What Links COVID and Curriculum Conflicts in Schools?Historians in the News
tags: curriculum, COVID-19, critical race theory
Debates over what children are reading and learning in school, and who gets to decide, have divided school board and other state and local races nationwide. But most Americans, and especially parents of school-aged children, are satisfied with their local schools, found a new survey by Morning Consult for The New York Times. Yet there is one issue that generated more opposition than any other: teaching about gender diversity, and about the rights of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people.
This topic — more than teaching about critical race theory or social-emotional learning — was the most divisive, found the survey of 4,421 people in October. Four in 10 respondents opposed such instruction, and the same share supported it (the rest weren’t sure).
One group of people was more likely to oppose teaching about sensitive social issues and want more parental control in schools: people who said schools were closed too long during the pandemic, particularly conservatives.
Debate over what children learn has been a feature of American public education since it was introduced on a wide scale in the 1830s. Schools are a natural place for these debates, historians said, because they’re in every community, and because of their role as molding future voters.
The controversies are always about more than the issues at hand, said Jack Schneider, a historian who studies education policy at the University of Massachusetts, Lowell. The uproar over teaching evolution in the early 1900s tapped into broader anxieties over social change, he said, and politicians used it “as a way of ensuring that their base would be ready to support other issues.”
“There’s a certain resentment that comes from abrupt closures of schools and all these parents being told, ‘You go deal with it, this is your job to teach your kids,’ and then they open and one of the main talking points around schools becomes, ‘How dare these parents think they have a say in schools?’” said Natalia Mehlman Petrzela, author of “Classroom Wars: Language, Sex, and the Making of Modern Political Culture” and a historian at the New School.
“Parents are still picking up the pieces, but also feeling chastised and excluded,” she said.
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