Book Write-Up: Child Abuse in the Classroom, by Phyllis Schlafly (ed.)

Phyllis Schlafly, ed. Child Abuse in the Classroom. Pere Marquette Press, 1984.

Alongside military preparedness and the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA), education was an important issue to conservative activist Phyllis Schlafly. Her Eagle Forum regularly published Education Reporter, and she herself home-schooled her children in the first grade. Her concern about the education of children overlapped with her other political stances, for she feared that public education was indoctrinating children in liberal political and social beliefs, which took time away from teaching the basics.

This book contains testimonies before official proceedings of the U.S. Department of Education in 1984. The testimonies are from parents, teachers, and academics from across the U.S. They concern an amendment proposed by Senator Orrin Hatch that prohibits schools from conducting psychological tests on children without the express permission of their parents. Those testifying are in favor of the Hatch Amendment.

What sorts of things in public schools do they oppose? Some examples:

—-Values clarification: assisting children in making moral decisions on the basis of their own value systems rather than the traditional or religious morality that they received from their parents;

—-Situational ethics that ask students to pick what they consider the lesser of two evils;

—-Having children talk in class about their discontent with their parents as well as sensitive subjects such as death and suicide;

—-Requiring children to pick who lives and who dies in fictional scenarios about a limited number of resources;

—-Grisly stories like “The Lottery,” in which a town stones a boy’s mother;

—-Drug education that encourages the responsible usage of drugs rather than “Just say no”;

—-Giving children activities in which they display knowledge of profane words;

—-Sex education that is overly graphic;

—-Having children identify something they dislike about a classmate as a class exercise;

—-Student journals that are more about creating psychological profiles of students rather than evaluating their spelling and grammar;

—-Classroom discussions that encourage a left-wing viewpoint on abortion, homosexuality, nuclear disarmament, and a one-world government;

—-Recommending Planned Parenthood to teens, without the knowledge of their parents;

—-Mastery learning, which requires students to master a subject completely before moving on to the next level, rather than treating learning as synthetic.

Part of these parents’ problem was due to the age of their children when they were receiving this instruction. As more than one parent, and even Senator Hatch and President Ronald Reagan, explained, third-graders lack the maturity and sophistication to make moral decisions on their own, for they are primarily trying to fit in with their peers and to please their teachers. Much of the material is also traumatic for children at such a tender age. Age is not the only factor in the parents’ opposition, for some of the parents oppose such instruction for any age. They either prefer that schools teach exclusively a pro-American, pro-Christian, pro-free enterprise position, or that, for older students, they at least present different perspectives rather than just a leftist one.

Other considerations: in many cases, the children do not want to be pressured to answer questions about their views on their parents or other personal matters. Often, because kids can be cruel, kids make fun of students who talk in class about, say, their parent’s suicide under pressure from the teacher or visiting counselor.

When parents expressed problems to school teachers and administrators about this, they received a variety of responses, largely negative. One response was denial that such curricula was being used, even though the parents knew from their children and other parents about the curricula. Another response was to allow the student to opt out of the exercises but to sit alone in the library or to write book report after book report. Another response was to recommend to the parents that they send their child to another school. Still another response was to retaliate against the parents by punishing their children.

Very occasionally in the book, we get a glimpse into the rationale behind such curricula, at least if we were to ask its creators what their precise aim was. Part of their goal is to encourage the children’s socialization within the school, their family, and society. Part of it is to foster critical thinking, decision-making, and problem-solving. Some of the testifiers quote humanists who see public schools as mission fields for humanism.

Other possible reasons for such curricula, based on my own reading, classes, and guesses:

—-Its designers sincerely believe that a left-wing society is beneficial to people and want to train children to live in such a society and to help create it. They may believe that the child is already indoctrinated by society, the family, and churches in harmful and oppressive ideologies, such as religion, selfish and exploitative capitalism, racism, and a warfare mentality. The public school is a place for the designers of the curriculum to get their message out.

—-They may feel that schools must provide a place for students to talk about difficult issues because the students are unable to do that at home. The parents may not discuss these issues or even might be absent due to work, or they might be judgmental towards their children if they make a poor decision.

—-According to Kolhberg, who is criticized in this book, it is maturer for people to act morally because they want to do so rather than in obedience to traditional authority.

—-Part of education is acknowledging the grim side of life and preparing people to cope with it.

—-Teaching children cuss words and acceptance of homosexuality helps them to understand and accept those around them, and, for the designers, that is good for society.

In terms of the rude responses by administrators, I can envision administrators advising parents to send their children to another school. If we are talking about a specific unit on, say, Values Clarification or sex education, then it would be easy for the teacher to excuse the student whose parents have objections. If liberalism pervades social studies, health, and literature classes, then that would be much more difficult, if not impossible.

More can be said, but I will stop here.

About jamesbradfordpate

My name is James Pate. This blog is about my journey. I read books. I watch movies and TV shows. I go to church. I try to find meaning. And, when I can’t do that, I just talk about stuff that I find interesting. I have degrees in fields of religious studies. I have an M.Phil. in the History of Biblical Interpretation from Hebrew Union College in Cincinnati, Ohio. I also have an M.A. in Hebrew Bible from Jewish Theological Seminary, an M.Div. from Harvard Divinity School, and a B.A. from DePauw University.
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