Parents in the pandemic era have asserted themselves with new vigor for the sake of their children. Parents no longer presume that the zoned public school is the right fit, or that the school puts students first.
Nor do parents presume that most teachers wish to reproduce the values of the community. Since 2020, Americans’ satisfaction with K-12 education has plummeted.
Their skepticism is warranted: All too many schools seek to undermine, destroy, and rebuild American society in a revolutionary, neo-Marxist image.
Outrageous? Yes. Believable? Yes, as documented by the stories in a new Pacific Research Institute book. “The Great Parent Revolt: How Parents and Grassroots Leaders Are Fighting Critical Race Theory in America’s Schools,” by Lance Izumi and co-authors, provides a dozen accounts from around the country.
Many parents will be able to see themselves in these stories. The point is to inspire more parents to advocate for a high-quality education that doesn’t divide students by race, ethnicity, and other characteristics in order to tear apart American society.
By that measure, this book admirably succeeds. What the parents in these stories have done is not so difficult, and organizations of concerned parents are now all over the country, ready to empower and equip newcomers.
Polls consistently show that when people learn what critical race theory is, they generally dislike it. But if you come to this book thinking that the only problem is CRT, be prepared to learn that the real situation is worse. The book focuses significant attention on critical race theory, but the bigger culprit is critical theory generally, with its roots in a Marxist binary of class warfare.
Indeed, many American schools are focused not merely on the oppressed-oppressor binary regarding race, but also regarding sex and the usual list of identities. If you are “oppressed” in multiple ways (for example: a black overweight gay woman), then congratulations, you have intersectional oppression (described in Chapter 3). The various categories of the oppressed commonly are expected to act in solidarity to smash and rebuild American society, culture, and government.
So, I recommend lingering on the treatment of ethnic studies in chapters 2 and 8—this field is not merely “a Trojan horse for CRT,” the authors note, but problematic in additional ways—such as its frequent antisemitism.
In the proposed California curriculum, notably, critical ethnic studies or liberated ethnic studies is the dominant branch of the subject. Proponents of this “militant” doctrine teach an extreme version of the victim-oppressor binary: They all too often dismiss leaders such as Martin Luther King Jr. for being too “docile”; they reject math, capitalism, private property, and sometimes even money as oppressive; and they call for completely reworking society.
Ironically, one parent notes: “Critical or Liberated Ethnic Studies has predetermined outcomes. They’re not teaching kids to think critically.”
Even so, it is fair that this book focuses primarily on race, because race is the most prevalent victim-oppressor binary. Also, the authors are fully correct to observe that teaching critical race theory means teaching the tenets or principles of CRT; a lesson doesn’t need to be titled “Critical Race Theory” to count. Not just ethnic studies but also social and emotional learning and other innocent-sounding pedagogies have become infused with CRT.
The story of Gabs Clark and her son is one of many showing that any alert parent can fight back successfully. If a school compels a student to reveal his personal opinions, forces him to say he’s an oppressor because of his race, sex, or religion, and tries to get him to change, he has a good chance of succeeding in court. (Thanks to the Liberty Justice Center for taking her son’s case.)
After Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology in Alexandria, Virginia, complained of having too many Asian students and revolutionized admissions to get the numbers down, parent Asra Nomani publicly criticized this racism by Fairfax County Public Schools. Nomani became an activist, founded the Coalition for TJ, and sued the school board with the help of the Pacific Legal Foundation. She won.
With smoking-gun documents that can be found with requests under open-records laws, other parents can win, too. As the judge wrote in the Virginia case, quoting earlier cases, “racial balancing for its own sake is ‘patently unconstitutional.’” (The decision is on hold pending an appeal.)
A lawsuit is far from the only option. Exit is another.
The student story of Joshua (not his real name) is one of several chapters showing divisive “diversity, equity, and inclusion” activities in action. Students were to reveal their personal and sexual preferences, and the programming used racial stereotypes to divide students from one another.
Joshua saw what happened to students who spoke out—a “horrific outbreak of screaming”—so he self-censored. Greater education freedom would permit more students to leave hostile environments such as Joshua’s.
Another activist, Xi Van Fleet, grew up in revolutionary China and exited that environment, but she sees commonalities with America today. Most notable is the proliferation of “bias reporting” protocols that encourage students to inform on one another to the authorities.
In the bias reporting program at Virginia’s Loudoun County Public Schools, students inform on each other anonymously. Van Fleet adds that one study found that 80% of K-12 students “never heard about the Chinese Cultural Revolution,” and it shows.
In Rhode Island, Nicole Solas fought back by calling for transparency. She had enrolled her daughter in a local kindergarten, but in 2020 the school went hard into critical race theory. After she wrangled this confession from the principal, she filed about 160 open-records requests for the details.
The local school board publicly considered suing Solas, apparently hoping to hide the documents. Instead of fulfilling their public mission, school boards all too often inflate the costs of fulfilling record requests and prevent parents from speaking at meetings.
In fact, the National School Boards Association even enlisted the federal government to declare outspoken parents to be terrorist threats.
Although her local school board ultimately declined to sue Solas, the teachers union did sue her. She fought back with help from the Phoenix-based Goldwater Institute, and the union withdrew its complaint.
Solas also sued the school district, accusing it of “holding meetings for the district’s racial advisory board in secret,” in violation of Rhode Island’s Open Meetings Act.
Solas’ case is rare, though—records requests by parents often work without lawsuits. And another route to transparency is legislation. More and more states require that course materials be posted online or that parents be allowed to review these materials in person.
Another way to get school and school board records is to run for school board and win. Amazingly, many parents are doing just that. Even San Francisco voters recalled (fired) some of their worst school board members.
One political action committee, the 1776 Project PAC, claims to have “flipped” more than 100 school boards or school board seats since 2021, while Moms for Liberty (see below) successfully endorsed dozens of candidates and flipped seven more districts.
These parents now can use their power for good. After Mari Barke won a school board seat in Orange County, California, she held public forums that exposed critical race theory in schools and demonstrated how CRT often is unlawful because it discriminates on the basis of race.
After Tiffany Justice and Tina Descovich each won board seats in their Florida districts, they formed Moms for Liberty to educate and empower parents, fight critical race theory, and promote equal opportunity. They also call for high standards instead of the lower standards needed to produce “equity” (characteristically resulting in more similar outcomes by race but worse outcomes overall, as Joshua’s story relates).
The hard work by Justice and Descovich has led to about 275 chapters with a total of 115,000 members, by recent count. If a parent isn’t sure where to go, Moms for Liberty is one great place to begin (or Parents Defending Education, which also files free speech lawsuits, or other organizations mentioned in the book).
Parents don’t have to do all this work alone. Many teachers, for example, do agree with the resisting parents and can be allies and whistleblowers—they are, the book says, “as frustrated as the public about the counterproductive thought indoctrination going on in public education.”
Meanwhile, Izumi and the other authors add, “grandparents, uncles, aunts, cousins, and other ordinary Americans are also on the front line” defending American freedom and opportunity against critical theory.
Notably, Ryan Girdusky, founder of the 1776 Project PAC, says he also finds support from moderate Democrats who oppose the revolutionaries (often confidentially, because of progressive bullying).
This kind of solidarity will be hard to beat.
This piece originally appeared in The Daily Signal