independently.

  2. steve says:

    It may not be overly popular here but I suspect the best way to do it is to leave those book choices to the local parents and schools. That likely means that in some schools some books I dont like are added. Probably some books I would like that others would not. However, my thinking is that in a school district that is dominated by say, liberals, the kids will be subjected to those books anyway. It probably means a few teachers end up moving, but I suspect most teachers have already figured out where they need to leave to fit in.


  3. Stormy Dragon says:

    Look, I expect that a lot of readers of this site would object if their child’s teacher populated their in-class library with books from a religious point of view, or from any number of political points of view.

    Yes, and in many places those objections would be ignored. There’s literally an entire industry devoted around publishing blatantly partisan or religious children’s books and sneaking them into public school settings.

    One thing I’ve learned is that the left needs to be less focused on pointing out right wing hypocrisy. Pointing out that they aren’t living up to their own standards is useless, because the rules are for enforcing consistency, they’re for punishing their enemies.

  4. DK says:

    It’s just hilarious that conservatives — horrified at seeing their white grandkids become increasingly liberal — have settled on, “It’s the drag queens and teachers and their woke books that did it!”

    When the real reason is, “My kids are running away from my worldview because they’ve seen that far too often I’m a dishonest, selfish phony, bigot, and hypocrite whose destructive politics have failed economically, socially, and environmentally.”

    Zoomers are walking around with the portable porn machines we call mobile phones — exposed constantly to TikTok and Instagram as well — but its teachers and librarians who are sexualizing kids. According to the crowd who put Mr. Grab Em By The Pussy in power. Derp.

  5. Stormy Dragon says:

    This also is about far more than just book banning. There’s a lot of people in this country that literally want to murder LGBT+ people. And what’s worse, a bunch of them end up responsible for an LGBT+ child and think it’s their right to spend 18 years torturing that child, and want to be able to use the state to prevent the child from having any reprieve from that torture. What’s more, they also want to be able to torture other families’ LGBT+ children as well, again using the state to prevent that torture.

  6. DK says:

    One thing I’ve learned is that the left needs to be less focused on pointing out right wing hypocrisy. Pointing out that they aren’t living up to their own standards is useless…

    Useless at changing the minds of right wingers, maybe, but it still has utility. Right wing hypocrisy and inauthencity is one of youth voters’ main critiques of 21st century conservativism. Since the youth vote has become determinatively critical to defeating far politicians, I’d say the “they’re frauds and full of crap” attack is useful indeed.

  7. CSK says:

    Maybe we shouldn’t have endcd school prayer.

    It took about 60 seconds–if that–in the morning, and any mention of religion was over for the day. No references to God, Jesus, or Christianity.

    I wasn’t raised in any religion and even I didn’t mind doing it. It was like pledging allegiance. Done by rote.

    Far better than being harangued about it all day long.

  8. Modulo Myself says:

    It is a powerful thing to appeal to parental rights.

    It is a powerful thing to appeal to the innocence of children.

    It is a powerful thing to appeal to simplistic views of “normalcy.” (And the commensurate, mostly unspoken–or at least downplayed–degree to which a given view of “normal” is linked to distributions of power in society).

    Is it? I grew up in a pretty normal small town and we had sex ed and were taught evolution and whatever the prejudices of the teachers we were given a pretty progressive education, or at least we were not taught through a rubric of fear about what the world might do to us.

    Personally, I think of parental rights and there is not a positive thing which comes to mind about the people who get into that. They’re cranks and idiots and the parents who are ‘accidentally’ uninvited to PTA functions. According to the NYTimes DeSantis when he taught at a private high school was considered a racist creep by his students and was made fun of by him. Where I come from, there’s a certain social order and if you are a teacher who gets made of fun by your students (especially if you’re a creep hitting on the girls) it’s a pretty absolute thing.

    Overall, I think the right is backsliding into an ideology of infantile anti-social fascism which would shock the average segregationist in 1955. I know we are going to hear a million sob stories from the same types who were screaming about cancel culture defending book banning and blaming the left for not to being tolerant of uptight boring freaks who think mentioning racism in
    a kid’s book is the same as showing them a catalogue of a Robert Maplethorpe exhibition. But the bottom line is that there’s no defense for any of this. If you can’t handle CRT or queer theory being taught in AP classes or hearing about gender, you are way beyond what is considered normal. W

  9. Chip Daniels says:

    Pretty much.
    Conservatives are seeing themselves becoming a minority viewpoint. But unlike other minority viewpoints, they demand the right to rule as if they were the majority.

