Monday, July 4, 2022

Education and the Nation

It has become standard for folks on the pro-public education side of ongoing debates to talk about public schools as a foundation of democracy. I think that's true, but perhaps beside the point.

True because it is our delivery system for trying to, or at least saying we intend to, provide basic tools for all young humans to have a shot at achieving that whole life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. We've understood that connection for a long time, back to the days when we had laws in place to deliberately deny some Americans access to a free public education because we understood that it would be harder to hold them down if education was allowed to lift them up. 

It's also true because public education not only serves the public, but creates the public. We understand on some level that people who don't know stuff and don't understand stuff--those people are easier to steer and not always good at making healthy choices for the country as a whole.

But all that may be beside the point because we don't all agree that democracy is important. For some people, the government needs to be aligned with the right values and run by the right people, and a democratic approach that allows the wrong people to have a say in government is bad. 

This is not a new argument in this country. You can't build an economy that depends on the labor of enslaved people without making mental gymnastics to embed the idea that some people are more actual people than others. And if you create a system of government based on the notion that only True Believers should be in charge, you're also inclined to believe that some people are more people than others.

As a country, our history is built around setting up ideals and then trying, with very mixed results, to live up to them. That struggle doesn't make us a particular evil or wretched nation as much as it makes us a very human nation. After all, is there anything more human than trying to live out your life as if you really believe what you claim, try, or aspire to believe. It turns out to be really hard, and the people who come close are rare enough to become well known for it.

So, "all men are created equal" says the guy keeping enslaved human beings at home. "Let's establish religious liberty," say the folks executing and banishing fellow believers for believing exactly the right thing. And just as surely as we have kept violating those values, we have also tried to stand up and do better. Do we contradict ourselves? Very well, we contradict ourselves. We are large. We contain multitudes.

Those contradictions always find their way into schools. That is not new. The fight over how to undo generations of slavery and mistreatment under the law found its way into schools. What is arguably different this time is that schools are being used to drive changes the nation instead of vice versa.

We are living through a decades-long argument about the very nature of the public education mission, and that is being used to fuel the current political argument. 

I suppose that means, in part, the so-called culture wars, though as one of the principal architects of that war has told us, quite plainly, that the purpose of the culture wars is to drive a wedge between the public and their schools, to decrease trust in public schools so that they can more easily be swept aside.

Because if we can raise a generation that thinks of public schools as a toxic remnant of the past, we can get closer to an "I've got mine, Jack" nation, where "freedom" means I can get what I can and you--well, if you have obstacles in the path to your freedom, that's not my problem (even if I helped put those obstacles there). It's a nation guided by the kind of conservatism Frank Wilhoit described when he wrote “Conservatism consists of exactly one proposition, to wit: There must be in-groups whom the law protects but does not bind, alongside out-groups whom the law binds but does not protect.”

I still have no doubt that there are people who are sincere in believing that we would have a better world with market-based education, with education-flavored businesses that live or die based on their ability to serve the public, but which would eventually yield a rising tide that lifts all boats. I think they're absolutely wrong--that to transform education into a private commodity that parents must purchase (with a tiny bit of government voucher assistance) in a free(ish) market would yield us a country divided between educational haves and have-nots, a system that would not empower poor parents, but further impoverish them. And while I believe in the sincerity of some p[roponents, I also believe that some DeVos-style fans know full well that they are proposing a change to an education system aimed at sorting rather than lifting or leveling, and for them, that's a feature, not a bug.

And once we accept the idea that schools should sort and that "freedom" means "you're on your own in this race, no matter how far behind we made you start out," we've begun spreading that idea throughout society.

My frustration for all these decades is that very little of the debate and discussion is about any of that. The modern reform movement has been all about changing the whole promise and purpose of public education without admitting that's what's going on, without discussing what's really on the table, without talking about what we're really talking about. And those of us who defend public education have too often been suckered into doing the same. Just as in the larger culture, folks keep hollering, "But that is against democratic principles" as if the honest answer wouldn't be, "Well, yes, that's the point."

Part of the experience of our country is an endless debate, an unrelenting struggle over who we are and what we're about. I don't expect it to ever end. This is the hard work part of a pluralistic society--no matter what ideas you champion, when it comes to your opponents, you will never achieve either a perfect compromise or a total victory. 

