Monday, July 4, 2022
Sunday, July 3, 2022
I expect my family to celebrate my birthday even though I am fat and balding and sometimes a jerk. I expect to celebrate my country's birthday no matter how many of her ideals she has failed to live up to or how many shenanigans are currently being perpetrated in her name. More to the point, I refuse yp yield the field to people who would inflict a warped and toxic idea of what constitutes a real American. However you cope with the holiday, here's some reading from last week.
If you're only going to read one item on the list this week, here it is. Kathryn Joyce writing for Salon about Arizona's new bonehead idea, how they got there, how they ignored the will of the people, and what happens next.
Ian Round at the Daily Memphian has a story about some folks have finally noticed the Chiefs for Change, Jeb Bush's old reformster newtork, is Up To Something, and try to figure out what. Update: this turns out to be behind a paywall, but TC Weber has a summary of the choice bits that you can read here.Indiana police set as state handgun permit requirement ends
Saturday, July 2, 2022
Let's revisit the case of Coach Kennedy, the guy who just wanted to offer a quiet personal prayer at the fifty yard line with his student athletes and a couple hundred interested onlookers. Here's an account of the basics, if you need to review.
If you (or people you talk to about this kind of thing) are still struggling with the weird disconnect between what Justice Gorsuch says happened and what, well, everybody else says, here are a couple of items that make good supplemental reading for the case.
First, there's this piece from the Seattle Times. Bremerton, the site of all this noise, is right nearby, so this newspaper has been covering this story since the beginning, like, back in the days when Coach Kennedy was explaining that he was deliberately leading students in prayer to make them better people and long before he got legal advice to go with the "quiet personal prayer" thing.
I also recommend the decision of the Ninth Circuit, in which the court lays out the timeline of events clearly and with a fair amount of judicial sass.
If you aren't in the mood to read through the Ninth Circuit opinion, then the indispensable Mercedes Schneider has selected and contextualized all the best parts, and you can read her handiwork here. Either way, you can take in this nifty opening paragraph:Unlike Odysseus, who was able to resist the seductive song of the Sirens by being tied to a mast and having his shipmates stop their ears with bees’ wax, our colleague, Judge O’Scannlain, appears to have succumbed to the Siren song of a deceitful narrative of this case spun by counsel for Appellant, to the effect that Joseph Kennedy, a Bremerton High School (BHS) football coach, was disciplined for holding silent, private prayers. That narrative is false.
Well, here we go. Far-right CRT activists are upping their game, which in Virginia means suing the local school district for a cool $1.5 million, among other things. And they've got some high-powered MAGA backing to do it. The Loudoun County Schools, a very wealthy, very white district, is being dragged to court.
The lawsuit charges that the defendants, which include the district, administrators and school board members, have adopted policies and practices that are "intended to force or have the effect of forcing Plaintiffs into choosing between their fundamental right to direct the education, moral instruction, and upbringing of their children, and their right to free public elementary and secondary education."
The specific items they list include requiring schools and teachers to secretly facilitate gender ansition (sorry--that's "transition"), providing psychological treatment or counseling without parental knowledge or consent, changing names or pronouns without parental knowledge or consent, soliciting student information about long list of attitudes and habits, intentionally doing "social and emotional learning stuff" in order to affect "a child's behavior, emotional or attitudinal characteristics" re: race or gender without parental knowledge or approval, using racial "balancing," and failing to provide a safe or orderly environment.
The list has the standard quality of feeling like a subtweet that is aimed at specific issues (I mean, do you have any idea how many times I adopted a child's preferred nickname in class without looping in the parents), but Loudoun County Schools come with plenty of subtext pre-loaded because they have been one of the Ground Zeros for the mask/CRT/LGBTQ flaps all collected under the parental rights protests.