  10. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    (And the commensurate, mostly unspoken–or at least downplayed–degree to which a given view of “normal” is linked to distributions of power in society).*

    Noting that you did circle back to CRT and referenced it in the opening, I’ll still note that some of these parentheticals are coming dangerously close to points that CRT would be making if it were being taught in schools. Fortunately, it’s not being taught so our chilluns is safe for now–as long as pointy headed crackers like you me keep our lips buttoned. (Fat chance of that happening. I lost more than one job saying things people didn’t want to hear during my career.)

    they’re for punishing their enemies.

    Again, I’m reminded of the story from one of my abortive attempts to teach in Oregon where my building principal advised me that the “zero tolerance for drugs” policy of the school was not about keeping drugs out of the school but rather to give the administration grounds to go after “the kids we don’t like…”
    and the terse reminder that “we don’t talk about this stuff with the public” that Luddite was asked to give me when he shared my anecdote with a Portland teacher he knew from his bowling league.

  11. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @Chip Daniels: Conservatives are upset because they are unjustly being relegated to minority opinion status in their minds. One of Rush Limbaugh’s ongoing points was that conservatism was not only the majority view of the nation but also the only intellectually honest and morally justifiable view. I’d be upset if I believed I was being mistreated that way, too. Fortunately, I grew up in fundamentalism before it was corrupted by evangelicalism so I know that not only are my views in the minority but also they’re supposed to be so that God will be able to reward us for our faithfulness in the face of (supposed) hostility.

    Evangelicals could benefit from learning from old school fundies–and being quiet about it so as to draw less negative attention to themselves.

  12. Michael Reynolds says:

    Writing anything for kids has always been fraught. Writers have always ‘self-censored’ to some extent. It was part of a game we played – how far can we push on violence, sex, race, philosophy, etc. without causing a backlash? What’s happened is that a lot of writers and some foolish editors decided to drop the self-censorship and declare open season. Backlash ensued. And everyone is at a bit of a loss as to how to respond other than howls of protest. Part of the problem is a lack of ideal, a lack of principle.

    Are we fighting for freedom of speech? The Left no longer believes in free speech, they believe in regulated free speech. So what principle are we meant to defend? Because in practice what we’re saying is that the Left has a right to attack books and the Right does not. The Left has the right to object to content and the Right does not. Lefty parents have rights when it comes to curricula, Righty parents do not. There is no principle we can appeal to that can be applied equally to all sides. We are right, they are wrong, that’s our principle. Exactly the same as the Right’s principle.

    There are people in this world who want to do the right thing; and then there are people who want to be seen to do the right thing. It’s the people in that second category, the ‘look at me being virtuous!’ types who tend to generate backlash. They knowingly push too far so reviewers will call them brave. They aren’t writing for the kids, they’re writing for Horn Book and SLJ.

    It is possible to write a middle grade or YA novel that incorporates all the essential points delineated in 1619 or the CRT papers, or write about trans issues, without generating backlash. (Or it was before things got to this point). But it is not possible to do that and still feel the love from the critics. Kidlit critics like sledgehammers – virtue must be loud and confrontational. Does that do any good for the kids? No, but it’s not about them, is it? They’re just the pawns, as always, it’s the adults who really matter.

  13. Chip Daniels says:

    @Just nutha ignint cracker:
    Virtually every sort of group knows the experience of being in the minority even if you think you’re right.
    The conservatives aren’t willing to accept the will of the majority because they view us not as equal partners who need to be compromised and cooperated with, but as enemies who must be crushed.

    This is why they need to invent persecution, as a projection to justify their planned persecution of their enemies.

    For example, no one is forcing them to adopt a gender they don’t want, but they sure as hell want to force everyone else to do such.

  14. Mister Bluster says: prayer
    I’ll support prayer in public schools as long as I get to write the prayer. I will not be submitting my prayer to the school board or parents or you for approval. I will write the prayer and those kids are going to say it!

  15. gVOR08 says:

    Yesterday, via Digby Republican turncoat Stuart Stevens has, IMHO, some good advice for Democrats on the culture war and the education war.

    I think it’s time for Democrats to run toward the sound of the guns in cultural wars. Not only can Democrats win cultural wars, they are winning them, even if they don’t seem to understand their potential electoral benefits.

