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New survey captures national divide on teaching race, LGBTQ issues in classrooms

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(NEW YORK) — Schools nationwide have been at the center of the country’s culture wars. Restrictions on education and programs relating to race, gender, and sexual orientation have been implemented in several states, while schools and libraries are facing increasing waves of book-banning attempts.


In a new survey, the Pew Research Center asked public K-12 teachers, teens, and the American public about the ongoing scrutiny placed on classroom curricula, mainly regarding race and LGBTQ identities.

Here’s what teachers, teens and the American public said, according to the Pew survey:

What teachers say

Pew found that 41% of teachers say these debates have had a negative impact on their ability to do their job. Only 4% say the debates have had a positive impact.

Most public K-12 teachers — 60% — say parents should not be able to opt their children out of learning about racism or racial inequality in school, even if the topics are taught in a way that conflicts with a parent’s beliefs. A quarter of teachers surveyed say the opposite, Pew found.

Of the Americans surveyed by Pew, 34% of them said they believe parents should be able to opt their children out of learning about racism and racial inequality.

Most surveyed teachers, 64%, say students should learn that the legacy of slavery still affects the position of Black people in American society today.

Regarding slavery’s legacy, 23% of teachers surveyed believe that students should learn that slavery is part of American history but no longer affects the position of Black people in American society. Only 8% say students shouldn’t learn about this topic in school at all.

When it comes to sexual orientation or gender identity, about 33% of teachers say parents should not be able to opt their children out of learning about these topics. 48% say the opposite, Pew found. Of the Americans surveyed by Pew, 54% of them said they believe parents should be able to opt their children out of learning about sexual orientation and gender identity, while 34% said they should not be able to opt out.

Half of public school teachers say students shouldn’t learn about whether a person’s gender can be different from or is determined by their sex assigned at birth, according to the Pew survey. Among teachers, one-third believe students should learn that someone can be a boy or a girl even if that is different from the sex they were assigned at birth, Pew found. About 14% of teachers said they should learn that their gender is determined by their sex assigned at birth.

Pew found that a majority of teachers, 71%, say they don’t have enough influence over what’s taught in public schools in their area. A smaller majority of teachers, 58%, say their state government has too much influence, while 35% say it has about the right amount of influence, with the remainder saying state government doesn’t have enough influence.

What teens say

Students across the country have been vocal about the impact that restrictions on teaching and programs relating to race, gender, and sexual orientation restrictions have had on their education. Pew surveyed teens between the ages 13 to 17 who are not homeschooled to gauge their opinions.

Those teens who say topics concerning race and LGBTQ identities have come up in their classes, also say they are more comfortable than uncomfortable learning about racism and racial inequality.

Regarding racism or racial inequality, the Pew survey found Black teens are nearly twice as likely than white teens, 33% to 19%, to feel uncomfortable when the subjects come up in class, and about twice as likely than their Hispanic classmates, 33% to 17%.

When teens were asked how they would prefer to learn in school about the legacy of slavery, Pew found that 48% overall say they’d rather learn that it still affects the position of Black people in American society today. Another 40% said they would rather learn that slavery is part of American history but no longer affects the position of Black people in American society today. Just 11% said slavery’s legacy shouldn’t be a subject in school at all.

Teens were also asked about being taught about gender identity in school. Pew found that 48% of teens surveyed say they should not learn about gender identity in school. Of those who feel otherwise, a quarter of teens say they would prefer to learn that someone can have a gender that does not align with the sex they were assigned at birth. A similar share, 26%, say they would prefer to learn that gender is determined by the that’s sex assigned at birth.

On the subjects of sexual orientation or gender identity, Pew found that 29% of teens surveyed said they feel very or somewhat comfortable when the subjects come up in class, while 33% said they feel very or somewhat uncomfortable when the subjects arise. The majority, 37%, said they feel neither comfortable nor uncomfortable.

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