Those were accelerated when the district decided to defy Governor Youngkin's order to end school mask mandates. Loudoun is also the district of the infamous bathroom assault, where a boy wearing a skirt sexually assaulted a female student. The two had met in bathrooms for sex before, but this time she wanted to talk and instead became the object of an ugly partner rape. But her father was arrested for attacking another parent at a board meeting, and the right wing media focused on the boy wearing a skirt to sell the rankest kind of fantasy--that a trans student had used a district trans policy to go into a girls bathroom and sexually assault someone. That just fueled more anger over policy 8040 regarding trans students. This is also the district that fired and was forced to reinstate the phys ed teacher who refused to use preferred pronouns. All of this, plus the usual ginned-up "CRT" panic, underlies the lawsuit, which has been filed on behalf of plaintiffs who are mostly veterans of Loudoun conflicts. Oh, and board member recalls.
Clint Thomas. His daughter was suspended for refusing to wear a mask in class, and Thomas then started appearing on the Fox News circuit. He complained that the district was suspending National Honor Society students, community volunteers, and other student leaders "for pushing back against 'woke' educators defying the governor's order."
Abbie Platt. Another anti-mask mom on the Fox circuit. She characterized the school's actions as "psychological warfare" and complained that her daughter and twenty other students had been "segregated" by being stuck in the auditorium. Her son, she said, has a medical excuse that the school wouldn't honor.
Erin Dunbar. Wrote a letter to the editor decrying "tyrannical overreach."
Amy Jahr. Organized a fundraiser to sue the district over its nonrenewal of her contract after she complained of sexual touching by students. (Welcome to tenureless teaching.) Jahr also turned up on Ingraham Angle to talk about one of the board meetings that became a circus with "CRT" protesters (including Senator Dick Black).
Michelle Mege. Mege has been a leading figure in the attempt to bury Loudoun Schools under Freedom of Information Act requests. She calls herself a "core volunteer" for Fight for Schools, one of the many, many groups that have sprung up. Mege made news when the district told her it would cost $36K to fill her requests, which is probably related to the number--95, at the rate of about three a week.
Elicia Brand. The lawyer representing the father of the victim of the bathroom assault.
Elizabeth Perrin. Showed up on Fox to protest a "pornographic" book as well as "Critical Race Theory" At a board meeting, she said "It is not political, it is parentals, and I absolutely refuse to co-parent with LCPS."
Megan Rafalski. With her husband and one other parent, sued the district when it tried to get meetings back under control by tightening rules on who could speak.
You get the picture. Most of the plaintiffs have plenty of experience battling the district on the usual constellation of grievances.
And they have found (or been found by) the perfect law firms for the job. The Binnall Law Group is a "boutique" litigation firm, with some practice in Title IX law. But the other firm...
The other firm is America First Legal, and golly bob, howdy, but they're a crew.AFL was established in February of 2021 by former senior White House advisor Stephen Miller and counselor to the Attorney General Gene Hamilton. They were set up to fight Democrat policies in the courts. Their board includes Mark Meadows, former acting AG General Matt Whitaker, and former director of the Office of Management and Budget Russ Vought. They were announced with great joy and fanfare on the right (the American Spectator called them "a light in the darkness"). Trump himself gave them an endorsement. The Conservative Partnership Institute (a Jim Demint joint that's part of the State Policy Network) also takes credit for helping create AFL.
Their stated mission is, in part,
We founded America First Legal to save our country from this coordinated campaign. With your support, we will oppose the radical left’s anti-jobs, anti-freedom, anti-faith, anti-borders, anti-police, and anti-American crusade.
These are mafia tactics from Loudoun schools, being used to sexualize and indoctrinate children as young as five, all in the name of forcing radical gender ideology onto captive minors. If this was happening outside the context of a school, the adults engineering and sanctioning this madness would be under criminal investigation,
This is the moment when America’s patriotic parents say: ‘Enough. It ends here. We draw the line.’ We are proudly in court, on their behalf, to vindicate the most sacred rights of parents and families against astonishing corruption, abuse, and misconduct. And we are just getting started.
