Banning ideas in schools isn't the answer — parents must be active citizens

Banning ideas in schools isn't the answer — parents must be active citizens
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The Florida Board of Education recently unanimously voted to ban critical race theory from public schools, in an effort to prevent biased narratives that could enable teachers with political agendas to “[teach] kids to hate their country,” according to Gov. Ron DeSantisRon DeSantisIsrael forms task force to pressure Ben & Jerry's to reverse boycott: report Florida Democratic official suspends concealed carry permits for 22 people tied to Capitol riot Trump Jr. inches past DeSantis as most popular GOP figure in new poll: Axios MORE. This effort, although well-intentioned, is not enough.

Don’t get me wrong, I find critical race theory to be insidious. I don’t want my kids learning a divisive framework that rejects merit and forces them to fixate on racial differences. Rather than inspiring students to pursue the American Dream, it grooms them to believe that America was and is a nightmare.

Thankfully, many parents aren’t buying into the theory. In Loudoun County, Va., parents launched a recall effort in March against members of the school board for making changes to curriculum during the COVID-19 pandemic while approval protocols were on hold. (The district denied using critical race theory in its curriculum and employee training.)

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In Pennsylvania, parents and students in a Pittsburgh suburb are arguing over diversity and equity training. Some parents believe the inclusion training has ties to the idea that white supremacy influences American society and institutions, but the president of the North Allegheny Board of School Directors says such training is aimed at “a specific group of faculty and the board” to provide “consistent messaging” — which appears to be a way of trying to control dissent among faculty and administrators.

The Oregon Department of Education pushed teachers to attend a training on so-called “ethnomathematics” to learn how white supremacy “infiltrates math classrooms” by requiring students to focus on getting the right answer and asking them to show their work. In “equitable math,” proponents say, there is no right or wrong — they consider objectivity to be a tool of racism. Try explaining that to an engineer or architect.

The point of sending kids to school is to teach them how to think, not simply what to think — to prepare them to be engaged citizens who advance a free and civil society. Yet, today’s progressive activists appear to want schools to be little more than indoctrination camps, and they want school administrations to get our kids started on the left’s narratives as young as possible.

Even so, banning critical race theory outright at the state level — as Florida did and others on the right have suggested — isn’t the answer that many conservatives hope it will be. Doing so is likely legal, it may make supporters of a ban feel good, and it may slow the spread of progressive ideals in schools for a while, but we must do more. What makes America exceptional is our ability to sustain our way of life, our republic, by speaking freely to one another. Simply banning certain ideas ironically subscribes to the belief that the government solves our problems for us, and it takes the risk that individuals and communities will become complacent.

Instead, we need those who still believe in America to get off the internet and get involved in their communities. Run for school boards and pay attention to what schools are teaching kids. Fight to pass local and state laws that put educational power in the hands of parents, rather than bureaucrats and teachers’ unions. Make sure that tax money follows students to the public or private schools that best represent your values and kids’ educational needs.

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In Pennsylvania, the power of these solutions is being illustrated.

Frustrated that her school district shut down schools during the pandemic, listened only to the teachers’ union, and implemented policies counter to her values, Clarice Schillinger started a political action committee with other Montgomery County parents. Their “Keeping Kids in School” PAC backed 91 school board candidates in Southeastern Pennsylvania, and 86 of them won in the May primary elections.

Meanwhile, lawmakers in Harrisburg are moving a bill, Excellence in Education for All, that would expand access to school choice options, such as tax credit scholarships. If enacted, the bill will give parents the ability to make choices about where their kids are educated and, consequently, what they might learn.

For America to remain a free country, the power to defend our society and improve education for our children must be in our hands, not those of politicians. By making the choice to be active citizens and parents in our local communities, we wouldn’t need the government to fix our problems for us.

Jennifer Stefano is vice president and chief strategist for the Commonwealth Foundation, Pennsylvania’s free-market think tank. Follow her on Twitter @JenniferStefano.