March 27, 2023 | Reading Time: 4 minutes
House GOP passes bill giving some parents authority to beat down other parents’ kids
Some parents of some kids have rights. Kids, however, don’t.
The House Republicans passed a bill Friday requiring that school boards give parents greater oversight of their kids’ education.
According to Roll Call, the measure would “affirm a parent’s right to address the local school board and would require education officials to provide parents with lists of books and other curriculum materials, online budgetary information and alerts about incidents of violence at their child’s school. Schools also would have to notify parents if their child uses a different name or pronoun at school.”
The bill is dead. The Senate, controlled by the Democrats, won’t take it up. That doesn’t matter to the House Republicans. They’ve been working hard makebelieving into being a malformed but oh-so bona fide boogeyman – critical race theory, wokeness, groomers, it has so many names! Some kind of Big Bad Baddie is out there and it’s gonna get your kids! So they had to show something for all that effort.
The point, of course, is not protecting children. House Speaker Kevin McCarthy did not name the legislation “the Children’s Bill of Rights Act.” He named it the “Parents’ Bill of Rights Act,” and its purpose is giving some parents the authority to beat down other parents’ kids if they happen to identify as not-heteronormal. If your child is trans, please understand, this bill gives some parents a hammer. Your kid is the nail.
That House Republicans gave some parents the ability to harangue, harass and otherwise create toxic environments for other parents’ kids tells us, for one thing, that their concern for the welfare of children is bunk, and for another, that kids as a class of society are an outgroup similar to others. Some parents of some kids have rights.
Children, however, don’t.
The rights of children – the right to grow, develop and change – is conspicuous for its absence in the debate over anti-trans laws, book bans and other oppressive forms of government control in states like Florida. If the rights of children were recognized, it might be clear that banning books on certain topics is an infringement of those rights.
But our society doesn’t recognize children as deserving rights that are independent of their parents’. That’s the crux of the problem at the heart of the trans debate, not whether trans kids exist or not. (They exist.) If we saw them as deserving rights, no matter who they are or how they identify themselves, we’d see anti-trans laws, and the material consequences of them, for what they are, which is ordinary prejudice.
Our society commonly invokes the name of children, but rarely puts them at the center of politics, because children are, practically and morally, a marginal group without rights and privileges whose needs are subordinate to another group’s needs, which is their parents’.
When structured according to the competing needs of ingroups and outgroups, American society tends historically to exhibit a familiar pattern. Whenever the ingroup feels like the needs of the outgroup pose some kind of threat, the ingroup reserves the right to smear the outgroup – to encourage and express grotesque opinions about it so that the ingroup’s needs seem right and reasonable by comparison.
That’s what’s happening to trans kids. That’s what’s happening in public schools across the southeast. Trans children are turned into Grendels. Trans children’s parents are turned into Grendel’s mothers.
Members of the outgroup are makebelieved into monsters so vile that they threaten the existence of the ingroup. Anything, therefore, is justified, even government policies that would, under different circumstances, be transparently vile, like “protecting” children from “illicit ideas” by banning books and censoring classroom teachers.
No American would approve of such things in a place like North Korea. We’d accuse its dictatorship of mind control. But because the smear job is so invisible, and because it’s so successful on account of being so invisible, outlawing whole topics of study seems rational.
The smear job would not be so invisible, or so successful, however, if it were not for the widespread and unconscious acceptance of the belief that children are less like human beings and more like property – that children don’t have agency but must be “protected” on the basis that their “owners” have rights and privileges that must be protected.
Make no mistake. “Protected” has a precise meaning here. It doesn’t mean protecting all children. (We knew that.) It means protecting the ingroup’s children against the outgroup’s children (and the parents of trans kids). That’s where the House Republicans’ bill comes in. It gives ingroup parents the authority to beat down on the outgroup’s children. It gives legal cover for doing what they’re already doing.
Members of the ingroup are afraid that the outgroup’s children (trans kids) are going to influence their children. They are afraid their children will see their peers daring to exercise the freedom to be who they are not only from their parents but with the support of their parents, something members of the ingroup would never do. Why?
Such freedom for the ingroup’s children really would threaten the ingroup’s very existence. An ingroup that cannot reproduce itself in the form of a new generation is an ingroup heading for extinction.
None of this is apparent as long as we see children as a group that’s subordinate to another group. If we saw children as political agents – as deserving of rights, privileges and immunities – it would be clear (or clearer) that the current anti-trans crusade is more of the same kind of social stigma that has enfeebled our society since the beginning.
John Stoehr is the editor of the Editorial Board. He writes the daily edition. Find him @johnastoehr.