Parents vs. Educational Wokeness

In the last couple of weeks, concerns about the nation’s education system have become a major factor in the Virginia gubernatorial election. Democratic Virginia candidate Terry McAuliffe launched what National Review called a “War on Parents” when he emphatically told voters, “I don’t think parents should be telling schools what they should teach.”  Lending impact to his declaration, McAuliffe stated, “I’m not going to let parents come into schools and actually take books out and make their own decisions.”

McAuliffe’s attitude flies in the face of expert opinion. There is agreement across the board that parents who are actively involved in their children’s learning give them the best opportunity for success in school and in life. The technology app Entelechy, with the logo, “The Realization of Potential,” lists 18 reasons preventing U.S. education from being preeminent; number one on their list is “Parents are not involved enough.” The National PTA states unequivocally that “the most accurate predictors of student achievement in school are not family income or social status, but the extent to which the family... becomes involved in the child’s education at school.” In short, parental involvement in education leads to greater student success and increased confidence, regardless of race, ethnicity, class, or parents’ level of education.

The attitude that education is the exclusive preserve of the federal educational bureaucracy and elites is a pivotal issue in the upcoming Virginia election; worse it’s a major reason for the failures of American education.

Years ago, a young friend began working for the U.S. Department of Education. On his first day, as he tried to go in the main entrance, he discovered a handwritten sign, “The door be broke.” That long-ago note, sadly, describes education in America today -- our public schools are decidedly broken. No wonder school choice has become such a hot-button issue. No wonder more than one-third of the nation’s students have left public schools for private education. No wonder the number of children being homeschooled has increased so dramatically -- up from around 3% before COVID to now around 11%. No wonder Charter Schools (publicly funded schools that operate like private schools) are popular; Statista 2021 reports that there are nearly 7,500 Charter Schools in the U.S.

Despite federal programs like “No Child Left Behind” and spending more on education than any other country in the world (an average of $16,268 per student in 2018), the United States lags behind many of the other advanced industrial nations in terms of achievement. Every four years since 1995, the International Association for the Evaluation of Educational Achievement (IEA) has measured students at the 4th- and 8th-grade levels. The latest IEA report, 2019, shows America, once again, in the middle, largely because of the gap between top-and bottom-performing students. Far too many students are slipping through the cracks of our broken educational system.

Why? They explained that we’ve recognized the socioeconomic disadvantages faced by struggling students, but we sometimes we overlook the problems of middle and upper-class students whose parents’ careers and interests cause their lack of involvement. It’s a given that education makes a significant, measurable difference in a person’s future employment, earnings, and life success. A report by Princeton University and the Brookings Institution estimates that a high-school dropout “will earn nearly a quarter of a million dollars less over his lifetime than a high school graduate that completes no further education.” Over a lifetime, that makes a significant income difference.

If the weak academic standards weren’t enough cause for concern, parents are increasingly worried about the pervasiveness of cancel culture, drugs, wokeness, and even the personal safety of their children in today’s public schools. The Parent and Family Involvement in Education: Results from the National Household Education Surveys Program of 2016, noted that 17% of homeschooled students had parents who reported dissatisfaction with academic instruction at other schools as the most important reason for homeschooling, while 16 percent reported a desire to provide religious instruction as the most important reason for homeschooling. But an amazing 80% of parents indicated that they decided to homeschool their child or children because of the negative environment (safety, drugs, negative peer pressure, etc.). The largest percentage (34%) gave as their most important/significant reason for homeschooling was their concern about the environment at their local school.

Many parents recognized that the recent controversy over a serious rape incident in a Loudoun County, Virginia school was not an isolated incident. Parents were already fed up with the school hierarchy over the Critical Race Theory emphasis in the current curriculum. Then, they were stunned to discover that school officials tried to cover up an alleged bathroom rape of a 15-year-old girl by a skirt-clad transgender boy. In fact, Luke Rosiak of the Daily Wire reported that in Loudoun County schools there have been multiple sexual assaults occurring over several years that were not reported (in violation of state law that clearly mandate every case be reported). Rosiak also noted that state law requires the school superintendent be held “personally liable for violations” of the reporting mandates. School officials, instead of investigating the allegations, called the objecting parents “domestic terrorists” and accused them of “hate crimes.”

The father of the attacked student, Scott Smith, reports that multiple friends have urged him to “just keep quiet” and the Democratic gubernatorial candidate, Terry McAuliffe, tells parents that they shouldn’t expect to have input into their children’s educational curriculum or school policies. Experts provide evidence that parents should, indeed, be involved -- very vocally and collectively -- in the education of their children.

Reform is really quite simple. To paraphrase a Fordham report: (1) Parents should be able to choose the best school for their children. (2) High standards and accountability are necessary. (3) A solid curriculum with well-trained, knowledgeable teachers who provide interesting lessons is essential. (4) Education must focus on children’s education (not the whims of educators or teachers' unions.)

It has become increasingly evident that factors far beyond the teacher’s control have a dramatic influence on student outcomes. It is obvious to even casual observers that family breakdown is the root problem of public education. As broken, dysfunctional families increase and as stressed, chaotic home life increases because of parental career emphases, far too many parents are leaving their children to fend for themselves in school.

Before we can begin to solve the problems of American public education, we must address the decline in cultural values, the wokeness of contemporary attitudes, and the breakdown of the family. Only then can we successfully close the educational gaps in our public schools.

Janice Shaw Crouse, Ph.D., is author of Children at Risk, which includes a chapter on how education fails the nation’s children. She is also a former public-school teacher as well as a former university academic administrator.  

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