At a Virginia gubernatorial debate last month, Democratic candidate Terry McAuliffe said, “I don’t think parents should be telling schools what they should teach.” Everybody immediately agreed this was a “gaffe,” and Republican Glenn Youngkin seized on the line as the thematic centerpiece of his campaign, which is now premised on the notion that parents should be able to dictate public-school curriculum.
The polls seems to support Youngkin’s ploy. But just because people think the public should be making decisions about what gets taught in schools does not mean the public is right. And the best evidence for why Youngkin’s notion of how schools should work is utterly daft comes via … Glenn Youngkin.
Youngkin’s new ad features the heart-wrenching story of Laura Murphy, a mother who tried to shield her son from having to read Beloved, by Toni Morrison:
The ad does not identify the book, nor does it mention that Murphy is a Republican activist. But the story was covered by the media at the time, back in 2013. Murphy’s son told the Washington Post that the book, assigned for his Advanced Placement English course, “was disgusting and gross. It was hard for me to handle. I gave up on it.” He also complained that he suffered “night terrors” as a result of reading it. Murphy sought to have Beloved banned until “new policies are adopted for books assigned for class that might have objectionable material,” said the Post.
One irony here is that Republicans are rallying around a privileged snowflake who claims a book millions of children have read caused unbearable trauma. If their principle is that parents should be able to prevent schools from assigning texts that upset their kids, what are they going to say when progressives start demanding the school excise texts by Mark Twain, Richard Wright, and other authors who have run afoul of the left for depicting racist dialogue?
If you wanted to demonstrate the pitfalls of a parental school veto, you would probably use an example like Laura Murphy: If we give parents a veto over school material, some crazy right-winger might show up demanding a ban on Toni Morrison. But this is the case Youngkin has chosen to highlight.
A reporter asked Youngkin’s campaign this week if he would support banning Beloved, but did not get an answer. But if Youngkin believes this episode is the perfect demonstration of his principle of parental control, then why doesn’t he support the claim? Either Youngkin agrees that schools can ban Beloved, or else his own plan would lead to outcomes even Youngkin can’t support.