More and more parents across the country – many of them in surprisingly progressive enclaves like the suburbs of Washington, DC -- are pushing back against what they consider radical curriculum in their children’s schools. Much of the focus has been on critical race theory (CRT) and its“powerfully pessimistic sense of ‘the permanence of racism’.”
But for Alleigh Marré and the parent-ledFree to Learn Coalition, the issue is much larger than just divisive ideologies and partisan politics.
It's about educational excellence.
“If you look at where the United States is in the world right now as far as our ranking [academically], we come in about 22 [or] 23,” says Marré, an expert in strategic and crisis communications but also a young mother herself. “We’re behind China, Russia, Canada…on reading, math, and science.”
So, she reasons, even if parents are “not fired up” about the activist curriculum seemingly blanketing education, made more transparent by the pandemic, they can’t help but notice a drop in performance in American schools, often exhibited through their own kids specifically.
Marré says the amount of money some schools have spent on implementing controversial curriculum (and it is stunning – some consulting firms charge as much as$41,200 for “sharpening your equity lens”), coupled with the drop in academic performance of American children, has opened the eyes of parents across the nation and all demographic divides.
“You have to question where the priorities are,” she says.
To help parents navigate their concerns and educate them on the organization, Free to Learn has created an ad campaign that targets various areas where the battle to prioritize learning over ideology has already been churning.
“Our children deserve better,” the ads implore.
In a statement released in conjunction with the campaign, Marré acknowledges the silver lining of the pandemic in helping inform parents what was happening with their children’s education.
“After a year of virtual learning and having a front-row seat in the classroom, parents are waking up to the increasingly political climate in their children’s schools,” the statement read. “Free to Learn Coalition will provide a platform and tailored resources to those ready to take on political activism by school boards and administrators.”
It’s the last part that Marré says is vitally important.
“I don’t have to tell you…about the doxing and the professional repercussions that some parents have faced when they’ve spoken up about this,” she says. “So what we do is help provide a platform and a microphone to those voices, the voices of the parents, while also protecting them and their careers.”
This is where Marré’s year spent working in crisis communications in government and the private sector comes in handy.
But she seems genuinely driven by something besides the professional thrill. Sure, she can rattle off data points like a pro – 82 percent of parents do not want politics in the classroom; 71 percent prefer to focus on core subjects rather than ideology, a majority of those are self-described liberals – but she’s most eloquent when talking about amplifying the voices of parents worried about their kids and wondering where to turn.
And when she’s explaining that concern crosses all the lines that otherwise divide.
“Anyone who’s trying to dismiss this as a “Republican” issue… is really missing out on the fact that this is a nonpartisan, bipartisan issue touching every parent in the country,” Marré says. “And I think we have a lot more to do. I don’t think we ‘win’ until the focus is back in the right place and we start to see our children doing better in schools.”