2022
July
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Monitor Daily Podcast

July 01, 2022
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TODAY’S INTRO

When history bends toward justice

Many iconic artifacts are on display at the National Museum of African American History and Culture here in Washington: a segregation-era railway car, Harriet Tubman’s hymnal of spirituals, Chuck Berry’s red Cadillac Eldorado.

But the museum’s most affecting exhibit is the one dedicated to Emmett Till, the Black 14-year-old who was beaten and killed in Mississippi in 1955 after being falsely accused of whistling at a white woman. The incident proved a milestone in the civil rights movement. Now, the story has burst back into the news, with the discovery of an arrest warrant in a courthouse basement in Greenwood, Mississippi.

The warrant is for Emmett’s accuser, identified as Mrs. Roy Bryant – then-wife of one of the men ultimately acquitted by an all-white jury in the kidnapping and killing. The woman, now known as Carolyn Bryant Donham, was never arrested or charged in the kidnapping. Today, she is apparently still alive, living in North Carolina and in her 80s, but reporters have not been able to reach her.

This story shows that history isn’t really in the past, or merely fodder for books. It’s alive and evolving, as fresh discoveries shed new light on events and our understanding of them.

On a recent visit to the museum, I was urged by a guard to visit the Emmett Till display. “No photography allowed,” she said. The museum wants visitors to be “present” in viewing the exhibit, the thinking goes.

It so happens this week also saw the swearing-in of the Supreme Court’s first Black female justice, Ketanji Brown Jackson – another step in the evolution of American institutions and racial history. And it is perhaps fitting that these two news points took place on the eve of Independence Day weekend, in a nation striving to do better in representing all its citizens.

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A deeper look

Education owes a lot to parents. Where do their rights begin and end?

From the founding of the PTA to calls for desegregation, parental participation has shaped U.S. education. But how does that jibe with what the designers of public schooling intended in order to create informed citizens? What lessons does history offer about how much parents can and should shape education in a democracy? Part 4 in a series.

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Richard Vogel/AP/File
Parents from the 24th Street Elementary School in Los Angeles deliver a petition to the Los Angeles Unified School District headquarters in January 2013. Almost 70% of the school's parents signed the petition, which demands the district take action to improve academics.

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Public education in the United States was established to meet the need for an informed citizenry capable of self-government. As some Founding Fathers saw it, teachers would train future citizens to participate in a democracy – a job that sometimes diverged from what individual parents might want.

Yet parents have had a big impact on education. Over the years, they have affected everything from the teaching of evolution to the shaping of educational access and equity. Recently, a more vocal group has turned mask mandates and the teaching of race into national debates. As of May, legislatures in at least 22 states were working on “parental rights” efforts related to education. Florida’s new law goes into effect today.

A majority of American parents say they are satisfied with the schooling their children receive, research and polling show. Where debate arises is over the purpose of schooling and their role in it.

“When people ask, ‘Why aren’t parents in control of everything?’ The answer is, well, the returns of public education are not exclusively to individuals,” says Jack Schneider, an associate professor at the University of Massachusetts Lowell. The benefits, he says, “are to our society.”

Education owes a lot to parents. Where do their rights begin and end?

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In the early afternoon at a one-room schoolhouse northeast of Hampton, Nebraska, a bespectacled teacher named Robert T. Meyer opened a Bible and began to read – in German. This was a daily event for him and his elementary aged students at the Zion Evangelical Lutheran parochial school; the best way, he and the children’s immigrant parents agreed, for his pupils to learn religion.

It was also, Mr. Meyer knew, illegal.

The prior year, 1919, in the shadow of World War I and in the midst of growing tension among ethnic groups in the Midwest, the Nebraska state legislature had passed a bill outlawing elementary educational instruction in any language other than English. It was a part of a flurry of laws intended to ensure that young students grew up American in “language, thought and ideals,” according to politicians. And it was part of a debate that would continue to swirl around the intersection of schools, parents, and democracy for a century – the precursor to the fights sweeping school board meetings the last few years, or the new “parental rights” bills introduced in statehouses across the country.

“A real democratic society is a society in which individuals are empowered in every dimension of their lives. And since there’s nothing people care more about than their children and education, that’s where the rubber meets the road,” says Steven Mintz, a history professor at the University of Texas at Austin. “Since the beginning, people have had very divergent views about what a democratic educational system ought to be, and where parents fit in. It’s always been complicated.”

Indeed, the story of what happened to Mr. Meyer is part of a long-standing conflict that sits underneath today’s political posturing over mask wearing and critical race theory. At its core, it reflects an unresolved question about how parents have – and should – influence the American education system, a dilemma that underlies both the successes and inherent conflicts of public school in the United States. 

