Ever since the forced integration of public schools, white evangelical Christians have led the charge to “protect” their children from social issues they’re not willing to face up to at home. Sadly, they expect that protection to come by means of making everyone else cater to their whims.
Let’s be clear: That takes the “public” out of public education.
In the 1960s, after the Supreme Court ruling in Brown v. Board of Education, white parents who didn’t want their children learning alongside Black and brown children at least were transparent enough to start their own private schools. While the motivation for these largely faith-based schools was racist, these parents and churches knew they couldn’t bend the public education system to their will.
Today, the successors to these conservative evangelical parents aren’t so transparent and apparently aren’t willing to pay private school tuition. Their tack now is to force public schools to accommodate their prejudices.
I recently wrote about my first-hand experience with such parents in a Baptist News Global opinion piece. I went to our local school board — which leads one of the most ethnically diverse districts in Texas — to testify against banning books from school libraries. The parents wanting to ban books are evangelical Christians who expressed concerns about their children being exposed to age-appropriate literature addressing race, gender and sexuality. Fundamentally, they oppose our district’s innovative work on inclusion and diversity.
Here’s what I didn’t say in that earlier piece: This movement in our school district, like several other recent movements in the district, appears to be organized by young parents who attend the same big-box megachurch. What’s more, these young white families have been buying up houses in the same neighborhoods, where they hope to dominate the neighborhood elementary schools. In at least two such neighborhoods, families from the same church have systematically bought up entire blocks, sometimes making unsolicited appeals to homeowners to sell their property because the prospective buyer believes God has “called” them to move into this neighborhood.
“These young white families have been buying up houses in the same neighborhoods, where they hope to dominate the neighborhood elementary schools.”
But our public school district is still bigger than these parents, these neighborhoods, this one megachurch. And it must serve all children with a concern for the common good. That is what “public” education is about, whether in Texas or Tennessee.
In Tennessee, conservative evangelical parents have appealed to the state legislature to bolster their veto power. The Nashville Tennessean reported April 14 that the Tennessee Legislature had passed a bill that would allow parents to waive for their children anything deemed LGBTQ-related curriculum. The bill has been sent to Gov. Bill Lee for his signature.
From the Tennessean: “The initiative … would require school districts to notify parents of any instructions related to sexual orientation and gender identity. Parents would have the right to excuse their children from the curriculum, and students would be shielded from any punishment because of it.”
The newspaper added this context: “It also mirrors years of attempts by Republican lawmakers to erase LGBTQ-related content from classrooms. The famous ‘Don’t Say Gay’ bill, which would have barred the teaching of ‘anything other than heterosexuality,’ failed in 2012 and 2013. This year, another bill seeking to ban LGBTQ-related teaching materials altogether is also making progress in the House.”
“It also mirrors years of attempts by Republican lawmakers to erase LGBTQ-related content from classrooms.”
This is all done under the guise of allowing parents the right to make educational content choices for their children.
In our suburban Dallas school district, the mantra of protesting parents is that schools should focus only on reading, writing and arithmetic — which oddly leaves out history and science and languages and the arts and physical education.
That’s where the Texas parents’ argument collapses like a house of cards. Their concern is clearly not about teaching only reading, writing and arithmetic. Besides, they’re even contentious about how those core subjects should be taught. Their concern is about their children being exposed to the truth about race and racism, gender and sexuality.
Likewise, the Tennessee parents aren’t merely concerned about parental choice in public education because they also favor taking away that same right from other parents and students.
The same Tennessee parents who supported the opt-out for any mention of LGBTQ content vigorously supported another bill — now signed into law — that allows the state to override parental rights on the realized gender of their own children when competing in school sports.
“Government does not own our children,” Rep. Terri Lynn Weaver, R-Lancaster, said in support of the opt-out bill. “Parents are responsible, and parents have every right to opt their child out of anything that is taught in the school that the parent does not believe their child should be involved with.”
“Stop and think about the insanity of that statement.”
Stop and think about the insanity of that statement. If every parent with a child in public school were given the opportunity for their child to opt out of everything they find objectionable, you’d never have agreement on anything. How could a teacher possibly manage all this even if given a spreadsheet with all the necessary exemptions?
Should Muslim parents be allowed to opt-out their kids from lessons on Christianity that occur as part of history classes? Should parents who are vegan be allowed to opt-out their kids for any mention of livestock or demand that they be excused from the cafeteria where meat is dished out? Should Black parents who believe the Pledge of Allegiance is a promise unfulfilled for their children be allowed to opt-out their kids for the first 10 minutes of class every day?
Once again, conservative evangelical Christian parents want to be given a privilege they most certainly would not be willing to give others. This is not about parental rights; this is about parental privilege. It is about demands for autonomy, not appeals to community.
And once again, that takes the “public” out of public education.
“If you want to shelter your kid from reality, fork over the money to send them to the private school of your choice.”
It’s time for those of us who believe in public education as a civic virtue to speak up more vigorously than the parents who want to create public schools in their own narrow-minded image. We need to keep making a case for the common good, for the breadth of understanding necessary to navigate today’s world.
If you want to shelter your kid from reality, fork over the money to send them to the private school of your choice. That will buy you some time to keep them in a bubble. Just realize that eventually even private school kids must make their way in the real world, and they’ll do better at that if they haven’t been taught a version of reality that isn’t real.
Racism and the evolution of Protestant support for private education | Analysis by Andrew Gardner
That time I went to the school board meeting to speak against banning books | Opinion by Mark Wingfield