The backlash to critical race theory, gender ideology and what is often called "wokeness" in schools represents a rare example of bipartisan agreement during a hyper-polarized time. While this might not fit the mainstream narrative, journalists and politicians ignore what is happening at their own peril.
The growing resistance is easy to miss on the surface. There is much more pressure on the Left to toe the ideological line in public and hide one's real opinions in the safe harbor of DMs and text messages to trusted friends and allies.
But conversations with parents, students and teachers reveal that even self-described liberals and lifelong Democrats are extremely alarmed by what they see as dogmatic classroom activism and outright discrimination in the name of diversity, equity and inclusion.
I have spent the past two weeks reading through submissions to Parents Defending Education, a new group we launched recently to fight back against the "woke" ideology in our children's schools. We are getting letters daily from concerned parents and teachers about what they describe as a "racially divisive curriculum," "blatant activism in the classroom," "infantilization of students and staff of color," "sanctioned discrimination," "radical gender ideology" and "racist poison."
"We did not immigrate to this country for our children to be taught in taxpayer funded schools that punctuality and hard work are white values," one father tells me.
I spent a decade working in schools and never could have imagined that the widely accepted liberal slant of many public schools would transform into a cult-like dogma that deliberately shames, denigrates and segregates children, compels speech, disallows dissent and uses rhetorical manipulation to bully teachers and students into compliance. But concerned parents have shared examples of all these and more.
Some schools require students to reveal private information about their different "identities" and then locate those identities on an oppression matrix or hierarchy. Female? Oppressed. White? Oppressor. Cisgender? Oppressor. Teachers themselves are made to do the same during "professional development" sessions, afraid that if they object they will lose their jobs.
Students are pressured to say that they live in a patriarchy, even if they remain unconvinced after reading two Vox articles about the "wage gap" that their teachers assigned to them.
Students are being told that they have a responsibility to "dismantle the systems that perpetuate white supremacy," that every system in America perpetuates white supremacy and that the students themselves are complicit in it. One high schooler reports that his social studies teacher issued the directive to "burn it all down."
Students and staff are pressured to put their fist in the air and proclaim "black lives matter"; if they explain that they agree unequivocally with the sentiment of the three words but feel less comfortable with BLM as an organization and ideological movement, they are dismissed and told that their "white privilege" is showing. Detractors who are not white are subjected to responses like "not all skin folk are kinfolk" and lectured about "internalized racism."
This is racism. This is abuse.
Female and non-white students who do not believe they are "oppressed," and prefer not to be called "a victim" during the school day, are told that they are wrong and often pressured or forced to identify with a group of which they do not want to be a part. They report that actual data about outcomes for males and females is absent from the conversation about the "oppression" of women in the United States.
Students, including elementary-aged ones, are asked, "what are your pronouns?" and often left feeling embarrassed because they don't even understand the question. And why should they? No one should be compelled to answer that question, but it has increasingly become a default setting in countless schools.
Fourth-graders are having to grapple with the terms "cisgender" and "transgender." Parents say that their 10-year-old children are hopping off the bus and "instead of sharing stories of whose birthday it was today and what they played at recess, they are informing us that that having a penis does not mean they are a boy and that kids are supposed to pick whether or not they are a girl or boy."
These are 10-year-olds.
It is hardly bigotry, transphobia, racism or white privilege to be of the opinion that none of this should be happening to children at school.
We passed a law in 1964 to outlaw racial discrimination in public spaces. That law still applies today. We passed a law in 1972 to eliminate sex discrimination in education. That law still applies today. The first amendment protects us from compelled speech in addition to granting us the freedom to speak.
Schools would be wise to keep all of that in mind.
Erika Sanzi is the Director of Outreach at Parents Defending Education and a former educator and school committee member. She is also the mother of three school aged sons.
The views expressed in this article are the writer's own.