Our managing editor explains why we wrote this series

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Debate over public-school curriculum, parental involvement, and fair access isn’t new, but it has become increasingly heated. “So it seemed to all of us that it was a good moment to look at public education, democracy, and the future of America.” Amelia Newcomb speaks with Monitor podcaster Samantha Laine Perfas about our four-part series.

School authorities and state legislators have regularly pushed back against parental influence. At times, such as in early 20th-century Nebraska, they explicitly worked to undermine family norms and culture for what they saw as a greater social good. But parents have also repeatedly fought for more say over their children’s schooling. And they have changed the education system in profound ways.

Certainly, parents’ cultural arguments – about how and whether to teach about evolution or sex or racism, for instance – have affected generations of young people, experts say. But more importantly, they argue, parents have shaped educational access and quality. Sometimes that has meant more equity. The decadeslong fight for desegregation, for instance, or for students with disabilities, would have gotten nowhere without committed parents. But it has also meant the perpetuation of privilege, as parents with more resources influence the system to ensure that their own children benefit.

“Parents have always been an incredibly powerful group in shaping what happens in schools,” says Jon Valant, director of the Brown Center on Education Policy at the Brookings Institution. “In general, nothing matters more to parents than their kids. And we know that when parents feel that their children’s opportunities are threatened, they respond.”

That was clear, even in 1920.

A limited victory for parents

That spring afternoon, when Mr. Meyer saw the county attorney standing against the sunlight in the doorway, he knew that he had a choice. He could switch to English, and there would be no consequence for his teachings that day.  

Julian C. Wilson/AP/File
Parents picket the Cleveland Board of Education offices in January 1964 in protest over Black pupils being bused from overcrowd Hazeldell Elementary School to schools with mainly white pupil enrollment in Cleveland. The parents say a board policy does not treat the Black pupils as regular enrollees at their new schools.

But he took a deep breath and kept reading in German. That was what his pupils’ parents wanted, he knew, and the way he believed children would best understand their lessons about God.  

“I told myself I must not flinch,” Mr. Meyer recalled later, according to his attorney, Arthur Mullen, who later argued Mr. Meyer’s case in front of the U.S. Supreme Court. “And I did not flinch.”

For the next few years, Mr. Meyer was embroiled in the legal system. He was arrested, found guilty, and fined $25. He lost his appeal in state court. But when his case went to the country’s top court, his attorney, Mr. Mullen, made an impassioned argument about the rights of parents to decide where and how their children learn.

The court ruled in favor of Mr. Meyer, and in doing so, explicitly tied the right to “establish a home and bring up children” as part of the 14th Amendment. In his opinion, Justice James Clark McReynolds suggested that outlawing particular types of instruction – particularly learning that would take place outside the normal school day, and outside the public school system – would be “doing violence to both letter and spirit of the Constitution.”

But the decision in Meyer v. Nebraska was not the clear victory for parental control that it has sometimes been portrayed as being. In his opinion, Justice McReynolds said the legislature was justified in both regulating what could be taught in public schools and deciding what was in the best interest of the community – in this case, ensuring that children grew up learning and thinking in English. The Nebraska law had simply overstepped in banning what parents could teach children on their own time and in their own schools.

The sentiment the court reiterated in its ruling – that there is a broader, social goal of education, beyond individual achievement – has been a hallmark of American schools since their founding. Public education in the United States was established to meet the need for an informed citizenry capable of self-government. As some Founding Fathers saw it, teachers would train future citizens to participate in a democracy – a job that sometimes diverged from what individual parents might want.

Morgan Lee/AP/File
A public hearing is held in Santa Fe, New Mexico, on a proposed overhaul of the state science standards for public schools on Oct. 16, 2017.

“When people ask, ‘Why aren’t parents in control of everything?’ The answer is, well, the returns of public education are not exclusively to individuals,” says Jack Schneider, associate professor in the School of Education at the University of Massachusetts Lowell. The benefits, he says, “are to our society.”

But since the creation of the first “common schools” in the early 1800s, people have differed on the definition of what, exactly, “benefitting society” means. And the dividing line, it turns out, is not between parents looking out for their individual children on one side and the rest of Americans promoting a communal role for education on the other.

Individual versus societal benefits 

In 2017, Dr. Valant and fellow scholar Daniel Newark published a research paper about how and whether parents’ goals for their own children’s schools differed from the attitudes of a broader adult population asked about the educational system overall. The researchers surveyed both groups, asking about the importance of various factors, such as individual success, the promotion of democratic character, and the perpetuation of a strong economy. Dr. Valant says he had expected to find a split, where individual parents gave preference to personal achievement and success, and the general public valued the communal goals.

But he was surprised.

“When we ran this survey experiment, we saw little difference between what the public as a whole wants for schools, and from schools, and what parents want from schools,” he says. “Where we saw the big difference was along partisan lines.” 

Douglas R. Clifford/Tampa Bay Times/AP
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis displays the signed Parental Rights in Education bill flanked by elementary students during a news conference on March 28, 2022, at Classical Preparatory School in Spring Hill.

