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Feb 8, 2023

"Surrounded by children, DeSantis signs the 'Parental Rights in Education' bill," ABC13 reports. "Biden partnered with organization which questioned parents' rights to be notified about their kids' transition" Fox News tells us. "Parental rights isn't a partisan issue. It's what's best for our children," an opinion column in The Washington Times warns. We've heard these cries for over a century from reactionary forces: we’re just a bunch of scrappy "parents" protecting our kids from sinister, secular forces of state control.

But what does "parents' rights" mean exactly? Which parents' rights are we talking about? Which "rights" are we centering, and who funds which parents to assert which set of rights that, we are told, are essential to these "parents"?

There is, of course, no essential "parents" cohort with a coherent ideology and view on education. But, as a term, it's a useful stalking horse for far right political projects targeting education, namely those opposing secularism, anti-racism, LGBTQ existence, labor, and teachers unions. A skeleton key for whatever reactionary cause doesn’t want to be presented as such. After all, who could oppose "parents' rights." Like the clever term "pro-life," the "parents' rights" label is similarly designed to put advocates of secularism and progress on the defensive, to erase parents who oppose a far-right agenda, and court sympathetic and whitewashing coverage from corporate media.

On this episode, we discuss the history of "parents' rights" as a popular right-wing slogan, from its uses in opposing child labor laws in the early 20th century to pushing religious indoctrination in public schools in the 1990s to today's attacks on trans people and teachers unions; how its evocation by the right––and acceptance by media outlets––obscures the darker motives and political forces at work; and why any media framing of what "parents" want or don't want is inherently mugging bullshit.

Our guest is Jennifer Berkshire.