“Debate over Political Influence in K–12 Classrooms: Crisis or Nonsense?”

Within the culture clashes of K–12, it’s evident that we often talk past each other. An unforgettable conversation I witnessed revolved around anti-CRT laws after a session at AEI’s K–12 Working Group, taking place on a D.C. sidewalk late at night.

The debate unfolded between a prominent education school professor and a leading parent activist. They were discussing incidents of teacher politicking, like those shared on Libs of TikTok, where teachers express strong views on historical figures or pledge of allegiance scenarios.

While acknowledging the problems with such instances, the academic argued that the laws aimed at addressing these issues were more concerning. As the night wrapped up, a question emerged that hadn’t been addressed earlier.

Photo of Rick Hess with text "Old School with Rick Hess"

“How common do you think these incidents actually are?” I inquired.

“They’re rare,” the education school professor stated. “Addressing them as they occur on a case-by-case basis is important, but these incidents are outliers and should not be blown out of proportion.”

The parent activist appeared disbelieving. “They’re not rare; they’re happening frequently,” she asserted.

The professor maintained a skeptical stance.

“We receive numerous complaints from parents,” she explained. “In most places, there is no effective channel for sharing these concerns. When there is a platform, the volume of such incidents is significant.”

The professor remained unimpressed. “While examples can be found by cherry-picking across the country, there are 100,000 public schools. Even if you find 50 instances, that’s less than one-tenth of 1 percent of all schools.”

“Considering that,” I probed, “What percentage of classrooms do you believe experience such incidents in a given year?”

“Across the country?” he questioned. “A minuscule fraction.”

“Are we talking about 1 percent of classrooms?” I wondered.

“Nowhere near that,” he responded. “It’s significantly below 1 percent.”

The parent activist then expressed her viewpoint.

“Over the course of a year? It has to be over half,” she insisted.

“In classrooms?” the professor asked incredulously.

“Absolutely,” she maintained.

Both were confident in their assessments, highlighting the core of the issue. While most individuals desire schools to promote tolerance and understanding without ideological influences, finding a balance poses challenges.

According to Pew Research, over 90% of Republicans and Democrats agree that students should learn about slavery in school. However, more than 85% feel classrooms should focus on education rather than political debates. EdChoice’s study reveals that 84% of parents oppose teachers sharing personal political views. This tension necessitates careful consideration and equilibrium.

Subscribe to Old School with Rick Hess

Get the latest from Rick, delivered straight to your inbox.



The prevalence of these contentious incidents remains uncertain. A survey among young adults aged 18 to 20 revealed that four out of five had encountered Critical Social Justice concepts in school, including beliefs like “America is systemically racist.” However, interpreting the extent of these teachings requires caution, raising concerns for parent activists beyond mere anecdotes or videos.

Both sides present evidence to support their arguments. If problematic occurrences are rare, anti-CRT laws may seem excessive to some, possibly perceived as attempts to stifle opposing ideas. Yet, if such behaviors are widespread, legislative intervention appears more justified.

This presents an opportunity for dedicated researchers to delve into the matter. Conducting comprehensive studies in schools will be challenging, but vital to clarifying the debate and shifting from entrenched perspectives.

Frederick Hess is an executive editor of Education Next and the author of the blog “Old School with Rick Hess.”

The post It’s a Crisis! It’s Nonsense! How Political Are K–12 Classrooms? appeared first on Education Next.

Other articles

Post Image
Parents Joining Their Kids on Stage at Graduation: Embracing the Spirit of Community

When Yanelit Madriz Zarate walked across the stage at a University of California …

Read More
Post Image
California University Leader Believes Year-Round Operations Will Boost Enrollment

EdSource’s journalism is always free for everyone — because we believe an inform …

Read More
Post Image
Maryland Superintendent Calls for Increased Efforts to Expand State’s Teacher Workforce

Maryland State Schools Superintendent Carey Wright emphasized on Tuesday the imp …

Read More