Can you stand one more lament about the Right-wing assaults harming public education?
In a recent column for the Washington Post, Jennifer Rubin reported on an alarming academic study. Researchers found
that the “virulent stream of hyperpartisan political conflict” has had “a chilling effect on high school education.” Teachers are seeking to avoid controversy by “pulling back on teaching lessons in civics, politics, and the history and experiences of America’s minority communities;” incidents of verbal harassment of LGBTQ students are on the rise; and many teachers and administrator are planning to leave their jobs.
The authors of the report surveyed 682 public high school principals, who confirmed that organized campaigns have attempted to intimidate public schools and force changes to align with right-wing ideology. The researchers write, “Our survey data make clear that political conflict over a set of hot button issues occurred at more than two-thirds (69%) of public schools across the nation during the 2021-2022 school year.” Moreover, “Half of all principals report that parents or other community members sought to limit or challenge teaching and learning about issues of race and racism. Nearly half report challenges to school policies and practices related to LGBTQ student rights.” And a third of principals said “parents or community members raised challenges to school library books they deemed inappropriate.”
Researchers have found that “a relatively small group of hostile parents and community members are leading the charge,” despite the preferences of a clear majority of parents who want kids to have an accurate education.( One recent national survey found that over 95% of Americans want high school students to learn about slavery, and 85% want them to learn about racial inequality.)
Perhaps the most troubling finding was the effect of this assault on students’ ability to identify misinformation. Apparently, students in classrooms with educators intimidated by these tactics show a diminished capacity to distinguish between credible and falsified information. At a time when misinformation, disinformation and propaganda are a huge problem, an ability to evaluate the likely accuracy of information is incredibly important, and the best way to help students make those judgements is by arming them with verifiable facts.
Interestingly, these assaults have been most numerous in so-called “purple” communities–areas that were previously reliably Republican but are changing– becoming more Democratic in the wake of Trump and the demise of Roe.
Many principals noted the “mass hysteria” over critical race theory, fueled by disinformation about schools’ curricula. This has impacted schools in purple communities the most, with almost a quarter of principals in such areas reporting that their school board or district leaders limited teaching on race or racism. Only 17 percent of schools in red communities, by comparison, and 8 percent of blue communities did the same.
Purple communities were also more likely to experience MAGA partisans’ attempts to ostracize or stigmatize LGBTQ individuals, Thirty-two percent of principals in purple districts report incidents of “hostile or demeaning remarks toward LGBTQ classmates,” compared with 22 percent in red or blue communities. Across all schools, the percentage of principals reporting multiple attacks on LGBTQ students increased from 15 percent in 2018 to 24 percent this year.
These political assaults aren’t limited to attacks on teachers and principals. Culture warriors trying to protect their political turf are making life miserable for school board members, too.
Here in Indiana, Hamilton County–adjacent to Marion County/indianapolis– is one of those areas that has been turning purple, and Moms for Liberty, a national crackpot organization, ran “anti-woke” slates in several Hamilton County school districts .
The winning candidates in Hamilton Southeastern, Tiffany Pascoe (District 1), Juanita Albright (District 2), Dawn Lang (District 3), and Ben Orr (District 4), were supported by the Hamilton County chapter of Moms for Liberty, a powerful and controversial conservative group that rose to prominence by opposing mask mandates, critical race theory and social emotional learning. The group aims to install like-minded people in school board seats across the country.
Amber Huff Willis (At Large), William Anderson (District 2) and Rebecca Ogle (District 4) won seats on the Westfield Washington school board; they were also supported by Moms for Liberty Hamilton County.
The Carmel Clay school board governs one of the larger districts in Hamilton County, and the effort to take over that board was less successful. Incumbents supporting diversity, equity and inclusion efforts were re-elected; however, one candidate who claimed that “radical liberal teachers” were “indoctrinating” Carmel students won in a very close race.
Our daughter served on the Indianapolis school board for 20 years, and I watched her spend countless hours for very little pay working with colleagues, parents and teachers to improve local public schools.
Given today’s dishonest, ugly assaults, how many citizens will willingly run for school board? Teachers aren’t the only ones deciding it just isn’t worth it.