When the new year started, we stated we would be keeping an eye on what was happening in our schools as that was an area that has increasingly become ground zero for some of the most polarizing issues in the U.S.
In New Jersey over the last year and a half that really started with Jack Citarelli’s unsuccessful campaign for governor, the issue of parental rights and school curriculum. The issues that have emerged as a dividing line in many communities—most notably sex education and diversity—started during the pandemic with the murder of George Floyd, moved to school mask mandates and exploded with protests against new sex education standards.
Republicans, both locally and nationally, have made parental rights a central tenet of their campaigns. Just look at BettyLou DeCroce’s formal statement joining the race to be the GOP nominee in the 26th Legislative District to win back her seat she lost two years ago.
DeCroce, who most would consider a moderate Republican in her party’s current state, listed parental rights in children’s education as one of her top priorities and said “our children should graduate school with marketable skills in a competitive global environment, not with mastery of the woke agenda.”
We are always puzzled about the definition of a woke agenda and the use of words such as indoctrination that quickly follow it. Gov. Ron Desantis (R-FL), a lawmaker with Presidential aspirations who has driven the conversation on the subject nationally, defined woke in his Stop the Wrongs to Our Kids and Employees (W.O.K.E.) Act as actions stemming from critical race theory that he says has created a hostile work environment in large corporations that forces employees to “endure” diversity training as well as alleged critical race theory teachings in schools.
As a result, Florida teachers are no longer allowed to teach a new Advanced Placement course on African American Studies because it included the study of “queer theory” and political movements that advocated for “abolishing prisons.”
“That’s a political agenda,” DeSantis said. “That’s the wrong side of the line for Florida standards. We believe in teaching kids facts and how to think, but we don’t believe they should have an agenda imposed on them when you try to use Black history to shoehorn in queer theory…you are clearly trying to use that for political purposes.”
For those who say that this type of pressure on schools can not happen in North Jersey, we bring you the case in Sparta where three faculty members who worked on student initiatives that advocated for race, sexuality and gender equality have left the district, in no short order due to school board members who were recently elected on a platform of being anti-woke.
What we want is for everyone to take a step back and really think about what they want from a public education, what is actually happening at schools and for those elected to oversee it.
We stress that asking questions and demanding answers of what is being taught to our daughters and sons is healthy in our democracy. Everyone has a favorite teacher or coach that shaped their life in making them the adult they are today; some are confidants and mentors that we lean on to this day. But we are reaching a point where we are driving out these same good people out who have an enormous impact on our children in an industry that is short handed to begin with.
School administrators do have a burden of proof that must be reached and a responsibility that is two fold—giving the best education to our children and explaining to parents why these education choices are made.
Our public educational system needs to go past the simplistic three R’s. Critical thinking is now more crucial than ever as information is everywhere—and increasingly biased and sometimes just flat a lie. Students have more access to information with the phone in the palm of their hand then the libraries of a generation ago, giving them much deeper and broader research opportunities that give greater context to such issues as slavery, sexual identity, and how America was discovered then encyclopedias of years gone by.
Times have changed and the way and what children are taught should change as well.
But there is truly a middle ground for those who want to get there—and make no mistake, there are those who do not. We do not have to ban books but parents should know what is available to their children and ask why they are reading about subjects such as sexual identity.
Teachers should be given the latitude to go past the basics to take a broader look at all members of our society. We as a nation should want our educational system to push past just memorization and more toward the ability to think and question what we have learned, especially in increasingly complex personal subjects.
What we should not be afraid of and attempt to stop is where those teachings take our sons and daughters. Parents should shepherd them and impart their own family morals while respecting those that run counter to that.
What we are missing most in these debates is one of the early lessons that we all learned in school: listening. Because without listening to the other side, we will never find a middle ground.