Americans are deeply divided over how much children in K-12 schools should be taught about racism and sexuality, according to a new poll released as Republicans across the country aim to make parental involvement in education a central campaign theme this election year.
Overall, Americans lean slightly toward expanding — not cutting back — discussions of racism and sexuality, but roughly 4 in 10 say the current approach is about right, including similar percentages across party lines. Still, the poll from the University of Chicago Harris School of Public Policy and The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research shows stark differences between Republicans and Democrats who want to see schools make adjustments.
About 4 in 10 Republicans say teachers in local public schools discuss issues related to sexuality too much, while only about 1 in 10 say too little. Among Democrats, those numbers are reversed.
The findings reflect a sharply politicized national debate that has consumed local school boards and, increasingly, state capitols. Republicans see the fight over school curriculum as a winning culture war issue that will motivate their voters in the midterm elections.
In the meantime, a flurry of new state laws has been introduced, meant to curtail teaching about racism and sexuality and to establish a “parents’ bill of rights” that would champion curriculum transparency and allow parents to file complaints against teachers.
The push for legislation grew out of an elevated focus on K-12 schools during the COVID-19 pandemic, when angry parents crowded school board meetings to voice opposition to school closures, mask mandates and other restrictive measures intended to prevent the spread of illness.
“All that that’s happening these days kind of goes against the longer history of school boards being relatively low salience government institutions and, in a lot of cases, they are nonpartisan offices,” said Adam Zelizer, a professor at the University of Chicago Harris School researching school board legislation.
What distinguishes this moment, Zelizer said, is the “grassroots anger” in response to school policies and the national, coordinated effort to recruit partisan candidates for school boards and local offices.
What started as parents’ concern about virtual learning and mask wearing has morphed into something larger, said Republican pollster Robert Blizzard, describing parents as thinking: “OK, now that we have the schools open, what are these kids learning in school?”
The poll shows 50% of Americans say parents have too little influence on curriculum, while 20% say they have too much and 27% say it’s about right. About half also say teachers have too little influence.
Kendra Schultz said she and her husband have decided their 1-year-old daughter will be homeschooled, at least initially, because of what friends have told them about their experiences with schools in Columbia, Missouri.
Most recently, she said, one 4-year-old’s pre-K class talked about gender pronouns. Schultz offered that and mask requirements as examples of how the public school system “doesn’t align with what we believe or how we would like to see our children educated.”
“I’m just like, you’re a little kid, you should be learning your ABCs and your numbers and things like that,” said Schultz, a 30-year-old conservative. “That’s just not something that me and my husband would be interested in having teachers share with our children.”
In Florida, Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis in March signed into law a bill barring instruction on sexual orientation and gender identity in kindergarten through third grade. Opponents, including the White House, have dubbed it the “Don’t Say Gay” law.
The poll shows Americans are slightly more likely to say the focus on sex and sexuality in local schools is too little rather than too much, 31% to 23%, but 40% say it’s about right. The poll didn’t ask about specific grade levels.
Blizzard, who has been working with a group called N2 America to help GOP candidates in suburbs, said the schools issue resonates with the Republican base and can motivate voters.
In the Virginia governor’s race last year, Republican Glenn Youngkin won after campaigning on boosting parental involvement in schools and banning critical race theory, an academic framework about systemic racism that has become a catch-all phrase for teaching about race in U.S. history. His Democratic opponent, Terry McAuliffe, had said in a debate that parents shouldn’t tell schools what to teach.
The poll also shows Americans have mixed views about schools’ focus on racism in the U.S.
Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, said parents and teachers alike are frustrated after pandemic disruptions and should partner to help kids recover. The efforts to predetermine curriculum and restrict teaching are getting in the way, she said.
“The people who are proposing them, they’ve been pretty clear … they just want to sow doubt and distrust because they want to end public education as we know it,” Weingarten said.
Parents of school-age children aren’t more likely than other adults to say parents have too little influence in schools. But there is a wide partisan gap, with 65% of Republicans saying that, compared with 38% of Democrats.
