Commentary

Real education issues ignored by lawmakers inventing culture war to stoke parents, undermine schools

February 22, 2022 3:20 am

An instructor assists a student during a classroom discussion. (Photo by Brandon Bell/Getty Images)

I’m all for transparency. Who isn’t? People with something to hide, right? That’s what the book-banning, history-sanitizing, fear-fanning culture warriors hope you’ll think with their latest diversion into so-called “curriculum transparency.”

Hardliners, who jumped on the Fox News bandwagon to weaponize critical race theory as a threat to white people, are now queuing up to support this new election year stunt — compelled transparency of public information (already public and available) to parents from their schools. 

This GOP brainchild would require daily lesson plans (submitted a year in advance) syllabi, teaching materials, assignments, assemblies (and you name it) to be all posted online by schools. This is critical race theory 2.0. 

Same game plan. A nationally organized right-wing effort to stoke hysteria with a non-issue amplified on Fox and promoted with model legislation passed around Republican legislatures (like the template bill on “divisive issues”).

The newest manufactured conflict is framed as a transparency mission and infers that schools are hiding something from parents. Bills to that affect have been introduced by Republican lawmakers in at least a dozen states so far.

In Ohio, state Rep. Brett Hillyer took up the mantle with House Bill 529 worded to sound neutral and appealing as a cudgel for schools to be more transparent and share more information with parents. What’s not to like?

Shouldn’t schools be transparent about what’s being taught in classrooms? Shouldn’t parents be privy to course syllabuses, textbook information, instructional resources, videos, speakers, etc.? Yes, and yes.

But let’s get real. Parents who care to look have always had easy access to what their kids learn in school. Public schools have always been required to provide parents and guardians with course curriculum and teaching materials upon request. Transparency has always been there. By law. 

Teachers want more parental involvement, support, and engagement — not less. ‘Makes their jobs easier. Most maintain an open and ongoing dialogue with parents. They regularly post syllabuses, textbook information, course materials, supplemental resources and clarifying correspondence about their lesson plans.

Frankly, parents are inundated with school information — whether it’s stuff sent home or posted online by a classroom teacher — and are lucky if they get through it all. 

We’ve always had the right (and responsibility) to question what our children are being taught or how they’re learning. We’ve always had the right to have our kids opt out of a particular classroom topic, a practice not uncommon in sex-ed courses. We’ve always been encouraged to sit in on classroom presentations.

Dialogue and information-sharing between schools and parents is always in flux, as every parent can attest.

So, what’s really behind this new GOP culture fire over curriculum transparency? To date, the Republican talking points to push the legislation have been lame.

Hillyer says his bill is “just to put everything out in the open so everyone can be comfortable.”

Come again? This is where the inference creeps in about schools hiding something from parents. The Uhrichsville Republican nudged the needle in that direction. 

“I think most of the schools in Ohio don’t have anything to hide,” said Hillyer. “I think you would quell some of these concerns at school board meetings if you gave people this information up front, and I think it would help some of the good schools in Ohio stand out.”

He added that his bill was also about “allowing parents to be empowered to make decisions for their children and ultimately to compare and contrast school districts and school choice.”

Lot to unpack, but here goes.

If most schools have nothing to hide, that means some do. All the fights that get started on Fox News and wind up in brawls at local school boards are because schools are withholding information. And bad schools might be exposed if parents got transparency about what’s being taught in secret. Got it?

The idea is to sow suspicion by pitting parents and caregivers against educators and schools. ‘Worked in Virginia’s gubernatorial race to drive out Republican voters.

Truth is, Hillyer’s bill, and parallel GOP legislation in other states, isn’t about transparency for parents. 

Scott DiMauro, president of the Ohio Education Association nailed it. “This is a cynical attempt to try to create wedges to foster distrust in order to push a political agenda,” he said.

Explicit tweets from one of the masterminds behind the curriculum transparency strategy seem to bear DiMauro out.

Christopher Rufo, the conservative activist who drove the bogus conflict over critical race theory, blatantly suggested that the school transparency ploy is a perfect trap for liberals.

He tweeted that shifting from supporting bans on CRT to supporting an unassailable value like transparency is a “rhetorically-advantageous position” that will “bait the Left into opposing transparency.”

Under the guise of transparency, Republicans have cooked up a scheme to play rhetorical games for partisan advantage before a high-stakes election and dared Democrats to fight back.

To that end, they sponsored bills to shove overwhelmed teachers over the edge with new requirements that duplicate old requirements about providing school information. The onerous burden of publishing the details of every textbook, syllabus, changing lesson plan, video snippet, reading supplement, etc., on school websites would fall on them. 

What educators should be focused on is addressing learning loss, managing the impacts of the pandemic on students, and working through staffing shortages.

Instead, they’ve been broadsided by an invented culture war to exploit parents, undermine schools and drum up votes. At least Republicans are transparent. 

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Marilou Johanek
Marilou Johanek

Marilou Johanek is a veteran Ohio print and broadcast journalist who has covered state and national politics as a longtime newspaper editorial writer and columnist.

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