Republicans were drawn to markers of individual success. Democrats – both parents and non-parents – said communal goals, such as building democratic character, were most important.

“Republicans and Democrats have very different ideas of what the purpose of schooling is and what they want schools to do,” Dr. Valant says.

So it is perhaps not surprising, some experts say, that in an increasingly politically divided country, schools have emerged as a flashpoint. Combine the different views on the purpose of school – whether the individual or society should be its primary beneficiary – and add to that different cultural views about gender, race, and other topics, and there are bound to be disagreements. Especially with some political maneuvering thrown in. 

This year, as of the end of May, at least 22 states have considered creating or modifying an education-related “parents’ bill of rights,” according to National Conference of State Legislatures researchers – along with efforts by the right to control what values-related subjects are taught in schools. Part of Florida’s high-profile Parental Rights in Education bill, for instance, prohibits instruction on sexual orientation and gender identity in kindergarten through grade three – “or in a manner that is not age-appropriate or developmentally appropriate.” The law, which goes into effect on July 1, also gives parents the right to sue districts if they believe the new rules have been violated. 

“I think we’re dealing with, in some cases, fundamentally different views of reality,” says Jay Richards, director of the DeVos Center for Life, Religion, and Family at The Heritage Foundation. “If a parent thinks that people come in two sexes, male and female, and their kindergarten teacher is saying that’s not true, there’s going to be a conflict. And so the question is, okay, so which source of authority has the priority in that case?”

But despite the high-profile school board tussles and political posturing around these issues – in Virginia, for instance, many pundits believe Glenn Youngkin won the gubernatorial election last year by claiming to defend parental rights – many experts see parents’ real influence on education as being far more under the radar.  

“As long as we’ve had public schools, there have been people claiming there are things happening inside the schools that you would not be comfortable with,” says Dr. Schneider. “You can point to lots of examples – stoked fears about sex ed or the brainwashing of young people during the two Red Scares. These are claims that ... have traction for some relatively short period of time, and then sort of die out.”

“Public schools should be for everyone”

Even those parents who agree strongly with one political side or the other – whether on issues such as gender identity or critical race theory or prayer – often see nuance in how their values should play out in schools.

Courtesy of Renee Chiea
Renee Chiea, a Moms for Liberty activist, celebrates the high school graduation of her son Erik Chiea in Dunedin, Florida, in May 2022. "We have a public school system that should be designed to teach objectively academics and leave value-based decisions to the home," she says.

Renee Chiea, for instance, is a Florida Republican and an activist with Moms for Liberty who supports Gov. Ron DeSantis’ “parental rights” policies. She opposes what she sees as “wokeism” ideology in public schools. Similarly, she doesn’t want school staff promoting politics or prayer in school, either, even though the latter is a practice supported by some ideologically right politicians.

“Public schools should be for everyone,” says the Dunedin mom, whose youngest son graduated from public high school this year. “We have a public school system that should be designed to teach objectively academics and leave value-based decisions to the home.”

Many parents, regardless of how they vote, would agree with that. Indeed, the real story of public education today might be how stable it is, says Dr. Schneider.

“People are actually pretty averse to the politicization of public education,” he says. “There are 13,000 school districts in this country. There are 13,000 school boards. ... Sure, some people are unhappy. Some people are totally happy. Most people are kind of in between. The vast majority are not showing up and taking over school board meetings, and that’s true in red states and blue states and red counties and blue counties.”

While a Gallup poll last year found that more Americans said they were “dissatisfied” with the country’s K-12 education system than “satisfied,” most parents – 73% – said that they were satisfied with the quality of education that their own children were receiving. In other words, the majority of parents are not upset with their own schools or teachers. 

When parents do show up in a sustained way, scholars say, is when they are motivated by something deeper and more lasting than the political fury of the moment. The push for desegregation is one example of this, including when parents sued on behalf of their children in the landmark case of Brown v. Board of Education. So is the effort to ensure bilingual education, or a system that includes students with disabilities.

“I can assure you, we would not have accommodations for disabled children if it had not been for the efficacy of parents,” says Dr. Mintz, the historian. “It was parents who lobbied Congress. They lobbied school boards. It was parents who brought lawsuits.”

But parents also show up when they want to ensure advantages for their own children. And that, many scholars say, can perpetuate inequality. A number of studies show that parents with more resources, whether financial or social, are more likely to advocate effectively for their children, whether it’s getting them into better classes, making sure they have the favorite fourth grade teacher, or ensuring their kids’ schools have the financial resources to buy better supplies.

“Parents care more about education than they care about anything,” says Dr. Mintz. “But there are different ways of thinking about what democracy [in education] ought to be. Is democracy the right to excel? Or is democracy that everybody should get the same thing?”

