Opinion: They have no kids in local schools. Should they influence policy?

Local protests over critical race theory are drawing lots of older people and home-schoolers

When I began to cover the protests over Common Core State Standards a few years ago, most of the opponents showing up at the Legislature were home-schooling parents and older Georgians whose children had long graduated. I recall a woman brushing away tears as she told lawmakers how Common Core would hurt her four kids, but, when asked which district her children attended, explained they were home-schooled.

The same phenomenon is occurring with the brouhaha over critical race theory, a complex legal framework that had no relevance to K-12 education until some savvy political types decided to pretend it did. While there is no evidence that critical race theory is being taught in any Georgia public schools, the political outrage industry provoked hundreds of people to attend a Cherokee school board meeting in May where audience rage led police to escort some board members home for safety reasons.

Among the contentions of the dozens of people who spoke at both Cherokee and Forsyth board meetings was that white students would be made to feel guilty for being born white and that the push for equity would diminish the value of effort and reward all students equally. “I do not want to be called an oppressor because I’m white,” a home-schooled student told the Cherokee school board to wild applause.

(Georgia does not require home-schooling parents to follow local curriculum; the state only requires a home study program include reading, language arts, math, social studies and science. While parents have to administer some form of national test every three years, they don’t report the results to the state or anyone else.)

If you attended these board meetings, you’d notice a lot of gray-haired folks in the crowd. Even as a member of the gray-haired set, I don’t think my long-distance view on what’s happening in my local K-12 schools ought to determine policy.

My last two children graduated from high school in 2017. Yes, I still pay school taxes, but I don’t have any firsthand knowledge of what is happening in the schools. There is a new superintendent of my district and multiple teacher and principal changes as well.

Having children in schools helps to understand what is happening in the classroom. My neighborhood is full of smart, young parents who are involved, invested and informed about local schools in ways that only those with personal and daily contact can be.

Everyone pays taxes for roads, parks and senior centers. Yet typically hearings on those taxpayer-funded services attract only those personally affected. You will not see a roomful of parents with strollers when the city council is discussing opening or closing a senior center. Attend a hearing where your county commission is voting on whom to award the million-dollar contract for the tennis center and you won’t see too many bowling leagues signing up to speak.

Yes, school boards have to listen to all taxpayers, but they have to weigh the opinions offered on credibility and accuracy. (Boards don’t have to accept the abuse and threats we saw in Cherokee.) I believe boards must recognize that those without children in the schools are often depending on secondhand accounts of what occurs. Also, important to keep in mind: Their agendas may be different than those of parents of school-age kids.

For example, I moved from a newspaper in an affluent town in New Jersey to the west coast of Florida where residents were older and of more modest means. I went from covering school board meetings where parents routinely showed up to demand more AP classes to meetings where retirees, the dominant population at that time in the Florida community, protested rising school taxes. In New Jersey, the parents moved to the town for the schools. In Florida, the retirees came for lower taxes and affordable homes.

I am curious about your thoughts about this.

About the Author