Maybe it's a true thing that I've come to understand, or maybe it's just me reflecting that I grew up in this country, but I've come to believe that Truth is not a verifiable spot in the constellation of ideas, but a point that is defined by the tension between a complex of contradicting and striving ideas. It's all about balance, and like any balancing act, it requires constant shift and adjustment. Like any balancing act, it is never settled, not even when one overbalances in one direction and falls on one's butt.

Cultural debates usually drive school; right now, schools are being used to drive cultural and political debates. That's a threat to education because it converts students into pawns, tools to make a rhetorical point instead of young humans trying to find their way, figuring out how to be their best selves, how to be fully human in the world. 

A nation is great because its people--its persons-- have the chance to become great. Not just the ones who believe The Right Thing, not just the ones who come from The Right Background. Education is not a commodity sold to parents, but a public good and a societal responsibility shared by us all because we all have to share in the results. That's the promise of public education that I believe in and that I will continue to argue for--that it is a debt we owe to every young human in this country to provide each and every one with a free quality education that empowers them and builds a better nation for all of us (not just the fortunate few). 

We have failed many times. But I have to believe that no matter how badly you did yesterday, today you can always do better. Let's do that. 

Sunday, July 3, 2022

ICYMI: Bombs Bursting Somewhere Edition (7/3)

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.

School's Out Forever

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.

How pro-charter school tech billionaires quietly influence state government

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

The education quote is this one:

"A guy can stand out there — or a girl or whoever with a rifle, an AR-15 or a handgun — and stand there on a sidewalk looking at the school. The difference is this: We can't even stop and ask them what they're doing because of this law."

would have been a better headline that the dumb one that Time chose, but this is a fine example of how anti-"CRT" laws have working to make teachers nervous and quiet.

Emily Popel interviews Anya Kamenetz about her new book, and the result is some useful insights.

Ana Ceballos and Sommer Brugal of the Tampa Bay Times and Miami Herald talked to some of the teachers taking Florida's training for the new Hillsdale-backed civics "education," and it's swell. Well, other than the overt pushing of Christianity and historical inaccuracy, it's swell. 

Are Christians to Blame for the Political Mess We Find Ourselves In?

Nancy Flanagan offers some thoughtful reflection on the place of religion and religious myths in our educational system.

If you can stand to read one more piece about this Very Bad SCOTUS decision, this is a good one in Vanity Fair.

LGBTQ clubs were havens for students. Now they’re under attack.

Hannah Natanson with this crushingly sad piece that shows how real, live human people get chewed up by political opportunism feeding panic.

Akil Bello at Forbes talking about the victory of the test prep industry over the keepers of the testing flame.

Saturday, July 2, 2022

SCOTUS Praying Coach Supplemental Reading

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.

I know this is not a fun case to wallow in, but we're going to be feeling the effects of this for a long time. And the fact that the christo-majority mounted a fictional verion of events from which to launch a takedown of the Lemon Rules, is just a sign that this was a deliberate stroke, and by no means the end of the story. Which means we should all do our homework and understand what the story actually is. 

VA: Loudoun Schools Hit With Million Dollar Culture Wars Lawsuit

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.

The extreme social gender experiments being forced onto small children are nothing short of government-directed child abuse and child sexual exploitation

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:

With intentional disregard for their legal duties and obligations to Plaintiffs and other parents, Defendants have used and are using taxpayer money to advance a “woke” agenda of racial and gender indoctrination, disconnected from any legitimate academic purpose. In the name of “social justice,” Defendants are knowingly, intentionally, systemically, and unlawfully violating Plaintiffs’ rights, and the rights of all other Loudoun County Public school parents.

There are appendices listing the 8040 policy and its statements about expected equal treatment of LGBTQ+ students, so I guess part of the assertion here is that LGBTQ+ student rights automatically infringe on the rights of straight students?

What do the plaintiffs want? There are eight pieces of relief that they seek:

1) A declaration that they're right, and also they'd like the court to make the district throw out the 8040 policy.

2) Tell the district to knock it off and stop "depriving" the plaintiffs of their "constitutional and legal rights."

3) Appoint a special state overseer to ride herd on the district.

4) Make the district pay tuition to send the plaintiff's children to some less naughty school.

5) A judgement "jointly and severally" of "not less than $1,500,00" in damages.

6) With interest. (Really)

7) All of plaintiffs' costs.

