Children Paying the Price for Culture Wars and Witch Hunts in Public Education

Apr 17, 2023 1:30:00 PM

by Heather Harding

Personal attacks on educators and others working in public education by political extremists have become all too common in recent years — and our children are paying the price.

Our children are being used as pawns in the politically motivated culture wars being forced into our nation’s public schools, and it’s time for this to stop.

Remember these stories? Last year, Kentucky’s 2022 Teacher of the Year, Willie Carver Jr., a gay man, was baselessly accused of invoking controversial materials in the classroom. As the sponsor of his school’s Gay-Straight Alliance, he faced an unending storm of homophobic hate and personal attacks. Carver was forced to quit his job serving the children and families of his community after 17 years.

In 2020, in North Texas, James Whitfield of Colleyville Heritage High School became the school’s first Black principal. A year later, he was forced to resign despite his expertise and positive impact on students.

Political extremists in the state accused him of promoting divisive concepts simply because he wrote a letter to the community expressing his grief and pain over the deaths of three Black Americans: George Floyd in Minnesota, Breonna Taylor in Kentucky and Ahmaud Arbery in Georgia.

The increasing frequency of stories like these is deeply concerning — because our children are the ones caught in the middle.

We send our kids to school and entrust their teachers to give them the skills they need to succeed in the classroom and beyond. No matter where you live, it’s highly likely that finding and retaining high-quality teachers and administrators is a top concern for your child’s school district.

But more and more, good teachers are leaving the profession over fear of being harassed or fired — or worse — just for doing their jobs. Without access to quality educators, our kids will struggle, and the results will be devastating.

Yet as parents and educators work hard to help kids catch up on learning time lost during the pandemic, opportunistic politicians are taking advantage of families’ frustrations to push their extremist agendas into classrooms nationwide.

As a mother, I’m fearful for the future of this country if we can’t allow our educators to speak honestly about modern challenges without suffering dire consequences. Our shared goal should be to equip our children with the knowledge and independent thinking skills they need to build a brighter, safer future for us all.

Good teachers are leaving the profession over fear of being harassed or fired — or worse — just for doing their jobs.

Learning from each other and our shared history helps us confront the issues we face today — that’s what will keep our country great. We must not let partisan politics get in the way of that.

That’s why my organization, the Campaign for Our Shared Future, recently announced the Educator Defense Fund, a central, rapid-response resource of support services for educators, superintendents and school board members who find themselves under attack by extremists.

Our goal is to create a desk staffed by a team of experts providing communication and legal advice and other resources to help educators withstand and oppose these dangerous attacks. Politicians have no place in our classrooms.

I wish that the Educator Defense Fund wasn’t necessary, but unfortunately it’s desperately needed because extremist politicians continue to attack educators for teaching our kids lessons that don’t adhere to the politicians’ views.

They will continue to defame our most respected community leaders, nonprofit organizers and writers of history. They will do their best to erase American heroes — like Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Rosa Parks — from our history books. They will do all of this in an attempt to assume more power by injecting their divisive agendas into our children’s classrooms and undermining trust in public education and, eventually, our democracy — and they are determined. No person is safe from their attacks.

 Luckily for us, combating these extremists is quite simple, if we’re willing to work together. We as parents must work as trusting partners with our local schools and communities in order to give our children the best education possible. This battle is winnable if we come together across the political aisle to defeat these extremist invasions and restore healthy debate among families and professionals invested in student success.

For the sake of our country’s future, let’s put an end to the culture wars and classroom witch hunts in 2023, and shift our focus back to the needs of our kids.

This story was produced by The Hechinger Report, a nonprofit, independent news organization focused on inequality and innovation in education.

Photo by Callum Shaw on Unsplash.

Heather Harding

Heather Harding, Ed.D., is executive director of the Campaign for Our Shared Future, a nonpartisan effort to support high quality K-12 education and preserve access, inclusion and meaningful content in our schools.

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