Editor’s Note:This op-ed was submitted by Steven Wilson, who serves as chairman of the Region 18 Board of Education. The opinion he expresses here is entirely his own and not related in any way to the board of education.
“Children Should be Taught to Think – Not What to Think”
I have read several letters to editors regarding a recent [Old Lyme] RTC [Republican Town Committee] letter apparently mailed to all residents of Lyme and Old Lyme and I’d like to share a third perspective on the matter which I hope and expect will appeal to the majority of our citizens – the all too often overlooked and forgotten Moderate voters. However they’re registered, they vote with their own minds and have no misplaced loyalty to one party or the other.
I felt compelled to participate in this conversation because there are myriad parties sharing very biased opinions and while speaking under the guise of wanting what’s best for the towns, finish their statements with telling us what to think and for whom to vote in November. I would say ignore them all and instead listen to friends and associates you know and respect.
For the sake of time, I’ll focus on the “dog whistle” of “parental rights”. In my experience the term “dog whistle” is cut from the same cloth as any other strawman fallacy wherein someone misinterprets what you said and ignores your intent and replaces it with their contorted version and then attacks that instead.
“People who invoke the term ‘parental rights’ have different things in mind and different aspirations,” said Neal McCluskey, the director of the Center for Educational Freedom at the libertarian Cato Institute in Washington. “My general impression when I see people invoking ‘parental rights,’ it’s been connected to a general idea that parents have been cut out of decisions made by schools.”
“Parental rights” is being represented as a dog whistle for banning books and censorship and anyone who utters the phrase should be summarily ignored. This is beyond ironic. The idea of dismissing anyone’s opinion based on opinion, perspective, or association is the type of bias we should all be fighting against.
The antithesis of parental rights is parental apathy and school districts that lack parental interest have suffered terribly because of the inevitable trickle-down of apathy, disinterest, and lack of motivation experienced by students when their parents “leave education to the educators”.
We have the greatest teachers in Region 18 and are lucky to have them. I have dealt directly with many of them on a variety of topics and venues and have personally observed their excellence. I have made a point to stress my personal belief that the purpose of school is to educate rather than indoctrinate and to my eye, the faculty, and staff overwhelmingly agree with this perspective.
Strong communities are built when everyone is involved and works together. Parental rights do not negate teachers being free to teach in their own style – they only keep the door open so that parents can remain involved in the education of their children. We should avoid at all costs the idea that one group or another is prohibited from expressing their perspective due to “dog whistle” words/phrases or group affiliation.
It has been my experience that when people have questions and are allowed to ask them, they find the answers to be quite agreeable. When those doors of communication are closed, the rumor mills take over and the worst and most sensational ideas take over the conversation.
There will always be ideas, classes, and curricula being taught in school with which we will disagree but after school, we’ll have co-workers, bosses, and supervisors with whom we’ll disagree too. The purpose of school is to prepare us for working together in spite of difficulties and to learn to disagree pleasantly, respectfully, and productively. Children should be taught to think – not what to think.
Let’s keep things simple and look at people based on the content of their character above all other elements. I’m sure if we do that earnestly and honestly, we’ll all find that we agree with each other far more than we’re being led to believe.
Kim Thompson says
Words matter. The RTC chose to use the words “parental rights” that have been front and center in the news for starting fights at BOE meetings and as justification for bullying teachers and censoring learning, They knew these words carried meaning when they included them in their platform. If the RTC didn’t mean parental rights “like that” they should have chosen different words.
Steven Wilson says
I disagree. Nobody has the right to decide what words others use. The disagreement we’re experiencing can easily be used as an opportunity to seek understanding rather than using it to attempt to infringe on the first amendment rights of others.
A good starting point might be to begin with the idea that parental oversight of content provided to minors is not the same thing as censorship or book banning.
I can only speak for myself but I’m as big a supporter of parental rights as I am against banning books- any books. Especially ones with which I disagree.
Roger Nosal says
I do not believe anyone disputes the need for transparency on what and how students are taught and exposed to in public schools. We all have an opportunity to directly address any concerns with respect to the content and approaches in our public schools through our local district school board. The concerns expressed by many who have responded to this Op-Ed and recent letters to the Editor is that the establishment of federal legislation, which is, incidentally, unconstitutional, has engendered a pervasive and publicly advocated position for leveraging transparency on behalf of initiating actions to ban books, educational content, diversity and academic freedom. In fact, these egregious restrictions on behalf of transparency and “parental rights” have already occurred through legislation passed in several states, i.e., Florida.
In order to have a clear and balanced debate about the need for parental rights legislation with respect to schools, it is important to understand where elected officials responsible for education of our children, stand with respect to the subtext of this position. Do you support banning books because they are inconsistent with your values? Do you support educational and academic freedom to explore and teach diversity in the content of the curriculum?
These are positions that warrant the judgment of voting parents in the community and should be the criteria by which those running for office should be held accountable.
Bill Fitzgerald says
The author of this letter, who is also listed as a member of the Old Lyme Republican Town Committee, opens with a quote from Neal McCluskey of the Cato Institute.
As part of his work at the Cato Institute, McCluskey maintains a “Public Schooling Battle Map” that tracks when the far right invokes things like “parental rights” to harass school teachers, boards of ed, librarians, and any people who don’t fit the narrow mold of what the far right thinks is “okay”.
In other words, in an effort to show how “parental rights” isn’t being used as a cudgel for censorship and harassment, the author cites a person who *maintains a map that documents the exact type of censorship and harassment* people are talking about here.
Is it possible that the Old Lyme RTC wasn’t aware of this broader contect? Sure – it’s possible. But if that’s the case, they should retract their language, and try again. Personally, I’d respect that. We all make mistakes, and there is nothing wrong with learning and growing.
But when the OLRTC double and triple down on this language, though, they send a clear message that they meant exactly what it looks like: they are using the phrase “parental rights” in exactly the same way it’s being used in the rest of the country.
And semi-related: the “parental rights” language in the OLRTC flyer is getting so much attention that it’s drowning out any mention of the election denialism in the same platform.
Jonathan B. Wilder says
I agree fully with Bill Fitzgerald’s letter,and will go one further.Believe what people and organizations say,as what they say is their intent.I have no doubt that those on the RTC know exactly what their definition of “parental rights” is and where they wish to take the rest of us with them.If they have their way,BoE meetings will come to resemble a mob choosing which courses the youth of Regional District 18 can and cannot take.Of course parental involvement is needed to avoid the apathy which many surrounding towns and cities find themselves.It also shows they actually care.But,many parents do not have the vision or education to get the youth where they want to go.Teachers do have that vision.In the 1960s,my stepfather,who was a disciple of Alabama Gov. George Wallace,ran for BoE in Old Lyme on a platform of book banning and segregation.Fortunately for us all,he lost.We need a BoE working in tandem with the districts teachers to produce self aware,functioning and educated people.We do not need a RTC going down the MAGA rabbit hole.Kudos to those speaking up about this.