The Briefing, Albert Mohler

Tuesday, August 30, 2022

It’s Tuesday, August 30, 2022.

I’m Albert Mohler, and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.

Part I

Ground Zero for the Battle over Education in Public Schools: Florida and Public School Libraries — And There We Watch the Shaping of the Future of Education in the U.S.

We are watching some very interesting developments taking place and the opening of the school year is the occasion for some of the most interesting, and in many ways important controversies of our day. Much of it comes down to what children will be taught in the schools and what will also be in the school libraries? What kind of books will be on the bookshelves? In the classrooms? What kind of material? What kind of curricula will be presented to children?

Perhaps the most interesting aspect of this for us to watch, is the fact that the polarization in American society, inevitably turns to the huge question, the unavoidable question of what children will be taught. Eventually the curriculum, the subject matter, the policies of the public schools become a central issue in understanding the future of the culture, and that’s contested terrain.

And so what we are seeing, is that even as the public schools emerged largely with a massive cultural consensus behind community control of the schools, the fact is that we are living now in a very different world. We’re living in a world of absolute political, moral, cultural worldview polarization.

And what we have to acknowledge is that right now, there will be people, very upset about the public schools from either the left or the right, or both at any given time. But what we also have to note is that we are looking at a strategic period in the history of public schools in the United States, in which almost beyond question, we’re going to end up with one or the other picture of the future of public education in America.

We might also end up with a map of the United States, somewhat like what we have right now on the abortion question. You have a state like Mississippi, that has very conservative pro-life laws on abortion now, and you have a state like Massachusetts, which really represents almost the other extreme.

You look at the difference between the laws of Alabama and the laws of New York, and it’s not just a Southern-Northern issue. As you’re looking across the map of the United States, it’s a red blue issue, it’s a liberal-conservative issue, it’s a pro-life versus pro-abortion issue and yes, it is an issue over the disputed question about the future of the public schools. What shall our children be taught?

Now, interestingly, right now, there are a couple of locations where this question is particularly hot. And the first of those places is the State of Florida. The second of those places is a public school library, found just about anywhere a public school might be located.

First of all, the State of Florida. Over the weekend, The New York Times ran a headline story. Here’s the headline, “In Florida, Cautiously Navigating How to Teach.” The subhead, “New laws complicate what is acceptable.” Sarah Mervosh is the reporter here. It’s an interesting report, in which she really gives us some fascinating details about what is happening as the public school year begins in the State of Florida with a brand new law, very much on the books.

One of the most important of the new laws concerning the schools there in Florida, was passed with support from the legislature and leadership from Florida’s governor, Ron DeSantis. It is known as the Parental Rights in Education Act. You’ll recall that the liberal opponents to the bill called it the “Don’t Say Gay” bill. Now, that’s not an accurate representation of the bill but the issues of human sexuality and gender, sexual activity and behavior, sexual identity politics, all of that actually is addressed in this legislation known as the Parental Rights in Education Act.

Sarah Mervosh, the reporter in this case for The New York Times is telling us, that changes are going to be made because of this law. It’s a really interesting beginning to her article. I think, Christians would be very interested in how the story begins by citing a teacher in St. John’s County, Florida, who “typically keeps a gay pride flag hanging up in her classroom.” We’re told that she is the faculty sponsor of a Gay-Straight Alliance club at her high school, and she wants her students to know they are safe with her.

But we are told that this year as the school year opened, this teacher “found herself quietly repurposing the flag.” The New York Times tells this, “No longer on full display, it now hangs as a rainbow background, partially obscured among posters, photos, a calendar, and other trinkets on her class bulletin board.”

Here’s the explanation by The New York Times, “The change is emblematic of the fear, uncertainty and confusion many educators in Florida say they are feeling this school year, as new laws take effect restricting teaching on gender identity, sexual orientation, and race and expanding the oversight of books.”

Now, as I began, I said, the two most interesting places to watch right now might be the public schools in Florida and public school libraries. But as this article says, maybe the most interesting place of all is a public library in a public school, in the State of Florida.

To be sure The New York Times is quite alarmed about this. The report tells us, “Nationwide this year, state lawmakers have introduced at least 137 bills seeking to restrict teaching on topics such as race, gender, LGBTQ issues, and American history up from 54 last year.”

Now, it’s very important to recognize the source of those statistics. It is PEN America, that’s P-E-N America, a free speech group indeed, it’s an activist group. Jeremy C. Young identified as a lead author on that report said, quote, “It’s opening a second front on public education.” He then went on to say, here’s what he meant, “Accusing public education of indoctrinating students on the basis of race, and then making the same accusation that they’re indoctrinating them with LGBTQ propaganda.”

