Jim Beam column:Parents key players in schools

Published 7:32 am Sunday, November 14, 2021

Parents around the country are up in arms over what they believe is being taught in their public schools, and that is a legitimate concern. However, parents need to first understand what is really going on in their own schools.

Louisiana laws have always given parents a high priority when it comes to education. Take textbook selection, for example. The state  Department of Education said local school systems have to follow local requirements when reviewing instructional materials.

The major concern of today’s parents is the teaching of critical race theory (CRT), the view that racism played a role in the nation’s history that continues today.

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CRT isn’t being taught in Louisiana’s public schools, and Cade Brumley, state superintendent of education, said he would oppose any effort to do it. Even so, the issue has become a popular conspiracy for those seeking to gain from it politically.

Republican Glenn Youngkin won the Virginia governor’s race, and he used education as a motivation for getting voters riled up. Democrat Terry McAuliffe helped Youngkin’s cause when he said, “I don’t think parents should be telling schools what they should teach.”

News reports have suggested other candidates will use Youngkin’s tactics in their own campaigns, even though education may not be a legitimate issue in their campaigns. As a first-time candidate, Youngkin drew large crowds, thanks to McAuliffe’s comments.

Youngkin’s TV spots hammered McAuliffe and his supporters said they were enthusiastic about his defense of parents who are concerned about what is being taught in their schools

The Council for a Better Louisiana (CABL) said, “These are politically charged times when it comes to adult discussions about civics, democracy, freedom and justice, so developing social studies standards for young people can be all the more sensitive.”

CABL added, “The good news is that Louisiana has a good process for standards review and anyone can participate.” And Brumley said back in October that the public’s input will help craft the final proposed standards that will be presented to the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education (BESE).

U.S. history is being taught in the seventh grade and in high school and Louisiana history is being taught in the eighth grade. Standards for those subjects and civics, geography and economics are being updated by BESE and parents are definitely part of the process.

Why are the standards being updated? It’s because students aren’t doing as well in those areas as they are with other subjects. And CABL explains why the current update is important:

“It tells us about history, places, people, government, economics, and so much more with the goal of creating informed citizens who can contribute to the well-being of a diverse democratic society. That’s a tall order, but it’s one of the responsibilities of our education system.”

The steering committee updating the standards is made up of 28 members from across Louisiana. They include educators, representatives of higher education, parents, students, community members and other stakeholders.

As CABL pointed out, all meetings of the steering committee are open to the public and there is an extensive online open comment period that has been extended to the end of the month.

As for textbooks, local review committees have to consist of teachers and other educators, parents of students in the state’s public schools and others who have a stake in the final selection. Here are some of the questions members of the local review committee have to answer:

  • To what extent do materials align with state academic standards?
  • Do the materials accurately reflect the contributions and achievements of people of differing races?
  • Do the materials promote an understanding of the history and values of the people of the United States and Louisiana, including the free enterprise system, private property, constitutional liberties, democratic values and traditional standards of moral values?

Even though there are legal protections that parents enjoy in Louisiana and the fact that CRT isn’t taught in its public schools, don’t expect those seeking public office to give up their attacks on CRT. They will use CRT or any other education issues that they believe will get them votes.

That is unfortunate because a June article in Governing magazine said “focusing on CRT at this time creates a huge distraction that diverts attention of public officials away from tackling what the public really needs: a return to some semblance of normalcy after a devastating pandemic.”

Parents in Louisiana shouldn’t buy into the divisive issues that some politicians are touting for their own benefit. In this state, parents still play a key role in their children’s education.