Meanwhile, parents such as Graciela Guevara have often struggled to navigate the educational system. When her eldest son was in elementary school, and she was a new immigrant from Mexico who only spoke Spanish, she says she didn’t understand her eldest son’s individualized education program, or her rights as a parent. Fearing deportation, she was too afraid to ask for help. 

Sarah Matusek/The Christian Science Monitor
Graciela Guevara collects her younger son Matias after school in Denver, April 20, 2022. When she was a new immigrant from Mexico who only spoke Spanish, she says she didn’t understand her older son's individualized education program, or her rights as a parent. Now, years later living as a naturalized U.S. citizen, she feels comfortable advocating for Matias, who also has an IEP and will be entering second grade.

Now, years later, Ms. Guevara is a naturalized U.S. citizen living in Denver. She feels comfortable advocating for her youngest child, a second grader with an individualized education program. But she still sees the barriers clearly.

“It’s more difficult for an immigrant parent or a single parent in a single household to attend [school and community meetings], because you have to prioritize,” says Ms. Guevara. “And it’s not that your kid’s education is not a priority, it’s just that sometimes ... you don’t have any other choice.”

The need to “deliberate our differences”

The nation has been recalibrating the balance within schools – between parental and school control, between individual and societal benefits – since before Mr. Meyer read to his students in German. Each adjustment, including today’s, reflects the societal stirs of the time.

“Parents and citizen groups have extraordinary influence over what’s taught – much more so than any other democracy we know about,” says Jonathan Zimmerman, a professor of the history of education at the University of Pennsylvania.

A century before parents railed against critical race theory at school board meetings, conservatives called for bans on the teaching of evolution.

Democratic education, Professor Zimmerman says, “requires us to deliberate our differences.”

Editor’s note: This article has been updated to correct the explanation of comments by Dr. Schneider about parents and school board takeovers.

This story is the last in a four-part series:

Part 1: Do Americans agree on the importance of common schoolhouses? Do they still hold that public education is fundamental to democracy?

Part 2: How should schools teach children what it means to be an American?

Part 3: Are we better off as a nation investing in a system where talented students can soar, or one in which everyone is educated equally? Can’t we have both?

Part 4: How has parental participation in public schools shaped U.S. education?

How the end of Roe could be pivotal in the midterms

The fight over abortion rights is, for now, truly state by state. In November’s elections, certain races could hinge on the issue, with abortion access in many battleground states on the line.

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Carolyn Kaster & Matt Rourke/AP
State Sen. Doug Mastriano, R-Franklin, a Republican candidate for Governor of Pennsylvania, left, speaks at a primary night election gathering in Chambersburg, Pennsylvania, May 17, 2022. Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro, right, Democratic candidate for Governor, speaks with members of the media during a news conference, in Philadelphia March 15, 2022.

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Before the Supreme Court decision overturning Roe v. Wade – the 1973 ruling that established a nationwide right to abortion – Democrats were facing severe headwinds heading into November. President Joe Biden has been averaging below 40% job approval in polls, with rampant inflation, soaring gas prices, and high-profile crime putting voters in a sour mood. 

Now Democrats say they have a blockbuster issue to energize their side. Polls consistently show a majority of voters support access to abortion, with some limits. And in the week since Roe’s demise, Democratic candidates around the country have been loudly seizing on public sentiment that leans toward favoring abortion rights. 

With abortion access now determined at the state level, governors in battleground states are suddenly all the more important – along with control of state legislatures. Meanwhile the battle for the Senate remains crucial in the event of another Supreme Court vacancy.

Recent polling suggests Democrats are getting a boost from the issue, at least for now. Yet the abortion ruling may be energizing Republicans too.

“There’s no evidence that making Roe a centerpiece this year changes everything to a Democratic advantage,” says Charles Franklin, director of the Marquette Law School Poll.

How the end of Roe could be pivotal in the midterms

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At first blush, the Supreme Court decision overturning Roe v. Wade – the 1973 ruling that established a nationwide right to abortion – might seem to benefit Democrats in the coming midterm elections. 

Before June 24, when the high court issued its bombshell decision, Democrats were facing severe headwinds heading into November. President Joe Biden is unpopular, averaging below 40% job approval in polls. Rampant inflation, soaring gas prices, and high-profile crime have put voters in a sour mood. Democratic control of the White House and both houses of Congress puts the party on defense. 

Now Democrats say they have a blockbuster issue – a woman’s right to end an unwanted pregnancy, suddenly gone in many states – that can energize not just their voters but also independents and perhaps even some pro-abortion-rights Republicans. Polls consistently show a majority of voters support access to abortion, with some limits. 

“The Republicans wanted to make this a battleground, and they’ve gone too far,” says Democratic pollster Celinda Lake. “They’re going to pay a price in November.”

In the week since Roe’s demise, Democratic candidates around the country have been loudly seizing on public sentiment that leans toward favoring abortion rights, while many Republicans seem to be downplaying the issue. 

