Not every parent’s voice is valued by Florida’s Parental Rights in Education laws | Opinion

Florida’s recent slew of “Parental Rights in Education” laws, dubbed “Don’t say gay” by critics, doubles down on our nation’s culture wars as a strategy to foment a fear of “others” and deepen divisions among Floridians. Gov. Ron DeSantis and his minions want you to believe these laws protect the rights of all parents and children, but they don’t.

Instead, these laws are drawn from the white-supremacy playbook, rooted in the great lie of our nation’s founding — a belief in a hierarchy of human value, one that defines who is deserving and who is not, who belongs and who doesn’t. This caste system, historically based on race, now includes a rung on the ladder of hierarchy based on one’s sexuality.

The first of these laws increased scrutiny of school-library books and instructional materials, making it easier for the state, or even one parent, to deem materials like the College Board’s AP course on African-American history or most recently, Amanda Gorman’s poem, “The Hill We Climb,” unworthy or lacking in educational value.

This law privileges the feelings and experiences of white students who might be made to feel bad about slavery and racism. Exposing white kids to this history, DeSantis and others argue, is a form of miseducation.

Harvard education historian Jarvis Givens argues that when Black children are denied the opportunity to critically study Black life and culture, they are also denied the opportunity to think outside of the racial myths that are deeply embedded in the American curriculum — a curriculum that overrepresents the significance of European and Euro American history and culture and offers white people an inflated sense of importance.

Under Florida’s most recent “Parents’ Rights in Education” laws, teachers and students will be restricted in their use of preferred pronouns in school, and it is impermissible to discuss sexual orientation and gender identity at all. Worse still, the state, in it new role as scientist, has decreed that a person’s gender is an immutable biological trait and that it is false to ascribe to a person a pronoun that does not correspond to such person’s sex at birth.

Don’t be fooled. These laws are not about all parents’ rights. The governor and the Republican legislators doing his bidding are using their power to enact laws predicated on their beliefs about their supremacy to decide who belongs and who is deserving of the state’s concern and protection.

These laws are solutions in search of a problem; a ruse to deflect from real problems facing our public education system to which the state could direct its attention: how we draw our school districts’ geographic boundaries and how public schools are funded. Both determine how well-resourced local schools are, and silently acculturate a fear of the unknown and an “us” versus “them” mindset that is of a piece with the hierarchy of human value.

What the state is really doing is acting on the historical lie that one group of parents’ interests are superior to those of all other parents. In the process, the state is trampling on the speech of educators and students, further de-professionalizing Florida’s teachers, reinforcing inequity in our already unequal education system and rendering the state’s public education system an employer of last choice — the second largest school district in the state, Broward County, cannot attract a quality candidate to fill its superintendent vacancy.

Florida’s children will lose. They will lose the opportunity to learn about those who are different from them, to think critically and solve complex problems. They will lose the ability to develop empathy, compassion and understanding. They will remain uncomfortable among people who are not like them.

Within the appendices of the U.S. Supreme Court’s 1954 Brown vs Board of Education decision were cautions that white children will learn the prejudices of our society and will be taught to gain personal status in a non-adaptive way devising structures to protect themselves from recognizing the essential injustice of their unrealistic fears about others.

Our society reaps what is sown in our classrooms.

Marvin Gaye advised us to, “Believe some of what you see and half of what you hear.” When the media write about these laws, it is contributing to this collective gaslighting. We need it to lift the gaslighting veil and call the law what it is. “Some Parents’ Rights in Education.”

Dr. Etienne R. LeGrand, a Miami-based social entrepreneur, is an expert on the intersection of leadership, organizational culture and performance in public education.