The Florida legislature would like you to think it invented parental rights last year when it passed the Bill of Parental Rights. This is not the case. Most of these rights have been in the books for decades. The trick has bigger goals: to continue the offensive of the Republican Party and to destroy public education. The legislature turns parents into a mercenary service that needs obedient foot soldiers who have no idea they are being manipulated. Making them look like heroes is part of the scam. The Parents’ Bill is designed to reveal the worst in parents. It does an amazing job.
I don’t mean most parents who are too busy to attend circus-like school board meetings or persecute teachers and principals. These most know that they trust teachers that they do the work they are trained to do better than any one or two parents. They know that the task of the school is to open the mind of their child outside the home.
Speaking personally for a minute: I have a small education – obviously not enough to know not to use the word “wants” but enough to know that nothing I can do alone or with my wife could remotely approach to the diversity and experience of dozens of teachers who taught my two children in schools. The fact that I have with some of them perhaps had differences of opinion, methods or even pedagogy is natural and insignificant.
We did home schooling when they were young. But the school was run by my children’s faculty, not me. I sent them to school not to have more at home, but – to quote the Gospel of Cleese – for something completely different. Metaphorically speaking, why limit them only to the bookshelf, if they could have a whole library, if not so metaphorically suggest that the library was not covered by the Committee for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Defects in the school board. I trusted that the teachers were doing the right thing. When teachers sometimes made mistakes, which I really hope (they didn’t disappoint), it was part of the deal. My kids were taught by humans, not animatronics by the Magic Kingdom. The trust was evident the moment I registered them at the school, as was my duty to keep the chip on my shoulder in one of those countless vaults across the city.
I’m sure most parents are equally trusting. Public education has its problems, most of which are the work of legislators. Random transgender bathrooms, an amazing book or an excerpt from Black Lives Matter in an English textbook are not among these problems. They are part of what works in schools. If you don’t hear this from a vociferous minority of ignorant people who stifle their child’s intelligence or identity at home, then show up at school to blame anyone who may have missed the air.
These are the parents to whom the Republican Party has dedicated its Bill of Rights, parents who are more interested in McGuffie-era doctrine than 21st century education, parents who glorify the three Rs by calling for banning books, whitewashing debates and firing teachers. These are parents who do not know the difference between value and prejudice, between pluralism and tribalism: parents who oppose the promotion of schools, the promotion of values, the celebration of differences, except in cases they are those accepted if not them values, them differences that are sublime, at least parochial or reactionary. And, of course, it is parents who put their own rights above the rights of children, which is terribly beyond ethical standards.
These are the shock troops of the Republican Party. The Bill of Parental Rights is their perfect manifesto.
He relies on an attractive but ridiculous assumption: parents are infallible. Parents can be just as toxic to their children as the home environment. Were it not for the leaven of education, and especially public education, we would still be in the dark ages. Parents can be programmed for the biological upbringing of their children. It’s not particularly difficult. It does not follow that they are programmed to be brought up with love, morally, intellectually and culturally.
Lawmakers know this. After all, they wouldn’t be where they are if we didn’t have so many parenting mistakes. So the flattery of the parental rights bill is a lie. He suggests that parents know best when they know least. But his intentions are strategic. It turns parents into Republican rebels. Who better than parents who know almost nothing about education to throw against the supposed oxen of education, fueling the mythology of schools as fortresses that all these years did not allow the participation of parents. If only.
The Bill of Rights is the Trojan horse of the Republican Party. This brings parents to school to achieve the ultimate goal: further demolition of public education. Florida Republicans have been doing great for decades using a variety of tools.
In terms of funding per student, Florida is the seventh state in the country. Democrats did a pathetic job in this too, when they controlled the government, although Republicans accelerated the downpour. Today’s total funding includes money drawn from statutes like never before. This is another weapon in a demolition derby. Some charters are wonderful. Most failures. They hide mediocrity behind the state’s indifference to standards and reporting requirements. They close more often than bad restaurants. Look at Flagler. With one exception, it is a cemetery charter.
Then there are the vouchers, the misuse of our tax dollars to pay for the private and religious education of students, exacerbating the unconstitutional disgrace with tax breaks for corporations – this year alone worth nearly $ 900 million. Imagine what public schools could have done with it if they (and us taxpayers) had not been deceived.
Finally, there is the fictitious choice of school, again designed to flatter parents so that they think they can choose the path of teaching their children the way they could choose between strips in fast food snacks, when in fact the formula of choice is another way to contrast schools to each other, undermining their ability to plan for any stability in enrollment and freeing the state from securing equitable funding throughout.
But all these attacks were on the periphery. The Huns of public education needed their own militia to destroy from within. Here is the genius of the parent bill.
Most of them are an unnecessary transformation of the laws and procedures that already apply, regardless of whether it allows you to pull your child out of any health class where the word “vagina” can be uttered, allowing your anti-vaxophobia to prevail by giving you access to your child’s records or any learning materials in circulation. None of this is new, as hysterical school board members can make you think differently.
But while the Bill of Rights strengthens the confidentiality and autonomy of parents, it gives parents the right to violate the same confidentiality and autonomy where it is most important in school: between students and teachers. This breaks that trust and imposes a surveillance system similar to the Stasi, which is as anathema to academic research and personal growth as those cameras and microphones that the legislature wants to bind to teachers in the classroom. Just as the same lawmakers want to reduce Florida women to “bodies” during pregnancy, using the vulgar words of Florida House Speaker Jose Oliva, they want to reduce teachers to robots that develop party line civil rights and plantation morals. Teachers who break the rules will be punished as students who break the rules. No wonder the exodus of teachers is happening. This is exactly what the Republican government wants. Destruction from within.
This is not about rights. It’s not about the parents. It’s certainly not about kids, and it’s damn not about education. It is about shutting down public schools, as we know them, as the single most powerful engine of pluralism and unity in America. The republican government has a legislature. It houses the governor’s mansion. It has a judicial system. It has chambers of commerce. Universities will never get it. But there is no bigger prize than schools. That victory, Florida’s biggest defeat, is now in sight.
Pierre Tristam is the editor of FlaglerLive. Contact him by email here. A version of this work aired on WNZF.