Still, anyone who thinks Republicans are going to declare victory and move on is mistaken, anti-abortion activists say. For some abortion foes, getting rid of Roe is just the start. Within moments of the June 24 ruling, former Vice President Mike Pence called for a nationwide ban on abortion.

“I’m sure [Democrats] will be energized,” says Marjorie Dannenfelser, president of Susan B. Anthony Pro-Life America. “But the pro-life side has waited 50 years for this to matter [in elections]. You don’t wait for it to become salient and stay home.”

In Washington, Republicans are in the minority and have no ability to pass a nationwide ban. But Democrats also do not appear to have enough votes to pass a law guaranteeing a nationwide right to abortion. President Biden said Thursday he would support waiving the filibuster to “codify Roe,” which would allow the bill to pass with a simple majority in the Senate, instead of the usual 60 votes. But on Friday, he acknowledged he didn’t have the votes required to alter the rules, and urged his party to get more of its own elected as senators in the midterms.

And so the fight over abortion rights, for now, is truly state by state. Ms. Dannenfelser’s organization is running campaigns in eight battleground states ahead of the midterms: Wisconsin, Florida, Pennsylvania, Arizona, Georgia, Nevada, New Hampshire, and North Carolina. She says the anti-abortion group is targeting voters regardless of party – Democrat, Republican, independent. Democrats, for their part, are already running ads attacking Republicans on the issue in states from New Hampshire to Illinois to Pennsylvania.   

SOURCE: The New York Times, Cook Political Report
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Jacob Turcotte/Staff

The biggest battlegrounds heading into November are statewide campaigns – foremost, Senate and governors’ races. If Democrats can retain the Senate, they’d still have a majority for confirmations, especially crucial in the event of another Supreme Court vacancy. And with abortion rights now determined at the state level, governors in battleground states are suddenly all the more important – along with control of state legislatures.

Recent polls suggest Democrats may be getting a boost from the issue, at least for now. The latest Marist poll found that 56% of Americans oppose the June 24 ruling, versus 40% who support it. A CBS poll found a similar result, including a big gender gap, with 67% of women in opposition and 33% in favor. 

Yet the abortion issue may be energizing Republicans too. While a recent Morning Consult poll found Democratic enthusiasm for voting in the midterms had gained ground after the Supreme Court ruling, it was still slightly behind Republican enthusiasm.

“There’s no evidence that making Roe a centerpiece this year changes everything to a Democratic advantage,” says Charles Franklin, an expert on public opinion and director of the Marquette Law School Poll.

Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, Florida 

Every state has its own unique political ecosystem. Take Wisconsin – a closely divided state and a top battleground for both the 2022 Senate and governor’s races. In 2020, President Biden won it by a sliver, about 20,000 votes.

Yet Wisconsin’s new abortion policy is more draconian than Mississippi’s. The state’s abortion clinics have already shut down, in light of an 1849 state law banning abortion, which went into effect after the June 24 ruling in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health. The Republican-heavy state legislature has declined to repeal the 173-year-old state law. Democratic Gov. Tony Evers has pledged to grant clemency to doctors prosecuted under the abortion ban, and the state’s Democratic attorney general has sued to block the law. Both men are running for reelection this fall. 

In Florida, the largest electoral battleground in the country, Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis praised the Dobbs ruling, but offered few specifics as to how he might “work to expand pro-life protections,” as he put it. In April, he signed a law limiting legal abortion in Florida to 15 weeks of pregnancy, with no exceptions for rape or incest – more restrictive than previous Florida law under Roe but less so than the bans in other, redder states. On Thursday, a Florida judge temporarily blocked the law from taking effect; Governor DeSantis says he will appeal. 

The Florida governor appears to have his eyes on a larger prize – the Republican nomination for president. For that, he would need to woo the GOP’s anti-abortion base. But first he needs to win his November reelection race, in a state that leans only slightly Republican and where a solid majority of residents support abortion rights. Thus, the low-key approach on abortion – for now. 

At a Monitor Breakfast on June 22, Florida Sen. Rick Scott – chair of the Republican Senate campaign committee and another possible presidential hopeful – said he supported the new Florida law. But when asked about the lack of exceptions for rape and incest, he said, “I believe there ought to be exceptions.” 

Another top battleground state is Pennsylvania, where the races for two open statewide offices, Senate and governor, are garnering national attention. 

In the Senate race, Democrat John Fetterman has staked out a vocally pro-abortion-rights position. His GOP opponent, Dr. Mehmet Oz, says he opposes abortion, but was criticized in the primary for past statements suggesting he favored personal choice. 

The governor’s race could be more immediately consequential: GOP nominee Doug Mastriano has called abortion the No. 1 issue, and wants a statewide ban without exceptions. Democratic nominee Josh Shapiro, currently the state attorney general, is fundraising on the issue, referring to Mr. Mastriano’s “dangerous views on abortion rights.” The latest data from Pew Research Center show a slim majority of Pennsylvanians, 51%, want abortion to be legal in all or most cases. 

