Ziegler Impacted National Education Dialogue in 2021

Under The Hood

Families today gather for the nation’s biggest holiday at a still turbulent time. As 2022 wraps, many surely will ask whether families have enough input on their students’ education. It’s hard to think of anyone who has delivered quite the impact on that conversation, whether you welcome it or not, as Sarasota County School Board member Bridget Ziegler.

As the state and country debated the place of critical race theory in public education, Ziegler often served as the face of the issue in national media and made the case for the topic’s exclusion from the curriculum. One of the founders of Moms For Liberty, she appeared regularly on Fox News to deride the academic philosophy, which studies the role of institutional racism in history. For those appearances, she earned a shout-out from the stage by Gov. Ron DeSantis at the Statesman of the Year dinner in Sarasota this fall.

But she said while that particular fight earned attention in 2021, she has fought a “undertone of progressive political agendas” pushed in schools for years, and plans to continue this battle. “I genuinely believe it has resonated and really taken off because of such an authentic concern from parents who have seen what is transpiring in public education,” she said.

Her activity on the issue has earned scorn as well. Media Matters criticized how Ziegler has often been presented in right-wing media as a concerned mother when she’s been active in Republican politics for years. Her husband is Christian Ziegler, a Sarasota County Commissioner and vice chair or the Republican Party of Florida. He’s worked with federal campaigns and political action committees, a level of savvy that surely helped in creating a federal PAC for Moms For Liberty as the movement serves as one of the most prominent motivators of conservative voters nationwide in recent months.

Christian Ziegler makes no bones he sees the energy around parental involvement in school as a matter that will energize GOP voters next year. 

“COVID has impacted children the most, even though the impacts on them have been discussed by the media the least. With that said, parents have had their focus on their kids throughout, causing them to be more informed about their school districts and frustrated with their school board members who haven’t acted in the best interest of their children,” he said. “This has expedited parents in their 20s, 30s and 40s’ engagement in politics and the August 2022 election will be their first opportunity to respond to School Board Members forcing mask mandates, shutting down schools and pushing leftist indoctrination.”

But what of when COVID fades from the headlines? Or when the topic of critical race theory runs its course? Education advocates have pushed back — rightly in my humble opinion — at the revisionism of prohibiting discussion of racism in schools, while also stressing use of critical race theory as an analytical lens doesn’t take place until college-level study.

For her part, Bridget Ziegler maintains the effort to impact curriculum isn’t about whitewashing the sins committed in American history, just a rejection at the idea progress wasn’t made and that racism remains so baked into the American story children should hate aspects of the country.

“It’s an important distinction this is not an indictment of teachers,” Ziegler said, stressing parents also feel more aware than ever the challenges of the classroom after many had to oversee their own children’s education at home.

She’s already turned her focus on a larger picture, liberal messaging in schools and textbooks. Support materials inject subjects beyond the control of teachers who often have no role selecting those tools.

“COVID lifted the veil and illustrated decades-long worth of policies that have gone away from the core functions of what many of us believe is the purpose of public education: reading, writing, arithmetic and critical thinking,” she said.

It will be interesting to see what that means in 2022. Ziegler won won re-election in an August primary four years ago by under 1,100 votes out of more than 92,000 cast. But 2022 seems to be shaping up to be a year where conservatives have the energy behind their message. Expect the outcome of this year’s School Board race to have repercussions beyond the county line.

Jacob Ogles is contributing senior editor of SRQ MEDIA.

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