Why Politicians Want To Convince Parents That Teachers Are Harming Children
Jamie E. Shenton
If you take the number of new classroom discussion laws passed as an indication of how Americans must feel about the education system, you must think people are very dissatisfied.
Florida’s Parental Rights in Education Act and its fallout dominated the news cycle for months. Other states, including Kentucky, have followed suit. Just last week, Congress held a hearing to hear the thoughts of students, parents and educators on laws restricting classroom conversations about gender, sexual orientation and race. So we might assume that Americans on both sides of the aisle can agree on one thing: Schools aren’t making good school choices and may actually be harming our children.
That couldn’t be further from the truth. Polls show that more than three-quarters of American parents agree that “my child’s school is doing a good job of keeping me informed about the curriculum, including potentially controversial topics.”
Indeed, Americans are more or less united in their esteem for education. According to a survey conducted by the Carr Center for Human Rights and Institute of Politics at Harvard University in 2020, a bipartisan supermajority of 92% of adults surveyed believed that a quality education was among their “important basic rights”. to be an American today. This survey included people who identified as Democrats, Republicans and Independents.
Opinion:“Don’t touch our libraries.” Why JCPS ‘Lawn Boy’ Book Challenges Do More Harm Than Good
So why, all of a sudden, have schools and teachers become the enemy? And what’s behind all the laws banning conversations in classrooms when most parents aren’t particularly unhappy with how or what their children are learning?
I feel like the politicians have found a clever way to capitalize on an idea that hardly any parent would dispute: children shouldn’t be hurt.
At the heart of debates about what children should learn in school is the possibility of children being harmed. On the one hand, parents who support legislation banning discussions of gender, sexuality and race in schools fear that their children will be harmed by feelings of shame, blame or guilt. On the other hand, parents who oppose these bans fear that their children will be harmed by a lack of perspective on the real issues facing contemporary society, by being erased from the curriculum and daily conversations in the classroom, or outright bigotry that stems at least in part from not having the conversations that are forbidden.
So maybe it’s on specific issues – like race or sexual orientation – that people are divided.
Here too we have been misled. That same Carr Center survey also found a 92% bipartisan supermajority of respondents supporting “racial equality” among the “essential rights important to being an American today.” A smaller, but still overwhelming, bipartisan majority of 71% thought “LGBTQ rights” were essential.
Somewhere along the way, it became politically expedient to convince parents that schools and teachers hurt their children, that teaching about race was a form of racism, that saying, “You are free to be yourself with me” threatens a subset. students rather than welcoming all students.
Things have gotten so perilous that Kentucky lawmakers are questioning the motivations of children’s literacy programs and our state’s top teachers are questioning whether it’s worth continuing to teach. In March this year, Senator Stephen Meredith (R-Leitchfield) questioned the relevance of the contents of the Dolly Parton Imagination Library – a program that has put books into the homes and hands of thousands of children from preschoolers around the world – although he ultimately supported legislation proposing that Kentucky join the program.
Willie Carver, Kentucky’s 2022 Teacher of the Year, appeared at the aforementioned congressional hearing to testify about the damage such legislation has done to LGBTQ students in his schools and to his teaching. As part of his testimony, Carver was asked by Rep. Nancy Mace (R-South Carolina): “Do you believe that learning pronouns or learning to read is more important for kids in school?
Opinion:Christian Academy of Louisville homework shows indoctrination happening in private schools
Together, these examples give a contradictory assessment of where things like the best interests of the child actually fit into current debates about what is taught in our schools. Lawmakers oppose a program designed to give children the resources they need to learn to read at the same time they claim a focus on pronouns is supplanting schools that teach children to read – a contradiction .
Legislation prohibiting certain types of conversations in the classroom creates fear and exhaustion among our teachers who wonder, “Can I be fired for teaching this? “. The attacks on teaching in Kentucky mean that current teachers are abandoning the profession in droves, and people who want to enter the teaching profession are avoiding it. Carver is currently on sabbatical and reluctant to return to class. He notes that others have received death threats. Kentucky school board meetings became contentious with shouting and other disruptions.
If you ask me, the people who harm our children the most are the elected officials trying to convince parents that story time corrupts their children. We harm children when we think the political rhetoric that teaching children to accept difference is indoctrination, but banning a conversation about gender identity is not. We harm children when we create conditions in which their teachers leave due to exhaustion or fear for their safety.
The schools are doing a good job; most Americans agree on that. And most Americans also agree on something else. In April 2022, polling data revealed that 76% of Americans disapprove of the work Congress does. That might be reason enough for elected officials to make us question the very institutions — the schools — that teach us to be critical thinkers.
Jamie E. Shenton, Ph.D. is a cultural anthropologist who analyzes contemporary political discourse proliferating on social media. I also teach Introduction to Social Justice at Center College in which we explicitly discuss issues related to schools, socialization, and children.