Archives for category: Parents

The Republican-controlled legislature in Missouri has imposed charter schools on the state’s two urban districts (but not their own). The legislature is now considering HB1552, which will financially benefit charter schools. Emily Hubbard, a parent in St. Louis, wrote to ask the Budget Committee to stop expanding and favoring charter schools and to fund the state’s public schools equitably and adequately. She sent this email to the Budget Committee, which I am posting with her permission.

Dear Budget Committee Members, 

I am planning to come speak to you in person, so I will keep this email brief. 

I am a parent of four children in St. Louis Public Schools. They are amazing kids who have been loved and taught well from our neighborhood elementary school to the magnet middle school my two oldest attend. With my youngest in second grade, I have another decade in SLPS, assuming that the district manages to survive.

Y’all, I am so tired of certain members of the state legislature pitting charter schools against public school districts. I am especially baffled that this bill is sponsored by someone with no charter schools in his district. Who is he representing with this bill? Because of the laws y’all or your predecessors have already made, this statewide law will only affect two cities (and maybe Normandy?), and I know you know these are the cities with the most Black kids (mine included). 

My new neighborhood school (we recently moved from Rep. Aldridge’s district to the 81st) is a school that serves students who speak many different languages at home. ESOL services cost money. I don’t know if you have the time to watch this video from the October legislative committee of the Board of Education, but let me remind you that around 20% of SLPS kids do not have stable housing. That’s around 5000 children. This data is 2018-2019 (from this site) , but please look at these numbers: 

all SLPS kids: 21,814

all Charter kids: 10,109

homeless population at SLPS: 4,771

homeless population at charters: 470

SLPS homeless percentage: 21.87% 

charter homeless percentage: 4.65% (but some have zero, some are high as 13%, some have closed 2019)

SLPS serves a student population with disproportionately higher needs than charter schools, whether it’s through our fantastic ESOL programs; the difficult task of walking through trauma with kids (one of my daughter’s classmate’s mother was murdered over Christmas break); the cost incurred by the desegregation program which doesn’t seem to have done that much to integrate our schools (especially the neighborhood ones) and instead allows white and privileged parents the ability to cluster in the particular magnet schools and hoard their resources for the sake of their already resourced children; or the special education costs which we shoulder alone, not shared like in the county. 

And then there’s the whole transportation thing–did you know that some charter schools don’t provide transportation? So you can’t really choose that school if you don’t have a safe way to get your kid to school and home again.

I don’t know anything about the education system in Kansas City, so I can’t speak to that, but please please please consider the effect that passing this bill will have on the children of St. Louis. 

I am an evangelical Christian (a pastor’s wife, even), and I have seen our school be the means that does the Lord’s work: they feed the hungry, clothe the naked, take care of the orphan, minister to the foreigners within our gates, not to mention, for our family at least, providing an education that has enabled my children to grow in their faith as we take what they’ve learned at school and use it to glorify God together. 

Please don’t take away from funds that enable SLPS to do the work it does, however imperfectly.

And could we just as a state, fund education at a higher rate all together? I know the rural schools are struggling too. 

Also if we could alleviate homelessness, do what it takes to end gun violence, prioritize the health of all Missourians, raise the minimum wage, deal with our opioid addiction crisis…there are a ton of non-education things that if addressed, would significantly and positively affect not just our district, but all the districts. Just think about it, okay?

Thanks so much for your time–see you on Tuesday! I’m sorry that this wasn’t brief at all, I just care a whole lot.

With appreciation for the difficult work you do,

Emily Hubbard

Carondelet, St. Louis

This post was published by the Network for Public Education. The authors remind us that the only thing innovative about charter schools is their marketing practices.

Cynthia Roy and Richard Rosa are co-chairs of the New Bedford Coalition to Save Our School. In this op-ed for SouthCoast Today, they explain why a newly proposed charter school is not something that Massachusetts needs.

One of the most morally disturbing aspects of the Innovators Charter School proposal for New Bedford and Fall River is the joining of considerable political and economic power to withdraw resources from public education systems that have been historically underfunded. What is appalling is the deliberate indifference to the impact on our public school systems in New Bedford and Fall River which, together, serve 22,563 students. As students and families are seduced to exit their public schools, the operating costs in these schools remain the same. This proposal is just more of the same looting of the public school system that we have seen with charter schools.

