Op-ed: The Culture War and the Classroom

Photo by Laura Rivera on Unsplash

By Guest Author

September 29, 2023

By Devlyn D’Alfonzo

Conservatives are waging a war on diversity, equity, and basic human rights, and their most insidious battleground is one of the easiest to access: The local school board. School boards across the country —including my home county of Madison, Virginia—have become political battlegrounds, with our kids and their teachers caught in the middle. Conservatives were elected to these boards riding a wave of discontent over masking and “parental choice.” They have continued to use this battle cry to force conservative ideology into schools, and it has become clear that only certain parents’ rights matter. They ignore those who oppose them, choosing only to listen to voices that agree with their agenda. 

Recently, Madison County made national news when multiple books were banned, ignoring the voices of parents and students who spoke against removing them. The removed books happen to all deal with issues of race, women’s rights, and immigrant voices, among other conservative calls to arms.

It seems that we are poised to repeat this pattern with the introduction of Gov. [Glenn] Youngkin’s new model policy regarding the treatment of transgender youth and their right to privacy. Despite over 70,000 public comments in 30 days, many of which strongly opposed this dangerous policy, it was later introduced virtually unchanged. 

Youngkin’s policy asserts that students do not have a right to privacy or confidentiality when it comes to their gender identity and instructs schools to report any gender questioning and name or pronoun requests to parents. This lack of privacy includes information a student shares in confidence with a school counselor. The policy asserts that parents have the right to know how their child feels about their gender, no matter what. I contend that if all parents were safe enough to be trusted with this information about their child, they would already have it. Only 27% of transgender youths report living in a supportive home. Parents have the right to be involved only if they are responsible and loving enough to accept their child. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, 73% of transgender youth report psychological abuse, while 39% report physical abuse. Parents do not have the right to demand schools subject transgender students to potential abuse and homelessness.

Gov. Youngkin previously introduced a poorly planned US history curriculum that minimized the evils of slavery and described indigenous people as “America’s first immigrants.” Thankfully this draft was rejected, and a compromise curriculum instituted instead. 

Nonetheless, the conservative battle plan remains clear: First, prevent students from learning about or expressing ideas that disagree with conservative ideals. Then, label teachers and administrators as groomers to hide their fear of those who defend students’ rights to privacy and comprehensive learning.

Conservative school board members consistently throw the word “indoctrination” around, as if teachers are engaged in a nefarious plot to indoctrinate our children into liberal ideals. The Oxford dictionary defines indoctrination as “to teach a person or group to accept a set of beliefs uncritically.” Suppressing someone’s identity because it is frightening to some, suppressing history because it is upsetting to some, and suppressing literature because it challenges beliefs sure sounds like indoctrination to me. I sincerely hope that individual school districts decide to reject this dangerous new model policy and continue to fight against the suppression of people and ideas. I also hope that thinking citizens begin to realize that the battleground of the culture war is much closer to home and join the front lines by speaking up and voting.




Author bio: Devlyn D’Alfonzo is a mother of two students enrolled in Madison County Schools. She is a frequent attender of school board meetings. D’Alfonzo is a veterinarian by trade, and she runs a safe space group locally called MADSafe.


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