Former President Trump has called for suspending the US Constitution, and most Republican politicians have refused to condemn his outrageous statement, let alone say that his views disqualify him from holding the highest office in our land. And, sadly, white nationalists, racists, anti-semites, LGBTQ-haters, and the political opportunists and media whores who enable them are still out in force, working as hard as ever to destabilize our nation.
But that’s politics today, unfortunately. What’s striking and deeply disturbing to me is the extreme politicization of public education, beyond even the battles over desegregation that closed schools across much of the American South in the 1950’s and tore communities–North and South– apart in the 1970’s. Because of my belief in the importance of public schools, I’m using this space to call out the right-wing political activists who are working to destroy public education– and keep to children from reading, thinking, and questioning. Concerned Republicans and Democrats need to step up and defend public schools, because classrooms are becoming ‘unsafe spaces’ for exploration of anything that’s remotely controversial. That’s the polar opposite of education….and a genuine threat to our democracy.
At the top of my list is “Moms for Liberty” and its co-founder Tiffany Justice. This group is leading an effort to take over school boards in order to restrict the curriculum and fire supposedly ‘woke’ administrators. She told former Trump consigliere Steve Bannon, “We’re going to take over the school boards, but that’s not enough. Once we replace the school boards, what we need to do is we need to have search firms, that are conservative search firms, that help us to find new educational leaders, because parents are going to get in there and they’re going to want to fire everyone.”
In October The New Yorker profiled the organization, a piece well worth your attention.
Blogger Peter Greene, a former high school teacher, cataloged the right-wing campaigns of Moms for Liberty, the 1776 Project, and Patriot Mobile recently in Forbes Magazine. Below is Greene’s description of some of their victories, and the consequences.
Right-wingers took over the “Miami-Dade School Board, where a resolution to recognize LGBTQ History Month (which the district had done just last year) drew a crowd of opponents, including Moms for Liberty, the Christian Family Coalition, and the Proud Boys. The new majority on the board squashed the motion……In Colorado, a superintendent resigned after board members campaigned against his policy priorities. In Florida’s beleaguered Broward County district, a new majority appointed by Governor DeSantis passed a surprise motion to fire the current superintendent…..and in Berkeley County (SC), the new majority, on the same night they were sworn in, fired the superintendent, fired the district legal counsel, cut property taxes, banned “critical race theory,” and set up a committee to begin reviewing and removing books deemed inappropriate. Deon Jackson had served as Berkeley County’s first Black superintendent for just over a year, after long-time employment in the district in other capacities. The board offered no explanation for their action, telling the press only, ‘We expect to be able to share our rationale in the future.’”
The campaign is succeeding. As NPR reported on a new survey recently, “More than two-thirds (69%) of principals surveyed report “substantial political conflict” with parents or members of the community last year over several controversial topics:
- Teaching about issues of race and racism
- Policies and practices related to LGBTQ+ student rights
- Social-emotional learning
- Student access to books in the school library
“There is a very vocal and politically organized group of parents/stakeholders with ultraconservative views that want to remove discussions about race from the high school classroom, believe that LGBTQ+ rights should not be upheld in the school system, desire to have Christian prayer in schools, desire books related to race and LGBTQ+ topics be removed from the curriculum and library,” a principal from Nebraska told researchers.
The right’s obsession with–and hatred of–public education isn’t new. Consider this 2002 analysis for perspective.
Some of today’s politicians seem to be going out of their way to harm public education, including Ron DeSantis, the Florida governor who was re-elected in a landslide and whose “Don’t Say Gay” bill is now in force (although his “Stop Woke” law has been ruled blatantly unconstitutional by a federal judge); and former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who recently called teacher union president Randi Weingarten ‘the most dangerous person in the world,” more dangerous than Putin, Erdogan, Assad, and Iran’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei.
I reiterate: this is not, or should not be a “Democratic Issue” or a “Republican Issue.” All children need and deserve the opportunity to achieve their potential, and strong public schools (and libraries, museums, et cetera) are essential. Unfortunately, these ideologues do not believe in diversity, choice, critical analysis, exploration of ideas, or in education itself. It’s their way or the highway.