8) Anything else the court wants to throw in.

A reminder that the school district is itself a defendant, so any money awards will be paid by taxpayers. 

The anti crowd has tried to hit this district with every cooling, scary measure it can think of, and they have remained unbowed, so here we are. Stay tuned to see how this case shakes out. Also, watch for more such suits, particularly in places like Florida where the Don't Say Gay law lets anybody sue over anything that makes them sad. We know where they can call for a lawyer to take the case.

In the meantime, in other news, Loudoun schools are "seeing large uptick in teacher resignations, openings 'through the roof'" for some reason. They had to offer signing bonuses to get teachers to sign up for summer school, and they still didn't get all they needed. The story does hit at a novel wrinkle--the district is too expensive for most teachers to live there on a teacher's salary, so most commute, and now that gas prices are up there, nobody's in a hurry to do that, either. 

Stay tuned.

Friday, July 1, 2022

Hillsdale College President: Teachers Are The Dumbest

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. 

Hillsdale has a charter presence in many states, but they landed a particularly generous patron in Governor Bill Lee of Tennessee, and it was in a special closed-door reception that Arnn sprung Lee as a surprise guest and proceeded to slam teachers. But somebody made a video and handed it off to a local news station, so now we know some of the awful things that Arnn said and that Lee let slide.

“The teachers are trained in the dumbest parts of the dumbest colleges in the country."

“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.”

Given the chance by Channel 5 to reply, Lee's office didn't even try 

"Under Gov. Lee, the future of public education looks like well-paid teachers and growing a workforce to support our students and build the profession," Laine Arnold said in an email.

Lee has always been a big fan of privatization in education, and he has been particularly excited about bringing Hillsdale's brand to Tennessee. That may be why he never interrupted or contradicted Arnn in front of an audience that laughed at some of these lines. Nobody is backing away from this; Kevin Williamson at The National Review chirped up today to say that Arnn's dumbest of the dumbest crack is true. 

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.”

If you are shaking your head at Tennessee, I suggest you look around your own state first, because these public education-hating faux Christian right wingers are all over the country, and when he's selling his product in public, Arnn is rarely as blunt as he was before the Tennessee crowd. Make sure everyone gets to hear what he really thinks.

Thursday, June 30, 2022

PA: Court Makes School District Pay Taxpayers Back

The Lower Merion School District is the one that was sued six years ago for raising taxes too much. The suit has yielded the unusual spectacle of a court overruling a local school district on the matter of taxation. Now there's a new chapter in that saga. We'll look at that, but first, a little review:

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.

Lower Merion is one of the wealthiest districts in the state, and its budget process seems a bit....well, loose.

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").

So it's not like the district didn't ask for some trouble. But the guy who delivered is a fascinating story himself.

Lord knows the world is filled with people who want to sue their school district because they think their taxes are too high. Who is this guy who actually did it?

That would be Arthur Wolk. (Wolk's co-plaintiffs are Philip Browndeis, Lee Quillen, Catherine Marchand, and Stephen Gleason). Wolk is an attorney who has made a name for himself in aviation law, scoring some big-payday lawsuits against companies on the behalf of victims of various plane crashes. Wolk is semi-retired, pushing eighty, and called in this profile article a " pugnacious pit bull." And when it comes to detractors, Wolk has a reputation for libel lawsuits (you can get a pretty good picture of that image from this blog post entitled "Has Arthur Alan Wolk Finally Learned That He Cannot Sue Every Critic?" Wolk is clearly neither shy nor backward-- you can read more about him on his wikipedia page, which was set for him by the marketing company he hired to give him more web presence.

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.

The judge (Senior Judge Joseph A Smyth) in the case ruled that the tax increase was unnecessary and excessive, and he revoked it. Which is, as near as anyone can tell, unprecedented.

That was back in 2016. The district appealed, and a three-judge Commonwealth Court panel said dismissed the appeal because they filed it too late. Yippee, said Wolk. Also, Wolk said he wanted to see the district refund the extra money "or I'll sue them again for contempt." The court ruled against Lower Merion in March of 2020; the district appealed. The PA Supreme Court denied that appeal in October of 2020. 

