Public Schooling Battle Map

Americans are diverse – ethnically, religiously, ideologically – but all must pay for public schools. The intention behind this arrangement is largely good: to bring people together and foster social harmony. But rather than build bonds, public schooling often forces people into conflict. Be they over budgets, math curricula, school start times, or myriad other matters, everyone is probably familiar with divisive public schooling battles.

This map aggregates a relatively small, but especially painful, subset of such battles: those pitting educational effectiveness, basic rights, moral values, or individual identities against each other. Think creationism versus evolution, or assigned readings containing racial slurs. They are often intensely personal, and guarantee if one fundamental value wins, another loses.

It is hoped that this site will begin an open and honest discussion about the social effects of public schools. It will also, hopefully, become a tool for people in communities embroiled in values-based controversies to find others who have suffered similar bouts. Finally, it should illustrate that such controversies are often not just one side against another, but are symptomatic of a system that forces conflict between good, but different, people.


How to use this map: Select a button to locate conflicts by type, state, school district, or year, or hit “keyword search” and enter search terms in the field next to it. You can also click on a conflict type on the legend. Once you’ve narrowed down your search, click on the markers for descriptions of specific incidents. In some areas there are many incidents in close proximity, so zooming in is necessary to see them all. In addition, some battles may fall under more than one conflict type – e.g., religious battles may also involve freedom of expression – but are listed under only one heading.

Brief description of conflict types:

Curriculum: Conflicts over what is taught that are not primarily over religion, specific readings, individual identity, or human origins. Sex education conflicts are often under this heading if they contain major elements outside of specific moral or religious concerns, such as age appropriateness. Also includes disputes over political or philosophical course content.

Freedom of Expression: Conflicts over the rights of students, employees, or citizens to speak in or about public schools. Battles often pit freedom of speech against the ability of schools to maintain environments conducive to learning.

Gender Equity: Conflicts over treatment of students based on gender. Often disputes over the ability to provide single-sex education, which might produce better learning outcomes for some students, but could lead to unequal treatment by government based on gender.

Human Origins: Battles over evolution and creationism. Because they are so widespread, divisive, and long-standing – harkening back to the 1925 Scopes “Monkey” Trial – these conflicts are given their own category. They involve government declaring what is or is not “science,” “fact,” or “religion.”

Moral Values: Disputes over “right” or “wrong” behaviors not necessarily tied to religious convictions. Battles sometimes include non-religious disputes over whether schools or parents should be making decisions about such things as student access to birth control, or participation in school activities.

Race/Ethnicity: Often battles over who decides where children from different racial or ethnic groups attend school, or which group controls school or district decision-making. Also frequent are conflicts over school mascots.

Reading Material: Generally, battles over books assigned or recommended by schools, or present in school libraries, that contain material some parents or citizens find inappropriate. Inherently involves government either censoring or favoring specific speech.

Religion: Disputes involving the presence of religion in schools, either through employees, students, or outside groups. Battles typically pit students’ and employees’ rights to exercise religion free of government interference with the need for public schools to remain conducive to the equal education of all.

Sexuality : Often disputes over whether schools are advocating for, or discriminating against, homosexuals. Anti-bullying policies are frequently involved, with some arguing that to ensure equal protection, anti-bullying statutes must explicitly mention sexual orientation, while others argue that doing so gives gay students special protections.


Additional notes: The incidents on this map are drawn from media accounts (sources for each battle available upon request) from 2005 to the present. Some list years earlier than 2005 because the year used on the map is the year the conflict began. Because major media reports are the source for its content, the map likely provides a minimal sense of how widespread such battles are.

For an in-depth discussion of public schooling and social conflict, and how school choice may provide a solution to the problem, read the Cato report “Why We Fight: How Public Schools Cause Social Conflict.” We will be posting more research on this topic soon!

Incidents are continuously being added to the map. Please send any conflicts you might know about, errors you might find, or questions or concerns you might have to nmccluskey@cato.org. Also, look for new battle info, or discuss education conflicts, on Twitter using #WWFSchool.