The Parents Aren’t Having It

A Bit Late to the Game Perhaps, But Parent Activism is a Welcome Development

Recently, parents have had the unfortunate suspicion that their child’s public-school education has been about more than mere facts and skills. In some cases, the instruction has extended well beyond that charming old notion of the “Three Rs,” which we used to expect in the classroom. Over the past year, parents have begun to see the troubling sexual ideology being taught to their children, and the response has been a kind of national uprising to confront those responsible.

Some parents were shocked awake to this. Others are still trying to sound the alarm to wake the rest. We’ve seen the effects of parents standing up for their kids in Virginia, where “parental outrage drove Republican businessman Glenn Youngkin to victory over Democratic former governor Terry McAuliffe,” who sealed his political doom when he stated that parents should have no say in the education of their own kids. One Virginia mother made it clear: “We are mama bears and papa bears and we have said loud and clear: Get your hands off of our cubs.”

Last year Virginia became ground zero for the battle between state schools and parents. The Epoch Times recently reported on the parent effort to combat the use of overtly sexualized books in the public schools of northern Virginia. Of all the subjects taught in school, stories (essentially literature and rhetoric) are always the Trojan Horse for this kind of thing, so it is not surprising to observe this attempt to smuggle explicit sexual content into the reading assignments of K-12 students. “They’re grooming and preparing these kids at a very early age,” said Natassia Grover, a mother and “parent activist” from Louden County. And the objective is for kids “to embrace the whole transgender ideology and sexual freedom ideology.” Such events have occurred all over in response to the aggressive attempts to undermine parental authority in education, and this “has mobilized an ‘army of parents,’ who self-organized to protect their children.”  

So, the parents aren’t having it, and this a good thing. After all, it’s never too late to do what is right. For many this means waking up to what is really going on and taking responsibility for the care and protection of their children. Just this month three school board members were recalled in San Francisco, of all places, with the mayor even admitting, “We failed our children.” While it is never too late to acknowledge these things, it is still late.

The Myth of Secular Neutrality

The scandals of sexualized books or CRT in recent years were not the first objectionable materials presented to students of state schools. One might well wonder why there wasn’t the same parent uprising, for instance, when the “sex ed” courses were neatly tucked into mandatory “Health” classes back in the 1990s, or when contraception and “safe sex” practices were first marketed throughout the public-school curricula. It’s not a very new problem; the public schools of America have been up to no good for decades. This leads some to wonder: even if a particularly stout-hearted activist comes along to fix the broken parts of procedure or curriculum, why does the problem not go away? The answer is, the problem is not merely the curriculum or even a few bad-apple teachers or school board members. It is the entire set of first principles and the metaphysics upon which the myth of secular “neutrality” rests.                         

In its hubris, secular education dreams of a world where teachers merely present students with things called “facts” and in the end allow them to make up their own minds about the truth. According to this postmodern logic, teachers only instruct students “how to think” and not “what to think” about the world. But they deceive themselves, and now parents are fast learning that there is no way to teach “how to think” without imparting someone’s moral or even religious assumptions about the world. This is because there is no such thing as a mere “fact.” Secular metaphysics is no metaphysics; it is merely a vacuum waiting to be filled with someone else’s vision of what the universe is and what it means. It leads only to a naked nihilism of mere “physics,” presenting the picture of a neopagan world, stripped of transcendent order and beauty.

In such a world, the self is cast out upon a landless sea of competing desires, “tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine (Eph. 4:14). C. S. Lewis reminds us that “the power of Man to make himself what he pleases means…the power of some men to make other men what they please”.[1] The idea that children will simply come to their own conclusions about who they are and what the world means is nonsense; children may have some agency of their own, but they will often come to adopt the conclusions of others. Some of the problems we now experience could have been avoided if we had asked ourselves earlier, “What is an education? And what are we educating our kids for?” A right perspective toward such questions might have taken us to a different cultural moment.

Teaching is never just teaching. “There is no such thing as education,” writes G. K. Chesterton, “The thing is merely a loose phrase for the passing on to others of whatever truth or virtue we happen to have ourselves.” How easy it is for that thing called “education” to move around on us. From one generation to another, it doesn’t take much to change substance and form, which is also why civilization is hard to build and easy to lose. In a world with no fixed reality, without the Divine Logic to give life meaning and proportion, who’s to say one generation’s “vice” won’t become the next generation’s “virtue”?

Today we expect teachers to instruct students in numbers and letters only. At the same time, the same teachers tell them they live in a world evacuated of meaning and devoid of purpose. Such cognitive dissonance is disorienting. What secular apologists fail to understand (or fail to acknowledge) is that teaching students how to think is by nature teaching them what to think. All teaching presupposes some fundamental nature of reality, and this is because speech and thought are inseparable.

When the word “mothers” is replaced by “birthing persons,” then students are not merely learning “facts.” When math is presented as racist, then students are learning a more corrupt lesson than how to add fractions or how to find the limiting value of a slope in a given function. When students are taught to identify the victims and oppressors in a given story, then someone is not teaching them the truth about reality, but only a Marxist palimpsest of morals and religion. There is no value-free education.

The question is not if religious or moral values will be taught, but which ones. It remains to be seen, therefore, which norms will eventually become standard if parents keep pushing for change. But as more parents challenge the aggressive sexualization of their children in public schools, our broader culture may be preserved for a little while longer (lest we fall into absolute ruin). And even if parents must learn the hard way that education was never neutral, their uprising seems to have also effected some positive change in certain communities of late. This at least is some consolation. In seeing mothers and fathers step in to fight for their God-given authority, we see citizens on behalf of their children exercising what political power they still have.


[1] C. S. Lewis, The Abolition of Man, 59.

Devin O'Donnell is the Vice President of Membership and Publishing at the Association of Classical Christian Schools. He is author of The Age of Martha: A Call to Contemplative Learning in a Frenzied Culture (2019). He was the Research Editor of Bibliotheca in 2015 and has worked in classical Christian education for 20 years. He and his family live in the Northwest, where he writes, fly fishes, and remains a classical hack.

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