Law & Courts

As Rhetoric Heats Up, Many Parents Fear Politicians Are Using Children As ‘Political Pawns’

By Ileana Najarro — September 22, 2022 3 min read
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Laws leading to book bans and restricting teachers’ abilities to discuss LGBTQ and racial issues in the classroom are about politics and not the best interests of children, a majority of parents said in a new national poll.

The Ipsos survey results—collected and assessed for ParentsTogether, a nonprofit focused on parents—touch on the growing political debates around what should be taught in schools. The debates have been driven by laws and other such efforts since 2021, largely by conservative politicians and state education officials, that place restrictions on how topics of race and gender can be tackled in schools.

“The whole purpose of the survey was to put some of that noise into a much larger context. And the context, as I think the survey makes clear, is that most parents don’t really care too strongly about some of these very politicized issues, and are much more focused on making sure children can succeed broadly speaking,” said Chris Jackson, senior vice president with Ipsos, a research company.

The survey was administered late August with 1,301 adults above the age of 18 across the country responding (including 443 parents). It is representative of the U.S. adult population, and results were weighted to account for respondents’ age, race, metropolitan status, and income.

Of the respondents, 66 percent total, and 73 percent of parents specifically “think that elected officials and political groups are the most responsible for the recent disagreements over what’s taught in public K-12 schools.” Only 30 percent of surveyed parents and others agreed that “state or local elected officials should have input into grade school curriculums” with most citing teachers and parents as the preferred parties responsible for those decisions.

Since January 2021, EdWeek has found that 42 states have introduced bills or taken other steps that would restrict teaching the academic theory known as critical race theory or limit how teachers can discuss racism and sexism. State leaders have cited these efforts as done in the interest of students and parents, and a “parents’ rights” framing has also been used by groups seeing to ban books from classrooms and libraries.

The new survey suggests that not all parents buy that storyline.

Sixty-nine percent of overall respondents to the Ipsos poll and 68 percent of parents specifically felt that these laws are “being driven by politicians to advance their careers.” And 73 percent of adults—and 74 percent of parents—said “politicians are using children in school as political pawns.”

“Parents can see right through these political agendas and don’t want politicians banning books or censoring an honest education,” said Ailen Arreaza, co-Director of ParentsTogether in a statement.

The poll found that school safety, student mental health needs, and adequate school funding were respondents’ top priorities for schools and areas where elected officials should focus their attention.

New findings echo other gauges of voters’ and parents’ attitudes toward school policy

Two other recent polls found similar concerns. One done earlier this year by Impact Research found a majority of voters want politicians to focus more on learning recovery efforts than gender and race issues.

And the Ipsos survey also complements results in an August National Parents Union poll of more than 1,000 parents, which found the majority of parents think both teachers and parents should have more influence on schools than states and the federal government.

Keri Rodrigues, the president of the organization, said laws banning certain conversations in schools are distractions from major concerns parents have. They’re worried about school transportation woes, students’ mental health, and ensuring that pandemic relief funding is being used adequately to support students’ needs.

“We need our elected officials to actually fulfill their fiduciary responsibility not just to fund but make sure that this funding is actually getting us to where we’re trying to get for kids,” Rodrigues said. “And they’re not doing that at all.

“Instead they’re getting distracted by all of these side issues that have nothing to do with making sure our kids are graduating from America’s public education system with the access to the opportunity that we want them all to have,” she said.

Politicized issues, such as classroom conversations about race, have also contributed to educators’ stress as of late. New survey results from the RAND Corporation find that 61 percent of principals and 37 percent of teachers surveyed reported experiencing harassment about these politicized topics.

The Ipsos poll had a margin of error of plus or minus 3 percentage points for adults, and 5 percentage points for parents.

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