And indeed the AFL has a new Center for Legal Equality that is presumably going to focus on these sorts of cases.
Meanwhile, in this case at hand, the plaintiffs list a whole bunch of specific claims, though they're not very specific. Things like "failing to provide a physically safe and secure learning environment" and "hiding curriculum materials from parents." There are plenty of complaints about the 8040 policy, not letting parents speak at board meetings, and there's even a reference to Mege's FOIA request bill. But mostly there's the now-standard blanket set of complaints about All The Various Woke Stuff:
Friday, July 1, 2022
Hillsdale College is one of the leaders in Christian Nationalist education, and have been pushing charter school programs for years. We've looked at them before. Their current president is Larry Arnn, a guy who is a lot heavier on the conservative than the Christian. And it turns out he has some spectacularkly insulting thoughts about teachers and education.
Arnn's conservative credentials are impeccable. He's one of the founders of the Claremont Institute, a conservative thinky tank (mission-- "to restore the principles of the American Founding to their rightful, preeminent authority in our national life") founded by students of Harry Jaffa (Jaffa was the Goldwater speechwriter who penned the "Extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice..." line); Hillsdale has a library in named after him. The Institute was quiet for years, but has emerged as a big time Trump booster funded by folks like the DeVos tribe and the Bradleys, and pumping out ideas for selling the Big Lie and the Insurrection. Arnn is also a trustee at the Heritage Foundation, which at one point offered him its presidency.
Arnn has been a Trump supporter, and the college has fallen right into MAGAland as well. Or as Politico Magazine put it in 2018
Trump University never died. It’s located in the middle of bucolic southern Michigan, halfway between Lansing and Fort Wayne, 100 miles and a world away from Detroit.
The college uses Trump mailing lists to raise money. They used to sponsor Rush Limbaugh's show. They get grads placed on the staff of legislators such as Jim Jordan and Kevin McCarthy. In 2017, for some reason, Senator Pat Toomey created a little piece of tax reform that would have carved out atax treat for Hillsdale alone. Arnn was on the shortlist for Secretary of Education for Trump; when Trump whipped his super-duper 1776 Commission to create some nationalistic education stuff for the country, he put Arnn in charge (and Hillsdale still offers a version of that terrible "patriotic" curriculum. They don't have a great history with LGBTQ students. Erik Prince (Betsy DeVos's brother) is a Hillsdale graduate.
“They are taught that they are going to go and do something to those kids.... Do they ever talk about anything except what they are going to do to these kids?"
"In colleges, what you hire now is administrators…. Now, because they are appointing all these diversity officers, what are their degrees in? Education. It's easy. You don't have to know anything."
“The philosophic understanding at the heart of modern education is enslavement…. They're messing with people's children, and they feel entitled to do anything to them.”
“You will see how education destroys generations of people. It's devastating. It's like the plague.”
“Here's a key thing that we're going to try to do. We are going to try to demonstrate that you don't have to be an expert to educate a child because basically anybody can do it.”
Lee Believes that Hillsdale has a "number of initiatives that align with our priorities in Tennessee," according to Lee spokesperson Casey Black. Lee has talked about the importance of teaching "true American history, unbiased and nonpolitical," but Hillsdale promises neither, with a Libertarian, nationalist approach that hews to one narrow interpretation of history. Lee also claims that "Hillsdale's charter schools in our state will be public secular classical education schools," and while Hillsdale has learned to keep its Christian bent less obvious in its charter schools, there's no question that religion is part of its brand. Per its website:
In the words of its modern mission statement, the College “considers itself a trustee of our Western philosophical and theological inheritance tracing to Athens and Jerusalem, a heritage finding its clearest expression in the American experiment of self-government under law.”
