During the last weeks of August, most of us are busy helping our kids prepare for the start of school. We run through local office supply and stores and spend hours rummaging through the bins of binders, lined paper (do we need college or narrow ruled?), and grab any remaining scissors and rulers. The most pressing questions usually include, what size note cards do we need and where are the protractors located anyway?
This year was different, though. Although many families have been struggling with questions and decisions around education for nearly two years now, some of us are only now coming to terms with just how overreaching the renewed health mandates and Progressive prescriptives actually are. Many of us feel forced into this confrontation. I do, too. Ultimately, though, I have decided to allow this new cultural climate to inspire me ever more fervently to consider a declaration attributed to Plato: “The two most important questions are, who will teach the children and what will they teach them?”
As August drew to a close, both the return to COVID recommendations and restrictions, as well as the reality of Progressive education inflamed the smoking fuse of academic wokeness. Many parents became increasingly frustrated and angered by strict mandates around masking children and vaccinations. Principals, teachers, heads of school, and our own Archdiocese, emailed us letters, enumerating CDC rules, all the while blithely cheering the “return to normal” and extolling the virtues of keeping all of us “safe.”
As a result, virtually at the eleventh hour, many of us seriously pondered how to respond. We found ourselves asking a question we up to now had thought unimaginable: “Where are our kids going to school?” Some of us had a couple of weeks to answer the question, others only a matter of days. We felt forced to re-examine our personal and family values and re-evaluate the very nature of our kids’ education. The return, if there was to be one, required further contemplation, conversation, and investigation.
Of course, the non-stop flow of inconsistent COVID information and mandates wasn’t the only crucible in which we found ourselves. Innumerable emails and letters went out to families all summer, extolling the virtues of new departments at our schools devoted to the woke trinity of diversity, equity, and inclusion. We were ecstatically introduced to Progressive academics who are spearheading this ugly revisionist history. As the arbiters of proper learning, these schools undoubtedly expected parents and students alike to unquestioningly accept this new shape of education and extol the high-mindedness and moral superiority of Progressive environments.
I was not surprised by this barrage of wokeness—these fickle rules and laws, which one by one further limit our freedoms and push their tattered remnants into an ever-shrinking corner of liberty. My friends weren’t shocked either. But we were sad. We were angry. We were frustrated. We were confronted with last-minute heavy-handed declarations from our schools and of course, Governor Wolf. We asked, “What are we going to do?” Those of us who loved our schools, were committed to our teachers, who volunteered and participated in every way we could, were now actually contemplating turning away from all we had known and all we had planned.
I have never felt such stress and worry around returning to school. Every fall brings with it some understandable nervousness and uncertainty, but I never thought I would be in a position at the last minute to ask these questions. I never considered that it would come to this—possibly removing my kids from their school. But then something started to emerge. Even in the midst of what seemed like chaos, I began to more completely integrate Plato’s statement about who is teaching our kids and what are we teaching them. As I breathed deeply and contemplated how to move through this, new ideas and a renewed sense of strength grew within me.
I was able to discern that the pressing on my chest was my intuition trying to be heard. I felt guilty and somewhat unsure about saying goodbye to the school we loved, but I also began to trust my instincts. It turns out my children were on board, too. Although a little nervous as well, they were embracing the idea of going to a new school, especially if it offered them more autonomy. I found myself not only becoming increasingly passionate about the freedom I wanted for my children and the liberty they wanted for themselves, but I also discovered greater compassion for the parents who just didn’t want to argue anymore. Perhaps some of them were still afraid of the virus, still believed the conflicting information from the government and CDC. Maybe some either didn’t fully understand the ramifications of woke education or actually applauded it. I ultimately decided that what others were doing was not my business. I chose every day to follow and trust my values, rather than do what was convenient, easy, and least disruptive.
Within days of being faced with what felt like enormous hurdles, I had gained clarity, focus, and direction, and so did my children. We worked it out together. We found a school that beautifully matched our desires, needs, and beliefs. I gathered the courage to disengage from our previous school and commit to a new path.
I share my experience here, not only to empathize with others who find themselves on a similar journey, but also to affirm how challenging and rewarding it can be. Even in the midst of my seeking, I knew there was something greater being asked of my children and me. Although facing friends, family, teachers, and contracts was often quite painful and difficult, I knew that we were being invited to expand in a new way. Because my senses and emotions were heightened and because I was committed to following our truth and values, I was able to see the opportunities that, but for the restrictions around COVID and woke standards, I wouldn’t have been able to discern, nor the courage to follow.
Parents and kids, wherever you find yourselves now as the school year begins, know this: who teaches us and what they are teaching us matter. We are in an unprecedented time when we must bravely question whether our educational environments resonate and are right for us. And if we find that they do not align with our values, we must also have the courage to ask ourselves if we are prepared to confront these truths and choose differently. This is your life, your formation, after all. It is essential you know where you stand.
There is a great freedom in discerning and affirming our deeply held values. No one can do this for us. We are called to pay attention, take a stand, aim high, and move forward with as much liberty and joy as possible.