A few weeks ago, Amy Kappelman, the President and Founder of our Local Moms for Liberty group published an opinion piece she was invited to write in regards to the recent national summit in Philadelphia in which the group was met by strong resistance. Ms. Kappelman never really acknowledges what grievances the protestors had, but more worrying, Ms. Kappelman suggests a fascist undertone to her political opponents. She is not simply advocating for higher parent involvement in schools, a belief in which we are in agreement. Ms. Kappelman suggests that in the name of diversity, equity, and inclusion, our public schools are a tool of Orwellian control. Our children are being indoctrinated.
Her words made me turn to a framed print that hangs in my living room. It is of a painting called “The Lottery” by Czech painter Alphonse Mucha. It’s a painting that I’ve always turned to for inspiration as a teacher. When he painted it, Mucha’s home was being ruled by Austria-Hungary which had banned the teaching of the Czech language, history, and culture. Mucha painted a young girl standing defiantly with a pad and pen in her hand, demanding a complete education free of indoctrination. The thing is, Austria-Hungary did not seek to just force schools to teach things that supported their rule and way of life, they more importantly tried to eliminate the Czech culture that they saw as threatening their control. They did this because indoctrination is not just about forcing what you believe, but destroying ideas that challenge your beliefs. Not disagreeing with them, not refuting them, destroying ideas through force and power.
Later in the 20th Century, we saw a more blunt example of this. Before Adolf Hitler’s vast murder of Jews, Romani and other peoples that he hated, the Nazi party fought their war on ideas. They burned books and pushed out academics that might pose a challenge to their authority. As a dark mirror of today, in 1933, the Nazis sacked and destroyed the world’s first gender and sexuality clinic.
I simply do not see that level of indoctrination in our modern schools. Reading a book to children in which a character has two moms does not eliminate stories which feature heterosexual parents. Reading the words of Benjamin Banneker does not diminish the words of Thomas Jefferson, but makes us better understand Jefferson. Ensuring traditionally marginalized students find school more accessible to them does not take away from their peers. How could it? When we expand what information, points of view, strategies, and stories we share with children, we do not indoctrinate them. We empower them. The things often slandered as indoctrination seek to add to learning, not take away.
That does not mean that I don’t see indoctrination at all in schools. I see those who wish to take away from our children’s learning, to take part in true indoctrination. When select parents try to ban the sexual education book It’s Perfectly Normal–a book that has literally saved adolescents from sexual abuse–that to me is indoctrination. It is a relatively small group of people pushing their beliefs into a school and trying to take away potentially life-saving knowledge from all students.
When a gay valedictorian is banned from referring to his identity at his graduation speech, that to me is indoctrination. When teachers are investigated for showing PG-rated Disney films or when a transgender teenager is banned from wearing the clothes that best reflect them even when their family fully supports them, that to me seems like indoctrination. Not because it is just pushing a point of view, but because it’s eliminating ideas, expression, and stories for everyone. Because indoctrination is always about limiting and taking away.
I am all for family involvement and I as an educator have worked with families who have felt discomfort around challenging texts. The question of grade-level appropriateness and what material can be seen as safe to have in school is one that should be discussed and debated with nuance and good faith. I don’t think parents who have expressed discomfort to me about a book in our class library are bad people. They’re simply concerned parents, and they do deserve compassionate professionals who work with them. I will gladly stand with the Moms for Liberty on that point.
That is not the national issue we face right now as we see record high challenged books including books that are years and sometimes decades old, including from our most important authors like Toni Morrison. These acts do not seek to accommodate the preferences of some or even simply push a point of view, they seek to eliminate choice and possibility for all students and families.
We face a state legislature that is following the road that Gov. Ron DeSantis has taken in Florida. A road where top-down government mandates mean students cannot have access to quality AP courses without school districts being potentially sued by a small minority of parents. A road that was co-signed by the national Moms of Liberty last year, when they awarded Gov. DeSantis a ceremonial sword in honor of his actions.
I understand the protests in Philadelphia may have indeed been rude, but when we actually look through the lens of what indoctrination looks like in the United States, when we look at who is pulling books and limiting discussion and why, when I see the road that Gov. DeSantis has taken and that our state legislature threatens to follow, I can’t help but to imagine that little girl in the Mucha painting holding her book and pen, staring at the viewer, demanding those who block her from her learning, get out of her way.
Jolene Quigley is a career educator and parent proud to call Chatham County her home. She currently works as an educator in Alamance County.