Another local school board meeting is making national headlines. This time, parents in Dearborn, Michigan, including hundreds of Muslim Americans, showed up en masse to voice their opposition to sexually explicit materials in public school classrooms and district libraries.
The left-leaning elite was not amused. The subheading of David Masciotra’s hyperventilating New Republic thought piece — “Conservative Muslims in Dearborn, Michigan, have joined forces with Right-wing Christians in a bigoted crusade against gay and trans literature in public schools” — gets the story’s significance exactly wrong, but in a most revealing way.
It is not bigotry that has united a “powerful religious alliance,” nor are they working “to ban LGBTQ books” or “establish hell on Earth for LGBTQ people.” Rather, they are parents from different faith communities united by a well-meaning concern for their children and appalled that egregiously age-inappropriate sexual content is commonplace in taxpayer-funded schools today.
For those who worship at the altar of woke intersectionality, this latest alliance in the battle to save American public schools is a nightmare come to life.
Elite leaders on the left expect underrepresented minorities to comply with their radical policy agenda and identity politics rhetoric against the supposed systemic forces of oppression without asking questions. This new common sense and diverse alliance scramble that narrative.
For parents, the left’s radical agenda to sexualize our public schools is the real nightmare. Growing opposition to it reflects a deepening recognition that too many teachers and school administrators view themselves, and not parents, as the rightful arbiters of all children’s moral education. Concerned parents are winning the argument for three reasons.
First, educational professionals think their expertise gives them rightful authority over a school’s curriculum and its library’s collection. In fact, educating children is a paramount parental responsibility. In establishing public schools, families have delegated a critical responsibility to teachers employed by taxpayers, who should aspire to earn parents’ trust. But parents have not agreed to be left in the dark or give up their right to inform and supervise the learning objectives and standards that guide the development of curricula and library catalogs. It is the role of educational professionals to use their expertise within that framework to establish and deliver detailed coursework and lesson plans, but always in alignment with the public interest expressed by voters.
Second, these debates are not about banning books or free speech. The issue is age-inappropriate sexual content. One of the books at issue in Dearborn was described by a parent at the meeting: “I was very surprised to find a graphic novel of children gathering to masturbate … into a bottle, and the person who does not participate must drink from that bottle. … I’m a 43-year-old man, and I’m embarrassed to say this stuff, and yet you say that this is OK to be in the hands of children. Shame on you.”
In fact, nine of the 10 books on the American Library Association’s “Top 10 Most Challenged Books of 2021” contain sexually explicit content or references. When parents have challenged them at school board meetings, they have been removed for reading the obscene passages aloud. Twitter even restricts threads containing screenshots of the books being challenged to users over the age of 18. Sexual content that makes adults blush and which does not have any meaningful educational value should not be in our grade schools.
Such material can be removed without raising constitutional issues. The Supreme Court has long held that books can be withdrawn from public school libraries when they are “pervasively vulgar [and] the removal decision was based solely upon the ‘educational suitability’ of the books in question.”
Third, the motivation of concerned parents is not hatred or bigotry. Nor are they harming LBGTQ youth. Activists are implicitly arguing that explicit sexual content is necessary to create an inclusive environment for gay students. Parents know better. Graphic visual depictions of sex involving minor children (“Gender Queer”), vulgar and offensive language (“Lawn Boy”), and lessons about how easy Grindr makes it to arrange sex with strangers (“This Book Is Gay”), contribute precious little to children’s education.
The fight for America’s public schools is a fight to save the next generation of American children. Parents across faith communities are leading it. While it is often the outrageously inappropriate content that first alerts parents to problems in their K-12 public schools, their involvement and leadership can continue after the initial battles have been won. Increased attention to local school board elections, deepening interest in K-12 education policy at the state level, and renewed support for policies that establish parental bills of rights at the state and national levels are all positive developments for families. For the left, parents’ power to affect education policy is a nightmare — sure to generate additional national headlines in the months and years to come.
• Jonathan Pidluzny is director of the Higher Education Reform Initiative at the America First Policy Institute. Alexandra Caro Campana is director of AFPI’s Center for 1776 and the Center for Opportunity Now.