The Parental Rights Movement Is a Fascist Trojan Horse

The Parental Rights Movement Is a Fascist Trojan Horse

Our politics will never recover from COVID.

The COVID-19 pandemic was the first time in modern history Americans were asked to make sacrifices for their fellow citizen, and the request turned millions of otherwise-normal people into raving mad lunatics, driving them headlong into the nation’s ascendant fascist movement – a movement that can’t survive without normies turning into frothing, broken-brained monsters.

Politely asking people to wear masks when indoors with other people as to mitigate the spread of a killer virus for which there was no vaccine instantaneously turned apolitical folks into hardcore fascists. They flocked to the internet and found thousands and thousands of anti-vaxx and anti-mask grifters making oceans of money by spreading lies and half-truths and intentionally stuffing people into the well-oiled wellness-to-fascism pipeline – perfecting the human body of course being a lofty fascist ideal.

An American horrified by the prospect of their child wearing a mask in school could quickly become a QAnon devotee, much to the horror of their family and friends who were mostly OK with doing little shit to stem the COVID tide as 3,000 people in the US died of the virus every single day.

We all saw the online videos: School board meetings descending into chaos as education officials voted on mask mandates in the darkest days of the pandemic, entitled, deeply bigoted conservative parents screaming at teachers and school board members, sometimes threatening violence or other means of retribution because little Timmy might have to wear a mask a few hours a day. Conservatives like Bethany Mandel – of “woke” infamy – outright said they were fine with fellow Americans taking a permanent dirt nap if it meant they could go to TGI Friday’s for half price appetizers. You gotta respect the honesty.

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It turns out, to no one’s surprise, that the mask (and vaccine) issues were not top of mind for these internet-poisoned parents. Their concern over masking soon took a backseat to their children learning about the legacy of slavery in the United States, or the existence of gay and gender nonconforming folks. The discourse shifted at neck-snapping speed from COVID policies to ridding schools of “critical race theory,” or the idea that a person’s skin color plays a role in how they are treated in society (as an aside, CRT is essential to understanding the historical context of our current political moment and should be federally mandated at every level of education in the country).

Out of this political muck emerged the bad faith of parental rights, a far-right dog whistle term meant to attract the most furious, ignorant, power-mad parents who want nothing more than to dictate what your children learn in school. The bad faith of so-called parental rights – a political boon for Ivy League fascists like Ron DeSantis – is so transparent, it should be laughable. It’s not though. The left has been forced to talk about this nonsense issue because the Republican Party has picked up on the political potency of parental rights and has used it as a Trojan horse for eviscerating public education and advancing the fascist agenda with indoctrination of the youngest, most ideologically vulnerable people in the US: Children.

The Worst People You Know Want To Dictate Education Policy

House Republicans last week passed a nightmare piece of legislation called the Parental Bill of Rights. Like all Republican bills, this one was hatched in the noxious bowels of the nation’s most blatantly evil think tanks staffed by well-dressed, overeducated right-wing apparatchiks producing the bloodiest red meat imaginable for the party’s insane base. And like all Republican legislation introduced at the federal level, this sweeping parental rights bill was first tested and passed by Republican majorities on the state level, because all the most dangerous right-wing policy ideas percolate in states where Democratic representation has been gerrymandered straight to hell, states that in no way can be called a democracy.

The House's parental rights bill, which originally sought to eliminate the Department of Education by the start of 2024 and naturally doesn’t mention gun massacres in American schools, attacks all the old Republican targets. It would all but outlaw the presence of openly transgender students in public schools, and allow parents to take over school board meetings and to approve books made available in a school’s library, among other fascist priorities (It was funny to me, after covering school board meetings for much of my first few years as a journalist, to read parts of the GOP’s bill that “mandated” schools share information about budgets with parents. Any parent even remotely interested in the operation of their local school board can get this data today with no problem).

“Parents want schools focused on reading, writing and math, not woke politics,” Republican Rep. Mary Miller said during debate of the parental rights legislation. And by woke, as always, Miller meant anything black or brown or queer. You can only imagine severely online Republican House staffers pleading with otherwise milquetoast conservatives to use the term “woke” as much as possible, selling it as a way to use a slur without getting canceled.

Other Republicans who supported the bill – mercifully dead on arrival in the Senate – spoke of schools’ so-called abuses of power and said in no uncertain terms that parents should be legally permitted to dictate a school’s curriculum. The legislation, which I read so you don’t have to, uses some slick wording to obscure the main goal of parental rights: To leverage the power of government in eliminating from public schools any and all information that runs counter to the bad-faith conservative alternate reality carefully crafted by far-right media outlets over the past two decades. The point of these parental rights bills is not to intervene and halt the left’s political overreach, but to place children in a conservative information bubble at an early age, in hopes of creating more voters molded to support the party’s white supremacist, authoritarian agenda. Parental rights is not about correcting incorrect information being taught to human beings in their most formative years; it is about tailoring their education by any means necessary to produce a certain political outcome, namely a conservative one.

