The report’s authors surveyed 682 public high school principals, who confirmed that organized campaigns have attempted to intimidate public schools and force changes to align themselves with right-wing ideology. The researchers write, “Our survey data makes it clear that during the 2021-2022 school year, more than two-thirds (69%) of public schools nationwide experienced political conflict over a range of hot-button issues.” In addition, “Half of all principals report that parents or other members of the community attempted to limit or challenge teaching and learning about issues of race and racism. Nearly half report challenges to school policies and practices related to LGBTQ student rights.” And a third of principals said that “parents or community members challenged the school library’s books that they deemed inappropriate.”
It’s not about parents getting involved in shaping how children learn in a healthy or respectful way. On the contrary, the authors point out, these are individuals who attempt to “spread untruths, deny civil liberties, and use hostile and violent rhetoric or intimidating actions.”
That kind of attack is most intense in purple communities where competing factions vie for control of schools. “Outside groups have specifically targeted these communities through a ‘conflict campaign’ to gain partisan benefits,” the study finds. In most cases, a relatively small group of hostile parents and community members are in charge, thwarting the wishes of the majority of parents and others who want children to receive an accurate, inclusive, and skill-building education.
For example, a recent national survey found that over 95% of Americans want high school students to learn about slavery, and 85% want high school students to learn about racial inequality. These practices are important indicators because they help prepare young people for life in a diverse democracy, the public broadly supports them, and yet there is reason to fear that the current political dynamics could give them a chilling effect.
Such partisan noise not only distracts teachers, but also spreads an air of impoliteness and encourages teachers and administrators to avoid “discussion of current controversial issues”. As a Result, fewer students learn how to debate. Again, this goes against the wishes of the 80 percent of American adults who “believe that controversial issues like immigration, the Second Amendment, and income inequality should be discussed in high schools.”
Harassment also affects students’ ability to recognize misinformation, to the detriment of their development and our democracy in general. The authors write: “If education efforts are to address this polarization and conflict, and if they are to prepare youth to participate in productive forms of democratic deliberation, it is paramount that public schools better prepare students to ensure the accuracy of information. judge. ”
Many principals noted the “mass hysteria” over critical race theory fueled by disinformation about school curricula. This has impacted schools in purple communities the most, with nearly a quarter of principals in such areas reporting that their school board or district leaders restricted education about race or racism. In comparison, only 17 percent of schools in red communities and 8 percent of blue communities did the same.
Purple communities were also more affected by MAGA partisans’ attempts to ostracize or stigmatize LGBTQ individuals, such as Florida’s “Don’t say gay” law. Thirty-two percent of principals in purple districts report incidents of “hostile or demeaning comments toward LGBTQ classmates,” compared to 22 percent in red or blue communities. Across all schools, the percentage of principals reporting multiple assaults on LGBTQ students has risen from 15 percent in 2018 to 24 percent this year.
The bottom line, according to the study’s authors, right-wing advocacy groups and media hamper schools’ ability to uphold values of “diversity, equity, and inclusion.”
Teachers, principals and school officials can try to manage the swirl of political conflict and demand civility within schools. Many encourage students to attend school board meetings and run their own forums to discuss these issues. But until communities as a whole champion the mission of public education and the ideals of respectful and inclusive debate, teachers and administrators will continue to abandon their profession. Meanwhile, students will continue to lose skills necessary to function in a diverse democracy.
Letting a small cadre of partisan bullies prevail will have dire consequences for American society.