Like oil and water


In upstate New York, Council Rock Primary School Principal Matt Tappon declared that his students wouldn’t be singing “Jingle Bells” this past Christmas because it is potentially “controversial” and “offensive.”

Unfortunately, many school officials around the country have made silly decisions. But in their defense, they face so much scrutiny from political activists, social justice warriors and misguided do-gooders that it’s easy to understand why they are afraid of offending anyone.

The problem, of course, is that it’s impossible to please everyone. And the folks in charge of schools have a lot of people to please.

When I graduated from Dunn High School sometime in the last century, we had a wonderful principal many of you remember: Whit Bradham, the late patriarch of a great family of educators. He seemed to always make the right decisions. And even if someone disagreed with him, his calming presence always made the school peaceful.

In today’s polarized world, we need principals like Whit Bradham more than ever. I suspect Harnett has its share.

Still, we need to realize what a hard job they have. And when it comes to pleasing parents with polar-opposite world views, the job may become impossible, like mixing oil and water.

For example, there are those who believe in biblical sexual morality and those who reject traditional biblical teaching.

Yes, this is a hot-button issue; the hottest. A wedge issue. But schools are increasingly dealing with such issues. And when they do, neutrality is elusive.

Around the country, there are teachers who display rainbow flags in their classrooms and teach their students that men can become women and women can become men.

When these issues become part of the instruction — even if they aren’t in the curricula — all parents want their families’ world views to be taught. And that simply can’t happen.

Some parents will find that teachers are undermining their families’ values. Other parents will be glad to know that their families’ values are being reinforced.

Some will lose, some will win. Oil and water.

Another big issue is the proper scope of government in our economy. Is free-market capitalism good? Is collectivism — or socialism — good?

On this issue, there are shades of gray. Still, if parents pay attention, some will not be pleased with what their children are being taught.

In some school districts, parents are complaining about the teaching of Critical Race Theory.

They say schools are going beyond the necessary instruction about our nation’s historic racial injustices and are now dividing students into groups. All whites are oppressors. Redemption is not an option.

I hope that’s an exaggeration, or at least an oversimplification.

And on the other side of that issue, parents against the teaching of Critical Race Theory are falsely accused of wanting to shield their children from learning about slavery and Jim Crow.

The point is that American classrooms are becoming ideological battlegrounds. Our schools don’t just teach reading, writing and arithmetic. They teach values.

And there are those who want to keep parents out of the process. Just this past September, former Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe said, “I don’t think parents should be telling schools what they should teach.” (His electoral defeat in November was credited in part to that statement.)

Of course, parents should have influence over what kids are taught. But in McAuliffe’s defense, can a teacher take marching orders from a couple dozen parents who don’t even agree among themselves?

Fundamentally, it is parents who are responsible for instilling values in their children. But they delegate some of that responsibility when they enroll their children in public schools (or private schools, for that matter). Seven hours a day is a lot of time to shape a young mind.

Public education is hard enough when the country is relatively united around shared values. But as we become more polarized, it could become impossible to simultaneously serve families with opposing world views.

Like mixing oil and water.

Contact Bart Adams at


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