Thursday, June 30, 2022
As part of Pennsylvania's ongoing work to crush public education promote fiscal responsibility, for the last decade we've had the bi-partisan fiscal straightjacket that is Act 1, which declares that schools may not raise taxes above a certain index without either a voter referendum or state-level permission. Lower Merion has allegedly been going the state exception route for the last ten budgets by claiming a projected deficit that would affect pensions and special ed. Here's how the district put it in response to the decision:
In Lower Merion, recent enrollment growth has exceeded projections and the impact on staffing and facilities planning has been significant and unexpected. Additionally, the District faces increasing unfunded and underfunded state-mandated costs, including retirement and special education. Without the ability to plan ahead for its financial needs and maintain adequate reserves, the District will lose critical flexibility during a time of uncertainty and growth. The implication for school programs is enormous.
It would seem that Lower Merion may have the worst budget process ever. The lawsuit and the ruling both leaned on what appear to be some serious mistakes in the predicted outcome of the year:
For instance, in 2009-10, the district projected a $4.7 million budget hole but ended the year with a $9.5 million overage. In 2011-12, it anticipated a $5.1 million gap but wound up with $15.5 million to the plus side.
Lower Merion business manager Victor Orlando testified that the district has between $50 and $60 million in the bank. This is in itself requires some of the aggressive accounting that the lawsuit complains about-- Pennsylvania also has laws about how much money a district can park in its general fund. But districts can get around those by parking money in designated funds ("This $20K is in our Library Doily Fund, not the general fund").
Wolk's two children did not attend school in the district, but he has a big house there and pays more taxes than he thinks he ought to. When the district's superintendent released a letter accusing Wolk of trying to establish public schools as lesser than private schools by choking off taxpayer support, Wolk replied with a letter of his own (referring to himself in third person).
There was no need for a tax increase this year or any year in the last ten according to audited statements. We have the highest paid teachers, highest paid administrators, and too many of them, and the most expensive school buildings and the highest per student cost of any place in the nation. Our school performance is on par with districts that spend half of what LMSD spends which means that the administrators have failed in their jobs and the people supposed to provide oversight, the Directors, have done nothing.
He also brings up senior citizens on fixed incomes who are afraid of losing their homes, because no discussion of school taxes in Pennsylvania can occur without bringing up the spectre of senior citizens afraid of losing their homes. I am not sure exactly who in Wolk's uber-rich neighborhood could be worried about losing their home over taxes.
Wolk has been explaining himself on the subject for months. In May he wrote a letter to the editor complaining about the district's wild spending way, creating debt by building "two Taj Mahal high schools" along with bunches of busing.
Wolk's critics (and he has plenty) repeatedly accuse him of advocating a two tier system, with just the basics for public school students. Here's an oft-quoted excerpt from his lawsuit.
Public school education means basic adherence to the minimum requirements established and imposed upon school district by the State Board of Education, Public education is not courses, programs, activities, fee laptop computers and curriculums that are neither mandated nor normally part of a public education standard, and are normally provided only by private institutions at larger expense to individual patrons who prefer to afford their children education and opportunities that are neither required, nor offered, nor appropriate for public education paid for by the taxpayers.
If it seems like there are fundamentally different theories of government operating in this country, that's because there are.
Start with people who believe that the US is a Christian nation, founded on Christian principles. I'm not going to argue that particular point at the moment, other than to note that the Founding Fathers disagreed about virtually everything. And I don't just mean the obvious slavery stuff. Patrick "Give me liberty or give me death" Henry was opposed to the Constitution. Thomas "These are the times that try men's souls" Paine thought George Washington was a bungling tool unfit for any important office.
But the "founded as a Christian nation" idea is a tell, coming frequently hand in hand with a very different idea about the foundations of the country.
Jefferson wrote in the Declaration of Independence that "Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed." That assertion that government's get their power from the consent of the governed is both ideological and practical. It's not just that instituting a government that way is the proper thing to do, but that to try to derive government power from other sources (like, say, the divine right of kings) leads sooner or later to uproar, revolt, destruction, decay.
