Across the country, parents have become alarmed by the increasing anti-Americanism of course materials taught in their children’s local schools.
One expert says that trend is getting worse and school choice is one of the few policy responses that will provide parents the ability to push back against it.
“The trajectory is negative, not positive,” said Inez Feltscher Stepman, senior policy analyst at Independent Women’s Forum. “Schools are getting more radical in what they teach about America being an ‘unjust nation,’ not less.”
Stepman, who addressed Oklahomans during a recent online forum hosted by the Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs, said schools are increasingly incorporating an anti-American worldview into many courses and emphasizing negative aspects of the nation’s history while neglecting the country’s contributions to individual freedom. For example, she said more than 4,500 schools nationwide are known to be using materials produced by The 1619 Project of the New York Times, which defines U.S. history entirely through the lens of slavery. The 1619 Project has been criticized by historians from all ends of the spectrum as inaccurate and deeply flawed.
COVID-related school shutdowns have made the problem apparent to many parents.
“Parents are angry about the ideological indoctrination that they are seeing in public schools on topics from human sexuality or global warming to—especially relevant in the last year or so—American history,” Stepman said. “Because of virtual school and because spring was done mostly virtually, the last few months have been for a lot of parents an eye-opening experience where they actually had their first opportunity to listen in on what their students and their children are actually learning. And a lot of them are not happy about it.”
But those parents face enormous obstacles if they try to work through the system to rectify academic flaws in their child’s local school.
Stepman grew up in Palo Alto, California, which she noted is “by no means a conservative town.” Even so, more than 1,600 parents in that community signed a petition objecting to a sex-education curriculum. But that parental action had no impact.
“Nothing happened,” Stepman said.
She said providing those parents school choice, in which the tax dollars assigned to a child’s education follow the child to any school of the parent’s preference, would have given those parents far more clout.
“Even within the public-school system, it gives you leverage if you have that dollar amount, right?” Stepman said. “Those 1,600 parents who signed that petition, that would be a much more convincing petition to the school district if it was attached to the millions that those 1,600 parents represent. And I think that leverage is really what’s needed to break open some of these questions, because what we’re seeing now is just the really frustrating exercise of a lot of parents banging their head against a wall.”
She said lawmakers should also require curriculum-and-material transparency so parents can view their child’s classroom content in advance. While many voters may assume schools readily provide parents that information, Stepman said that is not the case.
“Unfortunately, that’s not as easy as you would expect in a lot of districts,” Stepman said.
Stepman also said school elections should be held on the same day as major elections. (Oklahoma is among the states that currently places school elections primarily on unusual dates with little else on the ballot, resulting in miniscule turnout.)
“They aren’t aligned with large statewide elections that would actually ensure a reasonably high turnout,” Stepman said. “A lot of people don’t even know when their school-board elections are happening. And that ensures that organized interests like unions can dominate consistently in those elections.”
And Stepman said teacher-certification restrictions should be eased to allow people from a wider variety of backgrounds to enter the profession and also “cut off the power of the schools of education, which are often the most far-left part of already far-left campuses.”
Without school choice, activist teachers and administrators are largely free to ignore parental wishes since there is no real consequence for imposing controversial, fringe materials into the classroom. But with true school choice, Stepman said parents would be empowered to enact positive change that reduces the use of anti-American materials in the classroom.
“The goal should be to permanently free parents from dependence on the public schools and, equally important, provide those parents who do choose to stay with their public schools much-needed power and leverage in curriculum battles,” Stepman said. “Control over funding will go a long way to flipping the script in a lot of these meetings with administrators, teachers, principals, even school-board members. Because what we’ve seen is that even though parents are unhappy with this, they have a tremendously hard time getting it changed.”