One More Time: Nearly Every Parent Is Too Fucking Dumb to Decide on School Curriculum

In the early 1970s, my mom became the secretary for Gus Sakkis, the Superintendent of Schools in Pinellas County, Florida. Sakkis got the job during an insanely tumultuous period in the school system, what with desegregation, teacher walkouts, student protests, and more. It was enough to have driven several superintendents out after a short time on the job. One of the things he did during his 9-year tenure was give teachers and parents more of a role by creating school advisory committees. While that was mostly a good thing, of course, it also bit him in the ass. 

Now, I don't remember a whole lot about this time because I was a wee Rude Pundit, but I do remember one battle that Mom was closely involved in. A group of parents were demanding that several books, including, as I recall, Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger, be banned from county school libraries and classrooms. As secretary, Mom had to field all the angry, threatening phone calls and open all the mail from shitty people saying shitty things. They yelled at her, they cursed at her for allowing books with curse words, and they demanded that they knew better about what their precious children should have put in front of their innocent eyes. Sakkis wasn't having any of it. The way Mom told it, he walked into a school board meeting, looked in their stupid faces, and told the parents that he wasn't getting rid of the books and that, in essence, they can go fuck themselves because they're not educators. 

They clamored for his head, Mom said. But Sakkis had them beat before he ever said a word. See, for years, student test scores in Pinellas County had been in the shitter. But once Sakkis arrived and reorganized the district and instituted reforms, the scores started to go up, for elementary school students, for high school students on their SATs. Eventually, the scores were some of the best in the state. He had also brought cooperation and progress to the county's school system, including due process and fairness for students who were accused of bad behavior. No one was gonna fire Sakkis because he had been right about just about everything else. Mom was proud as hell to be working for him.

I've been thinking about that story a lot lately and not as some lesson in history repeating itself, although, surely, that fucker does.  See, here's the problem with all of this critical race theory and book banning and anti-LGBTQ bullshit. We rarely hear about the students. How are the kids doing? Not emotionally, although that matters. I mean, we base everything on test scores and shit. How are the schools doing in actually teaching students? 

Because, see, Loudoun County, Virginia, where some of the most heated, screaming fights about teaching racial history have taken place, is actually a successful school district prior to this whole blow-up. Average SAT scores are higher than the average in Virginia or the United States. On the bullshit tests that we force students to take every year, the kids in Loudoun County are doing quite well, with 85-91% of middle- and high-school students doing their reading and rithmetic at or above grade level. Clearly, like, really, statistically, demonstrably fucking clearly, the teachers are doing something right in Loudoun County. So why the hell would you try to fix something that isn't broken? Whatever is being taught is getting nearly every student to graduate high school. As a parent, you should be supporting an education system that is doing that good of a job and not make the life of teachers even more fucking miserable in the middle of a motherfucking pandemic.

But that's just what so many states are doing. They're empowering parents, the vast, vast majority of whom have no fucking business having any say in how teachers teach shit (and, as I've said before, the only ones who should are those in education themselves like, well, fuck, me), to narc out any educator who teaches anything that makes their kids feel uncomfortable. Or, to be more precise, anything that makes the parents feel uncomfortable because they're racist, homophobic shitheels whose children are on the short road to fucking hating them.

In Florida, the state legislature is considering two bills, both recently voted out of committees: one would prevent teachers from discussing anything related to LGBTQ topics and allow parents to sue a school if a teacher does; the other forces educators to "objectively" teach everything and not do or say anything that might make a student "feel discomfort, guilt, anguish, or any other form of psychological distress on account of his or her race, color, sex, or national origin." Think about that from the perspective of a teacher. You've already got parents screaming at you every time you give their tender babe a grade below A. You've got administrators demanding you do more and more work with assessment and planning. You have to buy toilet paper for the school with your own money. You have to teach so that students can do well on annual tests that lawmakers demand they take. And now you've gotta gauge if talking about Ruby Bridges to your 5th graders in Social Studies is going to cause distress? Fuck that. Why bother? And who the fuck are parents and legislators to tell you how to do your fucking job?

By the way, what if not teaching about, say, Ruby Bridges causes distress to Black students? What if whitewashing that history gives them feelings of anguish? But, of course, these bills are written by people who don't give a shit about the feelings of non-white students or LGBTQ students. They are strictly for parents who think they know better than teachers and they fucking don't. But expertise doesn't matter any more in this stupid country where some troglodyte grunting on a YouTube video or podcast has more authority and sway than people who devoted their lives to something.

It keeps going. In Texas, Governor Greg "Fuck DeSantis. I'm the Craziest Motherfucker" Abbott has proposed a "Parental Bill of Rights" that would amend the state's constitution to give parents more say over school curriculums (and, weirdly, leave it up to parents if a student should repeat a grade or class). In Florida, a parents group (funded by national organizations) is trying to get books like Beloved and The Kite Runner banned from high school libraries for being "pornographic." In Virginia, Governor Glenn "Surprise! I'm a Crazy Motherfucker, Too" Youngkin is taking seemingly masturbatory pleasure in asking people to narc out teachers who dare talk about racism as a bad thing, setting up a "tip line" for offended parents and students (and the email and phone numbers were spammed beyond belief by people treating an asshole like the asshole he is). And, of course, in McMinn County, Tennessee, the school board removed Art Spiegelman's Pulitzer Prize-winning graphic novel Maus as a text 8th grade teachers can use to talk about the Holocaust. Was it too violent? Too heart-wrenching? Nope. It showed the breasts of a dead woman and some mouse peen, and it had a couple of cuss words. 

By the way, in an opposite way from Loudoun County, Virginia, the test scores of McMinn County, which is a mostly rural place dead in the middle between Knoxville and Chattanooga on I-75, are just fucking pathetic. 31-30% read at or above their grade level, meaning that over two-thirds can't read at their grade level. 40% can do math at or above grade level. Maybe the school board needs to spend a little more time worrying about that shit than worrying about mouse tits. Maybe parents need to get their kids those books that Dolly Parton provides.

I went to public school in south Louisiana in the 1980s. My schools all had a solid mix of races, income levels, and backgrounds (although it was pretty monolithically Catholic because, well, Louisiana in the 1980s). For the most part, my high school teachers were awesome because they were free to teach almost anything that fit into their subject (except sex education because, well, Louisiana in the 1980s). I've mentioned before that my caffeinated, chain-smoking Vietnam vet U.S. history teacher took out a dollar bill on the first day of class and said, "This is what American history is all about," and proceeded to blow our minds by tying everything, the Revolutionary War, slavery, and more, into how the almighty dollar mattered more than human lives. In my English classes, we read Catcher in the Rye and Native Son and other books that were perfect for our age. In my computer science class, I was allowed to create a game where you played as a Native American trying to protect your land from the white people. In the science fair, I had a project on evolution versus creation that had nude dolls in the Garden of Eden display because how the fuck else are you gonna do it. 

Importantly, our parents respected the teachers. Those oil field workers and store clerks and shrimp boat workers didn't try to fuck with the schools just because of their beliefs (and, besides, the Supreme Court had recently slapped down Louisiana on a creationism law). Parents who gave a damn were at-home partners with the schools, helping their kids get their homework done and supporting the efforts of the teachers. And, to be honest, a good many parents just didn't care.

It wasn't perfect. There were conversations and conflicts. There were shitty parents and shitty teachers. But, mostly, teachers got to do their fucking jobs without a bunch of assholes telling them they know better.