Community Engagement and the Educational Culture Wars

Most mornings I tune into National Public Radio while having breakfast. Last week I heard this story and I’ve been thinking about it ever since.

The seven-minute NPR story is about the educational culture wars which are currently being waged in a number of states. In the past few weeks, the news has been filled with stories of states passing laws restricting, even outright banning, teaching on topics such as sexual identity, social emotional learning, the history of race in America, and certain books and textbooks.

The NPR story highlighted the findings of this Ipsos/NPR poll. I was reminded that in the educational culture war front, it is clearly a minority of parents and concerned community member – but a loud minority – that pushes local school administrators and boards to take action that is not actually supported by the majority of parents or community members:

“It’s definitely an incredibly small minority that’s being amplified with this large, well-funded infrastructure to appear larger and to appear to have more well-founded concerns than they do.”

Ralph Wilson, Co-Founder of the Corporate Genome Project

I’m not a stranger to educational culture wars. I was deeply involved in them through the 1990s and 2000s. In fact, my doctoral dissertation focused on the ongoing educational culture war over adolescent sexual health education in U.S. public schools. Did you know, in fact, that war has been ongoing continuously since 1913 and it started in Chicago Public Schools? (If you are interested in learning more and if you really want to subject yourself to reading a dissertation, let me know and I’ll oblige you.)

Listening to the NPR story I was reminded about the importance and power of the community’s voice…even when it is an exceedingly small part of the community and is not representative of the whole community. Amplifying the majority voice of the community for the greater good is one of the most important acts of civic engagement we can undertake.

Community engagement and mobilization of the community is one of those civic actions we take for granted. Often it is only when the smallest minority of voices is winning the day that we find ourselves scrambling to engage and mobilize others to stand up and push back for the sake of reason, science, and compassion. However, we should not wait so long. Community engagement and mobilization, built on the foundation of authentic relationships, needs to be an ongoing process. It is how we ensure the greater good for the whole, not just a select few.

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