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The kids are not alright

Kristen Waggoner | And parents need to challenge the efforts of public schools to confuse and divide them

A parent protests the proposed use of critical theory to teach history in the New Mexico public schools last fall in Albuquerque. Associated Press/Photo by Cedar Attanasio

The kids are not alright
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“The Kids Are Alright” is the title of an iconic song expressing ambivalence about the responsibilities of being a dad. It’s also the hope and prayer for parents around the world and throughout the ages. We all want our children to be “alright.”

Christian or not, research suggests that parents are wired to connect with and care for their offspring. But for believers, the role and responsibilities are more profound—a teaching job that follows us when we sit down, walk, wake up, or go to sleep. Parenthood is more fundamental than allegiance to a community or state—it’s “pre-political.”

Not everyone agrees. While disagreement over the education of children is hardly new, the roles and rights of parents are under sustained attack. Just look at the media firestorm over Florida’s Parental Rights in Education law, which affirms the commonsense notion that government-funded schools shouldn’t indoctrinate 5-year-olds about human sexuality. As a spokesman for Gov. Ron DeSantis noted, “The idea that it’s inappropriate for adults to instruct kindergarteners about sexual topics of any kind should not be controversial in the least.”

But to hear those on the left tell the story, “parental rights” is a power play. When they scare quote this vital principle, they reveal their commitment to the critical theory that many public school systems have adopted. Critical theory holds our country and its founding principles in deep contempt. It maintains that we all live under an oppressive societal order where hard work, religion, and the natural family are primarily tools of “oppression” and must be “dismantled.”

Where I work at Alliance Defending Freedom, we’ve been inundated with requests from concerned parents whose kids are confused, frustrated, and harmed by this new moral and philosophical diet. We’re daily advising parents and parent groups about how to request curriculum, advocate before school boards, and opt their kids out of objectionable content.

After many attempts to work with their school, a group of racially, ethnically, and religiously diverse parents formed a partnership with us to file a lawsuit challenging the Albemarle County School Board in Virginia. Here are some of their stories:

Carlos and Tatiana emigrated from Panama to pursue dentistry. They became U.S. citizens in part to escape the brutal regime that had imprisoned and killed a cousin who dared to challenge the Panamanian government. After investing years in the American dream, their daughter came home from school confused and upset. Her school had been teaching her that Latina girls like her don’t live in big houses. The school was also “educating” her to believe that her parents’ hard work, education, and income level put her in an “oppressor” category.

Christian parents cannot afford to relinquish responsibility for the intellectual and spiritual formation of their children—whether they’re homeschooled, attending a Christian school, or enrolled in the local public school.

Melissa has been concerned about her biracial son. Instead of teaching him to appreciate his mixed heritage, the school is pushing him to look at his mom’s side of the family and think “oppressor” and to look to his dad’s and think “victim.” When Melissa brought up her concerns to the school, the teacher and principal offered to remove her son from his white classmates so he could enjoy a “safe space” and segregated educational experience.

Matthew and Marie are raising their children in the Catholic faith. But after their son participated in a class discussion and respectfully stated his faith teaches him that sex is immutable, he was harassed and bullied by another student. When they asked questions, the principal investigated their son for “triggering” the harassment. Matthew and Marie have pulled their younger kids out of the school, but they’re hoping to keep their oldest son enrolled, as long as he’s not harassed for being white and Catholic.

There’s a tragic amount of evidence that the kids are not alright. Some students are falling behind in core subjects while schools dedicate more time to curricula that divide and demean. Others, manipulated by teachers and peers, believe they’re born in the wrong body and should lie to their parents, who are equipped to offer love, advice, and care. While parents can’t always make all things right in their children’s world, we can—and must—challenge government-funded efforts to confuse and divide.

Public education has often proven to be a terribly imperfect vehicle for conveying wisdom and shaping our kids’ moral imagination. But some believe it’s the best or only option they have. Regardless, parental concern and rights don’t end where school property begins. No matter one’s view on government-run schools, we cannot permit the government to ignore any citizen’s freedoms guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution.

The response to COVID-19 gave parents the inconvenient opportunity to monitor their children’s public schooling and revealed deeply inconvenient truths regarding the content being taught. As we return to normal, Christian parents cannot afford to relinquish responsibility for the intellectual and spiritual formation of their children—whether they’re homeschooled, attending a Christian school, or enrolled in the local public school.

We don’t control the outcome of our children’s lives. But we do carry the responsibility—and, yes, the legal right—to offer protections, guidelines, and love. That’s a role no government agency, bureaucrat, or employee can fill.

Kristen Waggoner

Kristen Waggoner is general counsel at Alliance Defending Freedom, the largest legal organization that protects religious freedom, free speech, parental rights, and the right to life.



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