What suburban women want

One key demographic, for both parties, is suburban women. This cohort is already known for high turnout, so the question is, on which issues will they base their votes? 

In a focus group Wednesday evening of nine older, suburban female swing voters from around the country, conducted on Zoom by a Democratic strategist and viewed anonymously by this reporter, negative emotions regarding the state of the country poured out. The women said they were “concerned,” “depressed,” “frustrated,” and “anxious.” 

Kitchen table issues dominated, with the economy weighing heavily on these voters. So, too, did education and recent mass shootings. But without being prompted, the overturning of Roe came up early in the two-hour focus group session.

That’s a “big concern,” said one woman, a retiree from suburban Detroit, who also raised concerns about the future of LGBTQ rights. “It’s a minority of people who are making these decisions for all of us. I just don’t like it.”

A woman in her late 60s from suburban Houston also worried out loud that the overturning of Roe could lead to the undoing of other rights. 

“It bothers me a lot,” she said. “If they can overturn Roe v. Wade, they can overturn interracial marriage, they can overturn gay marriage, they can overturn my right to vote. ... It’s Christian values that they’re voting on, and not everybody in this country is Christian.”

Not everyone in the group supported abortion rights. A woman from suburban Chicago called the Supreme Court’s ruling “perfect, because it should be decided at the state level.” 

And another woman, from suburban Maryland, gave the abortion issue only “medium weight” in determining how she’ll vote – with a warning for Democrats. “The party I depended on allow[ed] this to happen, and it’s too late,” she said. 

Staff writer Simon Montlake contributed to this report. 

SOURCE: The New York Times, Cook Political Report
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Jacob Turcotte/Staff

‘Star-Spangled Banner’: Its meaning changes with each generation

America’s national anthem has served evolving roles, from bolstering unity to celebrating freedom. A musicologist says it inspires ideas “about what America is, and what it could be.”

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Jake May/The Flint Journal/AP
Guests stand for the anthem during the Grand Blanc High School commencement ceremony on June 2 in Grand Blanc, Michigan.

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The words of “The Star-Spangled Banner” were written by Francis Scott Key after he witnessed the British defeat at the port of Baltimore during the War of 1812. “The bombs bursting in air” of the poem were fired by the British Navy.

Scott was inspired by the sight of the American flag flying triumphantly from Fort McHenry, which had survived the bombardment. The conflict was seen as a grave test of the fledgling United States. 

Today, the national anthem serves as not only a source of pride for many Americans, but also as a vehicle for protest by those calling on the country to live up to its ideals of unity and freedom.

Musicologist and author Mark Clague says, “Since the song was written, it has become a way of reflecting and inspiring ideas on what America is and should be. People should see themselves as part of that history but also making their own personal statement to advance the conversation.”  

‘Star-Spangled Banner’: Its meaning changes with each generation

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The national anthem of the United States is full of surprises, writes Mark Clague, a professor of musicology at the University of Michigan, in “O Say Can You Hear?: A Cultural Biography of ‘The Star-Spangled Banner.’”

Nearly everything about the 208-year-old anthem – from its meaning to how people sing it – has changed over time. Like America itself, the song is always evolving, Professor Clague tells the Monitor. The interview has been lightly edited and condensed. 

You point out that the first line is a question, not a declaration. Can you explain?

We don’t realize that the “O say does that star-spangled banner yet wave / O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave?” ends with a question mark, not an exclamation point. The song asks: Is the country still free? Is the flag still there?

It’s a question that gets renewed with every performance and constantly refreshes and changes depending on what’s going on. The song really highlights the notion of freedom and whether we have the courage as a country to try to live up to this ideal.

Laura Jackson/W.W. Norton
Mark Clague is the author of "O Say Can You Hear?: A Cultural Biography of 'The Star-Spangled Banner.'"

What’s in the verses that most of us don’t sing?

The first verse asks: “Is the flag still there, is the country going to survive?” The second verse says “Yes, it’s still here. The British said they’d defeat us, where did they go?” The third verse mocks the British enemy as arrogant vassals and failed mercenaries, in contrast to the brave, free, just, and victorious Americans. The fourth verse [imagines] a country that’s unified by religion.

The very pious Francis Scott Key … felt that the nation was weak militarily, politically divided, and moving toward a dangerous secularism. For him, the unexpected American victory against a superior British force in Baltimore was nothing short of divine intervention. He calls America the “Heav’n rescued land” and calls upon Americans to “Praise the Power [God] that has made and preserved us a nation!”

Why don’t we sing these verses?

The short answer is time. We have made the ritual last longer: We sing the anthem at a slower tempo today than would have been the case in Key’s day. An upbeat song of victory has become a solemn hymn of national devotion.

