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Maya Henson Carey


In the nation's collective memory of the days following the 1954 landmark—unanimous—U.S. Supreme Court Brown v. Board of Education decision outlawing segregation in public schools, a rallying cry for parental rights echoes. It arose as the outcry of a massive resistance countermovement that birthed such groups as white Citizens' Councils or "Uptown Klans," comprised mostly of middle- to upper-class white Southerners seeking to preserve their segregationist way of life. 

Today, the country is in the chokehold of a new wave of so-called parents' rights advocates. In 2021, as COVID-19 mask and vaccine mandates in schools became hot topics, so did what was being taught and how. Critical race theory (CRT), a decades-old concept normally only discussed in graduate-level coursework, became a mainstream boogeyman for most things about Black history and culture. Divisive parents took to school board meetings like never before and formed groups from coast to coast in the name of protecting children and reinforcing parental engagement.  

Separate and unequal vulnerability

Just as in years past, the unifying interest is protecting only the rights of children and parents of the majority, namely those who are white, cisgender, and straight. Today, groups like Moms for Liberty, Parents Defending Education, and Parents Against CRT work diligently with politicians, right-wing celebrities, and extremists groups to spread their messages of hate, lobbying for anti-CRT and anti-LGBTQ legislation and making sweeping changes by influencing school boards to fire superintendents, constrain diverse curricula and ban books.  

Students of color already face inequality in outcomes. For example, in the most recent scores released by the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), white students' average fourth and eighth-grade reading scores were 26 points higher than Black students. This gap widened to 29 points by the 12th grade. Ultimately, the average high school graduation rate for Black students is 80%, lower than the 86% national average.

A troubling intersection  

The parents' rights groups have amplified their oppression with today's anti-LGBTQ rhetoric. A 2020 study by GLSEN and the National Black Justice Coalition revealed that 51.6% of Black LGBTQ students felt unsafe at school because of their sexual orientation. Furthermore, those who experienced victimization were more likely to skip school, experience a decreased sense of belonging, and have depression. They were also less likely to plan to graduate.

In March 2022, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis doubled down on the perilous intersection of students in parental group crosshairs, signing the controversial and unprecedented "Don't Say Gay" bill, which now serves as a blueprint for similar legislation in several other states.

Closing the book on diversity

A now common tactic of reactionary anti-student inclusion groups is calling for book bans in school libraries and classrooms. According to Pen America, during the 2021-2022, 1,145 unique book titles by 874 different authors were banned. Most of these books either pertained to characters of color or LGBTQ characters and themes. Similarly, books about race, racism, civil rights, activism, and stories with religious minorities were among the favorites targeted for banning.   

Teachers and school librarians using these books have found themselves under verbal attack and even facing the threat of physical violence. What's more, some states are beginning to pass legislation that would put educators at risk of a felony if they do not personally remove such literature. Such efforts leave core minority groups in schools without reading material that keeps them grounded, focused and motivated.   

Banning history—while trying to repeat it  

Recently DeSantis went so far as to bar an AP African American studies course from Florida high schools, claiming it "lacks educational value." This was another devastating blow to Black students searching for a curriculum to identify with, especially considering that most recent stats by the NCES reveal that Black students are earning fewer AP credits than their peers.

A 2022 poll showed that most people support the accurate teaching of history, including the civil rights movement, slavery, racial inequity, and systemic racism. However, with the support of reactionary anti-student inclusion groups, states, and school boards continue down a history-denying pathway to enact anti-CRT legislation and curricula. This once again puts a target on teachers' backs, limiting what and how they teach.  

Miseducation for all

Taking away books, knowledge, and support from minority students will not only continue to constrict their awareness, literacy, identity, and mental health. Other students and society as a whole suffer.    

According to the National Education Association, racially inclusive education better prepares all students for the increasingly changing world. Additionally, students who are exposed to culturally responsive education and inclusive pedagogy are better prepared for productive employment. Most importantly, these students develop a better sense of self and social responsibility. 

Our country, communities, and schools are again under attack by the descendants of hate groups of decades past, spewing the same hateful messages dressed up with fresh political rhetoric. 

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