Durr on Ice

It seems logical to suggest that education should be about challenging youngsters and expanding their perspectives. If one is taught only what some see as safe and familiar, how much is really learned?

This philosophical observation is relevant because the nuts and bolts of public school education in New Jersey are a rapidly-developing political issue. There are a few particular “lanes” here, among them sex and gender education, but there is also a growing focus by conservatives on just about the entire curriculum.

Which brings us to the Parents Bill of Rights Act.

Sen. Kristin Corrado, a Passaic County Republican, says she plans to introduce the bill as soon as possible.

The bill would establish the principle that parents have a fundamental right to “engage in and direct their child’s education.”  This would include reviewing curriculum, books and apparently, all other material presented in the classroom. Parents would have the right to have their child “opt out” of anything they term objectionable with no penalty to the student in regard to credits or graduation eligibility.

One practical question comes to mind.

Are all parents truly qualified to evaluate education curriculum? This is not meant to be snotty. A parent can be very well versed in, say, engineering or the law, but know little about educating fifth graders. Teachers and administrators are professionals in their field.

Let’s get back to the original observation about broadening student minds.

Should not education be about making students aware of concepts and philosophies even if their parents may disagree with them? Just because students are aware of something doesn’t mean they’re going to embrace it.

I hesitate to use an example from my education many, many years ago, but here goes. I vividly recall reading “Soul on Ice,” the memoirs of black nationalist Eldridge Cleaver, as a classroom assignment in high school. Among other things, Cleaver wrote that sexually assaulting white women was a political statement. Most parents likely would not have approved, but that wasn’t the point. Cleaver’s book forced students to understand different views, which was invaluable.

This, by the way, was not a left wing institution but a conservative Catholic high school in Hudson County where boys and girls were separated.

As we move back to the present, in addition to Corrado’s bill, other Republicans are firing off press releases condemning the state’s Health and Physical Education standards that are slated to take place this fall.

New Sen. Edward Durr wants to prohibit any classroom talk of “sexual orientation or gender identity” until the seventh grade. Even then, schools would need written consent from parents before discussing the topics. Districts violating that standard would risk losing state aid under his bill.

GOP lawmakers also have focused on a part of the curriculum that suggests pornography is something everybody watches. This “lesson” is actually a cartoon that makes other points, one of which is that porn is not real.

In fairness, the cartoon does not endorse porn; it just suggests that many people watch it. Just for the record, accurate statistics may be hard to get, but I’ve found various studies that say about 40 million Americans regularly watch porn. OK, that’s not everybody, but that’s a lot.

Breaking all this down politically, it’s clear Republicans think criticizing what some see as a decadent public school system is good politics. They may be right about that, given the fact this is a great way to rev up their base. That’s true even if the bills on the subject don’t pass, and they probably won’t.

The question is, how are Democrats going to respond?

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