The NY Times spoke to three parents who became activists during the pandemic (they should have done it sooner)

Source: Hot Air

This morning Ed wrote about the terrible results of the latest school testing which showed that pandemic learning loss is every bit as bad as some of us expected. Timed to the release of the new data, the NY Times’ opinion page is doing a series of pieces titled “What is school for?” As part of that, they interviewed three parents who became activists as a result of the pandemic:

Letha Muhammad is a mother of three in Raleigh, N.C., and serves as the executive director of the nonprofit Education Justice Alliance, which works to dismantle the school-to-prison and school-to-deportation pipelines. Tom Chavez of Elmhurst, Ill., is a father of three who co-founded the group Elmhurst Parents for Integrity in Curriculum, which seeks to remove ideological agendas from the classroom. Siva Raj lives in San Francisco with his two sons and co-founded the group SF Guardians, which led the drive to recall three of the city’s school board members this year.

As you can probably tell from the names of the three activists groups, Letha Muhammad leads a progressive group while Tom Chavez and Siva Raj both lead groups that would probably be categorized as conservative (in effect if not in intent). For both Chavez and Raj the impetus to get involved with their schools started with the pandemic related closures:

Raj: The impetus to the recall was really seeing my kids struggle through distance learning. And the longer we stayed in distance learning, the more they struggled. Especially my older guy, who went from being an honor student to being rock bottom in terms of grades. And I think, for me, even more strikingly, he was at home, borderline depressed, barely getting out of bed. He had lost all the joy of learning because his distance learning experience was just about — every one of his peers had shut their cameras off. So he was just looking at a blank screen while this teacher was lecturing day in, day out, class after class.

When we moved to San Francisco, San Francisco had better Covid control than the rest of the Bay Area. And the schools were supposed to reopen. And then out of the blue, I get this email from the school district, saying middle and high school kids are not going to go back this whole year. And that was just — shook me up and woke me up, so to speak…

It felt like the school board had completely deprioritized learning and education. It was focused on everything other than education.

Chavez said he felt his kids had it a little easier because they were a bit older but still it was the fight over closing schools which started him down a path.

Chavez: I agree again with Siva, which was, what are the priorities? What are the priorities of the school district?
It should have been a five-alarm fire. We need to get children back into school and learning because learning loss compounds and it makes it difficult for children to catch up. So that was the first time I was really paying attention in this way to what goes on in our school district.

And then the distance learning, or the remote learning, and the lack of accountability and the lack of, it really seemed to be, any real focus on prioritizing education, that’s where I said, “Wow, I have to get involved here.” And when you started to peel the layers back, you started to discover things that were unsettling as a parent.

The host of this podcast/interview immediately asked about the teaching of American history and what Chavez things about what should be taught.

Chavez: If your child comes home to you and says, “In my classroom, I don’t believe that I can share my opinions,” that’s a problem. This forced me — or caused me — to look into the curriculum…

…the primary teaching tool in the high school for history is the Zinn Ed Project. It’s not in the syllabus. So it’s handouts. It’s “Watch this video.” And all of these things have a particular political ideology attached to them…

So the overarching theme in Zinn Ed is that the United States is an irredeemable, oppressive regime. It’s been founded to marginalize people of color. And it’s the go-to resource for teaching children American history. What is that — why is that the primary piece of information that is being used to teach children about our country’s history?

There’s some disagreement that’s evident in the discussion, especially between Muhammad and Chavez but all three of the parents interviewed agreed that there had been a breach of trust with school which is why they got involved:

Raj: …a lot of the issue here, I think, is a lack of trust. There is a breakdown in trust between the parent community and the institutions that are running our public schools. And it’s that breach of trust that is causing a lot of anxiety in the minds of parents.

Muhammad: …a breach of trust for Black parents goes way back in the history of this country, in the ways in which racism has impacted Black communities and has shown up in our schools. And so I just find it an ironic conversation to have, now that some parents are just now getting on the bandwagon when it comes to this idea of a breach of trust. When Black parents in particular have been fighting for many years to make sure their young people just stay in the building.

I think the most interesting idea in the discussion comes up when the host asks about how politics have become part of the engagement between parents and schools. Chavez points to the Virginia election as an example of this. But Raj actually comes at it from a different perspective. In San Francisco, politics has been part of school boards for a long time.

Raj: I think a lot of the dysfunction we’ve seen on the school board, especially the school board members who were recalled, were the worst of the lot. But that dysfunction has been there for a while. And it’s because the school board has been a stepping stone for politics. It’s a quick way to get into public visibility, be there for a few years and then go on. So many of those who are currently serving on the board of supervisors in San Francisco, for example, or who have stood for election for mayor started on the school board.

And, in fact, when we started the recall, our call to action was to get politics out of education. We are fiercely nonpartisan for that reason, because we see the overpoliticization of education as contrary to doing the right thing for our kids. In fact, it distorts the perspective…

And the people coming in talking social justice and equity have not solved this problem because they have not focused on doing the things that are necessary to run a public education system well. They focus on the things that get them names in the press and so they can get on to the next job.

You won’t see this spelled out anywhere in the discussion but it seems to me that the host is sort of angling toward the idea that politics has invaded our curriculums but what both Raj and Chavez are really saying is that politics (particularly left-wing politics) has been a growing part of the system for a while. What changed is that, during the pandemic, parents got a close look at what was being taught and now some are pushing back. To the NY Times that may look like a right-wing insurgency but only if you ignore the ongoing push by left-wing partisans that preceded it.