My teacher’s words hit me like a punch in the gut, leaving me gasping for air. My classmates exchanged uneasy glances. At the time, I wasn’t sure I heard her right. The words I remember still shock me today:
“I just wish I could shield my kids from that LGBT stuff.”
I was 16, it was barely 8 a.m., and my teacher just told a classroom full of sophomores, more than one of whom identified as gay, that LGBTQ identities and history are something bad, something from which to be protected.
That was the first time I ever considered that a teacher could propagandize students with their political ideologies. It was an off-handed comment, thrown out in passing. I was accustomed to my teachers’ lengthy speeches about their duty to allow us to make up our own minds about the world.
That night, I told my mom about what happened.
As a former District 11 teacher and current library technology educator here in the Springs, my mom, of all people, knew what my teacher did was wrong. About five students reported the teacher. My mom also reported the incident.
Truthfully, I don’t believe that kids are being “indoctrinated” in public schools like parents’ rights movements claim.
I actually believe my teacher’s wildly inappropriate comment came from the narrative that vilifies such behavior: so-called parents’ rights.
Parents’-rights campaigns have been around for as long as public schools. In the 1950s the panic was “communist infiltration” in classrooms; then parents protested desegregation in schools; and then a movement of conservative evangelical parents condemned sex education and LGBTQ acceptance in schools.
In 1996, Colorado nearly became the first state to pass the Parental Rights Amendment, which would codify the rights of parents ”to direct and control the upbringing, education, values, and discipline of their children.” Colorado was just one of 28 states with similar bills.
The Colorado measure failed when a coalition of more than 150 community groups formed to protest the amendment. Some called parents’ rights initiatives a “Trojan horse,” which would allow parents to impose their own views on others’ children.
More than 30 years later, the campaign is back and gaining traction in Colorado Springs.
Although school board members are supposedly nonpartisan, Colorado Springs School Districts 11 and 20 have flipped to ultra-partisan conservative school boards that campaigned on and are enacting parents’ rights policy. Both school boards have made comments about book censorship and policing teachers under the guise of parents’ rights.
In District 20, school board president Tom LaValley told the local Church of All Nations that parents should target “objectionable material” in schools.
In District 11, school board members have planned to revise policy on instructional and library resources in accordance with the board’s values. Based on board Vice President Jason Jorgensen and Director Al Loma’s previous transphobic, racist, homophobic, and scientifically inaccurate statements about COVID-19, one can assume the kinds of “values” they’re looking to codify.
More importantly, one can assume what kinds of information they want to keep out of schools.
Parents’ rights campaigns are, and have always been, a fabricated issue employed by politicians to manipulate parents, censor classrooms, and control future voters. These movements aim to strip people of their sense of agency, rather than actually increasing agency.
School board members prey on the worst fears of parents to get votes and win nearly unchecked authority over what kids learn in schools. And when you control classrooms, you control the country.
“Whoever gets to control what kids are reading gets to control the definition of — quote-unquote — the ‘real’ America,” said American education historian Adam Laats in a Vox article on rising school censorship in America.
As a recent District 11 graduate, I remember the incident in my sophomore year as the only incident of “indoctrination” I ever experienced in my 12 years there— and it had nothing to do with what we were reading.
I trust teachers and librarians, who have, in my experience, always opted for neutrality. I don’t trust parents who don’t understand the education system. I definitely don’t trust far-right career politician school board members who aren’t required to have any formal training or teaching experience.
If the objective is to champion “parents’ rights” over education, parents should exercise their rights to check school boards. If school board members are acting unethically, there is one way parents can ensure accountability: voting them out of office. Four seats are up for reelection in November.
Marynn Krull, of Colorado Springs, is a student at Colorado College.
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