As many parents have gotten an up-close look at their children’s school curriculum thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic, they have been shocked to see some of what schools are attempting to teach their children. Parents in Virginia, in particular, have been vocal in their opposition to various progressive, divisive, and (in some cases) explicit teachings found in the public-school curriculum.
Our friends at Family Research Council have created a guide entitled “A Concerned Citizen’s Guide to Engaging with Public Schools” to help parents and others constructively and successfully address this critical issue in education. The guide’s author, Meg Kilgannon, is Senior Fellow for Education Studies at FRC, and she joins Traci DeVette Griggs on this week’s episode of the Family Policy Matters radio show and podcast.
“One of the things that I think we need to keep in mind is if public schools aren’t good enough for our children, they’re really not good enough for anybody’s children,” says Kilgannon. “To that end, if children are being harmed by the school system that they’re in, that harm is occurring at the expense—the literal financial expense—of the public.”
But Kilgannon urges parents and other concerned citizens not to simply remove themselves from the conversation, even if they take their kids out of public school. “Avoid setting up a scenarious that’s ‘Us vs. Them.’ […] Continue to go to the school board meetings; know who your school board representative is,” because we owe it to the hundreds of children in public schools to be engaged and advocate for them.
“We have to make sure that our children are well taken care of and have a firm footing for their launch into life so that they can be successful and productive citizens. As a society and as Christians, we want that for all children, and if we have a system of education that doesn’t make that possible, then it’s incumbent upon us to engage with the system and make it the best that it can possibly be.”
Tune in to Family Policy Matters this week to hear Meg Kilgannon share more tips for how we can all engage with the public education system and advocate for children.
TRACI DEVETTE GRIGGS: Thanks for joining us this week for Family Policy Matters. Many parents have had an almost daily up close view of their children’s school curriculum over the last year and a half thanks to COVID. Many of us have become uneasy and even horrified at some of what has become commonplace teaching. Standard public school curriculum is less likely to be focused on the basics of reading, writing, and math, and more focused on promoting divisive ideologies to our children.
Well, in an effort to empower parents in their fundamental role as the primary teachers of their children, the Family Research Council has published a new guide, entitled “A Concerned Citizen’s Guide to Engaging with Public Schools.” Well, the guide’s author, Meg Kilgannon, joins us today. She is a senior fellow for Education Studies at FRC. Previously, she served at the U.S. Department of Education as Director of the Office of Faith and Opportunity Initiatives. Her efforts to spearhead dynamic change in her own local school board earned her the Virginia Family Foundation’s Citizen of the Year Award in 2019.
Well, Meg Kilgannon, welcome to Family Policy Matters.
MEG KILGANNON: Thank you so much for having me on.
TRACI DEVETTE GRIGGS: Talk first about the primary concerns you’re hearing from parents about America’s public schools.
MEG KILGANNON: Most parents are concerned about politics being included in school curriculum. Regardless of whether you’re conservative or liberal, most parents believe that children’s education should be free of political bias. So when you are in the system, our educational system is dominated by progressive thinking. So this means that in a subject like government class, you’re going to have a bias towards one kind of thinking or one set of ideas. This means that in history, you’re going to have revisionist history instead of an accurate teaching of America’s history, warts and all. Even in English class, you’ll have issues with the choice of literature selections; they may be from a progressive political bent; they may include sexually explicit material that’s unnecessary for children of the age. There are just all kinds of things that parents discover when they look very closely at their children’s curriculum.
TRACI DEVETTE GRIGGS: Why do you suppose public schools have been—especially recently—so aggressively progressive in their ideology? What’s happening here?
MEG KILGANNON: The whole educational infrastructure has been dominated by progressives and leftists. In the early part of the 20th century, right after the Communist Revolution in the Soviet union, there was a concerted effort to make that a worldwide movement, and it didn’t have success; the workers of the world did not unite and rise up against the powers that be because that’s just not how things work. So as we progressed through that time and entered into the ’40s, ’50s, and ’60s, the intellectual movement of that time decided that instead of having a workers revolution, we would have an intellectual revolution; instead of economic Marxism leading the path to Marxism, we would have instead cultural Marxism that would pave the way toward economic Marxism. That meant taking over institutions of higher learning, and they did that very successfully. Sadly, the radicals of the ’60s are now retiring from their service in academia, and they are leaving in their wake the people that they’ve trained to be incredibly progressive, radical ideologues, who are taking over those institutions as professors, college presidents, and even presidents of corporations.
My children have had a variety of educational experiences. I homeschooled my kids for awhile; I had a child who had learning needs that I couldn’t address, and so she needed to go to public school for those services. We had some of our kids in Catholic school and over time we were pleased with our public school system. That situation I think is now very different. In the last 10 years, the situation in public schools has really changed; it’s become very much more progressive. I’m not sure if it’s because of technology, or just a coarsening of the culture. I don’t know exactly what the reason for this rapid decline is. But I think for parents who have children starting out in school, now you need to think very carefully about what your choices are.
It’s not possible for everyone to pull their kids out of public school, and if you’re in a situation where you simply cannot do that, you’re going to need to be very involved in what your children are doing. You’re going to need to make sure you know what’s happening on the computers or devices that they’re issued from school, know what their textbooks are, know what their assignments are, know their teachers; be as engaged with their teachers and the principal of the school as you can be in the most positive way possible, and be really engaged in the process.
