The Coming Backlash against Woke Public Schools

Social-distancing dividers in a classroom at St. Benedict School in Montebello, Calif., July 14, 2020. (Lucy Nicholson/Reuters)
Parents have had enough of the politicization of their local schools.
The reports coming out of the school systems of Portland, Ore., and its suburbs are simply terrifying. Children are being taught the narrative that America is fundamentally evil, and the rioters who continue to wreak havoc on that once-beautiful, quiet city are held up as heroes. As Christopher Rufo has reported, “The schools have self-consciously adopted the ‘pedagogy of the oppressed’ as their theoretical orientation, activated through a curriculum of critical race theory and enforced through the appointment of de facto political officers within individual schools.”

And it is working. The schools have become, Rufo notes, “a school-to-radicalism pipeline.”

But it is not just in radicalized Portland or Seattle where these forces hold sway. In my own home county of Loudoun County, Va., the radicals have seized control and plunged with abandon in a radical direction, leaving much of our community gasping at the temerity of their tactics and shuddering at the implications for the future of our community and our nation should they succeed.

Loudoun is the school district that suspended its teacher, Tanner Cross, for having the audacity to speak for one minute at a recent school-board meeting in opposition to a proposed sexual/political mandate. Let that sink in. Before the policy was in place, a highly regarded teacher was suspended for simply disagreeing with a proposed policy.

The legal organization I lead, Alliance Defending Freedom, represents Tanner. I was astounded when, in the midst of a hearing seeking a temporary injunction to reinstate him, which the court granted Tuesday, the school district’s lawyer volunteered the fact that he was the eighth employee in the past two years who has been suspended for out-of-school speech. Apparently, consistently violating the First Amendment rights of its employees makes everything all right in the minds of this school district. 

Parents know that the curriculum has recently turned hard to the left. Racial and sexual politics are the prime directive of the school system. Every child will be immersed. And every teacher will recite the party line. No dissenting allowed.

The school district seems oblivious to the fact that they are losing not just conservative parents, but the great bulk of the middle-of-the road families who simply want their children to get a quality academic education.


The leadership of the Loudoun County Public Schools may be woke, but they are blind. They do not seem to see the growing signs of an educational revolution that is stirring in communities all across the nation. Parents have simply had enough of the politicization of their local schools and the attempts to turn their children into young but full-throated activists for the progressive movement.

Parents don’t want their children taught that they are oppressors if they have the wrong skin color. Teaching little white kids that they are evil because of their race is wicked, just as it was when the worst schools of our past taught little black children that they were intellectually inferior because of their race. Vanishingly few parents want their children immersed in a one-sided racial vendetta seeking to blame seven-year-olds for the acts of some people with their same skin color from past generations. This is racial scapegoating, growing from the same depraved ideology that in times past has conferred guilt and blame on entire people groups based solely on race.

And the parents of female athletes are outraged that their daughters are losing spots on varsity teams and award stands to biological males who have subjectively identified as female.

Coerced uniformity of opinion is the tactic of tyrants. In international law, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and related treaties all proclaim that parents have a right to insist that children receive an education that is consistent with the values of the parents. And the enforcement treaties make it clear that this right cannot be overcome even in situations where the existence of the nation itself is at stake.

Even before this, in the midst of World War II, our Supreme Court issued a stern rebuke of efforts to homogenize children through the public schools:

As governmental pressure toward unity becomes greater, so strife becomes more bitter as to whose unity it shall be. Probably no deeper division of our people could proceed from any provocation than from finding it necessary to choose what doctrine and whose program public educational officials shall compel youth to unite in embracing.

The Court explained the ultimate futility of the efforts to coerce uniformity, as evidenced by failures of such efforts in Nazi Germany, the Russian Revolution, the Inquisition, and the Roman attempts to banish Christianity.

There are only two choices. The wisest choice, where public schools are concerned, is to simply depoliticize public education. Get back to an academic emphasis with very generalized instruction in values on ideals that unite Americans such as honesty, hard work, equality, and love of country.

The second choice is more likely. The tactics of public schools are bonding together a sufficient number of families who want alternatives to the chaos reigning in their local schools. And a political and legal tipping point is fast approaching at which some form of educational choice where public funds follow the parents will be enacted by legislation or by litigation. This latter choice was recently strongly endorsed by former attorney general William Barr at an event I led last month.

School leaders are extremely serious about advancing their radical agenda. But parents who are complacent about many things will not sit by idly while their tax dollars are being used to indoctrinate them.

Parents have a limit. Public schools have crossed the line.