Wednesday, November 3, 2021

More Rough Days Ahead For Public Ed

The post-mortems are rolling in this morning. Some mild suggestions like this one from Ross Douthat: "Democrats probably need a new way to talk about progressive ideology and education." Some chortling Twitter feeds about how CRT panic is a winning issue.

However you parse it, it seems reasonable to assume that a whole bunch of GOP politicos have, in the wake of the Virginia governor's election, will conclude that a winning strategy is to treat public education as a punching bag. Filled with indoctrinators! Naughty books! Race stuff! A bunch of commie lesbians turning your kids trans! A scam to make the unions rich! And, of course, they suck at educating children!

We'll hear it all from various candidates for the next three years because, as of right now, it appears to work. There are, of course, alternative explanations (e.g. Virginia has, 11 out of 12 times, elected a governor from the party out of national power). But this seems like a simple one, and it's easy to do, and the ground troops are already in place in the form of a hundred anti-CRT/masks/vax/closed schools groups. Brandishing the dirty book can be the 21st century's wave the bloody shirt. I'm afraid we're in for three years (at least) of calls for banning books and regulating teacher speech.

It will also look like a winning strategy because Democrats haven't a clue how to push back. 

This is more than the usual on-brand Democrat fecklessness. Democrats will have a hard time pushing back because it has been almost a generation since they actively attempted to defend public education. 

What's remarkable about the infamous A Nation at Risk" report is not how thin it is--though it is thin. Here's Tamim Ansary writing about it in 2007:

Naturally, I assumed this bible of school reform was a scientific research study full of charts and data that proved something. Yet when I finally looked it up, I found a thirty-page political document issued by the National Commission on Excellence in Education, a group convened by Ronald Reagan's secretary of education, Terrell Bell.

The report was a hatchet job, and yet no Democrats piped up to defend public education. Democrats helped sell No Child Left Behind as a bipartisan slice of baloney. Obama and both Clintons pushed the neoliberal notion that public education needed to be busted up and sold for parts. Democrats have enthusiastically joined in the various attempts to turn the manufactured assertion that "US public schools are failing" into conventional wisdom, a thing that everyone says even though they have no actual proof. 

So there's a certain ironic justice, a bitter karma, that Democrats suddenly find themselves facing a political punch in the face because they don't have the language, the background, the knowledge, the experience to simply defend public education. When the left-right d├ętente to "reform" education broke up and the right determined they could just go on by themselves, the Democratic establishment couldn't figure out how to pivot, and now they're caught flatfooted, out of touch with real parents with real concerns, and clueless about what public education really needs. I suppose I should feel some schadenfreude over watching people take a beating because they can't figure out how to take a convincing stand against things like book banning and attacks on public education. Except...

Except it's public education that's going to get beaten up. Fox and OAN and assorted privatizers will double down on the idea that parents just can't trust the schools or the people in them and teachers, who are already staggering through Year 3 of One Damn Thing After Another, will be further dragged around the block by people whose only interest in education is how many votes they get from punching it, followed by privatizers and choicers who will, correctly, see this as an excellent opportunity to pursue their own goals. 

I suspect it's going to be brutal. We might describe it by saying that if any foreign power leveled this kind of attack against a valuable public institution, we'd call it an act of war. But while these political firestorms rage, teachers and parents will still, somehow, be trying to educate and raise children in the midst, and my heart goes out to all of them. I can only hope that some politicians will actually see value in stepping up as champions for public education and buck the prevailing political winds. 


8 comments:

  1. "I can only hope that some politicians will actually see value in stepping up as champions for public education and buck the prevailing political winds."

    The only problem is that they have no defense. Unless you count bad standards, even worse tests, 20 years of flat/falling test scores, an unprecedented expansion of the null curriculum, opportunity deficits, the rejection of content knowledge over soft 21st century skills, 40 million Chromebooks and the screen time to with them, the debunked and failed methodologies of discovery and constructivist learning, the guide on the side, and the perception of super-woke school culture.

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  2. You make some good points about Democrats not defending public education, and caving in to high stakes testing, etc. But what happened in Virginia on Tuesday also looks a whole lot like progressives handing right wingers an oportunity that they didn't have to hand over. Make that 3 opportunties. The Republicans, predictably, used these issues to inflame their most frightened constituents. But the opportunities came from Democrats pandering to some of our smaller and more extreme constituency groups. Namely, McAuliffe actually saying that parents should not influence what gets taught in schools (what!!!??? how tone deaf can you get???). And, the controversy that arose around the sexual assault of a high school girl by a skirt-weating boy in a girls' bathroom. That should have been a wake up call that moving so fast (and so extremely) on trans rights in public schools was a mistake. And, third, school districts that were trying to improve their teaching on race and racism should have been very clear that there would be no encounter-group (or catechism-like) classes where children are led to avow their identities as victims or oppressors (this type of teaching has actually happened in my school district and several others near here). It doesn't take many examples like this to get parents (including, in my area, quite a number of Black parents) completely unhinged. We have had extensive teaching about racism in my district for many years (it has been racially integrated for decades), with never any opposiltion. It's only when the teaching becomes manipulative and doctrinaire that we get this reaction.

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    1. I'm in MD and in my district we are having the same issues. I'm a Dem thru and thru, but some of this stuff going on in public school is alarming (and yes, even our black parents are concerned). I pulled my 2nd child out and put him into a progressive private HS because the SEL/DEI added onto the Common Core, data collection, erosion of FERPA and over testing was just too much for our family (child #1 graduated out of the public system). Kids in MS and HS are bundles of hormones as it is, but when the DEI/SEL is added into the mix it really makes the kids crazy.....the kids are sorting each other into boxes and forming battle lines instead of forming Venn Diagrams and getting along. The problem is that any sane parent taking issue with some of this stuff is labeled as a right-wing, nut job, Nazi trying to ban books, stop the teaching of actual History and of denying people their lived existence. The majority of us (and our children) are caught in a culture war between the far left and the far right and there is nothing we can do about it. I was always pro public education but what has been building up over the years is not what I consider to be good educational practice. When everything is standardized and scripted from top down mandates, teachers don't have much autonomy, or time, to really teach how they know best to teach kids. Keep "Beloved", teach real history and stop "using" the LGB kids to show how "progressive" the district is. This has got to end or true public schools will cease to exist.

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    2. Thanks for these. One note: the supposed trans boy attack on the girl turns out to be a whole other story. They are a couple who had met in that restroom to have sex in the past. This particular day she apparently changed her mind, and it turned ugly. Raises a lot of questions, but the "guy faking trans so he could attack random girls in the restroom narrative" is apparently incorrect.

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    3. But the "guy faking trans" really does wear a skirt to school sometimes....even though he seems to like girls. The "trans" thing is coming out of the DEI "curriculum in a can" garbage, too. More sorting based on gender stereotypes and what kids wear or how they feel on any given day...it's become an explosion in school and on TikTok/YouTube/Reddit/Tumblr (there are now lesbians with penises SMH! Look it up). The Koch/Libertarian Party really knows how to glom onto something and turn it into a political issue to win seats for its agenda.

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  3. Oh yes, it was obvious the boy wasn't trans. But the policy of allowing bathroom access to students of the other sex if they self-identify as the same sex is what led to the problem in the first place. I really pity school boards that have to navigate this conundrum.

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    1. I would say that the thing that led to this particular problem was teenagers who want to sneak into unmonitored areas of the school to have sex. They had reportedly previously also used the boys room, but I haven't heard anyone raising the issue of her pretending to be trans.

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  4. A profound and quite frightening, largely because it is so accurate, piece . Thank you.

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