These bills are little more than state-sanctioned efforts to put brain-wormed conservative parents in charge of every school district in the United States. And it has worked beautifully in a Florida school district where parents recently demanded the banning of the Disney movie “Ruby Bridges,” about the integration of New Orleans public schools in the 1960s. Whether they were intimidated by the local fascist movement or were forced to abide by the movement’s wishes, per Florida law, officials in Pinellas County have removed the movie from its library. This is part of a horrifying trend in which school officials in Republican-held states bend to the wishes of the worst people you know. Knowing the right's limitless capacity for violence, I can't blame them.

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Parents complained that scenes in which Ruby Bridges was harassed and threatened by white students in New Orleans would teach their kids that white people hate black people. Well, they did, and they do. This is reality that absolutely must be taught to children of every background. Black and brown people have been systematically and intentionally tormented and marginalized for the entire history of this country; this is no grand secret for folks of color or white people who care to read a non-Harry Potter book once in a while.

The reality of race in the US, however, is terribly inconvenient for America’s fascist movement, which has sought to create an alternate reality in which the Playing Field is level and no one – not white people, not the rich, not the well connected – has an advantage over anyone else.

This is critical to making Americans blind to both race and class, and to dismiss any progressive efforts to address systemic inequalities, which sounds insane to someone who has been taught everyone is born equal and there is no difference between good and bad things.

Opposing Parental Rights Is Good ... And Difficult

Parents should have no rights in determining public school curriculum. If you want your kid to receive a watered down education, send them to private school or home school them. There are plenty of options for the Fox-addicted parent. No one is forcing conservative parents to send their kids to the nearby public school.

I attended private Christian schools my entire life and was told year after year to skip portions of our history and science textbooks deemed by school officials as “worldly propaganda.” Sections of my biology textbook had been ripped out to avoid the sticky issue of evolution. We did not learn about the founding fathers wholeheartedly supporting the enslavement of black people. I was never sure why the Civil War was waged because the reasons were always obscured – state's rights and all that ahistorical horse shit.

My parents paid untold thousands for me to receive a horrendous education that functioned as little more than right-wing propaganda dressed up as high-level learning. Thankfully I read some books over the past couple decades and unlearned the toxic lessons taught by educators operating in total bad faith. Not everyone in my private schools followed suit, and today on Facebook I see people I’ve known since childhood showing clear signs of brain worms brought on, in part, by ignorance instilled in them at an early age.

“Parental rights” is such a sneakily appealing term, just like anti-labor “right to work” laws and the “school choice” rhetoric used by the right wing to defund – and eventually eliminate – free, public education in the US. The right is very good at this little game. They’ll make you sound crazy for opposing their bad-faith proposals. So how can the left successfully push back against the concept of parental rights in public schools?

First, stop using the term. You’re playing on their terms when you give in to their linguistic maneuvers (this is why folks on the left should never, under any circumstances, use “pro-life,” but rather “anti-choice”). Call parental rights laws what they are: A partisan intrusion into public education, an indoctrination program, and a means of worsening educational outcomes in the US.

I had the misfortune of coming face to face with the tremendous bad faith of parental rights last July during Maryland’s primary elections. My interaction with an old lady handing out literature for an alternative slate of school board candidates ended with me screaming at her until I was dragged away by my wife.

The woman was handing out pamphlets for an organization called Educators United Against Racism. She assured me the group was "nonpolitical" and composed of "concerned parents and educators from across the county,” including Democrats and independents. I sniffed out the bad faith within seconds and accused her of acting in bad faith, trying to trick unsuspecting voters into supporting fascist school board candidates who wanted to turn our schools into right-wing indoctrination centers. And wouldn't you know it, I was right: Educators United Against Racism is affiliated with Help Save Maryland, a white supremacist hate group. The racism they refer to is racism against white kids, naturally.

Thankfully these attempted far-right school board takeovers are falling flat across most of the US. Right-wing school board candidates fared poorly in the 2022 midterms after two years of hysterics about masks and vaccines because no normie voter wants anything to do with the deranged freaks yelling about 5G and worms in masks and vaccine shedding and Satanist pedophiles. Failing electorally has never stopped the right, however. Unleashing the horrors of parental rights legislation is their next step in trying to shoehorn hardcore conservatives onto unsuspecting school boards. There will be more steps if that doesn't work.

Zoom out and see the bad-faith parental rights agenda as part of the American right’s decades-long attack on the mere idea of public education. Conservatives inherently oppose universality as a concept. There should, per the American right, be no universal right to voting, to citizenship, to housing, to health care, to education, to life. These luxuries, as they see it, should be reserved for the worthy, whatever definition they may use (rich or white or sufficiently in line with the Republican Party’s agenda).

With parental rights, Republicans will turn angry parents with fascist politics into their community’s de facto educational leaders. And it will work if the left lets them.

Follow Denny Carter on Twitter at @CDCarter13.