I remember the time a teacher called me a “patriotic monkey.” In class. She was progressive, I’m conservative, and we were fighting over the Cold War. I was in ninth or 10th grade (it was early high school). This was the middle of the Reagan era, when tensions with the Soviet Union were at the breaking point.
She blurted out her insult in the middle of a heated discussion over the possibility of a Third World War. I wasn’t advocating for conflict with the Soviets, but I argued that we shouldn’t shy away from greater confrontation. I’ve remembered the moment all these years not because I was hurt but because it was funny—and because it demonstrated how emotions can get the best of us in an argument.
It didn't occur to me to complain to my parents. Nor did it cross my mind to complain to the principal. And I definitely did not even consider trying to get her fired. While she shouldn’t have insulted me, we should have grace—even as kids—and retain a larger view of other people’s lives and careers.
Moments like that happen in life, especially when people disagree, and a fundamental aspect of American education should be learning how to handle difficult conversations—even when they’re not conducted particularly well. In reality, moments like that sharpened me. They made me learn (I didn’t want to lose the fight!), and they prepared me for exactly the life I lead, a life immersed in the battle over ideas.
I bring up this story because of two vitally important reports—one in The Washington Post and the other by ProPublica—that illustrate what happens when parents take the opposite approach, when they reject disagreement, discourage free expression, and lead campaigns to fire dissenting teachers. The Post’s report begins like this:
A Florida teacher lost her job for hanging a Black Lives Matter flag over her classroom door and rewarding student activism. A Massachusetts teacher was fired for posting a video denouncing critical race theory. A teacher in Missouri got the ax for assigning a worksheet about privilege — and still another, in California, was fired for criticizing mask mandates on her Facebook page.
They were among more than 160 educators who were either fired or resigned their jobs in the past two academic years due to the culture wars that are roiling many of the nation’s schools, according to a Washington Post analysis of news reports. On average, slightly more than two teachers lost their jobs for every week that school remained in session.
The tally—based on combing through news reports and social-media feeds—is certainly an undercount. We can’t presume that every firing or resignation resulted in a public discussion prominent enough to catch the Post’s eye. It also demonstrates the extent to which cancel culture is a bipartisan problem. Of the 74 terminations the Post found, schools fired 31 teachers for upholding traditionally conservative beliefs and 31 for upholding traditionally liberal beliefs (12 were unknown).
The ProPublica report is a deep dive into a grassroots campaign against an educator named Cecilia Lewis, who was forced to quit her job before she could even start after a hysterical school-board meeting at the height of the anti-CRT panic, a meeting where a man stood and screamed at the school board, “We’re going to hunt you down.”
While I believe that parents should be deeply engaged in the education of their children—regardless of where they’re educated—punitive parental uprisings teach their children exactly the wrong lessons and corrupt a core purpose of American education.