Finley: The dangerous arc of the parents’ rights movement

Of Barry University

Given the current political divide and Gov. Ron DeSantis’ ambitions to be the next Republican presidential candidate, it’s not surprising to see him advocating for the “Don’t Say Gay” legislation now before the Florida Legislature. Not surprising, but disgusting.

One notices in a passage titled, “Parental Rights in Education,” a portion of the bill reads, “A school district may not encourage classroom discussion about sexual orientation or gender identity in primary grade levels or in a manner that is not age appropriate…”While the idea of age appropriateness does not sound objectionable on its face, who determines that?

According to the bill, elementary school kids could not even be told that some students have two moms or two dads. But in reality, some of them do.

This wave to give parents greater authority over what schools teach is not exclusive to Florida, nor to this issue. The conservative “parents’ rights” movement is arguing that parents have a right to control school curriculum.

In accordance with that, many states have banned the teaching of “Critical Race Theory,” an approach to teaching racial injustice, despite the fact that almost no K-12 teachers were ever doing so.

In Indiana, Attorney General Todd Rokita is pushing a “Parents Bill of Rights” that says, “Education policy and curriculum should accurately reflect the values of Indiana families.”

A recent Florida law is similar. Some states even allow parents to sue schools for teaching banned concepts.

Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin has announced at several rallies, “I believe parents should be in charge of their kids’ education.”

The problem is that common law and case law do not guarantee parents any such right to control public school curriculum. Parents should be involved, but do not and should not dictate curriculum.

In addition to disregarding the children who are being raised by same-sex couples, these kinds of laws will likely have a chilling effect on teachers working with older students. While not necessarily prohibited, many schools and teachers will not want to invite controversy so will simply avoid these topics.

Of course, that is the point.

It’s imperative that we let educators do what they are trained to do, teach. Legislative efforts to interfere with that under the guise of supporting parents are absurd. It will only result in children and teens finding information, correct or not, from their peers and other sources outside of school.

Laura Finley, Ph.D., teaches in the Department of Sociology & Criminology. The author of several academic texts in her discipline, her commentary work is syndicated by PeaceVoice, based in Portland.


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