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: Ahead of midterm elections, Republican and Democratic parents ‘deeply polarized’ over K-12 school subjects

Parents are divided over what their children are taught in the classroom.

Parents are “deeply polarized” along political lines over whether their children should learn whether about gender identity and the legacy of slavery in the United States, according to a report by the Pew Research Center, a Washington, D.C.-based think tank. Those divisions are sharply along political lines, showing how these issues matter to voters with children ahead of the midterm elections on Nov. 8.

As issues surrounding K-12 education gain more traction ahead of midterm elections, candidates on different sides of the political spectrum focus on different priorities. Conservative candidates often promote parents’ rights in the school curriculum, especially when it comes to issues such as race, gender, and slavery, whereas liberal candidates are more vocal about teacher pay increases and support for LGBTQ students. 

Some 31% of K-12 parents told Pew they’d prefer that their children learned in school that a child’s gender is determined by the sex they were assigned at birth, according to the report released Wednesday. The same percentage said they would rather their kids learn that gender can be different from the one assigned at birth. Some 37% say their child should not learn this at school.

“As issues surrounding K-12 education gain more traction ahead of midterm elections, candidates on different sides of the political spectrum focus on different priorities. ”

On the issue of the legacy of slavery in the U.S., less than half of parents of K-12 students (49%) said they would like their children to learn that the legacy of slavery still affects the position of Black people in American today, while 42% of K-12 parents said they would like their children to learn about slavery, but that it does not impact Black people in America in 2022.

Once again, opinion was divided along political lines. Only 24% of Republican and Republican-leaning K-12 parents believed their children should learn that the legacy of slavery still affects the position of Black people in America today versus 70% of Democratic parents, while 66% of Republicans and 23% of Democrats said their kids should lean that slavery is part of American history but does not affect Black people in the U.S.

Republican and Republican-leaning parents with children in K-12 schools are roughly twice as likely as Democratic and Democratic-leaning parents to say they don’t have enough influence over their children’s education (44% vs. 23%, respectively). Republicans are also more likely than Democrats to believe school boards have too much influence over their kids’ education (30% vs. 17%).

This Pew study is based on a survey of 3,251 U.S. parents with children in elementary, middle or high school, and was part of a larger survey of parents with children younger than 18 conducted between Sept. 20 to Oct. 2, 2022. A majority of the parents who took part are members of the Center’s American Trends Panel, an online survey panel.

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