A teacher testified before the Arizona state Senate education committee earlier this month and claimed that she and her colleagues knew better than parents what books belonged on school library shelves. "I have a master's degree," she said. "What do the parents have?" In the video, now widely circulated on Twitter, she continued, "The purpose of public education is not to teach only what parents want [students] to be taught. It is to teach them what society needs them to be taught."
Parents were sidelined when, at the onset of the pandemic, they began raising concerns about the long-term impacts of school closures and mask mandates. After being branded as racist bigots for wanting schools to reopen—most infamously by the Chicago Teachers Union—we now know that half of American students are one grade level behind in at least one subject area because of school closures.
The silver lining of virtual learning was that it gave parents unprecedented access to their kids' classrooms. Parents began seeing just how far divisive race ideology had permeated, through "antiracist" math lessons, discussions on "whiteness" and race-based privilege and oppression, and history teachers telling students that America was founded on racism. Parents sounded the alarm bells, and they were again mocked for doing so. Such concepts, according to "the experts," are only taught in graduate school.
We know, to a much greater extent than in March 2020, that divisive ideas about race and gender are pervasive across our institutions—K-12 and higher education, medicine, the media. And in the face of endless pushback, three years later, moms and dads are still fighting because they know what's at stake: their children.
Karol Markowicz, a New York Post columnist, and Bethany Mandel, who writes a column for Fox News and edits children's books, rightly dedicate most of Stolen Youth to discussing how divisive race ideology—which they call "critical race theory" or "wokeism"—crept into public education and government responses to the coronavirus pandemic.
While parents were told to "listen to the science," racial justice protesters were applauded for gathering en masse because medical experts deemed that systemic racism posed a greater threat to public health than the coronavirus pandemic. Hypocritically, the authors note, the national focus on racial disparities completely excluded the challenges that students, including minority students, faced during pandemic lockdowns. Black and Hispanic students remained online for longer periods of time and sustained greater academic setbacks in math and reading early on in the pandemic. The push for "equity," even in schools, overlooked these students. Further, the "equitable" practices implemented in schools often hurt the very students they claimed to serve. Markowicz (who, in full disclosure, is a board member of my employer, Parents Defending Education) notes a case in Seattle Public Schools where a shift toward ethnic-studies-focused math education actually reduced performance rates for black students in the district. But those who wanted to reopen schools—and preserve quality education for all students—were the bad guys.
After witnessing what was happening in schools, parents and some reporters outside of the mainstream began uncovering divisive race and gender ideology in other institutions. The Disney corporation is a prime example. Last year, its executives admonished the passage of Florida's Parental Rights in Education bill, which banned classroom discussions about sexual orientation and "gender identity" in kindergarten through third grade. More disturbing was a subsequently released video in which a producer touted her "not-at-all-secret gay agenda," which included "adding queerness" in children's movies wherever she wanted, "and no one was trying to stop [her]."
Even worse, activists have embedded race and gender ideology into the field of medicine: Medical schools now require applicants to submit essays about their experiences with "implicit bias" or their dedication to social justice-focused political activities and "equitable patient care." America's future doctors are being selected because of their commitment to "equity," not for their academic abilities.
Throughout these chapters, Markowicz and Mandel draw numerous parallels between American leftists and the "thought police" under Hitler, Mao, and Stalin. But the shifts from divisive race ideology in schools to Hitler Youth, and from Scholastic's books to Mao's and Stalin's culture ministers, can be a bit abrupt. Noting relevant points in American history may have better served the reader than drawing broad parallels to history. Conservatives rightly hate when the left throws around terms like "Nazi" and "genocide." While this book doesn't go nearly as far, it's worth approaching historical comparisons with caution.
Rounding out Stolen Youth, Markowicz and Mandel lead the reader to the next frontier in the parental rights battle: transgender medicine. As recent revelations about the gender clinic at the St. Louis Children's Hospital indicate, the authors were right on target. Last month, Jamie Reed, a former staffer at the St. Louis gender clinic, blew the whistle on the untested and unsound treatments the transgender clinic provides for children—including puberty-blocking drugs and hormones. As Reed reported, and Markowicz echoes in the chapter, the experts entrusted to the care of children admit that, when it comes to pediatric transgender medicine, they "are building the plane while [they] are flying it." This is no way to treat children.
Markowicz and Mandel throughout the book provide concrete ways in which parents can protect their children, from "opting out" of certain lessons to requesting public records and finding alternative education options. While they're all excellent suggestions, even sending a simple letter to a child's school may seem daunting—readers may be left wanting more information on how to do so.
Stolen Youth aptly depicts where the parents' fight likely began for most readers, and where it is headed. Reading between the lines, that means that the fight is far from over. Through my time working in the education space, parents who've come to me and my colleagues for help ask for three things: someone with whom they can share their stories, advice on how to combat these issues, and the motivation to keep fighting. Markowicz and Mandel successfully provide all three in Stolen Youth, though I hope they're preparing for part two.
Stolen Youth: How Radicals Are Erasing Innocence and Indoctrinating a Generation
by Karol Markowicz and Bethany Mandel
DW Books, 304 pp., $28.99
Alex Nester, a former education reporter at the Washington Free Beacon, is political director of PDE Action and an investigative fellow at Parents Defending Education.