The Innovators Charter School is not an incubator of innovation for public education reform; rather, it is part of a movement to treat public education as a market opportunity for entrepreneurs and business that has proven to be catastrophic for communities across the state.

Virtually every “innovation” that charter schools utilize to decorate their proposals was born in public schools. Charter schools have been on the scene since the 1980s, and yet there has been little to no shared innovation even though they are released from significant regulations that public schools must abide by.

The greatest innovation that charter schools have engendered is that they are very seductive with their false narratives of “failing public schools.” The application is loaded with these references, insinuating that public schools are dated in their assumptions about learning and educator development.

The ICS application places great emphasis on its educators being knowledgeable about adolescent development. There is nothing innovative about this. All licensed public school educators in the state have taken various courses in adolescent development. Many hold advanced degrees and possess a deep understanding of child psychology and how students learn and grow, including students with disabilities. We also wonder how ICS will recruit and retain professional educators who are knowledgeable in adolescent development when they intend on paying their educators ten thousand dollars less than their counterparts working in our public schools.

Read the complete op-ed here.

This very important story appeared in the Washington Post.

She had seen her grandson’s red, spiral-bound notebook before that night, but now, as Catherine O’Connor sifted through its pages for the first time, what she read astonished her.

“School Shootings,” Joshua O’Connor had titled the first page, above a reconstruction of the Columbine High School massacre that left 13 people dead. In the pages that followed, Joshua, who’d just turned 18, described a detailed plan to carry out his own massacre: the shotguns, pistols, assault rifle and ammunition he would buy and the bombs he would build; the doors he would zip-tie “so bitches can’t escape”; the spot by the bleachers where he would set off the first explosion; the route he would take on his killing spree; the moment, when it was over, that he would end his own life.

“I Need to make this shooting/ bombing… infamous,” he wrote in early 2018. “I Need to get the biggest fatality number I possibly can.”
Catherine O’Connor, a retired probation officer who was Joshua’s guardian, showed the journal to her husband, who was equally disturbed. The next day, after O’Connor dropped her grandson off at school, she searched his room and found a semiautomatic rifle in a guitar case. Then she did what many parents of school shooters never do: called the police to report that a child she loved posed a threat to his classmates, his community and himself.

Last week’s shooting at Oxford High School in Michigan, which left four students dead and seven other people wounded, has focused unprecedented attention on the responsibility parents bear when their children fire shots on campuses.

For decades, mothers and fathers have overlooked clear warning signs that their teens were capable of violence, but adults are almost never held accountable when their negligence leads to bloodshed. That’s what makes Jennifer and James Crumbley, the parents of the 15-year-old charged with the shooting, so unusual. They each face four counts of involuntary manslaughter, almost certainly the most serious charges ever brought against an alleged school shooter’s mother or father.

Since 1999, children have committed at least 175 school shootings, according to a new Washington Post analysis. Among the 114 cases in which the weapon’s source was identified by police, 77 percent were taken from the child’s home or those of relatives or friends. And yet, The Post discovered just five instances when the adult owners of the weapons were criminally punished because they failed to lock them up. Another three cases in which adults were charged, including the one against the Crumbleys, are pending.
[More than 278,000 students have experienced gun violence at school since Columbine)

In Michigan, Oakland County Prosecutor Karen McDonald has argued that the facts justify the felony charges against the couple, alleging “unconscionable” negligence.

Four days before the shooting, McDonald said, James Crumbley bought a 9mm Sig Sauer, which their son, Ethan, later posted a photo of on Instagram, writing, “Just got my new beauty today.” Three days before the shooting, Jennifer Crumbley posted that she and Ethan were at the gun range “testing out his new Christmas present.”

One day before the shooting, a teacher caught Ethan searching online for ammunition, but when the school alerted his mother, authorities say she instead texted her son: “Lol. I’m not mad at you. You have to learn not to get caught.”On the day of the shooting, McDonald said, a teacher found a note on which Ethan drew a person shot dead, along with “blood everywhere” and “The thoughts won’t stop. Help me.” When his parents were summoned to the school, the prosecutor noted, they refused to take him home — nor did they search his backpack for the gun. Less than three hours later, his rampage began.