What do you make of protesters who take a knee during sporting events?

In a way, the anthem started as a protest song because it created a vision of a united future that didn’t exist in 1814. For me, calling the country to account and calling Americans to live up to our ideals is really a function of the song, and it doesn’t disrespect it to call attention to where the country falls short.

The song is famously difficult to sing. What makes it such a challenge?

It’s entirely the [vocal] range required: The distance between the lowest and highest notes is unusually wide. 

The melody comes from a song sung at a musician’s club in England and was intended to be a rousing, challenging tune that really highlighted the skills of club members. Often it was sung by a professional actor, someone equivalent to a Broadway singer today. 

The song does require a heroic commitment. Part of why “The Star Spangled Banner” became the national anthem is because it’s rousing, it’s motivating, and it’s energizing in a way that, say, “America the Beautiful” is not. 

My big tip for anybody trying to sing the song, particularly by themselves, is that you have to start low, as low in your range as possible, with the “O Say Can You See” part, so that you’re still comfortable when you get to the high notes.

What’s the most influential performance of the song?

Whitney Houston’s at the 1991 Super Bowl

“The Star Spangled Banner” started out as a kind of waltzing, lilting, upbeat victory song. But when you hear her sing it, with a beat added to every measure so the verses last longer, it’s a sacred hymn to the nation. It’s actually pretty unusual, but it feels traditional because the performance comes from the heart and feels sincere, affirming, and absolutely true. 

What’s your favorite performance?

Jimi Hendrix at Woodstock. The combined message of patriotism and protest is fascinating. He played the anthem 70 or more times, not just at Woodstock, and every single performance is different. He would stick in other melodic references like TV jingles to show what was going on in the country in any given moment. Sometimes the performances are really patriotic, and other times they’re dystopian and dark, like at Woodstock when he ends with “Taps.” 

What should people think about when they sing the anthem?

They’re part of a conversation about the United States that has been going on since 1814. Since the song was written, it has become a way of reflecting and inspiring ideas on what America is and should be. People should see themselves as part of that history but also making their own personal statement to advance the conversation.  

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Critical thinking, America’s future: How we shaped a series

Public education is essential to democracy. How can schools help the next generation tackle society’s challenges with open-mindedness and agency? Our managing editor tells how that question informed our approach.

Linda

The role of public education in the United States has shifted dramatically through the years. Once the foundation for creating an informed electorate, it’s now often seen simply as a pathway to secure employment. But amid resource-strained school districts and culture wars that put people at odds with one another, a question arises: What does it mean for democracy if the public education system breaks? 

The Monitor has recently published a series of stories exploring this question. Managing Editor Amelia Newcomb says it’s an issue the Monitor cares deeply about, and seeks to cover with fairness and open-mindedness. One reporter involved in the series, Chelsea Sheasley, went to multiple public schools that used different, controversial history curricula. What she saw were not schools divided, but classrooms enriched with critical thinking.

“What Chelsea found was that in both cases, the classrooms were full of thoughtful debate,” Amelia said. “Kids were getting energized. There was disagreement. There was deep learning. And that’s really what education should be.” – Samantha Laine Perfas and Jingnan Peng, multimedia reporters and producers

Note: This audio report is meant to be heard, but we appreciate that listening is not an option for everyone. You can find a full transcript of this conversation here.

Monitor Backstory: Where education and democracy meet

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An alternative dialogue in post-Roe America

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The U.S. Supreme Court’s decision reversing a federal right to abortion has quickly established a blue and red patchwork quilt across the 50 states. Interest groups are turning their attention to statehouses backing measures to protect the procedure, ban it outright, or greatly limit it. Yet there are signs that the ruling may be impelling a shift in how people cast the abortion question – not as a theological, legal, or scientific issue but as a call to deepen a recognition of the dignity of both women and the children they choose to bear.

That approach requires compassion toward the vast majority of women who seek an abortion because of their economic or social situation and their ability to raise a child. New public and private initiatives are emerging to support women facing unwanted pregnancies. The measures may not resolve the national debate. Yet at the local level they hint at a possible consensus on ways to lift up the daily lives of women.

The reversal of abortion as a federal constitutional right is stirring society toward an understanding of what is a right, the kind that is inherent in each person at any stage of human life. Once recognized and supported, it can be fulfilled.

An alternative dialogue in post-Roe America

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Reuters
Citizens in Denton, Texas, attend a city council meeting on enforcement of the state's trigger law on abortion, June 28.

The U.S. Supreme Court’s decision reversing a federal right to abortion has quickly established a a blue and red patchwork quilt across the 50 states. Interest groups are turning their attention to statehouses backing measures to protect the procedure, ban it outright, or greatly limit it. Yet there are signs that the ruling may be impelling a shift in how people cast the abortion question – not as a theological, legal, or scientific issue but a call to deepen a recognition of the dignity of both women and the children they choose to bear.

