Parents are “household tyrants,” and the Republican Party’s push for parents’ rights in education is part of its lurch toward far-right “authoritarianism,” according to a columnist in New York Magazine Wednesday.
The article, titled “Household Tyrants,” was written in the magazine’s Intelligencer website by senior writer Sarah Jones. In it, the author argues that Republicans are using education policy to impose a conservative agenda on children, through parents.
Jones begins by discussing the Florida legislature’s passage of a bill banning discussions of sex and gender topics in elementary schools, commonly called “don’t say gay” bills by left-wing critics, and a proposed amendment that would reportedly have required schools to inform parents within six weeks if a child disclosed their sexual orientation or gender identity. She also took issue with Missouri Senator Josh Hawley’s proposed federal “Parents’ Bill of Rights” and Texas Governor Greg Abbott’s proposed state-level bill, which aim to make parents the primary decision-makers in their children’s education.
“Parents don’t lack rights in the U.S. They already enjoy the wide freedom to educate their children as they wish, including at home or in private schools,” Jones argued. “Liberals are generally satisfied with this state of affairs. … Yet the right behaves as if parental rights were under sustained and serious attack, as if the parent has been dislodged from a high place.” She also claimed that Republicans’ position is inconsistent, since attempts to ban gender-affirming surgery or therapeutic treatments “theoretically infringes on the rights of the parent.” “[B]ut this hasn’t dissuaded the party from its attacks on trans rights,” said Jones.
“The right’s real ambition isn’t restoration, though, but expansion; they want to create new rights on top of the privileges parents already enjoy,” Jones continued. “In the party’s view, parental rights both supersede and exist in conflict with the rights of the child. The right insists that what’s good for parents is good for kids. The idea that children are already people, with thoughts and needs independent of their parents, never factors into the party’s position at all.”
Jones took issue next with the party’s push to ban Critical Race Theory, reopen schools, and unmask students. “Ever eager to privatize education, the GOP perceives an opportunity,” she wrote. “Public schools must conform to the party’s ideological strictures, or else: Parents can avail themselves of charter schools or use vouchers to attend private school or to homeschool.” But the GOP “has updated its playbook” from former days, Jones wrote, claiming that lawmakers have provoked “rage” over the inclusion of the left-wing “1619 Project” in curricula, and citing Florida Senator Rick Scott’s 11-point legislative plan for the party post-2022 midterms, which calls to shut down the U.S. Department of Education and introduce a school choice program, as an “extreme example” of Republicans’ rhetorical evolution.
Jones then laid out the crux of her argument. “As the conservative fringe gathers the party into itself, movements like parental rights move from obscurity into the mainstream. The GOP is turning to parental rights as it tilts headfirst to the far right,” she wrote. “The two trends are linked. As Republicans long for a strong figure in power, they imagine the same figure in every home. Subject of a household tyrant, the child has no freedom. They had little enough at all: Their right to an education, to independent thought and action, has historically been secondary to their parent’s preferences. The GOP, with the Christian right behind it, would restrict them further, even if it places them in danger of neglect or abuse.”
“To the GOP, the parent exists to enforce the party’s will, as though the parent is simply the local arm of a national entity,” Jones concluded. “The GOP is the party of parental rights because it is increasingly anti-democratic. It has become the party of ruthless, cynical power, and children aren’t exempt from its schemes. In fact, they’re key.”
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