The Crumbleys have pleaded not guilty, and their attorney denied the prosecutor’s allegation that the 9mm was kept in an unlocked drawer, saying “that gun was actually locked.”

School administrators also deny they did anything wrong, but the parents of two sisters who survived the shooting filed a pair of lawsuits, in federal court Thursday, accusing the district of negligence, too.

Regardless of who’s at fault, research shows that such deadly outcomes are not inevitable. In a report issued earlier this year, the Secret Service’s National Threat Assessment Center reviewed 67 “disrupted plots” targeting schools between 2006 and 2018. Every time, the report said, “tragedy was averted” when others came forward after seeing alarming behavior. In most cases, friends, classmates or other peers spoke up, but in eight instances — or about 1 in 9 — a parent or grandparent noticed and reported something, sometimes after going through a relative’s bedroom or, as O’Connor did, reading a journal.

She discovered that Joshua had scheduled the attack for April 19 — the day before Columbine’s anniversary. She found the list of his self-diagnosed mental illnesses and the pages with the will that he’d written, explaining what was to be done with his ashes. In the journal’s seventh entry, she read this: “So today I just bought a Hi-Point 9mm Carbine rifle. … I can’t wait for April, it will be a blast.”

The day after his arrest, on Feb. 14, 2018, O’Connor watched what happened when another attacker wasn’t stopped.

Just past 2 p.m., 3,300 miles away in Parkland, Fla., another angry teenager who had threatened to shoot up a campus did just that, killing 17 people during the deadliest high school shooting in American history.
‘Not impulsive acts’

She never feared her grandson, but Joshua’s horrifying plot made clear that he needed help she and her husband couldn’t give him.
“What’s the right next step?” she recalled thinking before alerting authorities. “I don’t know what other choice there was.”

Because she made that choice, her grandson never fired a shot or took a life. Police arrived soon after her 911 call and searched Joshua’s room, where they found a collection of bomb parts and confiscated his rifle and notebook. Within hours, he was taken into custody.

Four decades before the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas and two decades before the shooting at Columbine, a teenager named Brenda Spencer opened fire on a San Diego elementary school on Jan. 29, 1979, killing two adults and wounding eight children and a police officer.
Spencer was 16, and her father, Wallace, had given her the .22-caliber rifle a month earlier. It was, just like Ethan Crumbley’s handgun, a Christmas gift.

Prosecutors never charged the man with a crime.

His potential culpability garnered little attention in the press at a time when school shootings were considered disturbing anomalies rather than a national crisis that demanded intensive training, expensive technology and armed officers to deter.
[‘Scared to death’: More than 4 million children endured lockdowns in the 2017-18 school year]

Not much had changed by 1998, when Kip Kinkel shot 27 people, killing two, at Thurston High in Oregon. He used three guns from home, including a Glock his dad had bought for the firearm-obsessed 15-year-old as a way to strengthen their relationship.

Kinkel had access to the weapons despite being an angry, violent, depressed and deeply delusional ninth-grader who had twice been suspended for attacking other students and, another time, was caught by police trying to buy a stolen firearm. Whether prosecutors would have charged his parents for their negligence is impossible to know; Kinkel killed them both the day before the school shooting.

Much of the country would not awaken to the threat of school shootings until the next year, when Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold killed 13 people and wounded more than 20 others at Columbine.

Klebold’s mother, Sue, has talked about her experience perhaps more than any other shooter’s parent, even writing a book about her son, the attack and its aftermath.

“Dylan did not learn violence in our home. He did not learn disconnection, or rage, or racism. He did not learn a callous indifference to human life,” she argued in “A Mother’s Reckoning: Living in the Aftermath of Tragedy.” “Dylan showed no clear and present danger, the way some children do.”