    At a 2017 rally in Alabama for Senator Luther Strange, Trump thundered, “Wouldn’t you love to see one of these NFL owners, when somebody disrespects our flag, to say, ‘Get that son of a bitch off the field right now. Out! He’s fired. He’s fired!’” … In September, before the 2018 midterms, Mitch McConnell’s long-time top political aide, DC lobbyist Josh Holmes, touted the political impact of attacking the NFL. “It’s a powerful tool against liberals who are trying to make cultural inroads into a conservative electorate. …” So how did that work out? Nike’s value increased by $6 billion in the weeks after airing their “Believe in Something” national Kaepernick campaign. Luther Strange lost his election, Republicans lost the House in 2018, and Donald Trump is working out of a bridal suite in a Florida country club.

    (The bit that made me quote Stevens on this thread.) There were no public high schools in Virginia teaching CRT, but there are high schools in Florida that offer students advanced placement classes in African American history. At least until DeSantis’s “Stop Woke Act” banned the classes. This followed the banning of books DeSantis found offensive to whites and his attack on LGBTQ students and their families.

    Democrats should run directly at these educational attacks. There is a reason suburban voters move to find better schools or spend thousands to send their kids to private schools. While Republican politicians increasingly view higher education as a gateway drug to socialism, these parents are more motivated by their kids getting into a good college than by fear of exposure to dangerous ideas.

    Dr. T has some sympathy for people who fear “”CRT”” (double quotes because Dr. T followed this convention for words that don’t mean what they purport to mean) on the Burkean grounds of “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”. Use that. The education system ain’t broke, why does DeSantis want to fix it? “You’re right, Governor, there’s no reason to teach CRT in grade schools and high schools, which is why no one is teaching it there. You seem to think our education system is broken. But we’re well rated, 16th in the nation. Let’s talk about the many things we’ve been doing right for years and how to get even better. And I don’t think pulling money from our excellent public schools to give to charter schools is the way to do it. Instead of trying to tell the College Board what to put in Advanced placement classes lets do our job and try to get more Florida kids into AP classes.”

    Barry Moore’s bill to abolish the DOE is going nowhere because no one except a lunatic fringe wants the DOE abolished. In his constant search for new ways to get in the news and pander to the base DeSantis is heading down a rabbit hole. We shouldn’t argue that his machinations violate fee speech, we should argue that he’s threatening your kids’ education.

  16. CSK says:

    @Mister Bluster:

    Be my guest. ; )

    Seriously, though, the God Squad seemed to be satisfied with just a morning prayer. No yelling about evolution, sex ed, whatever…

  17. Mister Bluster says:

    @CSK:.. just a morning prayer
    If god believers get their prayers in public schools then Christian Sunday Schools should be mandated to teach that Genesis is just a fairy tale.

  18. JKB says:

    In all areas of mixed nationality, the school is a political prize of the highest importance. It cannot be deprived of its political character as long as it remains a public and compulsory institution. There is, in fact, only one solution: the state, the government, the laws must not in any way concern themselves with schooling or education. Public funds must not be used for such purposes. The rearing and instruction of youth must be left entirely to parents and to private associations and institutions.
    –Mises, Ludwig von (1927). Liberalism

    Public schooling has always been political and used by those in control to “get the children”. Whether it was Protestant trying to capture the Catholic children as most of compulsory public schooling was in the US in the 19th century, or as Marx and Stalin opined in their dogmas. Today, there is an element in public schooling who make no secret of their goals and can’t seem to stop making Tik Tok videos.

    Celebrating diversity only raises the political nature of compulsory schooling to be the most critical element. And as Mises points out, the only solution school choice by parents, though I would support education vouchers tied to and following the student.

    And, this activist coercion on all sides would be less critical if government schools were actually effective, but recent studies have shown 65% of 4th graders can’t read at their grade level if at all. Colleges should be concerned as these kids will be the ones they hope to profit off of in 2030. And those kids missed most of the Common Core debacle that damaged the learning of those now applying to colleges.

    As for your head coach example in your notes, it would be better if we turned away from the growing bureaucratic society where slots are fought for and awarded by elders and back to the entrepreneurial small business culture where the young build their own future by innovation and risk taking.

  19. @Modulo Myself:

    Is it? I grew up in a pretty normal small town and we had sex ed and were taught evolution and whatever the prejudices of the teachers we were given a pretty progressive education, or at least we were not taught through a rubric of fear about what the world might do to us.

