Parents in Wisconsin have a constitutional right to make decisions about their children’s education – like whether to send their kids to public or private school as well as many other examples protected under statute and case laws. However, Assembly Bill 510, also known as the “parental bill of rights,” has nothing to do with these protected parental rights.

This bill – and similar legislation across the country – are the products of a coordinated, nationwide effort by a small percentage of parents, who have the backing of big-money interest groups, to censor classroom discussion of race, gender, sexuality, and other material that challenges the status quo and acknowledges the lived experiences of minority communities.

Combining different policies that censor information, these bills violate the rights of youth and other parents in the community. Over the past 150 years, the idea that parents don’t have rights has been invoked in disputes related to homeschooling, sex education, book bannings, accurate teachings of American history, and even the teaching of foreign languages in schools.

In the mid-20th century, as several civil rights movements were reaching a critical mass, parents and groups opposing these fights worked to censor books that threatened the status quo in libraries and schools. The United Daughters of the Confederacy, a Southern-based organization of mothers who worked to ban books in Southern schools that accurately depict the shameful history of the Confederacy, Antebellum South and slavery, orchestrated one of the most successful book-banning campaigns in US history. A major aspect of their effort was arguing that parents should have absolute control over the information that their children consume. This same argument is still used to ban teaching on evolution, Black and Brown history, American war crimes, queerness, and anything else that calls into question the exclusionary social hierarchies of today.

The fear driving the classroom censorship movement is this: If youth are exposed to age-appropriate stories of LGBTQIA+ identities, racial injustice, and other ideas that challenge the popular narrative of American history, then they may start forming opinions that diverge from those of the adults in their lives. 

This is why AB 510/SB 489 and other similar bills around the country attempt to police classroom discussion of race, gender, and sexuality. If youth aren’t exposed to discussion of different ideas in school, they have nothing to challenge the ideas taught at home. If we censor or chill these conversations, we are limiting our educational system's ability to create well-informed citizens in our democracy.

The First Amendment protects the right to share ideas, including the right of listeners to receive information and knowledge. Using the law to prevent talk about race and gender is anathema to free speech.

When you censor the stories of marginalized communities, you reinforce their exclusion from society and culture. Trans people, gay people, and Black and Brown people are parents, too, and they want their children to learn about the history and experiences of their communities. Many parents want their children to have access to books and materials that give a complete and diverse account of thoughts and ideas.

The biggest irony of censorship under the guise of parental rights is that it inevitably infringes on the rights of many parents to appeal to the wishes of the few. Polls by the American Library Association, Book Riot, and Fox News all show that over 70% of American parents oppose banning books.

Education is an institution that allows youth to develop into individual adults with informed decisions and values. It is good for our democracy and culture if the next generation is challenged to think for themselves as protected by their right to learn. With enough open, accurate discussions in the classroom, we can live in a more equitable world.