But for Christian Nationalists, the principle is that government derives its powers and legitimacy by alignment with God and God's dictates.
To some people of faith, particularly those with an Old Testament bent, this makes sense. A nation prospers because it aligns itself with God; to break with God is to bring ruin on the country.
But it also means that these people are starting with a different conception of what the country is about.
For one thing, the idea of a christian nation leads immediately to the idea of christian citizens. If the government is only legitimate to the degree it follows God's will, then citizens are only true citizens to the extent that they follow God's will.
All of this pushes the christian nation crowd to oppose democracy and democratic ideals. For them, democracy opens the door to letting citizens who are not legitimate citizens have a say. This is often what some of these believers are pointing at when they say that this country is a republic and not a democracy--a republic is built much more around the idea of government being steered by only those legitimate citizens, who are protected from the influence of the illegitimate others.
None of this is to say that all christian nationalists want to lock up the illegitimate citizens, put them in camps, keep them in chains, etc. Many believe deeply in freedom, but by freedom they mean the opportunity for those people who are not properly aligned with God to get right with divine direction and come over the right side, at which time they can be rewarded with the rights and privileges of true citizens. They may even praise diversity, because they believe it's an awesome thing that folks from all these different backgrounds and origins can come together under the proper banner of God.
But until they come over to the banner, they should not be allowed to drag the country off course.
At first glance, some christian nationalist ideas may seem hypocritical, but they aren't, because the underlying principle is that people who are right with God have certain rights and privileges, and people who are Not Right need to be restrained and kept away from the levers of power, because if they get their hands on the levers of power, those Not Right people will steer the nation further away from alignment with God's Laws, thereby endangering the nation's future.
And christian nationalists are constantly fighting the battle to keep the Not Right people from power. Welfare to undeserving, racial protests, immigration, voting rights--none of these are about addressing real problems, but are part of a web of excuses and sneaky strategies to give Not Right people more power in our country. You can't really chip away at their belief that 2020 elections (and others) are rigged, because the issue is not so much specific instances of fraud as the gnawing belief that there are all these Not True American people who are getting to vote who shouldn't get to vote.
Through this lens, we see a different purpose of education--to bring up true citizens who understand the true things that bring them in alignment with God's true word. There is no reason to confuse students with ideas that we already know are wrong. Early in my career, my friend the gifted teacher taught a unit on world religions, looking at the ideas and history of each one. Said one of his Christian students, "I'm not doing this. There's no reason to study those other religions, because they are all wrong."
This debate about education has been going on for decades. It does not matter which label is being currently used--evolution, tolerance, LGBTQ, BLM in school, the 1619 project, sex ed, SEL--these are just the current label for a large complex of attempts to teach things in school that seduce students away from God's true word and alignment with it. That's why we find counters such as the Florida civics education program teaching that the founders didn't want a wall between church and state, among other things.
School becomes an arena for debating the areas where christian nationalists and other Americans thrash out different values. Sometimes the language hides the disagreement. Everyone wants students to become good citizens who use critical thinking. But for some, "good citizen" means "aligned with God's truth" and "critical thinking" means "able to see through evil deception of those who try to lure you away from God's true word."
Not all Christians, not all nationalists, not all conservatives. But more than enough to wreak havoc (particularly if they get themselves a judge's robe).
But it's important, as we hash this out some more in the years ahead, to remember a couple of things.
1) This conflict is baked into our national DNA. So many colonists came here to get away from ugly messes where the church and state had become intertwined, and yet many, like the Puritans, did not think the problem was that the church was in charge of the state, but rather that the wrong church was in charge of the state. They escaped oppression so that they could be the oppressors.
2) We are dealing with people who don't share the value of democratic processes and democratic systems. In other words, hollering, "But that's not democracy works" at them will be fruitless.