Now, I just want to state for the record. It is demonstrable, that in school system, after school system, perhaps not to the same degree in your local school system, but maybe you better check it out. The reality is that what is happening is well and accurately described as indoctrination with LGBTQ propaganda.

I have had so many parents, virtually from coast to coast, send me materials that have been presented to their children. Sometimes high school students, sometimes middle school students, but indeed even sometimes elementary school students. And even though the word propaganda is a very strong word, I just have to tell you that is exactly what much of this material actually represented.

We have seen, a smuggling into public school curriculum, of materials that clearly seek to legitimize and to make for that matter, rather attractive the entire spectrum of behaviors and lifestyles and designations that go under the letters LGBTQ. And again, you’ll notice the clash here between two different visions of reality.

This story begins with that public school teacher in Florida, who until this law was passed, and previous to the opening of this academic year had been flying a gay pride flag in her classroom. Now, just remember what that means. You’re talking about a flag, that’s sending a message and the message the flag is sending, is the approval of LGBTQ relationships, the entire movement.

Now, to be sure here’s a teacher who was also identified as the faculty sponsor for a Gay-Straight Alliance. Again, we’re not talking about neutrality here, but we also have to remember, and this is in many ways the key issue of our moment right now, there will be families in at least many, if not most, if not virtually all public school systems who will say, “Hey, I want the gay pride flag up.”

There are others saying, “I don’t want to send my children K through 12, any point in between to a school where they’re going to go in the classroom and be presented with that kind of indoctrination into a sexual revolution.” Both sides actually know what the flag means, that’s not the contested issue. The issue is, should the flag fly in the classroom? And in this case, the flag is just a signal.

The argument that Governor DeSantis and other political leaders there in Florida used, in order to advocate for the new laws, the Parental Rights in Education Act is just one of them, is that parents have the right to have certain expectations about what will and will not be taught to their children. And restrictions were put on what public school teachers are to be able within public school systems in Florida to teach the children.

And on LGBTQ issues, it’s very interesting, some of the teachers are saying, “Look, I’m not bringing up these issues, the students themselves are bringing up these issues.” And furthermore in this article, you have teachers saying, “Listen, some of these students come out of the closet.” So to speak, indeed, that’s the very language they use. They come out to a public school teacher, thus, they start the conversation. It’s not the teacher starting the conversation.

Now, I simply want to back up and say, this is pretty much where we are right now. And by the way, at least in some of the facts, both sides are speaking accurately about the facts. The facts are, that there’s a great deal of indoctrination and ideological propaganda being pushed in the public schools, not only in Florida, but elsewhere, at least until the passage of this law, having to do with advocacy for positions that many parents would find absolutely unacceptable if not abhorrent.

It is also true that the public schools include at least some, if not a significant number of students coming from a significant number of families, who really do see the public schools as engines of moral and ideological progressivism, and that’s pretty much the way they want it.

And so we are looking at a deep, deep division in our culture. And then that culture is clear in election time, you know that. It’s clear in a political map of the United States. You see that, it is clear as you look at the 50 states on the question of abortion, that’s extremely evident, but it’s also true in the public schools.

But the difference is this, in an election, you’re talking about votes being counted within a jurisdiction. When you’re talking about the schools, the public schools, you’re talking about very real children and teenagers in very real classrooms and someone is going to make the very real decisions of what is taught and what is not taught, what is acceptable and what is not acceptable. And we have now reached the point as a country where that is some of the most essentially contested terrain in our entire cultural experience.

Part II

From Early American Classrooms to the Common School to Massive Public School Systems: Big Questions Now Loom

Now, in order to help put this in context, let me just remind you that the idea of the public schools is not a new idea, but we are living in an entirely new age. So if you were to go back to colonial America, and if you were to go back to the period of the American settlement, as people came from Great Britain and other European nations, they often settled in villages or towns, or even eventually the emerging cities where you had communities put together schools.

Now, these schools were in some sense, a public school, many of them, because they were organized by the public and they were under public control, but it was local control. There was not a system of public schools. There wasn’t a system of public schools at that point in a state, or even in a territory, there were simply communities that established schools, but at the same time, there were not only these public schools or town or village schools being established, there were religious schools being established, and that was true across many in various religious lines.

