To the Editor,
In their search for topics that would galvanize their base prior to the 2022 election, Republicans have seized on the issue of “parents rights,” claiming that the right to determine what books and ideas are included in the curricula of public schools is within the purview of the parents whose children attend these schools. Many Republican-led state legislatures are now busying themselves with regulations that limit the scope of what can be taught in their schools, a lamentable tradition dating back to the 1925 Scopes Monkey Trial, which revolved around the teaching of modern science in schools. In 1954, parents fought desegregation under the banner of parents rights. While governor of California Ronald Reagan, revered by right wingers today, declared that the state “should not subsidize intellectual curiosity” and as president cut federal spending on education in half, while reducing the power of local school boards by routing funding to states rather than localities.
Despite the desperate political effort to rile up public school parents, they have never had the right to impose their will on what school boards decided was appropriate curricula. If parents are unhappy with what is taught they have a right to withdraw their child from public school and home school the child or enroll him in a private or religious school. As Robert Reich notes, “the structure of schooling simply cannot replicate in every particularity the values of a child’s home.” Parents have never possessed the right to determine what is taught in public schools. The purpose of public schooling is to prepare young people to think for themselves; this is a civic good. The ability to think critically, to analyze, interpret and evaluate ideas is crucial to democracy.
Unfortunately, conservative groups like the Independent Women’s Forum, described in a New York Times editorial as, “a right-wing policy group that provides pseudofeminist support for extreme positions…” are busy stoking parent dissatisfaction with public school boards. This group, funded by billionaires, continues the assault on public education, with privatization as the goal. School board officials nationwide have been harassed, physically assaulted and have even received death threats, compelling the Department of Justice to consider federal intervention to protect these public servants.
Instead of working to solve real problems that affect their constituents, such as homelessness, income insecurity and climate change, many Republican politicians are actively creating dissension and discord by inventing non-existent problems. As David Korn notes, “The Republican Party is not a party of ideas or policies. It is a party of grievance — including phony grievance — that is animated by the organizing principle of tribal resentment.” Anyone doubting Korn’s assessment is invited to review the 2020 Republican Party platform. Oops, it does not exist.