Harris’s parents, who have never given an interview, could not make the same claims, according to Peter Langman, a psychologist and the author of “Warning Signs: Identifying School Shooters Before They Strike.”
“Eric Harris’s parents knew he had anger management problems — they said he punched a wall about every four weeks — knew he had been suspended for hacking into the school’s computer system and stealing everyone’s locker combination, knew he had been arrested for breaking into an electrician’s van and stealing equipment, and also knew that he had built at least one pipe bomb,” Langman said. “They also knew he drank and smoked pot. This, of course, does not predict mass murder, but should have warranted at least conducting room searches to see what else might be going on.”

Mass shooters, experts have found, seldom kill without warning.
“These are definitely not impulsive acts,” said Matt Doherty, who used to run the Secret Service’s National Threat Assessment Center. “They are planned in advance, and that planning can occur over days, weeks or months or years.”

In 2017, parents in Maryland discovered such a plan in their 18-year-old daughter’s journal, where she laid out a “Columbine-type attack” on her high school, said Frederick County Sheriff Charles A. Jenkins.

The teen’s father also found materials for explosive devices, shotgun shells and a shotgun she had purchased, Jenkins said. The parents contacted school officials, who called the sheriff’s office. She later pleaded guilty to possessing explosive material.

“I wonder how parents cannot see signs that are developing in a home and in a family situation,” Jenkins said. “There are always signs somewhere.”

Few school shooters offered more warning signs than Nikolas Cruz, the Parkland gunman who pleaded guilty to the murders.

On the first day that the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Public Safety Commission gathered, one of their investigators presented a slide breaking down nearly 50 instances of threatening behavior that people knew about but didn’t report or that authorities knew about and didn’t act on. Instances in which Cruz tortured or killed an animal: seven. Times he was seen with a bullet, knife or firearm: 19. Declarations of hatred he made toward a group or person: eight. References he made about wanting to hurt or kill someone: 11. Threats that he would shoot up a school: three.

The commission’s chair, Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri, called Cruz’s mother, Lynda, an “enabler.” She died a few months prior to the Parkland shooting.

“There’s no question about it,” he said in an interview, noting that she had taken her son to get a state ID card when he was 18 so he could buy a gun, despite knowing he was violent. Investigators learned that Cruz had once knocked out three of her teeth and, at least once, pointed a gun at her.

“There is no way she should not have known” what her son was capable of, Gualtieri said. “There is no way a reasonable, prudent person wouldn’t have recognized and identified it.”

‘A wake-up call’

Twenty-one years ago, in a town just 40 miles from Oxford, Mich., a first-grader found a handgun in a shoe box, took it to school and used it to kill a 6-year-old classmate. The 19-year-old man who owned the weapon later pleaded no contest to involuntary manslaughter and served 29 months behind bars.

No gun owners since have faced a harsher penalty for allowing their firearms to fall into the hands of a child school shooter.

Politics are often blamed for the lack of accountability. Three years ago, Commonwealth’s Attorney Mark Blankenship wanted to charge the stepfather of a 15-year-old boy who had used the man’s gun to kill two people and wound 14 more at Marshall County High, in a deeply conservative part of Kentucky.

But, just as in Michigan, state lawmakers in Kentucky had never passed a regulation mandating that adults prevent children from gaining access to their firearms, limiting Blankenship’s options. He lost reelection, blaming the failure, in part, on his comments about going after the stepfather.

Safety advocates now wonder whether the Crumbley case represents a broader shift in the way that the country assigns responsibility after school shootings. But its long-term impact may depend on the outcome. If the couple are convicted, will more prosecutors feel emboldened to go after negligent gun owners and, specifically, parents? If they’re exonerated, will the case have the opposite effect?

Regardless, some experts say, the charges could make a meaningful difference right away.

“My hope is that this will be a wake-up call for gun owners who are not safely storing their firearms,” said Allison Anderman, senior counsel at the Giffords Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence. “There are millions of teens and children who live in homes with unsecured guns.”

In fact, if the only change America had made after Columbine was to prevent children from obtaining firearms, hundreds of kids who accidentally shot themselves or each other would not have died or been maimed or suffered through the guilt of their mistake, at least 10,000 children might not have ended their own lives in suicide and more than half of the country’s school shootings wouldn’t have happened.

For Catherine O’Connor, the woman who reported her grandson to police in Washington state, doing the right thing came at a devastating cost. She pleaded with the court to show Joshua mercy, but he still received a 22-year prison term.

