The debate over parental rights in education is at a fever pitch across the United States, with politicians and advocacy groups pushing for greater control over what children learn in school. At first glance, this may seem reasonable. A child’s education should be a partnership between parents and teachers. Barriers to that collaboration should be eliminated. While this may be the stated goal of the parental rights movement, look past the angry parents and shouting activists and you will find a different agenda at play. Opportunistic politicians, education privatizers, and conservative activists are manipulating parents to further their own objectives. Well-organized and well-funded groups across America are working to control and ultimately dismantle public education and public libraries.
Three tactics in particular are threatening students and educators.
- Book bans: 2,571books were challenged or banned in 2022 and 2023 is on track to exceed this number. Most of these books deal with race, gender and how history is presented. Many teachers, librarians and administrators are proactively removing books from shelves to avoid controversy.
- Educational Gag Orders and Intimidation: Nearly 400 bills were introduced in state legislatures between January 2021 and June 2023 dictating what may be taught and how. Many of these have already passed into law. Vague wording and broad scope make it impossible for educators to know what is and isn’t allowed.
- School Board Capture: School board meetings have become the frontline of the culture wars. Partisan politics have taken over school board elections and turned once respectful dialogs into shouting matches. Newly elected ideologues are using their positions to reshape schools and libraries to match their personal worldviews.
The vast majority of parents and voters oppose these actions. Only 12% of Americans believe that professional educators should not decide what books are on library and classroom shelves. This very small, but very vocal minority, many of whom do not have children in public schools, are having an outsized impact on education. The rest of us need to be informed and organized to defend our schools and libraries.