Michael Henry, a father of three in Dacula, Georgia, says he’s wrestled over what the right level of involvement is. It didn’t sit right with him, for example, that his 6-year-old was taught about Christopher Columbus in an entirely positive light. He says he’s reflected on “some of the lies” and “glorifications of history” in his own public school education and thinks race needs to be talked about more.
But ultimately, school curriculum is “outside my area of expertise,” said Henry, 31, an actuary who is also the acting president of the Gwinnett County Young Democrats.
“I have to do a lot of studying and work to be able to make informed decisions, and I don’t feel like parents generally have that kind of skill set” for curriculum, he said. “I think professionals should mostly be determining what the curriculum should be.”
Henry worries that new restrictions are “adding extra hassle for teachers, who already have a lot on their plate, to solve a problem that doesn’t exist.”
The AP-NORC poll of 1,082 adults was conducted March 17-21 using a sample drawn from NORC’s probability-based AmeriSpeak Panel, which is designed to be representative of the U.S. population. The margin of sampling error for all respondents is plus or minus 4 percentage points.
Republished with permission of The Associated Press.
Just a thought
April 15, 2022 at 2:54 pm
I do not really think children should be talking about my sexual preference when I grow up and for racist some people might not want a charity case on their hands
April 17, 2022 at 6:59 pm
“A charity case”
Maybe if you were a better parent no one would have to change the curriculum
April 21, 2022 at 5:30 pm
It is like fentenol killing the whites saying we are woke
Just a thought
April 15, 2022 at 3:03 pm
I do not think teaching of degration a good topic. I think Just opening the locked doors 🙂
Just a thought
April 15, 2022 at 3:08 pm
And I do not think new migrants want the burden of the past it does not reflect to their history
April 18, 2022 at 3:13 pm
The only people that are against the Bill are Transvestites, Pedophiles and Future Pedophiles, that’s it. EVERYONE else is for the Bill. You can it is the “Don’t say GAY” bill all you want, it wont change the fact that it’s a great Bill and YOU are Ignorant.
April 18, 2022 at 3:55 pm
It puts common sense back into elementary schools. Let the kids be kids while they can. Keep the smut away until they are older.
If not give parents vouchers to take their kids out of a sick perverted school district and send them to private school. At the perverted districts expense.
April 18, 2022 at 4:11 pm
“The only people against this bill are Pedophiles that’s it”
So when you republicans all get arrested for pedophillia eventually because you need to do it does that mean that you have be against it to not be one?
April 24, 2022 at 8:06 pm
Great to see transvestites get a shout out, haven’t seen or heard them mentioned in years.
As for the bill, EVERYONE is missing the point. We didn’t need legislation to address nonexistent issues. The governor does, because it helps stir the pot, and the left idiotically took the bait, hook line and sinker. The whole thing is ridiculous.
And Disney, for opposing it, gets punished and half the state thinks it’s OK to engage in revenge politics. There is an article in the US constitution, you know, the one the gun nuts always rant about, that forbids a bill of attainder, so we will need our “independent” legislature to go after every other special taxing district in the state if they want the Disney spite action to avoid reversal, unless there is some basis to say Disney somehow abused its powers, and the exercise of free speech isn’t one of them, especially since Republicans have empowered corporations through their control of the Supreme Court and elevated them to the status of citizens.
Florida, we are better than this. Or have we changed with the influx of carpet baggers into what they want us to be?
We didn’t need the law in the first place.
Our teachers should be honored, not accused of imaginary nonsense.
April 24, 2022 at 8:18 pm
Disney CAN exercise it’s freedom of speech, that’s what they did, it’s not an abuse of their authority, and that’s the sole reason their special taxing district was abolished.
That’s wrong, whether you agree with their position or not.
I happen to think the SC has improperly granted corporations equivalence with citizens, but not much you can do when the Federalist Society has packed it with rightwing billionaire sympathizers.
April 22, 2022 at 4:38 pm
They have enough sexual assault. Just go to shit.com and see why your mugshots are posted along with telephone and addresses
Comments are closed.