Schools should be a universal support system for youth | Livingston

Rancor is nothing new when it comes to schools and what is being taught.

The parents walked into the meeting two by two, silently praying for the strength to change the minds of leaders with decision-making powers. They are there because they do not believe our schools benefit from being secular in their duty to all, and want schools to adopt a more ecumenical flavor that represents a dogmatic point of view.

They wear T-shirts with slogans as public commentary with statements such as Moms for Liberty, Ban More Books, Free our Kids from Learning – DEI (Diversity, Equity, Inclusion), Don’t Tread on Parents’ Rights, Guns for Teachers, Local Control, Gay is not God’s Choice, No Left Turn, and so on. A person might believe that our school children are being held captive against their will.

You may choose to see the humor — or not — of how parents adhering to certain strict beliefs or politics are trying to shape the dialogue taking place in school districts across the country. I believe they have the right to champion their point of view. Those who champion fairness, fact-based learning, diversity, equity and inclusion need to be heard as well — otherwise, we will regress. Threading the needle and finding balance is a listening process, and public discourse is essential for finding pathways for compromise and understanding.

Current parental rancor is less about the general specifics of what is being taught, but a reaction against the fact that kids in today’s schools are learning about gender identity, being allowed to choose their pronouns, and older students may be openly gay. A few have asked educators questions about transgender identity resources. Other parents are more concerned with the fact that diversity, equity and inclusion are now part of the curriculum and it challenges their pre-ordained notion of privilege and hierarchy.

Schools are a place where kids come to grow, discover themselves, test where their personalities fit, and find support groups and activities that establish a positive self-image necessary for a life of learning and seeking opportunity. Schools are also places where those in power or seeking power work to craft a narrative supporting the direction of thought that will shape the values of our nation.

Rancor is nothing new when it comes to schools and what is being taught. Some parents trust the system, appreciate DEI, and want their children to be educated without the imposition of religion and racial division as an undercurrent. Others want only their narrow ideological values taught and are uninterested in having an egalitarian approach to education which might challenge their ideology and need for control.

On the Nov. 5 ballot is Initiative 2081, which grants parental rights to review education materials, receive notifications, and opt out of sexual health education. This initiative addresses the concerns expressed by a vocal minority of parents about what is being taught, how access to some materials is managed, and curriculum topics that do not comport with their world view. It helps parents who want to limit public school education’s potential influence on beliefs expressed at home.

If the initiative passes it will benefit parents with concerns about access, transparency, and the ability to opt out of some educational offerings. It reduces the limits of the perceived privacy wall within schools surrounding LGBTQ issues for children of parents who are not “out,” or choosing not to understand the personal identity struggles of their young adult.

The initiative improves parental access to school records and discussions students have with counselors may no longer have a sense of confidentiality. This may be good for parents who want to restrict what is taught and control guidance given to their children. Will it be good for students seeking help?

Parents are not schools and schools are not parents, but need each other’s support with open integrity. No matter what solutions this initiative provides, if it passes, there will still be conflict, and managing family or personal issues that students share with educators will continue to be a challenge for schools.

We have come a long way from being a nation of red-lined neighborhoods, segregated schools, and prayer to start the day. Schools sixty-plus years ago were the front lines of change, civil rights, adapting to an unsegregated diversity, and inclusion based on new civil rights legislation giving greater access to those who have been forced to live on society’s margins, and sixty-plus years ago LGBTQ issues were definitely in the margins, but were present in the lives of students navigating a more closeted society.

The anger that is ginned up in these so-called grassroots movements is rarely grassroots. These groups exist to support the anti-regulatory agendas of multiple billionaires. If we look closely we will see the tentacles of the Koch and DeVos families, and others as they work to weaponize issues such as LGBTQ and DEI. If it did not make them money or protect their interests by weakening the government and public education, they would not do it.

We need the debate, and we need to accept that core value issues will continue being debated. Tolerance, balance and navigating change in our multifaceted society is a forever challenge.

What is not acceptable is for school board members who may have disagreements to strike out verbally at parents, staff, and their peers or follow a fellow board member to their car after a meeting, which happened recently in Federal Way, and address their colleague with demeaning language and a bullying presence.

Nor is it acceptable for parents at meetings to allow feelings to be expressed threateningly to anyone present. Passion can make fools of all of us, and make us stray from being respectful regardless of the beliefs we have.

Our schools need to be temples of learning, void of toxic behaviors and politics that set the stage for undermining respect for educators and the value of what is being taught. Schools are our universal support system for guiding the minds of our youth to a better understanding of our complicated world, themselves, and becoming capable adults steeped in basic fundamental skills necessary to begin shouldering a personal path to success.

Keith Livingston is a retired municipal management professional, lifelong artist and Federal Way resident. He can be reached at