As we approach the Connecticut primaries on August 9, the political rhetoric is heating up. In addition to the abundant television commercials, I have noticed increasingly popular language that has been thrown around by many Republican candidates discussing education: parental rights, parental choiceor a variation thereof.
“In order to secure the future of our children, Connecticut school districts must stay local and we must give parents have more choices as to where and how their children are educated,” the website of GOP gubernatorial candidate Bob Stefanowski reads.
For Stefanowski, “parents’ choice” apparently means “school’s choice”. How he pushed the concept forward as governor is a mystery — vouchers, magnet schools, charters? – since it does not offer any details on its website.
Themis Klarides, meanwhile, titled a section of her website “Parental rights.” The GOP-endorsed candidate who hopes to unseat Richard Blumenthal in the U.S. Senate describes the concept this way: “Congress has a responsibility to protect local control and honor the parental rights. parents deserve options – the money should follow the child.
Similar to Stefanowski, Klarides frames “parental rights” under the banner of school choice with vague wording that sounds a lot like school vouchers. Again, however, she refrains from providing details.
Other GOP candidates are offering alternative definitions of “parental rights” and “parental choice.” Leora Levy and Peter Lumaj, Klarides’ primary challengers, are two such candidates.
“Leora will always defend Parental rights and Freedom of choice for wearing masks and vaccinations,” according to Levy’s website. “Leora is cemented in her belief that the parent knows what is best for their child, not the government.”
Lemaj’s website, meanwhile, states, “Over the past two years, we have seen our classrooms and our programs become politicized in ways we have never seen before. Critical Race Theory has no place in any classroom… trying to keep them from having a say in what their children are taught will further polarize this critical issue that our children desperately need us as a nation to address.
Masks. Vaccines. Choice of school. Critical Race Theory. Curriculum. “Parental rights”, apparently, are in the eye of the beholder. Like any political slogan, it is very attractive to the ear but blatantly vague – just as political operatives like Christopher Rufo like it.
You remember Rufo. He was the man who started the national crusade against critical race theory in order to “make it toxic and put all the various cultural follies under this brand category.” It was the first step in a vast plan to turn public opinion against public schools.
“The secret of good activism is not mass, but leverage,” Rufo explained in an interview with National Catholic Register. “The stories about the CRT sparked a huge public reaction and politicians, who always watch the intensity of voter sentiment, began to propose laws that protected their constituents and protected families from indoctrination. The GOP then adopted a clever framework – “parental rights”, “parents’ party” – which created a very attractive set of policies and connotations for families.
Here we go ! Now, it seems like every GOP candidate across the country has jumped on the “parental rights” bandwagon. Clearly, even Connecticut, whose public schools are fiercely local, is not immune to the lure of this coded language, as national groups like Parent’s Choice, No Left Turn in Education, and Parents Against Stupid Stuff – among others – sent representatives to the school. board meetings and donated money to state politicians.
Several local elections last November, in fact, featured school board candidates who ran on Rufo’s out-of-the-box anti-CRT platform without providing any hard evidence of how he’s taught in schools. schools, not to mention the definition of the CRT itself. Though all of those candidates were defeated last year, the problem isn’t going away — thanks in large part to how Connecticut’s GOP candidates have embraced “parental rights” as coded campaign rhetoric.
The irony of all this focus on parents’ alleged loss of rights in relation to their children’s education is that the majority of parents nationwide still support their local public schools.
“To a large extent — and regardless of their political affiliation — parents express satisfaction with their children’s schools and what is taught there,” according to an NPR/Ipsos poll. “In the survey, 76% of respondents agree that ‘my child’s school is doing a good job of keeping me informed about the curriculum, including potentially controversial topics’.”
So when Connecticut citizens vote in the upcoming primaries and general elections, they should ask GOP candidates, “Can you show us, in particular, what’s wrong with Connecticut schools and how, in particular, would you fix them?”
Good luck getting an answer beyond bromide on “parental rights” or “parental choice.”