Conservatives need to force radical educators into being honest about their perverse aims.
The Right Can Win on Parents’ Rights
Following Trump’s lead, a grassroots movement has forced the GOP to fight.
“There’s no such thing as other people’s children,” proclaimed the advocacy group “Together Rising” recently on Twitter. This was in response to Florida Governor Ron DeSantis’s bill protecting parents’ rights, denying schools the ability to instruct children in sexual orientation and gender identity prior to the fourth grade. This was an outrage to leftists, who ludicrously designated the bill “Don’t Say Gay” and furiously demanded to continue teaching every child—including yours—about every kind of sex.
It has always been an assumption among leftists that experts, rather than parents, ought to be in charge of child-rearing. They used to say it more subtly: “It takes a village,” they would murmur, with winsome smiles. But in recent decades, this faux rhetoric has given way to a much more direct attack. “I don’t think parents should be telling schools what they should teach,” said former Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe, during a pivotal race this year in which President Biden campaigned on his behalf.
Frustrated by the general public’s hesitancy to embrace new, increasingly bizarre ideologies at a moment’s notice, woke elites have found it necessary to assert their power over children with more urgency. Attorney General Merrick Garland labeled concerned parents “domestic terrorists” this year, using the administration’s favorite catch-all accusation to subject dissidents to the full force of the law. Marx’s old demand to abolish the nuclear family has come back in vogue, popularized most notably by Black Lives Matter. Other examples of anti-parent hostility abound.
In the pre-Trump era, it was hard to summon much hope that politicians on the Right would do much to check the Left’s ambitions. It was exactly the kind of culture war fight that Republicans had agreed not to touch after their loss in 2012, retreating once again to mumble safely and ineffectively about tax cuts. Ambitious governors of deep-red states were avoiding the fray—balking at religious freedom protections, describing bathroom bills as needless, or even calling for a “truce” (meaning a surrender) on social issues.
Trump’s bravado changed all that entirely. But as donor class and corporate sensibilities continued to harden in favor of the Left’s agenda and against the rights of parents, the question remained: who would the average Republican politician end up siding with?
The answer came from the ground up in the fall of 2021, when furious parents showing up in droves at school board meetings made it clear that they weren’t going to let the state of their children’s education stand. They were spurred on in part by draconian COVID policies, but it was clear that their anger was much deeper and broader than that: Their children were being taught to hate their country and disown their parents. They were being taught to view the world in explicitly racist terms. There was pornography in their schools’ libraries. Boys were being allowed in girls’ bathrooms, with horrific results.
After these proved to be winning issues in Virginia and elsewhere, Republicans finally sat up and started to pay attention. Overnight, parental rights became the central focus of the Republican Party. The 2021 fight for parental rights constituted the single most successful protest movement the Right has had in decades.
And those successes have not been limited to electoral victories. In the past year, governors and state legislatures throughout the country have begun to pass actual legislation to deliver on their campaign promises. Bans on racist indoctrination in public schools have been passed or introduced in 36 states. Laws prohibiting boys from competing in girls’ sporting events in schools have been passed in 11 states, with more on the way.
Despite cynical performative outrage over the lie of “Don’t Say Gay,” even fairly slanted poll questions show broad national support laws like the one that just passed in Florida. Meanwhile, in Virginia, newly inaugurated Governor Glenn Youngkin signed executive orders on his first day in office barring racist lessons and allowing parents the option to unmask their children in schools, the latter of which was soon after formally enacted by the state legislature.
Helen Roy is also right to point out that the fight for parental rights goes far beyond education. Several states have also begun to fight the heinous effort to push sex-change operations on minor children. Arkansas’s SAFE Act, the gold standard of this kind of legislation, enforces the law by giving children and their parents the ability to sue the doctors who perform such procedures. Tennessee has also passed such a bill, and Governor Abbott in Texas recently instructed his administration to investigate such procedures as acts of child abuse.
All of these measures enjoy overwhelming national support. A significant percentage of even the Democratic base supports them strongly. Young people, normally radicals on issues of gender ideology, seem to narrowly oppose sex changes for minors. Through political action, and grassroots protest, this national sentiment has spurred lethargic politicians into action, and has been translated in many cases into actual legislation at the state level. It also seems likely these issues will play a large role in this year’s midterm elections, making action at the federal level a very real possibility going forward.
Conservatives are sometimes too quick to despair. But in the fight for parental rights, this moment does not call for despair. Real progress, slowly, finally, is being made. Voters should take note, and reward the politicians willing to take up the fight.
The American Mind presents a range of perspectives. Views are writers’ own and do not necessarily represent those of The Claremont Institute.