I know what you are thinking… that headline seems harsh. If it was not for my dad quizzing me on multiplication flash cards, I might not know 12×8 off the top of my head to this day. Our parents and legal guardians do play a major role in our educational journey by enrolling us in school, potentially paying for private schooling and college, and making sure we place our homework in the folder marked “Return to School.”
However, there is an arena where parent involvement can become damaging to a child’s education.
In the 1990’s, a ‘Parental Rights Movement’ began where parents bonded over the goal of controlling the public education system. Just like scrunchies and flare jeans have made a return, history repeats itself. A resurgence of this movement is rapidly gaining more attention and support in Connecticut, among other states, as demonstrated by the Moms for Liberty in Fairfield County. These parents are predominantly white and they unite under this movement to “interrupt school board meetings and threaten school officials for enacting mask mandates and allowing teachers to educate students about racism, discrimination, and LGBTQ rights.”
Prior to my college education, I was taught what you might call the “white version” of history from elementary school to high school. Do not get me wrong, I knew that racism still existed in society as I had heard firsthand experiences from my Black friends and family, such as my biracial cousin being called the N word in middle school.
In my freshman year of college, I took a course about systematic racism. I remember sitting in that class when we started a discussion about the G.I. Bill of 1944 and I became excited because I remembered learning about this bill in my high school U.S. history class. I was hit with a serious reality check when my teacher asked, “How is the G.I. Bill an example of systematic racism?” Not one of my classmates answered, including me, who sat there believing that this bill was used as a relief effort that included money and resources to soldiers after serving in World War II. The professor explained that this 1944 bill that provided benefits to returning soldiers was only available to white soldiers. African American returning GIs were purposely excluded from benefits, which included access to homeownership, college tuition, and unemployment insurance.
To this day, I still wonder why none of the students in my freshman class were able to answer the question about the GI Bill. Was it because my classmates were also taught a history that purposely left out details to make white people look better — or was it simply because it was an 8am course?
One four-week semester course had taught me more about racism than the seven years combined of middle school and high school education. This whole experience brings up another question I would like to propose: If my cousin can experience racial slurs within school walls, why would the K-12 education system have no part in helping correct the ongoing racism in society?
From a political standpoint, this topic can be seen as highly controversial. But what if our society looked at incorporating more diverse topics into the classroom as an effort to save lives? According to the Center for Disease and Control (CDC), racism affects people of color in an array of social determinants of health. In 2021 data reveals that the life expectancy of non-Hispanic Black Americans is four years lower than that of white Americans. In addition, racial and ethnic minorities are more susceptible to a wide range of health conditions and illnesses, such as hypertension and asthma. While there are many solutions and steps to minimizing health disparities, one way is reducing the burden of stress due to discrimination.
To do this, I believe that creating a more inclusive environment for children is key.
Connecticut school systems have the means to carry out this vision and make a statement directly against the Parental Rights Movement with the statewide effort to develop a new model curriculum to help students become accepting and well-rounded by learning about different cultures, races, and ethnicities. Unfortunately, this act was introduced in 2021, but continuous push-backs have set the timeline for this curriculum not to be completed until January 2024. It is in the hands of Connecticut’s Department of Education and the State Resource Center of Connecticut (SERC) to oversee this process and ensure there are no further delays in implementation.
As a twenty-year-old college student, a question I have for parents in support of the ‘Parental Rights Movement’ is – what are you so afraid of? That your child can have the opportunity to become more culturally competent than you did? People understand and believe in professional standards when they need an accountant or lawyer. So, why not leave it in the hands of professional, qualified educators to teach children about “culturally relevant teaching and other strategies to make schools feel safe and supportive for Black students and other underserved populations”.
In 2019, there were 7,314 hate crimes leaving 8,552 victims. Just like my biracial cousin, children of color are too often dehumanized in the school environment. How would you feel if your child never returned home from school with readings of personal accounts or characters that felt or looked like them? This is the lived experience of students of color who attend school in predominantly white districts that do not celebrate diversity. In 2020, The Connecticut State Board of Education wrote a statement that they “support and affirm the importance of a culturally responsive education for all students”.
Human rights activist and environmentalist Kangoma Kindembo said, “Time is never enough — enough is the action that you take in a given time.” There is a place for all children in education and our public school curricula must be a reflection of that.
Maddie Loney is a senior at Sacred Heart University, majoring in Health Sciences with a minor in psychology, and will be continuing her education at Sacred Heart in the Occupational Therapy Master’s Program.