What Parents Really Want from Schools

Remember Peter Meijer (pronounced MY-er, national news jockeys)?
He was the freshman Congressman from Western Michigan with the golden name and the conscience—the one who voted to impeach Trump, post-January 6, as a freshman in the House of Representatives. I say he was a congressman, because he was primaried in August.

The guy who’s running on the Republican ticket in Meijer’s former western Michigan district, John Gibbs, recently said this:

Folks, did you ever think that one day in America, we’d have to worry about schools putting obscene books in their libraries? This is simply insane–we must stop the madness. Voters overwhelmingly oppose sexually explicit books in public school libraries.

Well—folks. I’m not worried about obscene or sexually explicit books in public school libraries. Because there is no madness, no insanity, no pornography in school libraries.

Teachers and school leaders also overwhelmingly oppose sexually explicit books in school libraries. The word we use is ‘inappropriate’—materials are selected by trained school media specialists, who know inappropriate when they see it.

The entire slate of MI Republicans running for statewide or national office, not just Gibbs, is hell-bent on insisting that schools have become (in the past two years) hotbeds of sexual orientation and gender identity transformation, not to mention racial tension and guilt-inducement. They are led in this effort by the Republican candidate for Governor, Tudor Dixon.  

What Tudor wants to accomplish is very simple and common sense. She wants to get radical sex and gender theory out of our schools, remove classroom instruction of sexual orientation and gender identity for grades K-3, make sure gender specific sports remain gender specific given biological differences in boys vs. girls and post all curriculum online for parents to see and be involved in their child’s education. Every child deserves a world class education and parents should be in charge of it.

So let’s break this down.

Radical sex and gender theory? (Not a part of the curriculum in any school I’ve been in.)

Classroom instruction on sexual orientation or gender identity for the littles? (Likewise—nope, nope.)

Gender specific sports? (The Michigan High School Athletic Association has a policy adopted in 2012 that determines post-season tournament eligibility for transgender athletes on a case-by-case basis. The group received and approved 10 applications in the past five years—so this is hardly a burning statewide issue.)

Post all curriculum online? (Sure. Most districts post their standards framework—what gets taught, when– and public high schools in Michigan have adapted the Michigan Merit Curriculum.)

Every child deserves a world class education and parents should be in charge of it. (Right out of the Glenn Youngkin playbook, a statement like this, which is mostly true, really resonates.)

But here’s the truth (from 32 years of classroom experience): What bubbles up in classroom discussions and playgrounds is what’s on the minds of the kids in that classroom. This starts early, in Tudor Dixon’s forbidden zone, grades K-3—like this story about the boy who chose a ‘Frozen’ backpack.

Kids are curious and they’re paying attention to what their parents and their screens (and their friends, and their older siblings) are telling them. I taught music and math, two subjects you’d think were pretty straightforward and controversy-free, but can testify that anytime you get a cluster of kids together, provocative issues emerge.

When politicians say ‘post curriculum online’ and ‘parents should be in charge’ they’re missing the reality of classroom instruction: It’s universally messy and unpredictable, even when it’s highly effective and led by expert teachers. You just don’t know what ideas kids will bring to the classroom.

I think what Dixon wants is to catch teachers talking about Forbidden Subjects raised by students, encouraging parents to be alarmed and dissatisfied. Her campaign is unable to flesh out her policies, however—this article is well worth the read, for examples.

Parents absolutely have the right to have input into their child’s public education—but not the education of all children in that school. As a music teacher, parent control over curriculum is particularly challenging during the December holidays. But all teachers, school leaders and school board members have dealt with decision-making around curriculum, instruction and assessment. It’s our job.

To suggest that parents are shut out, or have no say, is just not true. To construct legislation designed to thwart ‘forbidden’ subjects and practices is 100% political, and often funded by outsider groups. Because the reality, in poll after poll after poll, is that public school parents are generally satisfied with their children’s schools.

Personally, I have observed parents protest any number of school policies at local school board meetings. Perennially dicey topics? Sex education. ‘New’ math (defined, roughly, as a math program that parents find different from the math program they had in school). Pay-to-play sports (anything about sports will draw a crowd, actually). Your district may vary.

So what do parents really want? Here’s my unscientific, no-data-just-observation take: 

  • A basic education—reading, writing, math, science, civics—that pushes children to learn essential skills for living and working in a democracy.
  • Teachers and school employees who understand and care about their child.
  • Childcare—a nurturing place for their kids to be while parents have other responsibilities.
  • A decrease in the emphasis on data and competition engendered by annual standardized testing.
  • Safety—healthy practices, secure premises.
  • A measure of happiness—all parents want their kids to be happy, and all of them have to learn that happiness cannot be mandated or arranged by schools, although classroom practices can help.
  • Programming that addresses their child’s unique needs—take your pick: Art, physical education, a library, music, learning about technology, extra-curriculars like sports, drama, leadership opportunities, and so on.
  • Friends.

