Saturday, April 3, 2021

Parents Defending Education: Astroturf Goes Hard Right

Parents Defending Education has just popped onto the education policy landscape, and they have staked out their spot in the new battle to inculcate children with the Proper American Values.

They would like to sell themselves as a grassroots organization; there is no particular reason to believe that's true, and I'm going to refer you to this post from the indispensable Mercedes Schneider to see exactly how this group is the product of professional astro-turfers. So take a moment and go read her post before you finish this one. Go ahead--I'll wait.

So Dr. Schneider has laid out who these people are. I want to follow that up with a look at what they're up to. 

The PDE website (which, oddly enough, doesn't include the "parent" part in the URL) prominently lists as a motto "Empower. Expose. Engage." And this explanation:

Parents Defending Education is a national grassroots organization working to reclaim our schools from activists promoting harmful agendas. Through network and coalition building, investigative reporting, litigation, and engagement on local, state, and national policies, we are fighting indoctrination in the classroom -- and for the restoration of a healthy, non-political education for our kids.

There's an "IndoctriNation" map, and links to articles with titles like "Illinois school district pays speaker $175 a minute to criticize white people." And at the bottom of the page, an invitation "submit an incident report." This takes you a form for turning in a school or teacher :

If something is happening in a classroom, take accurate notes of what was said, who said it, and the date(s) and time(s). If evidence of the problem appears on a website, in emails, homework assignments, or class handouts, document everything with screenshots or by taking pictures with your cell phone. The more hard evidence you gather, the stronger your case will be — whether the next step is asking the school for a meeting, speaking to a reporter, or speaking to a lawyer.

They also offer a form for filing FOIA requests, to get those schools to fess up to their misbehavior. And just in case you thought "engage" meant to sit down and engage in conversation with the school--nope. The engage page talks about how to fight back against those "woke" activists by writing letters to the editor, writing op-eds, or engage with the media. And the resources are for fighting back against wokeness at public, charter or private schools.

There's also a list of things they've been up to, including filing all sorts of Office of Civil Rights complaints and FOIA requests, including a request in Bainbridge, WA for "all documents related to internal and external staff communications and documentation involving a teacher’s email to parents, canceling the Father’s Day gift activity after viewing it through 'an equity lens.' " Or one in Buffalo for documentation related to use of "The Rooster Who Would Not Be Quiet." In all, eight actions across the country all filed on March 30.

If there's any doubt yet about what these folks are up to, their press coverage is clear, like this article in the hyper-conservative Washington Times, " 'It's Everywhere': Parents groupd fights left-wing indoctrination in schools" In addition to Nicole Neily, the president with lots of right-wing activist background; Asra Romani, former journalist and violent extremism expert; and Erika Sanzi, education reformster, the group reportedly consults with Chris Rufo, noted anti-critical race theory activist.

PDE is part of a current wave. Rhode Island is considering a bill to outlaw anything remotely CRT-ish. South Carolina is considering mandating schools to use the terrible 1776 commission material. And Charlie Kirk's Turning Point USA is launching its own program to train thousands of educators on how to properly boost the USA and free enterprise.

Call it a culture war, or just call it plain old racist baloney, this appears to be the next front in the education debates. It's gaslighting on the same order as the abusive partner who says, "If you report me to the police, you'll be tearing this family apart." It will be argued on two fronts-- one trying to inculcate the belief that America is #1 and the most awesomest, and the other working to silence everyone who says differently. PDE is particularly odious because of its whole "turn in any teacher or school that offends you" approach to chilling conversation and teaching. This is not just astroturf, but astroturf with its brown shirt on. 

1 comment:

  1. As I pointed out in a comment on Dr. Schneider's post, this is happening all over in many forms, almost like it's a coordinated effort (which we can all read as "exactly like it's a coordinated effort because it is".) Here in NC it's the Carolina Teachers Alliance and their above-board partner, our fanatically rightwing Lt. Governor Mark Robinson. He has talked about the formation of a task force to look for, you guessed it, indoctrination in classrooms, with the same kind of "turn in your teachers" call accompanying it. Amy Marshall, who heads the CTA, is also all about resisting any form of social justice education and claims to have resigned from her Wake Co. teaching job because she refused to attend a PD on white privilege. The CTA's website is full of the flag-waving "patriotism" that you would expect from these (not-so) closet white supremacists. It's also, while putting on the front of supporting public schools, blatantly pro-charter and pro-voucher. I think we can expect more state-level astroturfing efforts like this, as well as the national schemes like the PDE. It's the next way in which the privatizers will try to undermine and destroy public education for their own fun and profit.