HANNA FINGERHUT – Associated Press
WASHINGTON (AP) – Americans are deeply divided over how many children in K-12 schools need to be taught about racism and sexuality, according to a new poll released as Republicans across the country seek to achieve parental involvement in education the central theme of the campaign this election year.
Overall, Americans are slightly inclined to expand rather than reduce discussions of racism and sexuality, but about 4 out of 10 say the current approach is roughly correct, including similar percentages across party lines. Still a poll from Harris University School of Public Policy and Associated Press-NORC Public Relations Research Center shows the sharp differences between Republicans and Democrats who want schools to make adjustments.
About 4 out of 10 Republicans say teachers in local public schools discuss sexuality issues too much, while only about 1 in 10 say too little. The Democrats have the opposite.
The findings reflect a sharply politicized national debate that has engulfed local school boards and increasingly state capitals. Republicans view the struggle for the school curriculum as a winning issue of the cultural war that will motivate their voters in the by-elections.
In the meantime, a number of new state laws have been introduced to reduce education about racism and sexuality and to establish a “parental rights pain” that would champion of curriculum transparency and allow parents to file complaints against teachers.
The impetus for legislation has grown out of the increased focus on K-12 schools during the COVID-19 pandemicwhen angry parents gathered at a school board meeting to express opposition to school closures, masks, and other restrictive measures aimed at preventing the spread of the disease.
“Everything that is happening today contradicts the long history of school boards, which are relatively low-level government agencies, and in many cases they are non-partisan offices,” said Adam Zelizer, a Harris School professor at the University of Chicago. study of school council legislation.
What sets this point apart, Zelizer said, is the “anger of the grassroots” in response to school policies and the country’s coordinated efforts to recruit party candidates to school boards and local offices.
That started as a parental concern virtual learning and wearing a mask has turned into something bigger, Republican Robert Blizzard said, describing what parents think: “Okay, now that we have schools open, why are these kids attending school?”
The poll shows that 50% of Americans say parents have too little influence on the curriculum, while 20% say they have too much, and 27% say it’s about right. About half also say teachers have too little influence.
Kendra Schultz said she and her husband decided that their 1-year-old daughter would study at home, at least initially, because friends told them about their experience of studying at schools in Columbia, Missouri.
Most recently, according to her, in the class of a 4-year-old child talked about generic pronouns. Schultz suggested this and disguised the requirements as examples of how the public school system “does not fit what we believe in and how we would like our children to be educated”.
“I think you’re a little kid, you have to learn the alphabet, numbers and stuff like that,” said Schultz, a 30-year-old conservative. “It’s not something that my husband and I would be interested in having teachers share with our children.”
In Florida, Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis a bill was signed in March except for teaching sexual orientation and gender identity in kindergarten through third grade. Opponents, including the White House, christened it the “Don’t Tell Gays” law..
The poll shows that Americans are a little more likely to say that sex and sexuality in local schools is too little, not too much, from 31% to 23%, but 40% say it’s about right. The survey did not ask about specific class levels.
Blizzard, who worked with a group called N2 America to help Republican candidates in the suburbs, said the school problem resonates with the Republican base and can motivate voters.
Republican Glen Yangkin won the Virginia governor’s race last year after a campaign to expand parental involvement in schools and ban critical theory of race, an academic base on systemic racism that has become a common phrase for teaching race in U.S. history. His Democratic opponent Terry McAuliff said this during the debate parents should not tell schools what to teach.
The poll also shows that Americans have mixed views on the attention of schools to racism in the United States
Randy Weingarten, president of the American Teachers Federation, said both parents and teachers are disappointed after the pandemic outbreak and must work together to help children recover. Efforts to predetermine the curriculum and limit teaching are hampering, she said.
“The people who are proposing them were pretty clear … they just want to sow doubt and mistrust because they want to end the public education we know,” Weingarten said.
Parents of school-age children are no more likely than other adults to say that parents have too little influence in schools. But there is a big party gap: 65% of Republicans say so compared to 38% of Democrats.
Michael Henry, a father of three in Dakula, Georgia, says he is fighting for the right level of participation. He did not like, for example, what his 6-year-old child was taught Christopher Columbus in a completely positive light. He says he has been thinking about “some lies” and “glorifying history” in his own public school and believes there is more to be said about race.
But, ultimately, the school curriculum “is not within my field of knowledge,” said 31-year-old Henry, an actuary who is also the acting president of the Young Democrats of Gwyneth County.
“I need to learn a lot and work to be able to make informed decisions, and I don’t feel like parents usually have that kind of skill set” for the curriculum, ”he said. “I think basically professionals need to determine what the curriculum should be.”
Henry worries that the new restrictions “add extra worries for teachers who already have a lot on their plate to solve a problem that doesn’t exist.”
AP Education writer Colin Binkley of Boston contributed to this report.
The AP-NORC survey of 1,082 adults was conducted March 17-21 using a sample taken from the AmeriSpeak panel, based on the NORC probability, which is designed to represent the U.S. population. The tolerance of sampling error for all respondents is plus or minus 4 percentage points.
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