And of course there was a great deal of what we would now call homeschooling in one sense, that was the default until the organization of some kind of public school or common school, but the use of that language points to something else. By the time you reach the middle of the 19th century and then move on towards the 20th century, you have the emergence of something other than just locally organized schools, at least in the more populated states.

You had the development of something like an understanding of a system of schools, but the big issue here is still local control, nearly absolute local control. But over time, a cultural consensus developed, that communities should start these schools and that they should serve the common good and in a period of developing American national identity.

And you might say, you look at the last quarter of the 19th century in the first quarter of the 20th century, for examples, there emerged a consensus that there was a role for the public to educate the children of the populace. And even though parents might have the right to choose an alternative educational context or school for their children, there was a government or a community obligation to establish these schools.

They often became known as the common schools. I used that term before. That meant, that they belonged commonly to the families and to the citizens of a community. There were under common community control, but there was more to it than that.

During this period of an emerging national identity of America, particularly in that period, say 1875 to 1925, America was finding a new role in the world and waves of immigration coming into the United States over time, eventually led to the fact that there were people saying, “Look, we really need to have the children of this nation.”

Beginning with the children of this community, educated in a common school where they will have common teachers and they will undergo common experiences, where they can learn what it means to be an American, and they will learn everything eventually from something like the pledge of allegiance and the national anthem.

They will learn certain rights and rituals and habits of democratic citizenry. They will learn together, and that will help to erase conflict between say Protestant and Catholic, or you might say those coming from Germany and immigrants coming from Ireland, or you could just look at the way the public schools we’re seen as an answer to a problem. How do we help to create healthy patriotic American citizens at the time, America is coming unto its own on the world scene?

But even towards the end of that period, there was something a bit more sinister coming into play. The most influential figure in the common school movement at that time, was John Dewey. Now he was a pragmatic philosopher and he’s well known within the field of philosophy, but he was also the primary mover, the primary thinker behind new directions in public education in the United States. And John Dewey was a secular humanist, and that’s a designation he actually owned for himself.

He was an unbeliever and he wanted America to have a secular future with something like a secular faith. And he wanted to separate children from the religious beliefs of their parents. And John Dewey who formed an entire generation, a public school leaders and theorists in the United States, he was very influential at Teachers College at Columbia University and elsewhere.

It was John Dewey who said, “In order to have a unified nation, we need to free liberate children from the oppressive religious doctrines of their parents, because those doctrines, especially when they come in with immigrants and they do not fit within the mainstream of American culture, they threaten a unitary and unified culture in the United States.” And so we just need to see, there were theorists of the public schools with extreme influence indeed, dominant influence in many ways in the early 20th century who actually wanted to secularize the public schools, and as we look back, they were stunningly successful.

Then of course, we had a series of court decisions against such things, as prayer in schools and you also had the left in the United States wanting to bring an end to the idea of the common schools as having a responsibility to create patriotic American citizens, rather a far more suspicious view of the United States, and of Western civilization came into view with many who were not only teaching, but perhaps more importantly, teaching the teachers and teaching those who would teach the teachers.

If you start out at that level, you can transform the public schools. Then you had, of course, the rise of massive public school bureaucracies and you also had the fact that increasingly policy, curriculum, textbook decisions, all of these things were not so much made by people in the local community at all. And in some cases, really not even by the state systems at the state level, but rather by teachers unions and larger educational movements, and even eventually the creation of a department of education in the federal government during the 1970s.

Now, no doubt, right now there are millions of children from faithful Christian families in the public schools. And their experience may vary, particularly as you just take a snapshot and say, 2022. There are many, thousands, untold thousands of faithful Christians teaching in the public schools and serving as administrators in the public schools. And yes, as we discussed last week, serving on the school boards in public schools.

But what we need to recognize is that we are now reaching a point in which there will be no tenable or acceptable future for at least many Americans, as we look to the future of the public schools, or at least you might say the future of the public schools in your state. Someone’s going to make the decision about what will be taught. Somebody’s going to be happy about that. Someone’s going to be extremely unhappy about that.

And we’re not talking about something that created controversy say in the 1960s, something like the new math. Now we’re talking about the new gender, the new boy, the new girl, the new sex, the new morality. We are in a brave new world. And there is simply no way that the public schools will fail to be a primary battleground as we look to the key controversies as America faces the future.

