Both of the major teachers’ unions had endorsed McAuliffe. But this was a gold mine for the campaign of Glenn Youngkin, then the Republican nominee for governor. His team immediately seized on McAuliffe’s tongue-in-cheek remark, airing it in attack ads for the rest of the cycle. He railed against critical race theory, “gender ideology,” and sex education in schools, conveniently creating a bogeyman he would attack for the next month. Parents were, understandably, incensed by McAuliffe’s gaffe, and exit polls from the election showed that parents who listed education as one of their top priorities preferred Youngkin over McAuliffe by over 11 points.
Decision-makers from both sides of the aisle imperil this ideal of impartial education. A recent analysis shows that in 2022, nearly 800 titles were banned across just twenty-two school districts in Texas, with most of these banned in the name of “fighting critical race theory” in schools. Randi Weingarten, the head of the American Federation of Teachers (AFT), the second-largest teachers union, routinely — and very publicly — opines on issues ranging from gun control, the Supreme Court’s Dobbs decision, to the regulation of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). The AFT and the National Education Association (NEA), which have a total combined membership of almost 4 million teachers, have spent an overwhelming 94% of their political funds to Democrats and liberal groups under a façade of non-partisanship.
The New Jersey branch of the NEA (NJEA) even held a seminar series last summer, “Teaching is Political,” run by the aptly-named Radical Pedagogy Institute. The NJEA was, in essence, endorsing an effort to train teachers to politically organize and identify policymaker allies to help them radical political change.
On the other side of the aisle, Republican groups have also targeted school boards in their push against a “woke” agenda, funneling millions of dollars into historically nonpartisan races. An overwhelming 24 of the 30 conservative school board candidates endorsed by Gov. Ron DeSantis of Florida won their races, further fueling the new mainstream movement to inject politics into classrooms.
Teachers deserve to be treated with respect as the mentors of the next generation of American leaders. Politicians should stay away from what is taught in classrooms. At the same time, parents deserve to know what their children are learning in school. Depoliticized school curricula that emphasize critical thinking are not an unreasonable ask.