At a hearing, the judge called her a hero. O’Connor hated that. She just wanted to help her grandson.

The case has eroded her faith in the justice system, but she agreed with the Michigan prosecutor’s decision to charge the Crumbleys. O’Connor couldn’t comprehend why they hadn’t searched their son’s backpack during that meeting at the school.

“That’s so irresponsible, beyond belief,” she said. “That just outrages me.”
O’Connor said she had long been wary of allowing her grandson to go near unsecured firearms. She and her husband owned guns but said they were always hidden and equipped with trigger locks.

Of course, she could do nothing to stop Joshua from buying the semiautomatic rifle when he turned 18. But even her grandson came to a realization about America’s gun culture.

“Grandma,” he said the first time she saw him after this arrest, “guns are too easy to get.”

Jennifer Berkshire wrote a fascinating article in The New Republic about the politics and history behind the “parent rights” issue. She reminds us that the issue came to a boil in the 1990s, as the GOP cynically seized upon it as a sure fire winner to motivate the base. And that it has an even longer history, as she shows.

Will it prove to be a winner for the GOP?

Republican candidate Glenn Youngkin jumped on the issue in the Virginia gubernatorial election, and he won.

Berkshire writes:

In Youngkin’s upset win, the GOP saw its path to forever rule. And it was lined with angry parents. In his election-night letter, dashed off as votes were still being counted, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy pledged to roll out a “Parents’ Bill of Rights” as a central plank of the GOP’s efforts to retake Congress in 2022 and the White House in 2024. Josh Hawley, who aspires to occupy that residence, announced his own rights bill, one that would “turn back efforts to shut parents out of their children’s education.” The Wall Street Journal made the new cause official: The GOP was now the “Parents’ Party.”

Republicans’ newfound passion for America’s parents has a straightforward explanation. As the Virginia victory demonstrated, parental rage can be mined for electoral gold. And right now parents have plenty of reasons to be unhappy. Pandemic schooling, with its arduous, unpredictable schedule of shutdowns and mandates, is in its third year, with no end in sight. Meanwhile, school districts are fumbling as they grapple with an array of contentious issues, including the appropriate way to teach about racism and how best to accommodate the needs of an increasingly diverse student body. The result has been an incendiary debate about not just what schools teach and how they’re run but whose voice really matters in those decisions.

This is not the first time parents’ grievances have been exploited for politics’ sake. Three decades ago, the GOP and a familiar line-up of conservative groups coalesced behind the same banner of parental rights. The cause even made it into the GOP’s Contract With America, the ambitious legislative agenda laid out by conservatives en route to flipping Congress in 1994. When Pat Buchanan launched his 1996 presidential bid, he declared himself the candidate of parents. “You have my solemn word,” Buchanan intoned on the stump in New Hampshire, a state he went on to win. “I will shut down the U.S. Department of Education, and parental right will prevail in our public schools again.”

And yet within a few years, the issue came to be seen as a stalking horse for the religious right’s agenda of dismantling public education, and it fizzled with surprising speed. Now, as conservatives once more wave the banner of parents’ rights, the sudden demise of a potent political issue 30 years ago offers some valuable lessons.

Once more, the GOP has grabbed the issue, this time to push their privatization agenda. If Democrats are wise, they will read Berkshire’s article and prepare for the GOP offensive. To do so, they must support public schools, unions, and public school teachers vigorously, instead of trying to cut a deal with charter schools, hedge fund donors, and enemies of unions.

Nine years ago, a deranged gunman blasted his way into Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut. He murdered 20 children and six educators, including the principal, Dawn Hochsprung. The children were all 6- and 7-year-olds. Teachers shielded their children as best they could, and some died while protecting the children.

Many thought this slaughter of babies and educators would compel Congress to enact meaningful gun control. It didn’t. It even inspired a ruthless radio host to claim that the massacre never happened. Many grieving parents received death threats, due to the radio host’s lies. A court has held him liable for his cruel campaign. Meanwhile the murders continue, and Congress does nothing.

I received this message from Sandy Hook Promise, which continues to advocate for gun control:

Nine years ago today, our children and loved ones were murdered at Sandy Hook Elementary.