Part III

The Big Question in the Public School System Debate: ‘How Much Say Should Parents Have in the Education of Their Children?’ — And So Much Rests on Who Presents the Winning Argument

But the other place I mentioned was the library, particularly the public school library. USA Today, predictably very liberal in these questions. Ran a front page article on Thursday of last week, about all of the pressure being put on libraries and librarians in the public schools. And the entire context of the article in USA Today is basically, here come those bad old parents and those intrusive school boards telling professionals what they should do in their professional category as librarians.

But here’s where we need to know, again, there are wonderful school librarians. There are wonderful public school librarians. There are wonderful people working in libraries and at various points in the entire system of libraries, but the profession of library science and library administration is especially a scene in the graduate schools that produce those librarians, and in the union.

The professional association of librarians, those positions are increasingly liberal and increasingly radical. And if truth be known increasingly, they will be unacceptable to parents who have children in the school system and that you can hope also to citizens who are paying the taxes for those schools to exist.

The USA Today article says this, “Librarians in schools and communities are widely popular viewed as some of society’s most trustworthy members, polling shows, but they have become targets of a new front in the culture wars over what and how to teach children about race and sex.”

Here’s the next sentence, “A vocal minority has denounced them as woke social justice warriors with a radical agenda to indoctrinate children, or as pedophiles with a perverted mission to groom kids into victims of sexual abuse.” Now, that’s pretty incendiary language.

I’ll simply say to America’s parents and to concern Christians, listening to The Briefing. If you want to know, how those positions have become radicalized, don’t go to some conservative or Christian source. Go to the website of the American Library Association, go to the websites that are advocating for the progressive positions undertaken by libraries in the public schools and in the public square. Look at the controversies and look at how the wagons are circled over something as radical as Drag Queen Story Hour. In that case, usually in public libraries, so far as I know, not so much in public school libraries, but the point is the same.

And once again, as we’re thinking about the schools, that’s contested terrain, what do schools represent? A vision of the future, a vision of the nation, a vision of citizenship, also a vision of right and wrong. Also, a vision of human good and human nature. There’s just no way around it. And somebody’s agenda, somebody’s understanding of the rightful curriculum is going to be put in place. Somebody’s going to make the decision about the books, put in the library, even the libraries for children.

And just remember a lot of this controversy is because there are extremely radical materials. There’s no other way to put it. Sometimes I think fairly described by Christians as sexually explicit, championing the LGBTQ cause, but also just sexual explicitness, and there are librarians and associations of librarians who say, “Look, that is our job.” There is no doubt. Many librarians see that as essential to their progressive as task of serving as a resource for the enlightenment, by their view of children, young people and others in the United States of America.

But one final thought about this as we bring it to a close, is really interesting that in this USA Today article and in many others, there are those who complain that public citizens, and that would include library boards or local governments or school boards or others. They shouldn’t be in the position of questioning the professional judgment of professional librarians.

Now, there’s a point to be made there as you think about library resources, library budgets. As you think about cataloging and classification systems, but when it comes to what will be available to children and teenagers in the public space? It is absolutely wrong to tell parents, “Go home.” To tell citizens, “You’re not a professional. You don’t know what book would and would not be acceptable or appropriate for a public library. Who do you think you are?”

One opponent of more control and more screening over what would be put into libraries and that screening by parents and school board members and others said, “For decades, most schools relied on trained librarians with master’s degrees in library science to select the books they believed would supplement classroom lessons and foster a love of reading.” If only it were so simple.

And my point here is not just to offer a critique of librarians that every single one of them operates by some worldview, and that will determine the decisions made, because that’s true of all of us. But when it comes to making the decisions about what books will be in the library and what books will be available to children and teenagers, will at that point, just suggesting that there are professionals to make those decisions, and it’s wrong to interfere with professionals because after all they’re professionals. That’s not an argument that actually should have much traction.

Yes, expertise is to be respected, but worldview is to be respected as well. And parents are right to demand an even greater respect for their decision making about the education of their own children.

Meanwhile, I close by saying that in Missouri, a new law has just taken effect that outlaws books that contain what’s been described as sexually explicit images from school libraries. Again, that’s really interesting, but it turns out that reports make clear that what is being prohibited here is drawings, visuals, illustrations that are considered to be sexually explicit. When it comes to words and texts, well, at least at this point, that will be allowed.

I’m sure there are those in Missouri trying to press toward a more comprehensive policy, but I’ll simply say, it’s not enough to take out the pictures if you leave in the words.

Thanks for listening to The Briefing.

For more information, go to my website at You can follow me on Twitter by going to For information on The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, go to For information on Boyce College, just go to

I’ll meet you again tomorrow for The Briefing.

R. Albert Mohler, Jr.

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