The Good News: Teachers Have Always Known What to Do about Culture War Topics

What is a teacher to do? How can she teach her class if parents are always suspicious of her motives? Someone out there in interweb-land has been searching for answers, so today we’ll share the good news about America’s educational culture wars.how to deal with fundamentalist parentsHere’s what we know: Someone has been stumbling across this blog lately searching for answers to the age-old school culture-war question: How can I deal with fundamentalist parents? I don’t know what this person is going through. I don’t know where they are or what they do for a living.

But if the question is about how public-school teachers should “deal with” parents who come from conservative evangelical backgrounds, let me share a little bit of my argument from my upcoming book about creationism.

Let me start with the least-obvious part: The thing Christian fundamentalists most fear about public education has NOT been evolution, or sex ed, or any of those things. After all, even the more-creationist-than-thou folks at Answers In Genesis advocate the teaching of evolution to kids. And plenty of conservative Christian groups have long actively promoted sex ed in public schools.

The big questions in school culture wars have not been WHAT should be taught, but HOW it should be taught and BY WHOM. Fundamentalist Christian parents–like (almost) all parents–want their children to learn how to thrive in the modern world. That means learning about sex and science. But from the fundamentalist perspective, too often sex and science are taught with a dangerous do-what-feels-good attitude. Fundamentalist parents want their kids to learn about sex, but not be encouraged to have premarital sex. They want their kids to learn about science, but not to be encouraged to ditch their religious ideas.

And that brings us to the good news: We can all agree on those things. Public schools shouldn’t be cramming religious ideas down students’ throats. Schools have an obligation to help students learn the best information out there about sex and science, but schools also have an obligation to leave students’ religious ideas to students.

So what should a teacher do about fundamentalist parents? What good teachers have always done: Begin by building trust. Build a positive relationship with students. Reach out to parents to let them see what you are doing.

gallup local schools

People LIKE the schools they know.

And here’s the better news: It works. Teachers and parents have been bridging the educational culture-war trenches for a long time now. How do we know? When Gallup asks parents what they think of their kids’ schools, parents usually give positive responses.

Why? Because teachers, parents, and students have been working together, building trust. Fundamentalist parents might be nervous about the kinds of sex ed they read about in newspapers. They might read about science teachers trying to cram atheism down their kids’ throats. But when they meet their kids’ teachers and principals, they like them. They trust them.

And that’s the place all of us should start. So how should teachers “deal with” fundamentalist Christian parents? Just like all parents: Get to know them. Tell them how much you love their kids and want the best for them. Share your lesson plans with them and listen to what they have to say.

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