Parental Rights Groups Somehow Not Concerned About the Rights of Parents Like Me

Good morning! Or whatever time of the day you’re reading this. I happen to be writing this in the morning as my son, who is in high school, gets ready for the day. I remember prior to being a parent, I dreaded a future that included getting a kid off to school in the morning. I imagined it would be nothing but tension and stress and fights about putting on shoes and taking showers all while the clock counted down how many more minutes we had before being late. And there have definitely been mornings like that. But it’s not as bad as I feared it would be. Most of the time.

This particular morning I am thinking of an email I sent to my son’s teacher and principal responding to a message about a Patriot Week event I received from the school. They are having a “panel discussion and civic dialogue” that my son’s class will be attending. I looked up the panelists, and they are all Republican, some of them very right-wing, such as a Michigan Supreme Court judge who has voted against LGBTQ+ rights and abortion issues.

But what concerned me most about this event was the involvement of the Patriot Week Foundation, which is described in the message from the school simply as a 501(c)(3) nonpartisan foundation. But this group is hardly some kind of innocuous entity. As I looked through their web page, I found articles with titles such as “Equity and the Race to the Bottom,” in which the author rails against “‘woke’ activists” and the “far-left excesses” of diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI). There are also posts criticizing the teaching or acknowledgment of systemic racism.

Needless to say, I’m not very happy that my son’s school has invited this group to speak to its students, especially since the school district itself has a DEI program that it purports to stand behind. My wife and I chose this district for our son because it is one of the best and one of the few that includes sexual orientation and gender identity in its non-discrimination language.

When I told my son about my concerns about this event, he asked if I would be upset if the panel were all Democrats. And I said no. Which he called hypocritical. But I don’t think it is. Because if the group were all Democrats, they wouldn’t be against teaching about racism, which is real, or lamenting DEI initiatives, which are necessary to combat the systemic oppression of historically marginalized groups.

I tried to explain that there was no middle ground on some subjects between Republicans and Democrats because Republicans have become so extreme. Both my son and my wife pushed back on that. But I contend that you can’t find a compromise with a party that, for example, believes that transgender people shouldn’t exist and that anyone who is transgender or who supports transgender people is a danger to society, especially children. You can’t find middle ground on climate change when the Republican Party’s position is that it’s a hoax, even as we all see extreme weather events wreaking havoc around the globe with our own eyes.

It’s not that I don’t want my son to hear about a conservative perspective. If it were just the Michigan Supreme Court judge coming to talk to students, I would not be upset. Granted, I would ensure my son knew where this judge stands on issues important to our family. But it is the inclusion of this Patriot Foundation group that concerns me, especially since the event was framed as something nonpartisan. This group clearly has a political agenda and an interpretation of this country’s founding principles that is decidedly right-wing.

All of this has got me thinking about the “parental rights” movement in this country. The many people who claim that school libraries carrying books that have any LGBTQ+ characters or themes violate their parental rights. That teaching about slavery or acknowledging past and present racism in this country violates their parental rights. That making kids wear masks during a pandemic, a decidedly scary and unsure time for everyone, violates their parental rights. These groups claim that public schools are indoctrinating students, turning them into transgender Marxists.

What about MY parental rights? These parental rights groups, like Moms for Liberty, have a very narrow definition of who parents are and what constitutes a legitimate concern. The fact is, parents already have a lot of rights when it comes to their kids’ education, including putting them into private schools or homeschooling if they find public schools objectionable. Parents are free to contact teachers and administrators with questions and concerns — just like I myself did about the Patriot Week event. There is not some insidious left-wing agenda afoot in our public schools. There is, however, a movement of Christian Nationalists who believe that this country belongs to them — and only them. They are a minority, to be sure, but they are very loud.

Parents who believe in teaching actual history, including being forthright about this nation’s history of racism, and who believe that LGBTQ+ students deserve to be protected and treated with acceptance at school have to be louder. There are more of us than there are of them. You have the right and a duty as a parent to speak up.

D'Anne Witkowski is a poet, writer and comedian living life with her wife and son. She has been writing about LGBT politics for over a decade. Follow her on Twitter.