In education policy, local control is a hotly contested issue. But one crucial party is frequently ignored in the rhetoric – parents. Worse than ignored, they are sometimes viewed with derision. A parent is the ultimate local authority on the health, safety, and welfare of their child. Generally, parents are the most knowledgeable, most interested, most invested party in the development and education of a child. However, instead of being empowered, the system seems to see them as an adversary. 

For me, this point was driven home recently when I stumbled across a statement made by the spokesperson for an out-of-state school district. Talking about its decision to ignore a statewide policy prohibiting mask mandates, the spokesperson said something like: “Children want to do the right thing; It’s the adults that make this complicated.” 

Her statement raised some immediate questions. Which adults was she talking about? When talking about obstructionist adults, I highly doubt she was referring to teachers or school administrators. It was far more likely she was referring to politicians who recently empowered parents, and those parents who refuse to mask their children. 

Additionally, her statement raises the question: What is the right thing? And, whose job is it to determine what is right? Today, it seems like schools have assumed the authority to preach morality and values contrary to those of the parents. Increasingly, schools see parents as an obstacle. 

The hostility toward parents and the usurpation of moral education was on full display during the first day of school in the Alpine School District of Utah. A chemistry teacher decided to start a crusade against parents who, in a county that has voted as high as 88% Republican in the last ten years, might be presumed to be pretty conservative. This teacher openly undermined parents’ authority to train up their children in the way they should go. Here are a few of the jaw-dropping lines from a student-captured video posted on Facebook:

  • “Most y’all parents are dumber than you … My parents are frickin’ duuumb, okay. And the moment I figured that out, the world opens up.” 
  • “You don’t have to do everything your parents say. And, you don’t have to believe everything your parents believe. Because most likely you are smarter than them.”

Simultaneously undermining parental authority and promoting insurrection, she proceeds to assert her superiority and absolute authority as the source of inviolate, unquestionable truth. “You can believe what you want to believe, but keep it quiet in here because I’m probably gonna make fun of ya.” She went on to issue a few ultimatums. “If you don’t believe in climate change, get the hell out.” Responding to a student’s (inaudible) comment, she said, “That’s pathetic that you think that. You’re the problem with the world.” And finally, “If you’re a homophobe, get out. I am the GSA faculty advisor … If you don’t like it, get out.”

That’s certainly not teaching; it is close-minded progressive indoctrination with the expressed intent to undermine the efforts of parents to raise their children with values and morals. I am okay with challenging viewpoints in a healthy argument, but the level of intolerance manifested by this teacher is unacceptable. While this is an extreme example and the teacher was ultimately fired, in a broader context, it represents a concerning, reductive view of parental authority in the progressive education establishment – a view that parents are the obstacle, not the authority in the education of a child.

In another example, the education establishment sued to exclude a parent from information about her child’s teacher and what her child was being taught. As her daughter entered kindergarten, a Rhode Island mom began asking what her kindergarten-age daughter would be learning regarding Critical Race Theory or gender theory. Instead of answering her question, school administrators asked her to file a public-records request and subsequently slammed her with a $75,000 bill to fulfill those requests. Apparently, the school was also contemplating suing to block her from asking so many questions. To make it even worse, the National Education Association, a massive, national teachers’ union, named her in a lawsuit that sought to limit access to personnel information. A parent should not have to fight so hard to know what is taught to a child and by whom. Parents should be welcomed in and engaged in the education of their child.  

Much needs to change in the educational system. However, chief among these changes is the need to empower parents. Parents are not the obstacle. If the rationale for “local control” in education is to place the power to act in the hands of those that possess the most knowledge, have the greatest interest in outcomes, and have the agility to adapt to changing circumstances, the parent is the most appropriate, indeed, the only authority that satisfies these requirements. In education, that power belongs with the parent – they are the authority in whom local control must be vested. 

There are great teachers out there. There are great school leaders. There are great schools. And, while there are certainly disinterested, negligent, and abusive parents out there, generally, no school resource can compare to the knowledge, interest, and adaptability possessed by a loving, dedicated, involved parent. We cannot provide kids with a good education in a system that systemically usurps parental control and erodes children’s trust in their parents. 

State and local policies need to empower parents. The educational system needs to relinquish control over those aspects of child rearing that rightfully belong to the parent. Parents need to reassert their parental rights and duties. When it comes to children, parents are more than just an ally – they are the commander in chief.

The usurpation of parental authority by educational institutions and its abdication by many parents must be reversed. Parents need to step up and take responsibility for their children’s’ education and schools need to let them do it. 

Brad Galbraith is the Land Use Fellow at 1889 Institute. He can be reached at [email protected]

The opinions expressed in this blog are those of the author, and do not necessarily reflect the official position of 1889 Institute.