Pell Center

The Pell Center for International Relations and Public Policy at Salve Regina is a multidisciplinary research center focused at the intersection of politics, policies and ideas.

Parental Activism and the Politicization of Public Schools with Laura Pappano 

Air Dates: May 6-12, 2024 

Public education has a long and varied history in the United States. But Laura Pappano says the challenges it faces now from parent-activists and partisan politics is unlike anything America’s schools have seen.  

Pappano is an award-winning journalist and author who has written about K–12 and higher education for over 30 years. A former education columnist for the Boston Globe, Pappano has written about education for the New York Times, Hechinger Report, Harvard Education Letter, Washington Post, USA Today and Christian Science Monitor, among other publications. She is the author or co-author of four books, including, “The Connection Gap: Why Americans Feel So Alone,” “Playing with the Boys: Why Separate is Not Equal in Sports,” “Inside School Turnarounds” and her most recent book, “School Moms: Parent Activism, Partisan Politics and the Battle for Public Education.” “School Moms” is an investigative study of the far-right’s attack on education and an on-the-ground look at the parent activist battle, on either side of the debate, to control the future of public schools. Combining on-the-ground reporting with research and expert interviews, “School Moms” will take a hard look at where these battles are happening, what is at stake, and why it matters for the future of our schools. 

On this episode of “Story in the Public Square,” Pappano discusses the heightened politicization surrounding which books are available at public schools and libraries. She begins by unpacking the rhetoric she has heard that tells parents, “your children are in existential danger. They are being harmed in public schools, and they’re being harmed by teachers, librarians and principals. It was a very emotional appeal, and what struck me is that nobody was running through their head, does this make sense?” She argues that these false ideas may be related to the internet’s reach, as, “our trusted sources are at risk.” Ultimately, Pappano concludes that access to texts, even if they are not appropriate for in-class discussion or assignments, is essential because “books are often about private experiences that individuals have with the text. There are a lot of children and young adults for whom these books are critical to them feeling that they’re not alone.” 

“Story in the Public Square” broadcasts each week on public television stations across the United States. A full listing of the national television distribution is available at this link. In Rhode Island and southeastern New England, the show is broadcast on Rhode Island PBS on Sundays at 11:00 a.m. and is rebroadcast Thursdays at 7:30 p.m. An audio version of the program airs Saturdays at 8:30 a.m. and 7:30 p.m. ET, Sundays at 5:00 a.m. and 10:00 p.m. and Mondays at 2:30 a.m. ET on SiriusXM’s popular P.O.T.U.S. (Politics of the United States), channel 124. “Story in the Public Square” is a project of the Pell Center at Salve Regina University. The initiative aims to study, celebrate and tell stories that matter.