The Republican War on Education Will Harm Children

Middle school is a gauntlet. One little weakness can make a child a target for harassment and bullying. Being different, whether by ethnicity, socio-economic status, sexual orientation, family structure, or academic ability, results in a child standing out for all the wrong reasons. Parents want to protect their children, that’s understandable. But the policies being pursued by conservative states, particularly Florida, will shield some children while placing others in danger.

Conservatives have redefined what “woke” means. The word is an adjective derived from African-American Vernacular English that sought to raise awareness to racial prejudice and discrimination. Now it’s being used to disparage anything viewed as an attempt by liberals to somehow cancel America’s culture, i.e., that the U.S. is primarily a white Christian heterosexual country and by teaching children about race or gender will, at the least, confuse them, and at the worst, make them feel guilty for events and situations beyond their control. While conservatives criticize liberals for being “snowflakes,” melting when faced with controversy or what the right wing views as the truth, they have no reservation about sheltering children from what is documented history.

Middle school is a time when children are beginning to separate from their parents and make decisions on their own. Often, this includes the friends they choose. Puberty happens and young adolescents, much to their parents’ horror, begin to think about themselves as sexual beings, including whom they are attracted to and why. Despite what conservatives trumpet, children are not being indoctrinated to become gay or gender fluid. Many may exhibit some confusion about their sexual identity. This development is a natural part of growing up. It’s a time for exploration and sometimes there’s hurt and heartbreak. But if we all think back to our own times in middle school, most of us would admit to having “crushes” on someone of the same sex (often a popular girl or boy). Making a child feel guilty or sinful when going through this transition will add to their anxiety and could lead to depression. Will counselors be available to talk to these children, to help guide them through these challenging times? Or will policies make that impossible, thus leaving children to struggle alone. 

Not teaching actual history, from the Civil War through Black Lives Matter, will fail to provide context for what Black students face, especially if they attend schools where they are in the minority. How can a white student understand slavery, discrimination, and what it means to be Black if they are not provided with the historical background? Critical race theory, unfortunately, is something else that has been politicized by the right, making it difficult for schools and teachers to teach history without whitewashing some of the more painful incidents when Blacks were lynched, beaten, or died in bombings.

How have we gotten to a point where books, ones that were hailed as masterpieces when we were children, are now being banned? When have we had so little faith in this younger generation that we cannot trust them to read with a critical eye and now have literature censored? As the list of banned books grows, so should our concern. Instead, we have parents, many of whom have not had time to read a book being targeted, but are ready to believe what they’ve read online that a certain book is offensive. They show up at school board meetings to rail against the book or author.

What’s being lost is genuine concern for the children. I think back to a song by The Carpenters, “Bless the Beasts and the Children” – “for in this world they have no voice, they have no choice.” Our young people are being spoon fed what politicians are cooking up, not to protect or educate them, but to ring up campaign contributions and votes. The scary thing is the politicians pushing these new laws are well educated indeed. They went to the best schools and colleges and they, most likely, read controversial books and papers. Now they want to prevent young people from developing the skills they will need to be critical thinkers in the future.

The most vulnerable students will suffer the most. Like heat seeking missiles, bullies zero in on the victims. Those grappling with their ethnicity or sexuality will be in for a tough time. Will these children find teachers who can help, or will these adults be too afraid of losing a job to reach out? Will parents focus on their children at home, or will they be too busy protesting at school board meetings or sending tweets? 

Schools should be a haven, a safe place for all students. Instead, politicians are making it into a war zone where many children risk being hurt.

Charlene Giannetti is the co-author with Margaret Sagarese of eight books for parents of young adolescents, including The Roller-Coaster Years: Raising Your Child Through the Maddening Yet Magical Middle School Years and Cliques: Eight Steps to Help Your Child Survive the Social Jungle.

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About Charlene Giannetti (696 Articles)
Charlene Giannetti, editor of Woman Around Town, is the recipient of seven awards from the New York Press Club for articles that have appeared on the website. A graduate of Syracuse University’s S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications, Charlene began her career working for a newspaper in Pennsylvania, then wrote for several publications in Washington covering environment and energy policy. In New York, she was an editor at Business Week magazine and her articles have appeared in many newspapers and magazines. She is the author of 13 non-fiction books, eight for parents of young adolescents written with Margaret Sagarese, including "The Roller-Coaster Years," "Cliques," and "Boy Crazy." She and Margaret have been keynote speakers at many events and have appeared on the Today Show, CBS Morning, FOX News, CNN, MSNBC, NPR, and many others. Her last book, "The Plantations of Virginia," written with Jai Williams, was published by Globe Pequot Press in February, 2017. Her podcast, WAT-CAST, interviewing men and women making news, is available on Soundcloud and on iTunes. She is one of the producers for the film "Life After You," focusing on the opioid/heroin crisis that had its premiere at WorldFest-Houston International Film Festival, where it won two awards. The film is now available to view on Amazon Prime, YouTube, and other services. Charlene and her husband live in Manhattan.