At a contentious school board meeting last week, Central Bucks superintendent Abram Lucabaugh defended the district’s new ban on displaying LGBTQ Pride flags in the classroom. “We can agree to disagree about this, but classrooms absolutely need to be apolitical,” Lucabaugh said.

But how can our young people learn how to disagree — in a civil and reasonable manner — unless we bring politics into their classrooms?

That’s the real question swirling beneath the Central Bucks fracas and the other school wars around the country right now. From critical race theory and gender identity to policies around COVID-19, parents have clashed bitterly over what our schools should teach. We lack enough faith in our children — and in their teachers — to place these debates where they rightly belong: in the school itself.

Schools are the only public institution charged with making young Americans into citizens. But they can’t do their job if we insulate students from the key political issues that divide us.

» READ MORE: Central Bucks parents protest removal of Pride flags and other actions they say are hostile to LGBTQ students

As we saw in Central Bucks, some Americans think it’s perfectly fine to fly the Pride flag in classrooms and others don’t. Why pretend otherwise when the kids are in the room? We should instead put the question to our students, and ask them what they think.

Ditto for the other LGBTQ-related issues raised at the angry school board meeting last week. If a student asks to be called by a different pronoun, should the school be required to obtain parental permission first? And should students be separated according to the sex assigned to them at birth for a class on physical growth and puberty? Those are political issues, too, which is precisely why we should place them before our students.

After all, they’re the people who will be most directly affected by these questions. And they need to come up with their own answers.

But that will require us to admit that we don’t have all of the answers ourselves. And, most of all, we will have to give kids the space to form their own opinions — even if they disagree with ours.

It won’t be easy. Gender issues are deeply personal, reflecting our most fundamental ideas of ourselves as human beings. How many advocates for flying the Pride flags would be OK if the majority of students decided that the flags didn’t belong in the classroom? And how many opponents of the flags would rest easily if the students said that classrooms should display them?

It’s a scary prospect, to let our kids come to their own conclusions. But here’s an even scarier one: denying them the opportunity to do so. They’ll grow into the angry adults that you see at school board meetings around the nation, hurling hate and invective at each other.

“It’s a scary prospect, to let our kids come to their own conclusions. But here’s an even scarier one: denying them the opportunity to do so.”

Jonathan Zimmerman

Of course we don’t want to inject that ugly rhetoric into our public school classrooms. That’s where teachers come in. Their job is to help students learn a different — and better— way of deliberating with each other.

That means prohibiting homophobic and transphobic slurs, which have no place in our classrooms. But it also means that we shouldn’t dismiss anyone who wants the Pride flags removed — or who wants parents to sign off on students’ new pronouns — as homophobic or transphobic. Those are slurs, too, and they prevent us from communicating across our differences.

Unfortunately, our schools are moving in the opposite direction. Dozens of state legislatures have passed measures — like Florida’s “Don’t Say Gay” law — that restrict classroom discussions around gender and race. All of this to try to prevent “politics” from infecting schools.

But politics are already there, and always will be. Flying a gay Pride flag in a classroom is a political act. So is taking it down. The only question is whether we’ll teach our children a better form of political conduct, instead of shouting past each other in a vain attempt to protect them from it.

Jonathan Zimmerman teaches education and history at the University of Pennsylvania. He is the author of Whose America? Culture Wars in the Public Schools, which will be published in a revised 20th-anniversary edition this fall by the University of Chicago Press.