“I couldn’t trust these people with my kids.” When Nancy Anderson, M.D., said this about her child’s school in North Carolina, she was speaking for herself and her family. But she is far from alone.
In 2019, Anderson began reviewing her private Montessori school’s curriculum. What she found shocked her. Her elementary age children were being taught that America was founded on rape and murder. Her kids were instructed that the first Pilgrims were bigots filled with “hatred” and “greed.” The organizations that designed the curriculum contend that, in America, racism is “embedded in institutions and everyday life.”
“This was scary and caught me by surprise,” Nancy said.
Parents in North Carolina and around the country share Nancy’s sentiment. Other private schools, such as Sidwell Friends in Washington, D.C., (where former presidents have sent their children) also argue that America has “white-supremacist origins” and offer racial affinity groups where students can “explore their developing identities.”
These ideas are unpopular with American voters and parents. In 2020, a nationally representative survey commissioned by The Heritage Foundation found that 70 percent of parents say that slavery was a tragedy, but does not define America today.
What does define America? In 2021, an Associated Press/University of Chicago poll found that 85 percent of respondents say that “individual liberties and freedoms as defined by the Constitution” are important to our national identity.
Nancy left her private school for a different option. National associations of Montessori schools associate lessons soaked in identity politics under the umbrella of “diversity, equity, and inclusion” (DEI). Public school families are also signaling their dissatisfaction with curricula that fixate on DEI. DEI content, included in lessons in virtually every subject area, focuses on ethnic “identities” and radical instruction on sex. The former lessons harken back to the dark days of racial discrimination when students were treated differently based on skin color. The latter ideas force families to accept ideas about human biology that are unscientific and often leave minor children confused about their sex.
Whether due to DEI policies, draconian school rules during the pandemic, or for other reasons, assigned school enrollment dropped by 3 percent in fall 2020. That’s equivalent to the entire public school enrollment of Los Angeles and Chicago--combined.
What does this mean about the future of school choice?
Some claim that, when parents move their children to different schools, they are “destroying public education.” This is a common refrain from teacher unions and other education special interest groups.
In fact, though, the future of school choice will restore an authentic meaning to the words “diversity, equity, and inclusion.” When parents choose to homeschool (an increasingly popular option) or choose a private school, including religious schools, because assigned schools do not represent their values, they are preserving a diversity of ideas. A recent U.S. Supreme Court ruling concerning school choice said that state lawmakers cannot exclude religious schools from programs that are publicly available because that would be discriminatory.
Activists have perverted equity to mean equal outcomes, regardless of personal behavior. Yet parent choice in education allows families to challenge their children or find them extra help—customizing the learning experience according to each child’s needs. Learning pods and microschools do this quite well. West Virginia lawmakers just adopted a policy specifically allowing families to create pods and microschools.
Finally, the future of school choice can only be forecast as inclusive. West Virginia policymakers adopted an education savings account proposal in 2021 that allows nearly every child in the state to apply for an account. Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey just signed a similar expansive proposal, giving every Arizona child the same opportunity. Lawmakers in Iowa and Texas are on the verge of adopting similar policies. This is what inclusion should look like, not mandatory racial affinity groups or policies that allow only children of a certain color to use the playground at certain times.
Activists have corrupted and institutionalized the ideas of diversity, equity, and inclusion. The future of school choice will not be defined by a radical acronym. It will offer a diversity of ideas, create equal opportunities, and include everyone—ideas all parents can trust for their children.
A version of this piece originally appeared in the Washington Examiner