My favorite writer, G. K. Chesterton, penned a chapter over 100 years ago about the education system of his day, entitled “The Outlawed Parent.” Chesterton’s description and analysis a century hence always struck me as prophetic, and that sense increases with each year that passes. He observed that the modern educator had morphed from serving “in loco parentis” (standing in the place of the parent) to serving “contra parentem” (standing opposed to the parent). He wrote [emphases are mine]:
[T]he [modern] school master does not work for the parent, but against the parent. Modern education means handing down the customs of the minority, and rooting out the customs of the majority. Instead of their Christlike charity, their Shakespearean laughter and their high Homeric reverence for the dead, the poor have imposed on them mere pedantic copies of the prejudices of the remote rich.
A more apt description of the elitism and ideological bent of educators in 2020 is hardly imaginable, and it is remarkable that the description was written in 1910.
Lest anyone should doubt that Chesterton hit the nail on the head in his day, and that his hammer still finds its mark in our own day, witness a recent Twitter thread from an educational expert and author from Philadelphia named Matthew Kay.
On August 8, Kay took to Twitter to announce his concern about the coming school year when many children would be taking classes remotely via computer from home. Of course, this is something that has many parents concerned, too. But Kay’s concern is the parents.
In his Twitter thread, he wrote of his worry of parents and family members “overhearing the discourse” between teachers and their students with classes being done remotely in the home, and wondered “[w]hat… this [would] do for [teachers’] equity/inclusion work.” But Kay wasn’t speaking primarily about the racial equity work for which he has become famous and which is the primary topic of his book; rather, he explained, he was particularly thinking about “the damage that ‘helicopter/snowplow’ parents can do in honest conversations about gender/sexuality…” And he expounded further, that “while ‘conservative’ parents are [his]chief concern,” he was also worried about more progressive parents, too, explaining what delicate work is involved in “destabilizing a kids [sic] racism or homophobia or transphobia” and how parents from the Left, though well-intentioned, might do damage by “piling on” in this process of “destabilization.”
Have you ever seen on your children’s class syllabus an objective to “destabilize” your child’s values and beliefs? No, I didn’t think so; but it’s often part of the course aims, you can be sure: witness Kay’s Twitter screed, evincing clearly this unstated purpose fundamental to many a schoolroom in these United States.
Kay must have faced some backlash from the Tweet thread, because he’s now set his profile to protected: only followers who are approved can view the feed. But I was able to find a Google cached version of the Twitter thread and take screenshots, which I provide below. My intention isn’t to “pile on” Kay (to borrow one of his phrases), but to call attention to what is a trend of which Kay is only one example. And he is, after all, a public figure, who makes his living running seminars and instructions for teachers and school administrators, helping them learn how to “destabilize” kids’ “homophobia and transphobia” along with their latent racism. He may regret his Tweets, but the Internet is a public forum, and misgivings should be thought of before clicking “send.”
I haven’t read Kay’s book. I’ve read some of his articles on his website—the title and spirit of the most recent of which, “Sometimes, you’ve just gotta step over them!” rings with a bit of an ominous note in light of Kay’s apparent views toward the rights of parents with respect to their kids’ education and moral formation. I have no issues with Kay’s worthy ambition to try to help solve the problems of racial division that exist in various ways in our country, even if I may disagree about the “discourse” of radicalism that he sometimes seems to engage in. In any case, his inclusion of “transphobia” and “homophobia” on the same level is a bridge too far.
As I mentioned above, Kay is not an outlier, but part of a trend. Many readers will recall, for example, a bit of a furor that erupted back at the beginning of the pandemic lockdown when a Harvard scholar named Elizabeth Bartholet openly warned of the risks of homeschooling. She called for a ban on homeschooling because of the innate dangers she sees in it, and lamented that more parents were taking it up owing to the coronavirus risks of gathering groups. Among the dangers Bartholet saw? Again, like Kay, the parents: “The issue is, do we think that parents should have 24/7, essentially authoritarian control over their children from ages zero to 18? I think that’s dangerous.” Children, she said, “should grow up exposed to community values, social values, democratic values, ideas about nondiscrimination and tolerance of other people’s viewpoints” [emphasis added].
Of course, notions of unjust discrimination and a degree of tolerance are hallmarks of Western society, but these have become code words that often mean the very opposite in practice when put into policy or adminstrative rules by Leftist ideologues. “Tolerance of other people’s viewpoints” becomes, in practice, intolerance of Christians’ and others’ views about sexual morality or, say, the notion that there are two sexes! “Ideas about nondiscrimination” become policies that punish and marginalize people of faith and those who hold traditional values unless they agree to check their beliefs at the door of their homes when entering into the public square. In other words, buried beneath Bartholet’s fair-seeming rhetoric is the foul notion that the State should be able to form children from an early age into the values that the elites deem appropriate, and parents should not be allowed to gainsay the process.
And if parents do sometimes get in the way or disrupt the goals of the bureaucrat running the schools and government child welfare agencies? Well, the answer from Kay and Bartholet seems to be unanimous, though expressed in varying degrees of explicitness: Sometimes, you’ve just gotta step over them!