There are no words to describe how deeply we miss them, or how agonizing it is to mark another year since the last hug, smile or laugh we shared with them.

It’d bring such comfort to know you’re standing with us today. Will you sign our remembrance card to honor the precious lives taken from us?

-Sandy Hook Promise

Since December 14 also is the date on which my beloved two-year-old died of leukemia many, many years ago, I grieve with and for with the parents of Sandy Hook, and with all families who have lost a child. You never forget.

Leonie Haimson, executive director of Class Size Matters, is one of the nation’s most persistent advocates of class size reduction. She is the voice of many parents in New York City, who regularly tell pollsters that their number 1 wish for their children is smaller classes. Now that the city’s public schools anticipate a new infusion of funds, Haimson and many parents are pressing to get a commitment from the city to reduce class sizes.

She writes in The Nation:

New York City public schools are often as crushed as the subway during rush hour, with literally thousands of students forced to learn in overstuffed classrooms—sitting side by side, elbows knocking into each other, or sometimes leaning against the wall or resting on a radiator. Even in the age of Covid-19, hallways are so jam-packed it can be hard for students to get to their next class.

It wasn’t supposed to be this way—and, if the city’s mayor and the City Council speaker would pass a crucial piece of legislation limiting class sizes in New York’s public schools, it wouldn’t have to continue. But as the end of the council’s term ticks closer, the two are standing in the way of a popular bill, adding a new and frustrating chapter to a drama that’s been playing out for decades.

New York City parents and educators have been calling for smaller class sizes since at least the 1960s. In 2003, the state’s highest court agreed with them. It concluded that class sizes were too large to provide students with their right, guaranteed by the state Constitution, to a sound basic education. It found that the plaintiffs, the Campaign for Fiscal Equity, “presented measurable proof” that New York City schools have “excessive class sizes, and that class size affects learning.” It concluded:“The number of children in these straits is large enough to represent a systemic failure.”

To remedy this and other inequities, the court ordered that the state provide more funding to high-needs districts, and in 2007, the state passed a law requiring New York City to use these funds to lower class size. But then the Great Recession hit, and the full state funding never materialized. Class sizes actually increased.

Today, classes in the city’s public schools are larger than they were in 2003—especially in the early grades. Before the pandemic hit in 2020, more than 330,000 students—roughly a third of the school population—were crammed into classes of 30 or more. On average, classes in the city’s public schools are 15 percent to 30 percent larger than they are in the rest of the state. While both Michael Bloomberg and Bill de Blasio, the city’s most recent mayors, promised to address this critical inequity during their campaigns, both failed to follow through once elected.

Now, the pandemic has brought the perennial problem of class size into sharper focus, as the need for social distancing has made smaller classes more critical than ever. At the same time, Covid-19 has helped bring unprecedented resources that could be used to address the issue: Over the next three years, the city is due to receive an additional $8 billion in federal and state funds for our schools.

The federal funds are meant to help the city improve both the health and safety of the classroom environment—goals that smaller classes could help achieve. The state funds—which amount to $1.3 billion in additional annual aid, due to be phased in over three years—represent the long-overdue fulfillment of the mandate of the CFE case.

Together, these funds represent a remarkable opportunity, one the City Council recognized when it proposed that a substantial portion of them be allocated toward reducing class size. But the mayor balked. So the council’s education chair, Mark Treyger, introduced Int. 2374 in July, a bill that would effectively phase in smaller classes over three years. It would do this by increasing the per student square footage required in classrooms, ranging from about 18 to 26, depending on the grade level and room size.

The legislation currently has 41 cosponsors out of 50 members—a supermajority that could overturn the mayor’s likely veto. Yet the vote on this bill has been delayed by Speaker Corey Johnson, despite the fact that there are fewer than two weeks before the council adjourns for the year and a new one takes over in January.

Read on to review the research supporting the value of class size reduction as the most important and effective reform that schools should enact.

Why is City Council Chair Corey Johnson blocking this crucial measure?

A group committed to equity in schools—the Missouri Equity Education Partnership—posted a list of bills that have been filed for the 2022 session of the Legislature. The group makes no judgment about the bills. If you scan the list, you will see that the general trend is to clamp down on discussions of racism and to guarantee “parent rights.”