What religious nationalists always fail to notice is that it always ends badly. It is not unreasonable to declare that God is not defined by a majority vote, however, humans have a long and bloody history of disagreeing about the nature and requirements of God. Turns out everybody has their own ideas about what, exactly, God's will might be.
They may dream of a country where only people who Believe Correctly are in charge, but such a country requires you to force people who disagree to shut up or force people who disagree to at least pretend to agree or force people who aren't part of the ruling church to accept what religion-backed-government chooses to take away from them, and those tricks not only don't work but also lead to huge civil messes. I believe the Founding Fathers were acutely aware of that history (after all--Great Britain had been through at least two ugly religion-related government upheavals in the 17th century) and that knowledge gave them ample reason to conclude that A) keeping the church away from government was a good idea and B) a government's power comes from the consent of the governed because when people stop consenting, governments find themselves with steadily decreasing power.
We do not agree on what this country is meant to be. We never have, and a whole shelf full of historians have made hay parsing the various subdivisions. What our founders cobbled together was a system that made it hard for any one subdivision to take control from all the others. Doesn't mean they won't try. Doesn't mean they won't come frighteningly close.
But folks in the education space need to understand that the most severe of the christian nationalists have no interest in compromise. They have spoken for years about their need to take back the schools, and that is what they intend to do, with all the discrimination, segregation, privatization, taxpayer funding, and absence of government oversight that it entails. They have lost, as historian Adam Laats often points out, the "wars" over what the culture will be. That doesn't mean they can't still fight a battle over who will run the country where the culture exists and the schools where the culture is imparted.
I know by the rules of this sort of essay I should wrap up with an encouraging plan of action, but I'm not really sure. I suspect it would help if everyone could stop viewing their opposition as slavering monsters, but if you view yourself as a soldier of God, it's hard not to see those who oppose you as agents of Satan. But I remain convinced that personal contact and connection can defuse much of this. How we transfer that energy over to politicians and media companies that are opportunistically profiting from the conflict I do not know. Surely there is some shared text that can help us, but right now we are all reading from completely different books, and I'm not sure how we bridge that. Sorry.
*Hat tip to Adam Laats and Katherine Stewart who articulate many of these ideas at greater length and in better ways that I do here.
Wednesday, June 29, 2022
First we'll cover what they said, then look at who they are.
In response to the SCOTUS decision in Kennedy v. Bremerton School District, in which we learned that maybe prayer led by a school employee during working hours and involving students is actually okee dokee, America First Legal issued a statement.
Tuesday, June 28, 2022
Monday, June 27, 2022
because Mr. Kennedy “was hired precisely to occupy” an “influential role for student athletes,” any speech he uttered was offered in his capacity as a government employee and unprotected by the First Amendment.
Official-led prayer strikes at the core of our constitutional protections for the religious liberty of students and their parents, as embodied in both the Establishment Clause and the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment.
The Court now charts a different path, yet again paying almost exclusive attention to the Free Exercise Clause’s protection for individual religious exercise while giving short shrift to the Establishment Clause’s prohibition on state establishment of religion.
Temple Academy is an extension of the Centerpoint Community Church. TA is unlikely to admit students that do not come from a Christian family; that family must sign a Family Covenant saying they agree with TA’s views on abortion, marriage, and homosexuality. Again, only born again Christians may be hired to teach; teachers also sign an employment agreement acknowledging that the Bible says that God considers “homosexuals and other deviants as perverted.”
Sunday, June 26, 2022
Well, that was a week. The berobed conservative activists just took to chewing through all sorts of law in ways that seem to suggest that the chewing will not be over any time soon. There were no big surprises this week, but that doesn't lessen the impact.
So let's start with some reading about Carson and various thoughts about the possible fallout.The Supreme Court Just Forced Maine to Fund Religious Education. It Won’t Stop There.
Federal judge to rule on attempt to block Florida law targeting 'woke’ lessons