Schools never have been as controversial as they are now.
Oh sure, there were traditional battles over spending – remember the school budget vote – but the current dispute centers on something more basic: what’s being taught.
In a polarized world, everything is political and Republicans are the ones driving the issue. It was last year at this time when Republican Glenn Youngkin used education standards in his successful campaign to become governor of Virginia.
That was hardly an isolated case. Conservative Republicans throughout the country followed suit, challenging so-called critical race theory and how sex education is taught. The criticism surged over the summer at new, New Jersey standards that critics claim wrongly introduce sexually explicit subjects to young children.
This has given rise to a mantra that it is parents, as opposed to, say, trained educators, who should decide what gets taught in the classroom.
Buoyed apparently by last year’s success in Virginia, Republicans continue to push the issue, seemingly convinced a majority of voters are on their side.
A Rutgers-Eagleton poll out Wednesday reports that “large majorities of Garden State residents” support the teaching of health and sex education in high school and middle school. How large? The numbers are 88 percent for teaching such topics in high school and 71 percent in middle school. However, respondents were split – 46 percent in favor and 51 percent opposed – on such instruction in elementary school.
Nonetheless, the poll hardly shows genuine discontent with teaching sex ed in New Jersey public schools.
Ashley Koenig, the poll director, noted the ongoing controversy, but added the following:
“Yet, according to these numbers, those who have been most vocal in New Jersey do not necessarily reflect a majority of residents’ – or even parents’ – views.”
Many Republicans likely would disagree. After all, this is merely one poll.
Clearly, the GOP remains convinced that questioning public school curriculum is going to pay dividends on Nov. 8.
Tom Kean Jr., the GOP candidate in CD-7, appeared on Fox News a few months ago to condemn the new state education standards. He also held a closed-door Parents Coalition meeting a few weeks ago presumably to do the same.
Local schools are not necessarily a federal issue, but quite obviously, it’s the overall narrative that counts.
And Kean is not alone.
The state Republican committee in a recent push to register voters says parents “deserve a say” in what gets taught. Public education is mentioned as a top issue to spur registration along with such things as ending one-party rule in Trenton and bringing about a change in Washington.
More broadly, go to any GOP gathering these days and you can expect someone to talk about students being “groomed” by the evil progressives.
That said, the poll suggests something different. So says Jessica Roman, a research assistant at the Eagleton Center for Public Interest Polling. She put it thusly:
“Opposition to sex ed won’t play well with a key voting bloc like women, who are already dissatisfied with other issues like abortion this midterm cycle.”