“Building up a community in a culture that values lives means that we need to make abortion unnecessary,” Cherilyn Holloway, founder of the Missouri-based Pro Black Pro Life, told ABC News.

That approach requires compassion toward the vast majority of women who seek an abortion because of their economic or social situation and their ability to raise a child. The majority (85.5%) of women who have abortions are unmarried, many with low-paying work or stigmatized for being pregnant. Nearly half (49%) have family incomes below the federal poverty level, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 

New public and private initiatives are emerging to support women facing unwanted pregnancies. The measures may not resolve the national debate. Yet at the local level they hint at a possible consensus on ways to lift up the daily lives of women and ease the often-difficult decision of birthing a child. Four bills in Alabama, for instance, would increase tax credits for adoption and mandate that adopting mothers receive the same paid maternity leave allowed to mothers who give birth. Meanwhile, with the future still uncertain on abortion laws, some businesses have offered to relocate or provide abortion-related travel expenses for their employees who live in states where the procedure is banned.

American society is far from a consensus on when human life begins and deserves moral status. In the meantime, that does not prevent a shared recognition of the nonmaterial qualities of life that exist in everyone and can evoke compassion toward women seeking or contemplating abortion.

“We who are a pro-life church have to listen very carefully to the pains of others,” Monsignor Henry Gracz told followers at the Catholic Shrine of the Immaculate Conception last Sunday. “Too much of the movement about life or choice has been people at each other’s throats.”

The Supreme Court has overturned its previous rulings on abortion. But one – a 1992 decision known as Planned Parenthood v. Casey – came with this advice: “The destiny of the woman must be shaped to a large extent on her own conception of her spiritual imperatives and her place in society.” Those imperatives have not changed. They still need acknowledgment and support.

The reversal of abortion as a federal constitutional right is now stirring society toward an understanding of what is a right, the kind that expresses individual dignity and is inherent in each person at any stage of human life. Once recognized and supported, it can be fulfilled. A dialogue over that realization may now be underway across the United States.

A Christian Science Perspective

About this feature

Each weekday, the Monitor includes one clearly labeled religious article offering spiritual insight on contemporary issues, including the news. The publication – in its various forms – is produced for anyone who cares about the progress of the human endeavor around the world and seeks news reported with compassion, intelligence, and an essentially constructive lens. For many, that caring has religious roots. For many, it does not. The Monitor has always embraced both audiences. The Monitor is owned by a church – The First Church of Christ, Scientist, in Boston – whose founder was concerned with both the state of the world and the quality of available news.

Finding freedom

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Getting to know God better is a powerful starting point for gaining freedom from whatever would keep us from living our God-given goodness and health.

Finding freedom

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Today's Christian Science Perspective audio edition

What does “freedom” mean to you? Perhaps it’s healing of an illness or injury, liberation from an addiction, lifting of mental darkness, or deliverance from resentment or anger or grief. It can seem that there are all kinds of things that would imprison us. But God made us free – free to know and feel the goodness He imparts to all His children.

We took a trip through The Christian Science Publishing Society’s archives to compile this selection of pieces that highlight our inherent ability to overcome limitations and to experience health and harmony. Each offers inspiration for your prayers in support of liberation from whatever problems would hold us captive.

In “Healed of addiction,” a woman shares how getting to know God more deeply brought complete freedom from persistent struggles with substance abuse and mental health problems.

An article titled “What sets the captive free?” explores the idea that the healing Christ is present at every moment to set us free from imprisoning ailments – even long-standing ones, as the author found when prayer freed her from chronic migraines.

The author of “Chronic health issues and incurable disease gone” shares how learning more about God and about everyone’s nature as God’s child transformed her life.

Embrace the wilderness” considers how a receptivity to God’s love brings healing, joy, and light to our lives, as the author experienced after the loss of her mom and stepdad.

Our God-given birthright is “liberty and all that comes with it – peace, health, vitality, abundance, hope, discernment, purity, and the freedom to live life to its fullest, to love and be loved freely,” explains the author of “Freedom is your birthright.”

In “Freedom from ‘problem gambling’ – the spiritual way!” a man relates how a better understanding of God and of everyone’s relation to Him brought healing of a gambling addiction.

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The Tour begins

Annegret Hilse/Reuters
Fred Wright of Bahrain Victorious is seen in action as the Tour de France opens, with Stage 1 in Copenhagen, Denmark, on July 1, 2022.
( The illustrations in today’s Monitor Daily are by Karen Norris. )

A look ahead

Thank you for joining us.
The Monitor Daily won’t publish on Monday, the July Fourth holiday in the U.S. But watch for an email from Dave Scott, our audience engagement editor, about how the concept of free speech is being challenged and reshaped.
And please come back Tuesday, when we look at how international organizations are tackling the global food insecurity crisis.

More issues

2022
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