There’s an old saying to the effect that empty vessels make the most noise. We can see the truth of that observation in multiple venues: when we look at some of the loudest members of Congress and our state legislative chambers, when we look at a variety of media loudmouths–and it is painfully obvious in the assault that a few parents and others are mounting on their local school boards.
Periodically, we need to remind ourselves that decibels don’t translate to majorities. We are living through an era when people who feel threatened by change are emulating two-year-olds throwing tantrums–and unfortunately, tantrums are newsworthy. (They pull attention away from all the two-year-olds who aren’t lying on the floor shrieking.)
I’ve previously noted that Indiana’s Attorney General–desperate panderer Todd Rokita– has rushed to issue a “Parents Bill of Rights,” and now the empty vessels in Indiana’s Statehouse prepare to “empower” parents to overrule educators.(Next, perhaps they will allow unhappy citizens to overrule traffic engineers or building inspectors, or even police. After all, specialized training and expertise just gives people airs…)
As legislators rush to placate parents who want to protect their children from wearing masks or studying accurate history, it seems reasonable to inquire just how widespread the anger of parents with public school rules and curricula really is. The Brookings Institution has recently conducted research to assess parental satisfaction with their schools, and it will probably not surprise you to find that the screaming and irrational folks who’ve descended on previously boring school board meetings aren’t particularly representative of parents in general.
Brookings’ study concerned school rules and conduct during the pandemic, and the researchers found that earlier criticisms had abated considerably as school systems have returned to in-person instruction.
I was more interested in the hysteria over curricula–especially the hyped-up anger over (non-existent) teaching of Critical Race Theory. I wasn’t able to locate survey date focused on that issue, but a review of media reports on clashes at school board meetings suggested that the people expressing hostility to teaching about the more negative parts of America’s history were neither numerous nor particularly representative of the parents in the district. (In a couple of cases, the angriest folks didn’t even have children in the system.)
Of course, that hasn’t stopped the GOP from jumping on a divisive issue that they think may activate racism and give the party a political advantage.
House education leader Bob Behning said the next legislative session, which starts in January, will include a bill inspired by the critical race theory controversy that focuses on “transparency.” He suggested requiring districts to form “curriculum control committees,” groups of parents, community members, and educators who would review curriculum, classroom materials, or library books and advise school leaders to change aspects they disagree with.
Also in response to contentious school board meetings, Republicans are drafting a bill that could reshape school boards, which are currently formed through nonpartisan elections. Behning said his colleagues are considering a bill that would allow school board members or candidates to choose whether to reveal their political affiliation.
In other words, the empty vessels in our legislature want to stir up racial animosities and politicize previously non-partisan school board elections. In an already polarized age, they want to add to the polarization.
We shouldn’t be surprised. Here in Indiana, the legislature has waged persistent war on public education, draining resources from our public schools and sending millions of taxpayer dollars to predominantly religious schools via the nation’s largest voucher program.
In innumerable ways, Indiana’s legislators continue to signal their lack of respect for the professionalism of our public school teachers and school administrators, and their utter lack of understanding of the civic mission of the schools. Like the loud and self-righteous culture warriors descending on school board meetings, they are sure they know better than educators what the curriculum should and should not include and what lessons should be transmitted.
The emptier the vessel….