Whose Rights?

by Joe Fitzgerald

One thing you have to give the parental rights authoritarians. At least they’re more honest about their goals than some of their thematic ancestors.

Slave codes were not slave codes. They were master codes. Leftists in the 1950s weren’t involved in unamerican activities. The House committee harassing them was. Dissent and disagreement are supposed to be the American way, except to whatever faction is in charge and defining or redefining what’s American at any given time.

But parents’ rights, the latest right-wing lie designed to inflame rather than inform, is at least clear about who it’s aimed at. Teacher’s rights? Unless we’re talking about the right to be accused of corrupting and indoctrinating children, that’s not an issue for the rightists. Children’s rights? They have none in the world-view of people like the majority on the Rockingham County School Board.

Glenn Youngkin was elected in part based on Terry McAuliffe’s very accurate statement that parents shouldn’t be deciding what their children are taught. He could have added that a parent should not make that decision in a public school unless the parent has at least a master of education degree, or perhaps unless that parent can parse and reply to this sentence with something more than an aggrieved grunt of “parents’ rights.”

The parental rights in question during that regrettable campaign mostly centered around two issues: personal pronouns and Critical Race Theory. The issue of personal pronouns cannot be easily simplified. If it could, we’d have to ask why, if it’s a family issue, are public school teachers being required to fill out forms.

The answer is of course that some children simply cannot talk to their parents about issues of gender discomfort without being harangued, punished, or forced to go against their natures. The pronoun forms in Rockingham let the parents whose children can’t talk to them know which ones to harangue.

As to Critical Race Theory, it’s hardly taught in public schools, and then only in advanced classes where the 17-year-olds exposed to it presumably have greater critical thinking skills than, just for instance, many school board members.

The rightists protecting parental rights at the expense of children’s education also like to speak of their banned books as being in the classroom. Small surprise that they don’t know the difference between a classroom and a library, nor do they seem to understand that a kid doesn’t have to look for a book in the library if he or she can find the trashy parts on the rightists’ own booklooks website. I have to wonder if booklooks is blocked in the schools. (Daenerys, by the way, is taller and slimmer than Emilia Clarke in the booklooks excerpts, but doesn’t wear any more.)

The general rights protected by people like the RCSB are the right to control one’s children and the right to limit what they learn. The more specific right, embodied in the pronoun forms, is to remove the school as refuge for those who can’t talk to their parents so that parents can enforce identity according to the psychological science of the Old Testament.

There are dismissive phrases for those who embrace their own ignorance and hurl adjectives instead of facts at those they see as adversaries. The most incisive one is, “Read a book.”

Joe Fitzgerald is a former mayor of Harrisonburg. Republished with permission from Still Not Sleeping.