My colleague, Public Policy’s Director of Education, Candi Cushman, recently answered some questions about the public schools that were posed to her from Decision Magazine. I thought you would find her answers both enlightening and interesting.
On a related note, if you are a parent of a school-age child, I hope you’re aware of our upcoming, Bring Your Bible to School Day. It’ll be on Thursday October 4th. It’s not too early to register and participate in some of our pre-event promotion.
Here now is Candi’s interview:
- You have observed the last two decades of how the latest turns of the sexual revolution have changed the public school environment and the gains made by LGBTQ activists. Some may wonder how we got to this point that wouldn’t have been imaginable a generation ago. How would you answer that?
The question of “how we got to this point” in public schools today is a complicated one that takes significant time to unpack! But for now, I’ll just mention two areas that I believe have largely contributed to the chaos we see in many schools:
First, our culture is rapidly losing a widespread respect for the sacredness and eternal value of human life. How does this impact what happens in the classroom? Just to give one example: Character-based teaching—which emphasizes spiritually-rooted values like kindness and compassion—is often replaced with instruction that emphasizes social agendas or identity politics and is based on adult-centered power struggles. As a result, kids learn that their worth is based on how they identify politically—or how much power and control they can maintain in society—rather than the unchangeable fact that they are a creation of God with intrinsic eternal value. Sadly, those politicized messages are mirrored in some of the more egregious sex-education programs that essentially teach kids that their existence is an accident, that there is nothing sacred about their life and that they have no better destiny than to give into their most basic instincts.
Second, it’s well-documented that civic education is at weak point in our culture. One study showed that more than one-third of Americans were unable to name just one First Amendment right. You see the fruit of that reflected in headlines about students being told they don’t have a right to pray in public or even read their Bibles during free time—as well as the students at colleges who see nothing wrong with using violence to shut down opinions differing than their own. Sadly, they know no better, because we have failed to teach them a true understanding of the principles our Founding Fathers cherished.
By sponsoring student-led initiatives such as Bring Your Bible to School Day (on Oct. 4 this year), we’re hoping to increase awareness among our nation’s youth of their most fundamental religious-freedom rights.
- Who are some of the prominent people or organizations behind the push to deconstruct traditional, biblical sexuality, and how have they been so successful in public schools, where the aim used to be the education of children in core academics?
Just to mention a few, there’s GLSEN (formerly known as the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network); the Human Rights Campaign and PFLAG (formerly known as Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays). Other groups, such as Gender Spectrum, have more recently arisen that focus on promoting transgender-advocacy messages.
GLSEN is the nation’s largest sexual advocacy organization focused on influencing the public schools. Through its relationship with educators and students in local school clubs, such as “gay straight alliances” (GSAs), GLSEN sponsors multiple programs throughout the school year that celebrate and promote homosexuality, bisexuality, transgender and other sexual topics. The most well-known of these events is the Day of Silence, which occurs annually in April.
The Human Rights Campaign, one of the nation’s oldest and well-funded sexual advocacy organizations, promotes an initiative for elementary schools called “Welcoming Schools.” Billed as a way to “maintain a safe school environment,” the program has been introduced in several school districts nationwide and features books and lessons that introduce transgenderism and same-sex parenting themes to young kids.
How have these groups gained so much traction in just a few years? In general, they’ve strategically tapped into two major cultural trends—the passion for social-justice causes and the heightened sensitivity to “safe school” climates. Advocacy groups often approach schools with offers to help implement programs to improve their climate that, unbeknownst to parents, include sexual activism components. Problem is, many state education codes only specifically make allowances for parents to opt their kids out of teaching in sex education or health classes. So when homosexuality or transgender instruction is no longer specifically labeled as one of those categories and is moved into more general subjects like “tolerance,” “family diversity,” or “anti-bullying” lessons, parents are at high risk of losing their rights.
But it doesn’t have to be this way: We can recognize that students incurring harassment and bullying is a serious problem that schools definitely need to address—and strongly address. But this can and should be done without politicizing the classrooms and introducing controversial, sexual topics to children without their parents’ knowledge, or even against parents’ will.
- Could you cite some of the more grievous examples of radical sex ed or speech codes for gender identity in public school settings?
There are several examples of parents raising alarms over controversial sex-education programs in recent months. For instance, in Fairfax, Virginia—despite a significant outcry from the community—the school board made changes this summer to its “family life” curriculum. Among other things, it removed references to “biological sex” and replaced them with references to “sex assigned at birth”—i.e., promoting the idea that being male or female is completely subjective and ignoring the scientific reality that sex is coded into our DNA.
In Fremont, California, parents protested sex-education instruction being proposed for the fourth through sixth grades. Parents said it wasn’t “age appropriate,” citing explicit descriptions of specific sexual acts. The good news is that the board responded by removing—at least for now— the curriculum for those age groups.
Another case worth watching involves a Christian teacher in Indiana who is in danger of losing his job after trying to find a compromise with a school policy requiring teachers to use students’ preferred-gender identity names. “I cannot in good conscience do what I believe will cause harm,” he said to a Fox News columnist. This case shines the spotlight on the tension between schools’ gender-identity policies and educators’ religious-freedom rights.
- What advice would you have for parents who have kids in public schools and are concerned that such examples don’t happen in their district, and also for those who already find themselves in a hostile environment?
The first thing I would advise parents is, Don’t be afraid to be proactive. It’s much more difficult to get inappropriate material out of your school once it’s already in the system than it is to take basic steps to let your school know that parents are paying attention. Parents have the right, for instance, to request and arrange a time to examine textbooks, lesson plans, curriculum and materials used in their child’s classroom. They can also request a time to visit the school and observe their child’s classes.
Be encouraged that you can present your concerns in a respectful and factual way and you can come prepared to offer solutions, rather than just a complaint. Often times, educators are responding to outside pressure and threats of lawsuits, and they may not have a full perspective. So you can come prepared to offer a more balanced approach to problems they are trying to solve. For instance, our website, TrueTolerance.org, has model anti-bullying and parental rights policies available that you can share with school officials.
For those who are already encountering difficult situations, I would encourage them not to be intimidated by outside advocacy groups pressuring their schools. The truth is parents and community citizens actually have more of a stake in what happens in their taxpayer funded, neighborhood schools than these outside groups do. So don’t let the special interest groups be the only voice your school officials hear.
- How much influence can Christians have by running for school boards, or maybe by merely paying attention and communicating with school officials?
Christians can have significant influence on textbook and curriculum decisions by running for school board, or even just volunteering to serve on a curriculum-review committee. The power of parents was demonstrated to me a few years back in Erie, Illinois: After seeing a flyer that announced a controversial GLSEN curriculum was coming into their elementary school (which served kids in pre-kindergarten through the fourth grade), the parents respectfully approached their school board members. Despite the fact that a national activist campaign was launched against this small, rural school to pressure it into adopting the materials, the parents’ voices outweighed that heavy intimidation. The school boarded voted not to use the materials.
More recently, a school board in Washington State halted its sex-education curriculum, after a courageous father of five spoke up. He reported that his 12-year-old daughter had come home in tears. She was upset because, “They told her that if she was into fishing and wearing athletic gear, or playing basketball, that those were boy things. And that would mean she was a boy inside or that she was gay,” the father explained to a television reporter. What he thought would be a traditional sex education course covering the basics on pregnancies and STDS had apparently been transformed into a heavy emphasis on “gender identity.”
As these cases demonstrate, parents should never underestimate their ability to have a redemptive impact. The bottom line is, you, as a parent and a taxpaying citizen, not only have a constitutional right, but also a God-given responsibility to protect your kids.