We all have our “hot-button issue.” Among conservatives, it might be gun rights, or property rights, or religious liberty. Accounting nerds like me can even get worked up over tax policy. But whatever we care about, if we want to win, we had better protect parental rights.
This is especially true as elite culture becomes more hostile to conservative values and religious faith. If the next generation is taught our Constitution is fundamentally flawed, nothing in the Bill of Rights will be safe.
The real battle for the Second Amendment, property rights, religious liberty, and all the rest plays out every day in our classrooms. Conservatives have three strategies.
One is to pass laws blocking bad ideas, and here Oklahoma is a leader. Last year, lawmakers passed and Gov. Kevin Stitt signed HB 1775, which prevents teaching racist ideas associated with “Critical Race Theory” in our public schools. They did the same with SB 2, which prevents men who claim to be women from competing in women’s sports.
The second strategy is to replace bad ideas with good ones. Florida is the clear leader here, with Gov. Ron DeSantis championing a multi-pronged civic education initiative. Working with experts from across the country, including OCPA Distinguished Fellow Trent England, Florida created a voluntary program for teachers to learn more about American history and government.
Florida is also revamping its civics standards and curriculum, providing more opportunities for students to participate in competitive debate, and collecting stories from immigrants who suffered real tyranny in Communist and other totalitarian nations.
The third strategy is the most important: bolster parental rights. Most parents, in Oklahoma but also in the rest of America, don’t want their kids brainwashed by liberal elites. If we put more power in the hands of parents, schools will be more likely to focus on the needs of families, not the policy preferences of left-wing activists.
Open transfer laws, which claim to allow students to attend any public school, could be helpful but turn out to have minimal effect where the need is greatest. This is in part because school administrators still have a veto over parents’ choices.
A better way is to let parents choose any school for a child with tax funding following the child. That system will lead schools to cater to the needs of families, not the preferences of far-off elites.
Some worry about accountability. Others worry about politicians attaching strings to the money. As Thomas Jefferson said, “The condition upon which God hath given liberty to man is eternal vigilance.” Providing accountability and fighting against bureaucratic meddling will no doubt be required, but school choice is the trump card that conservatives can play to restore American education and ensure the protection of our constitutional rights long into the future.
About the author: Jonathan Small serves as president of the Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs (www.ocpathink.org).