Parental Rights Crusades Often Conceal Other MotivesRoundup
tags: education, critical race theory
The author of 15 books on science, history and law, Edward Larson received the Pulitzer Prize in History for Summer for the Gods: The Scopes Trial and American's Continuing Debate Over Science and Religion.
Education is a key issue for Republicans all over the country in 2022. Why? In a word, Virginia.
Before 2021, Republicans had gone a dozen years without winning a statewide race in the commonwealth. But that year, with many parents angered by pandemic-related classroom closures, GOP gubernatorial candidate Glenn Youngkin made parental control over public education his top issue.
Youngkin began by attacking the record of Democratic nominee and former governor Terry McAuliffe. He reminded voters that McAuliffe once vetoed a bill that would have allowed parents to exempt their children from studying material they deemed “sexually explicit,” such as Toni Morrison’s “Beloved,” a Pulitzer Prize-winning novel with references to rape, slavery and infanticide. In the wake of Black Lives Matter protests and amid new national debates around classroom curriculum exploring race relations, Youngkin’s attacks focused on opposing instruction in critical race theory.
This strategy paid off during a televised debate when a clearly frustrated McAuliffe responded to Youngkin by saying, “I don’t think parents should be telling schools what they should teach.” Repeated in GOP attack ads and social media posts, these 10 words helped Youngkin pull an upset. Republicans won every statewide race on the November ballot and regained control of the House of Delegates. Political analysts widely regarded McAuliffe’s gaffe as the pivot point in the election, with conservative commentator Joe Concha awarding it “a top listing in the Hall of Fame of Political Blunders.”
But Youngkin’s victory, which has influenced Republican governors across the country, was hardly the first time a politician invoked the innocuous-sounding issue of parental control over public education to advance an agenda. The same claims framed William Jennings Bryan’s crusade against the teaching of evolution in schools in the 1920s. Bryan’s campaign exposes how claims of parental rights are often a cloak for deeper concerns.
Public schools have always been about more than academics. During the mid-1800s, for example, Horace Mann promoted the common school movement as a means to integrate non-English immigrant children into mainstream American culture.
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