Dozens of members of a QAnon splinter group have gathered in Dallas, where they’re awaiting the arrival of John F. Kennedy Jr. – yes, they believe he’s still alive – to announce Donald Trump’s reinstatement as president with Kennedy serving as his vice president. Some supporters of this faction also believe that Kennedy’s father, who was assassinated in 1963, is also still living and will appear too (despite the fact that he’d be 104 years old), and that deceased pop singer Michael Jackson will also drop by.
Let’s say you lived in a town where a lot of people believed this. Should it be taught in the community's public schools?
Of course not. These QAnon beliefs are nonsense, and they have no place in public schools – even if some people sincerely believe them.
The question is not as far out as you may think. We’re seeing a new round of “culture war” issues that focus on public education, with conservative Republicans and their Christian nationalist allies increasingly arguing that if enough parents believe something, it should have a place in public schools, or that if these parents oppose certain books or “controversial” perspectives, those books should be removed and the ideas not be taught – even if they are true.
This tends to play out in issues relating to race. Attempts by schools to teach an honest accounting of America’s troubled racial history are being labeled “critical race theory” and attacked. Some people would rather that our schools teach a sanitized version of “history” where our country never did anything wrong and never treated any group badly.
This isn’t really new. In recent years, some parents have tried to block any instruction about Islam, sought to expel comprehensive sex education and demanded that creationism be taught in schools in lieu of accepted science. Some parents want the curriculum to be saturated with their understanding of Christianity.
But the fact that people – perhaps even many people in some regions – may want a certain view taught in the public schools does not make that thing legal or good policy. Public schools are charged with the task of imparting factual information, not acting as parochial institutions for whatever faith may dominate in a given community; nor are they to act as units for disseminating debunked history or unhinged conspiracy theories.
To be clear, parents have every right to interact with the public school system, and there are plenty of opportunities for them to do that. Our schools are governed by democratically elected boards, and members of the community may attend board meetings to share their opinions. Parents can also meet with their children’s teachers and school administrators. They can join PTAs and volunteer in schools.
But sometimes people pressure school staff to teach things that are unconstitutional, illegal, inappropriate or that run afoul of state curriculum standards. They might also press for removing necessary instruction. The only answer there is no.
There’s something to be said for professional experience. In a recent Washington Post column, Kate Cohen observed, “Someone with real expertise should keep up with how many planets there are and how many genders, with the best way to do long division and to talk about race. Someone trained to develop curriculum standards and choose textbooks should keep revising our understanding of U.S. history. Not me! If we stuck with what I learned as a kid, we’d still be teaching kids that the Civil War was fought over states’ rights and the Pilgrims and the Indians enjoyed a mutually beneficial cultural exchange.”
Parental involvement is welcome in our schools. Demands for policies that would dumb down instruction for students or that would infuse public schools with theology are not.