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The nation’s high school principals say political conflicts have consumed schools.
It is not news that public schools in the United States are now conflict zones. Across the country, K-12 teachers, school administrators, and counselors have become targets of a right-wing crusade against Critical Race Theory, gender identity, and social-emotional learning. Books are being banned from libraries as conservative extremists have taken over school boards.
In a new report titled “Educating for a Diverse Democracy: The Chilling Role of Political Conflict in Blue, Purple, and Red Communities,” education professors with UCLA and UC Riverside tried to unpack the impact of “a virulent stream of hyper-partisan conflict” in high schools nationwide. They spoke with 682 high school principals across the country and explored how their schools attempted to prepare students to participate in a diverse democracy while teachers and school administrators were forced to manage protests from activist parents.
Researchers John Rogers from UCLA and UC Riverside’s Joseph Kahne found that educators are refraining from teaching topics that could be perceived as controversial and divisive. They also found that many considered quitting the profession altogether, and that about one-quarter of principals reported an increasing number of incidents of students verbally harassing LGBTQ classmates, a jump from the 15 percent reported in a similar survey from 2018.
Almost 70 percent of the principals interviewed said that political conflicts over hot-button issues impacted their schools during the 2021-2022 school year. Half of them reported attempts by parents or other community members to challenge or limit the teaching of race and racism, and almost half reported objections to policies related to LGBTQ student rights. Forty-five percent of those surveyed also said there was “more” or “much more” community-level conflict during that school year than before the pandemic. “This was not business as usual,” the report states.
“Prior to COVID, I could have a conversation with any of these people and it would be civil and in the end, we might agree to disagree,” a principal in Nebraska said. “Now it is a time where if they don’t get what they want, they want to shout louder and take the issue to someone higher up.”
In their analysis, the regions were divided politically: Purple communities were where between 45 and 54.9 percent of votes went to former President Donald Trump in the 2020 presidential election; in blue districts, Trump won less than 45 percent of the vote; and in red districts, Trump received more than 55 percent of the vote. The researchers concluded that these political conflicts are happening more often in what they categorized as “politically contested” purple communities. Outside groups, the report notes, “have specifically targeted these communities through a ‘conflict campaign‘ to gain partisan advantage.”
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