    And, on balance, I suspect that most classrooms across the country continue their tasks unabated. But that doesn’t mean that schooling isn’t an issue that can be used to mobilize.

    I would note that much of public education in Montgomery, AL (to name a place I am well familiar) was shaped pretty heavily around issues of what certain parents thought they needed to do to protect their children. I am not defending these views and choices, but am underscoring the reality of the activity.

    And I would always caution against the notion that one’s personal experience, especially as a child, proves any broader point.

    Personally, I think of parental rights and there is not a positive thing which comes to mind about the people who get into that.

    The issue is not whether it is positive or negative. The point is that it can be a pretty significant rallying point.

  20. @JKB:

    Colleges should be concerned

    Trust me. They are.

  21. @gVOR08:

    Dr. T has some sympathy for people who fear “”CRT””

    I wouldn’t quite put it that way. But part of my point is that these folks exist and in a democracy, you can’t just ignore them. And, moreover, people can be very passionate when they think they are protecting their children/their way of life that they want to hand down to their children.

  22. @gVOR08:

    The education system ain’t broke

    The problem is, I don’t think anyone thinks that the public education system in the US doesn’t have flaws. Even 16th in the nation isn’t #1. Indeed, here’s a phrase I have rarely typed over the years, JKB is right (even if he is wrong about causality) that writ large our public schools are producing far too many graduates with inadequate math and English skills.

  23. @steve: Without any doubt, there is some substantial influence of local culture on schools. The odds are, for example, that most of the teachers at a local small-town elementary school in Alabama all attend a local church and some percentage of them probably also teach Sunday School. This ends up influencing their classrooms. I am sure that there are many daily reminders in Utah public schools of the prevalence of Mormonism in the state, etc.

    But there is also the problem that you can’t let that go too far, else the true minorities have their rights violated. In some ways you need stronger protections in those contexts than you do in a multiethnic public school in NYC.

  24. Modulo Myself says:

    @Steven L. Taylor:

    My point is that parents were and are not being threatened with having their rights taken away, unless you define rights as the ability to force your kid to be straight or to learn nothing without your approval. And I can’t speak for Alabama, but where I grew up acting like an overbearing homophobic jerk was not considered a powerful expression of a parent. (And homophobia was common currency where I grew up.) It was considered sad and pathetic, in the same way that snooping through your teenager’s life is considered sad and pathetic, even though most parents monitor their kids’ usage of social media.

    Most good parents understand there is no clear idea of what it means to protect your kids from things other than the now. The bad parents assume that they easily can do it and that there are forces in society which are trying to stop them from protecting their kids, and that these forces aren’t like corporations selling stuff but teachers and people who are in the extreme trying to protect their kids from their terrible parenting. Essentially the right has made bad parenting an ideology, so we now have to consider it in a pluralistic society as a valid viewpoint. A normal person might suspect that genuine anxiety over the lack of clear line drives people to scream about CRT, but that’s psychology and we will have probably have to ban that sooner or later.

  25. CSK says:

    @Mister Bluster:
    I attended Sunday School exactly once when I was a kid. Afterward, I told my mother I didn’t like it. She replied: “Okay; you don’t have to go.”

    I really think that when there was school prayer, rote and relatively meaningless, at least to me, the God Squad was satisfied with that.

    Just an observation on my part, neither a prescription nor a recommendation.

  26. Andy says:

    There’s lots of nut picking on education, but the reality is that the vast majority of parents do not support the politicization of k-12 education regardless of if it’s lefty or righty ideas. They want safe and effective schools that focus on the fundamental aspects of education. The culture war idiocy directly takes away from that.

    Michael is exactly right about principles, which is a soapbox I get on constantly here. K-12 education is not the place to try to socially engineer one’s ideological values into the next generation. Particularly when schools are increasingly underperforming in their core functions.

  27. @Andy: The problem is that all choices are, ultimately, political.

  28. Andy says:

    @Steven L. Taylor:

    Only in the most cynical and academic sense.

  29. @Andy: All decisions, ultimately, rank-order values, power, and outcomes of who gets what or who gets their way and who doesn’t.

    It is the essence of politics.

    How much time you spend on math instead of literature is politics. And which math you teach. And which books you read.

  30. And I don’t think that is cynical. I think it is core truth.

  31. Hell, the existence of public schools is a political decision.