The first bill listed is HB 1457, which “prohibits the use of the 1619 Project in public schools.”

Several other state legislatures have already banned this book. Why should the State Legislature have the power to prohibit the use of a specific book? This is censorship. I have read The 1619 Project, and I think it is excellent course material for high school students. As I have written previously, teach the book and teach the criticism of the book, and let students debate the controversy. It will encourage them to think.

Apparently the thought of students reading about racism frightens GOP legislatures. perhaps even more frightening is the idea of students thinking for themselves. Thought control—which this is—should be banned.

Peter Greene reviews efforts by Congressional Republicans to pass legislation guaranteeing parent rights. He goes through the legislation point-by-point and concludes that most of the “parent rights” are already common practice in American public schools.

He writes:

The bullet point version of the bill lists five rights– the right to know what’s being taught, the right to be heard, the right to see school budget and spending, the right to protect their child’s privacy, and the right to be updated on any violent activity at school. Most of which seems… kind of redundant, giving parents rights that they already have.
But maybe the actual bill reads a little better. (Spoiler alert: it does not. It is far worse.).

What the GOP is really seeking is to give parents the power to veto whatever is taught, which is alarming as it will lock in place the “right” of parents to rewrite history.

American public schools have many problems related to class sizes, lack of investment in repairing and upgrading obsolete facilities, racial segregation, and the need to retain qualified teachers, but the GOP does nothing to address critical needs. What it is actually willing to do is to pander to its aggrieved base.

Greene writes:

There’s are also levels of irony here. For one, the voucher programs that the GOP loves so well (e.g. Betsy DeVos’s Education Freedom Scholarships) champion schools that don’t have to do any of these things–and often strongly resist any pressure to make them do any of these things. The other is that the GOP is still trying to brand itself as the Parent’s Party, despite its opposition to paid family leave, medicare for all, and a variety of other measures that would actually help parents (like. say. addressing the US’s shameful maternal mortality rate). But why actually do something when you can instead float some doomed symbolic legislation that doesn’t actually do anything, let alone something useful.

Two leaders of the New Bedford Coalition to Save Our Schools—Cynthia Roy and Roberto Rosa—are outraged that the state is about to plunk a new charter school into their district.

They expect the state will approve the “Innovators Charter School,” and they know that parents will condemn the decision.

They wrote in a local newspaper:

One of the most morally disturbing aspects of the Innovators Charter School proposal for New Bedford and Fall River is the joining of considerable political and economic power to withdraw resources from public education systems that have been historically underfunded. What is appalling is the deliberate indifference to the impact on our public school systems in New Bedford and Fall River which, together, serve 22,563 students. As students and families are seduced to exit their public schools, the operating costs in these schools remain the same. This proposal is just more of the same looting of the public school system that we have seen with charter schools.

Jack Schneider and Jennifer Berkshire are co-authors of A Wolf at the Schoolhouse Door: The Dismantling of Public Education and the Future of School. It is a book that everyone should read. They recently wrote an article that was posted in Valerie Strauss’s “Answer Sheet” blog at the Washington Post.

They write:

In their search for issues that will deliver Congress in 2022, conservatives have begun to circle around the cause of “parents’ rights.” In Indiana, Republican Attorney General Todd Rokita recently introduced a Parents Bill of Rights, which asserts that “education policy and curriculum should accurately reflect the values of Indiana families.” In Florida, the legislature passed an even more comprehensive bill, assuring that the state and its public schools cannot infringe on the “fundamental rights” of parents. A growing number of states are allowing parents to sue districts that teach banned concepts. And in Virginia, Republican Glenn Youngkin has made parents’ rights a centerpiece of his campaign for governor, staging “parents matter” rallies and declaring, “I believe parents should be in charge of their kids’ education.”

Given this frenzy, one might reasonably conclude that radicals are out to curtail the established rights that Americans have over the educational sphere. Yet what’s actually radical here is the assertion of parental powers that have never previously existed. This is not to say that parents should have no influence over how their children are taught. But common law and case law in the United States have long supported the idea that education should prepare young people to think for themselves, even if that runs counter to the wishes of parents. In the words of legal scholar Jeff Shulman, “This effort may well divide child from parent, not because socialist educators want to indoctrinate children, but because learning to think for oneself is what children do.”

