News & Politics

Why Are Fairfax County Schools Encouraging the Disturbing Trend of Child Activism?

Environmental activist Greta Thunberg, of Sweden, addresses the Climate Action Summit in the United Nations General Assembly, at U.N. headquarters, Monday, Sept. 23, 2019. (AP Photo/Jason DeCrow)

As Climate Inc.’s wonder child Greta Thunberg dominates headlines, the school board in Fairfax County, Va., has decided to grant one day of absence from school to students who participate in political protests. Beginning January 27, students in seventh through twelfth grades will be permitted one excused absence each school year to engage in “civic engagement activities.” Parents may fear that schools are trying to turn students into liberal activists, but the true reason behind the new policy may be less nefarious and perhaps even more terrifying.

Students had already taken days off school to attend protests, but the policy had not been formalized, Fairfax County Public Schools Spokeswoman Lucy Caldwell told WTOP. “The school board felt that this was something that could be formalized and wanted to put into writing. There were many students who were engaged and have been engaged and it was decided that it was time to go ahead and put into place,” Caldwell said.

Liberal activist groups have long aimed to indoctrinate kids and weaponize them for far-left causes. Greta Thunberg’s success is at least partly attributable to her celebrity parents and to a climate-industrial complex that has a great deal to gain from her activism. The far-left Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) has issued grants to support school activism projects, including one denouncing a state flag as “violent” against Native Americans and another supporting the Green New Deal.

As National Review‘s Jim Geraghty pointed out, “Using teens and children as spokesmen for political causes turns them into a sword and shield; they can make wildly inaccurate comments and false accusations and avoid scrutiny, and any pushback against their statements is construed as ‘attacking a child.'” This rhetorical strategy makes children effective pawns in political battles and provides incentives for teachers to spin their classes in a partisan direction.

Yet the true tragedy in the new Fairfax Public Schools policy may have less to do with teachers indoctrinating students and weaponizing education. Many teachers may do this, but most would agree that it is wrong to skew education in the direction of activism.

As Geraghty pointed out, the Fairfax policy “represents a fundamental surrender on the part of educators.”

There was a time, not so long ago, that teachers and school administrators would feel comfortable telling political activists of any stripe: “we know you believe that your cause is important; that’s how we feel about educating children. If you want middle-schoolers and high-schoolers to attend your event, please schedule it for after school, on a weekend, or during one of the multiple ‘teacher workdays’ during the year when students are not attending school. We believe that during school hours, children and teens belong in the classroom. This is why we spend money and have staff enforcing truancy.” Fairfax County Public School administrators are now afraid to make that argument. If they do so, they will be denounced by the activist class as insufficiently “woke,” progressive, or aligned with the popular causes of the day. The administrators are afraid to be authority figures, making a decision based upon the best interests of the children in their school system.

A liberal teacher may skew education toward liberal views, and that would be a tragedy. It would arguably be worse if the teacher did not believe in education enough to say “no” to requests for activism. That would be a tragedy of a completely different sort.

As a new parent in the Washington, D.C. area, I am very concerned about the state of local schools. New fads like transgender identity, climate change activism, and opposition to gun rights are increasingly invading public schools and undermining the purpose of education — guiding children toward maturity and truth. School should not teach children to become activists, it should teach them to be citizens. Political movements should be regarded with skepticism, not blind loyalty.

I am increasingly convinced that public schools are not an option for my family, for conservative Christians, or for those who believe in traditional American values like limited government and adherence to the Constitution. Only when teachers believe in education more than activism can schools do what they are supposed to do.

Follow Tyler O’Neil, the author of this article, on Twitter at @Tyler2ONeil.