TRACI DEVETTE GRIGGS: Even if we pull our children out, or for those of us who do not have children at all in the public schools right now, that doesn’t let us off the hook though, does it? I mean, we still need to be concerned about what’s happening in the public schools and you outline some good reasons, don’t you?
MEG KILGANNON: One of the things that I think we need to keep in mind is if public schools aren’t good enough for our children, they’re really not good enough for anybody’s children. To that end, if children are being harmed by the school system that they’re in, that harm is occurring at the expense—the literal financial expense—of the public; they’re ruining kids with our tax dollars, you might say. So to the degree that that’s the case, we need to be engaged in the system. Part of the reason that schools are struggling so much, the biggest part of that, of course, is the breakdown of the family. We know that families in America are in crisis. We know that many children come from single parent homes, which isn’t always the choice of the parent, right? Sometimes this is unavoidable, but you have children in economically disadvantaged situations, children in rank poverty who suffer hunger, who are all at the schoolhouse door waiting to be educated, right? So we need to make sure that those children’s needs are served, that those children are not harmed by ideologies or worldviews that will prohibit their flourishing in the future. We have to make sure that our children are well taken care of and have a firm footing for their launch into life so that they can be successful and productive citizens. As a society and as Christians, we want that for all children, and if we have a system of education that doesn’t make that possible, then it’s incumbent upon us to engage with the system and make it the best that it can possibly be.
TRACI DEVETTE GRIGGS: So you mentioned outsourcing education, and any time that we do this, there are risks, and of course this includes private schools as well. So people who are sending their kids to Christian or Catholic schools, they’re not off the hook here either, are they?
MEG KILGANNON: No, certainly not. We’ve seen the private schools in New York have gotten a lot of coverage because, of course, there’s a lot of media in New York too. We’ve seen that this radical march through the institutions has impacted public schools, and it has also impacted private schools. Many of the very most expensive and desirable private schools in New York City are turning out little Marxists, just like your neighborhood public school could be. They’re being taught incredibly progressive sexual ethics, and just all kinds of things that once the parents are aware of them, they are truly shocked by them. They have the ability to push back on that and to say, “No, I’m not going to spend $50,000 a year to have this taught to my children.” And they can pull their kids out and send them somewhere else. But a private school is not immune from ideological forces that are hostile to Christian values. We must be engaged everywhere.
TRACI DEVETTE GRIGGS: Right, and I think the same goes for a Christian or a Catholic school as well, right?
MEG KILGANNON: Absolutely. It absolutely does. One of the reasons that my husband and I send our kids to public school is that we want to be the people who teach our children the faith, and if there are things that need correcting that they pick up at school, we’d rather that not come from church, from someone affiliated with the church. It’s much easier to correct an error that’s coming from outside the church. Now, of course, there are many, many Christian and Catholic schools that are faithful to their doctrines and their faith statements and do a wonderful job forming beautiful souls for Christ. That’s mostly the case, but we all know that there are those examples of progressive private and Catholic and Christian schools that are sometimes surprising to parents when they see just exactly how progressive the values at those schools are.
TRACI DEVETTE GRIGGS: So you gave us some advice, very good advice for parents as they seek to engage with their child’s local school. Do you have some words of caution for those parents? Some things that they should avoid doing?
MEG KILGANNON: I would avoid setting up a scenario that’s Us vs. Them. Avoid removing yourself entirely from the conversation by your actions. Even if you’re pulling your kids out of school, don’t remove yourself entirely from the school system. Continue to go to school board meetings; know who your school board representative is. Try to understand the local issues that are impacting your schools and see if there’s any way that you can engage in that space. When we remove ourselves from public schools, the voice that we bring to those debates is sadly lacking. Our system of government is made up largely of checks and balances, right? And we have three branches of government and one checks the other. We have two parties; one is supposed to check the other. They check each other, they bring different ideas to the table, and then we’re supposed to work together to come up with something that we can all agree on is to the benefit of society. And if we can’t practice those values in schools and at the local government level, then we’re not going to be able to practice those values at higher levels of government as they become more distant from the person. Your local government is the government closest to you, and then you have your state government, then the federal government. So we really need to model this good citizenship for our leaders in our schools, especially. If we’re not there, then we can’t be engaged in that conversation.
TRACI DEVETTE GRIGGS: Well, we’re just about out of time for this week. Before we go, Meg Kilgannon, where can our listeners go to get a copy of FRC’s helpful resource, “A Concerned Citizen’s Guide to Engaging with Public Schools.”
MEG KILGANNON: This guide is on our website at www.frc.org/education. And there is more material there. We have materials on gender identity, on sex education, and there’ll be something new coming up on the Southern Poverty Law Center’s Learning for Justice Program. That I know is something that schools in North Carolina have struggled with, those ideologies being imposed on students there. I cite an example from Wake County in the paper itself. That’ll be coming out very soon, but just keep checking back for more materials and sign up to subscribe to our newsletter list. We’d love to send you the information
TRACI DEVETTE GRIGGS: Meg Kilgannon, thank you so much for being with us today on Family Policy Matters.
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