When do the interests of parents and children diverge? Generally, it occurs when a parent’s desire to inculcate a particular worldview denies the child exposure to other ideas and values that an independent young person might wish to embrace or at least entertain. To turn over all decisions to parents, then, would risk inhibiting the ability of young people to think independently. As the political scientist Rob Reich has argued, “Minimal autonomy requires, especially for its civic importance, that a child be able to examine his or her own political values and beliefs, and those of others, with a critical eye.” If we value that end, “the structure of schooling cannot simply replicate in every particularity the values and beliefs of a child’s home.”

The law has long reflected this. Consider home schooling. Although it is legal across the country, states still regulate its practice. Such regulations often aren’t enforced, but they are certainly on the books. Home-schooling parents can be required to establish minimal academic qualifications, to submit examples of student work to school district administrators or even to adopt a state-approved curriculum. As the Supreme Court noted in Wisconsin v. Yoder, a case that granted Amish parents the widest possible exemption from state control, “There is no doubt as to the power of a State, having a high responsibility for education of its citizens, to impose reasonable regulations for the control and duration of basic education.” And, as the court made clear in an earlier case, Pierce v. Society of Sisters, the state concerns itself not just with the well-being of the child but also with what the justices broadly called “the public welfare.”

The sudden push for parental rights, then, isn’t a response to substantive changes in education or the law. It’s a political tactic.

Writing in the 1960s, historian Richard Hofstadter observed that conservatives felt that the country had been “taken away from them and their kind” and that timeworn American virtues had been “eaten away by cosmopolitans and intellectuals.” In response, they took up what he called the “paranoid style” — an approach to politics characterized by “heated exaggeration, suspiciousness, and conspiratorial fantasy.” Published more than half a century ago, his essay could have been penned yesterday.

The “paranoid style” of politics is particularly useful as a mechanism for organizing opposition. And the Republicans employing it right now have two particular targets in mind. The first is the public education system, which hard-liners have long sought to undermine. At an annual cost of nearly three-quarters of a trillion dollars, tuition-free, open-enrollment education represents one of the nation’s most substantial commitments to the public good. But well before Ronald Reagan’s failed effort to introduce vouchers in the 1980s, conservatives were making the case for a privatized system — one in which families, not taxpayers, would bear the cost of education, and governance would happen through the free market rather than democratic politics. In recent years, this vision has come roaring back. Conservative legislatures across the United States have introduced bills creating education savings accounts, private-school tuition tax credits and other forms of neo-vouchers that package old ideological wine in new bottles.

But this play is much bigger than education. For years, the Republican Party has understood that the demographic tide is against it. Knowing that every vote matters, the GOP has increasingly relied on a strategy of voter suppression. Simultaneously, Republicans have worked to ensure that their base turns out in force by stoking White racial grievance. The recent firestorm over critical race theory is a perfect case in point. Never mind that this concept from legal scholarship isn’t actually taught in K-12 schools or that it isn’t what most protesters believe it to be. Republicans gain an electoral advantage by convincing their base that White children are being taught to hate themselves, their families and their country. Whether this supposed attack on the American way of life is being coordinated by Black Lives Matter activists, Marxist educators or antifa operatives, the point, as Hofstadter observed, is to generate an enemy “thought of as being totally evil and totally unappeasable.”

Courts have found that parents have great authority when it comes to deciding how to raise and educate their children. This right, however, does not mean that public schools must cater to parents’ individual ideas about education. Parents can opt out of the public system if they wish, and pay to send their children to private or religious schools. But even there, parental rights remain subject to state regulation and override.

In framing our public schools as extremist organizations that undermine the prerogatives of families, conservatives are bringing napalm to the fight. That may rally the base and tilt a few elections in their favor. But as with any scorched-earth campaign, the costs of this conflict will be borne long after the fighting stops. Parents may end up with a new set of “rights” only to discover that they have lost something even more fundamental in the process. Turned against their schools and their democracy, they may wake from their conspiratorial fantasies to find a pile of rubble and a heap of ashes.