I still remember experiencing an epiphany of sorts when–some twenty years ago–a group of parents wanted the Indianpolis City-County Council to pass an ordinance preventing children from accessing certain books from the public library. The library had responded by offering what I felt was a reasonable accommodation: parents who desired to control what their kids could check out could fill out a form at the library, and librarians would require parental approval for materials their children wished to read.
Nope–not good enough.
These advocates of “parental rights” insisted that no child should access whatever it was that had them up in arms. That’s when I realized that what these parents really wanted was the right to control the decisions made by other parents.
That mindset is all around us.
Elon Musk believes in free speech for racists, anti-Semites and homophobes–but not for critics of Elon Musk.
Anti-abortion fundamentalists want “religious liberty” defined as the imposition of their religious beliefs through the passage of laws that ignore the liberties of people whose religions differ.
That absolute disregard for the rights of people who disagree with them–and their utter un-self-awareness of that hypocrisy– is obvious in so many of the fights being waged by these culture warriors. The anti-mask, anti-vaccine “freedom fighters” are a great example–they don’t care if they endanger friends and neighbors; It’s their rights that matter.
E.J. Dionne recently made that point in an op-ed about the “parental rights” extremists who’ve been showing up at school board meetings and demanding that certain books be banned. He noted that this new round of censorship “has sturdy roots in a right-wing movement that uses slogans around “parental rights” to defend removing books from libraries in the name of “protecting” children.”
The scare quotes I put around parental rights and protecting kids will invite immediate denunciation and provide an opportunity to say that terrible liberals like me are against parents exercising their responsibilities and protecting children….
Opponents of censorship heartily agree that parents should have an important say in how schools work and how public libraries serve our children. What we’re against is a willful ideological minority imposing its views on everyone else, dictating which ideas should be forbidden in public institutions that instruct the young.
As Dionne noted, the same disregard for the rights of other parents permeates the movement’s dishonest “anti-CRT” assaults. (I think everyone who screams about our schools teaching Critical Race Theory should be challenged to define it. They have no clue. What they really want, of course, is whitewashed history…) Dionne cites several surveys that confirm the desire of a majority of American parents to teach accurate history, warts and all.
“We found that Americans of all political orientations want their children to learn a history that celebrates our strengths and also examines our failures. Americans overwhelmingly agree that the experiences of minority groups are an important part of that history. And they agree that if students are better informed about America’s past there’s a better chance of not repeating past failures.”
When it comes to book banning, a survey for the American Library Association in March asked: “Would you support or oppose efforts to remove books from local public libraries because some people find them offensive or inappropriate and do not think young people should be exposed to them?” It found 71 percent were opposed.
There is an appeal to the idea that parents should have some control over what their children learn,” Hart Research’s Guy Molyneux, who has polled extensively on educational issues, told me. “But parents don’t want a situation where the most upset parent determines what other children learn or what books are in the school library.”
It’s instructive to look at the questions in surveys that the culture warriors claim support book banning: one Rasmussen survey found that 69 percent of voters “believe books containing explicit sexual depictions of sex acts, including homosexual sex, should not be present in public high school libraries.” Those stocking school library shelves would agree–and it’s the height of dishonesty to use language suggesting that such explicit materials are what is at issue.
As Dionne says,
The vast majority of parents want their kids’ schools to be open and welcoming settings for education, not battlefields in culture wars designed primarily to goose conservative turnout at election time.
Unfortunately, most of these sensible parents lack the time and resources to do battle at school board meetings.
The board members who must listen to the ravings of these fringe activists need to remember that people are loudest and most aggressive when they know they don’t represent a majority–and that the parents who disagree with the loudmouths have parental rights too.