Peter Meijer (whose name is universally known across Michigan) used a different spelling of his name while in high school to protect his identity.  I am guessing his parents, who could afford any kind of education, wanted the same things for him—a good education, a measure of happiness, programming that helped him realize his goals and dreams. Friends.

Watch out for craven candidates who want to trash public education. They’re not ‘concerned’ or ‘for Liberty’—they’re vandals.


      1. Thanks for the outstanding post, nflanagan. Good list. Obviously the whole “parental rights” jazz is really just some parents taking away the rights of other parents to have their kids taught authentic history or read particular books in their classes. Part of the project: degrade and destroy.
        The article: Firefox Reader View. Found out about it this morning. Bypassed paywall and read the article just now. Anti-union open-schoolers, IMO. Quelle surprise. Thanks Lauren Coodley, for the heads-up.

        Liked by 1 person

  1. Ugh! I have a friend who is focusing his efforts on finding support in rural communities for the rational humans who are running against the scare-mongers. It is his belief, and mine, that rural support has gone into hiding out of fear for their safety. (Do we need to build a rural underground with a secret handshake and a cryptic symbol to identify fellow travelers?) And then, I hear rumblings that young people have become so disenchanted and cynical about politics that they are not committing to even showing up to vote. As the president of a local PFLAG Chapter, I have been seeing more hostility directed at LGBTQ+ youth (in the abstract–from people who clearly have never encountered an LGBTQ+ youth in real life), and I’m having a hard time wrapping my head around the idea that one could demonize so many people and still claim to have “family values”. I am more committed than ever to GOTV!

    Liked by 1 person


  2. This was a fascinating read! I definitely agree that when we are considering what parents want from their child/children’s schools, we should directly ask the parents rather than make assumptions based on what we think. Parents also should make an effort to know the basics of what their students are learning so they know what is or isn’t being taught rather than believing everything politicians say, especially when those things are said without any evidence. (Tudor Dixon has made many claims about things that are taught in Michigan public schools, but cannot provide any examples of the things she finds ‘dangerous’ and are being taught in Michigan schools.)
    I first started seriously paying attention to the state of the American education system somewhere between the 2016 and 2020 presidential elections (the former was shortly after I graduated high school, while the latter was shortly after I decided to more strongly consider pursuing a degree in education after graduating from undergrad. Obviously, the past couple of years have seen a rise in controversial bills surrounding school curricula being proposed, all of which are baseless but able to raise enough fear among parents to help them reach states’ legislative branches and potentially be made law. I agree with what Flanagan says at the end; we know what parents are most concerned about regarding schools, and most of the things are understandable (why does math keep changing? what opportunities does my child have to explore academic areas that interest them? Why do we still have standardized testing??), and I think those points are the things we should be focusing on instead.



    1. Thanks for your comment. We’ve been talking about working in partnership with parents forever. I remember a staff meeting, in my early career (40 years ago) where the principal admonished us to reach out to parents in substantive ways–to include parent and grandparent interviews in assignments, for example, and to offer choice in novels chosen for group reads. It’s not just about the athletic boosters and raising money–it’s about hearing their voice when you choose what to present in class. The idea that schools are trying to take power away from parents is ridiculous. We’ve been trying to get parents more involved for a long time.



  3. This is such an interesting take on parents interactions with schools. As an up and coming social studies teacher, I have been really worried about issues like this. I want to take the stance of being a non-neutral educator, but I just don’t know how this would be perceived among parents and families, especially depending on which district I end up in. In reality, I know that many of these ideas of “inappropriate” topics are not actually taught in schools, but it’s clear to me that people can stretch what is taught in schools to somehow fit their mold of being “inappropriate.” I am worried about teaching my future students the hard truths of history and to think critically without being flagged down by these über concerned parents.



    1. Hi Hallie. I started teaching in the 1970s (I know–I’m old) and taught, eventually, in 5 different decades. In all that time, there were often issues that parents (some parents) were upset about. Mostly sex ed, or which subjects to cut, or the math curriculum. What we’re seeing now, however, is nothing like those things–then, administrators stood up for teachers who taught Huckleberry Finn, or whole language or (always) sex ed. This movement is driven by outside money and is entirely politicized. The goal is damaging public schools.

      I hate to write this, because I think veteran teacher like me should encourage novice teachers, who are desperately needed. And you’re right–there are many hard truths, unpleasant facts, in our history. To pretend otherwise is vandalism. I wish you well. Check in again, please, as you get further along your path. Teaching is an incredible, rewarding career. We need you.



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