And in November of 2020, Wolk by God filed a motion to hold the district and its lawyers in contempt and also  "for the school district, its administrators and lawyers; to be fined $100,000 for every day that they do not comply with Judge Smyth’s decision and order." That's the order dated August 29, 2016, so the amount of the fine would be many millions of dollars. Also, Wolk asked for a grand jury "to investigate the fraud committed by the Lower Merion School District, its Adminstrators and Lawyers, from 2005 to the present, and to issue indictments for those found to have perpetrated, advised or sanctioned such theft.” In April of 2021, Superintendent Robert Copeland announced his intention to resign; Wolk filed suit to cut off his pension. One gets the impression that Wolk is pretty angry.

Now, finally, the whole business seems to have reached a conclusion; the district has agreed to pay $27 million back to taxpayers over a period of several years. --$15 million now, and $4 mill each for 2023, 2024, and 2025, all to anyone who owned property in the district in August of 2016. There's never been anything quite like it in Pennsylvania, and I'm not sure what lesson anyone has learned other than A) don't piss off Arthur Wolk and B) the courts can take over a basic function of a school district if they so desire, even if the district is plenty rich.

The Christian Nation Problem

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. 

The notion that there was ever anything at all like a meeting that ended with the Founding Fathers looking around the room and saying, "Okay, so we're all agreed that we want to codify basic Biblical principles into the laws and functions of our government, right?" is silly. They agreed about nothing.

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

MAGA Group Calls For End Of Federal Establishment Clause


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

They thought the decision was great. But while other folks were content to argue that Coach Kennedy didn't violate the Establishment Clause, AFL went one better "asking the court to reconsider and overrule the Establishment Clause cases" that have caused so much grief and job loss to folks like Kennedy. In fact, even that is not enough. I'm quoting directly here so that you don't think I'm just making crazy stuff up:

AFL is hopeful that the justices will build on this ruling and eventually disincorporate the Establishment Clause, which fully protects the rights of states to decide whether and to what extent they will establish religion within their borders.

Yes, they said what they said. Throw it out so that every state can establish its own state religion.

Now, before you dismiss these guys as fringey cranks, let me tell you who they are.

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.

They want to preserve "the system our Founding Fathers established." If you're wondering how "disincorporating" part of the actual Constitution fits with that, as near as I can tell, they're going with the idea that the federal government isn't supposed to establish a religion, but the states should be totally free to. No word on whether they'll argue that states get to decide "free exercise" as well.

So if you're wondering what might be coming down the SCOTUS disassembly line next, keep your eye peeled for this one. Yikes.

Tuesday, June 28, 2022

PA: Joining The Gag Law Train

Some Pennsylvania GOP folks have decided they want to take a ride on the teacher gag law train and toss up some "parental rights" bills. Each follows the usual template, but offers some special variations.

First up-- Senate Bill 1278.

This is one of those bills requiring the school to tell parents if there is a "change in the student's services or monitoring related to the student's mental, emotional or physical health or well-being" as well as a requirement that the school must "reinforce the fundamental right of the parent or legal guardian to make decisions regarding the parent or legal guardian's child and encourage a student to discuss issues relating to the student's well-being with the parent or legal guardian or to facilitate discussion of the issue with the parent or legal guardian." 

There could be many situations that could trigger such a rule, but mostly these bills are about keeping the school from trying to secretly turn your kid gay or trans. This bill does include a disclaimer saying that the school can withhold such information "if a reasonably prudent person would believe, based on the documented testimony of the student or a history of documented incidents, that disclosure would result in child abuse or the child being abandoned."

There is a now-almost-hilarious saying that school personnel should show the same neutrality toward "sexual orientation and gender identity" as they are required to show toward religious beliefs, and maybe this is just the bill's author taking a snarky dig (Just use that neutrality thing you make us use with religion! Ha! Showed you! Hoist with your own petard now, aren't you!), but since the Supreme Court seems bent on dismantling that religious neutrality, the PA Senate may want to come up with new language. 

Also, for the gazillionth time-- virtually every text that portrays traditional gender roles is taking a non-neutral stance on gender identity and sexual orientation, so this requirement is functionally impossible to follow. But maybe the bill's author really meant "it should be illegal to tell kids that it's okay to be gay or trans."

This bill also includes private right of action for any parent who thinks the non-confidentiality thing has been violated by some teacher trying to turn their kid gay or trans, which means that if the student has given evidence that they are reasonably afraid of abuse or abandonment at home, all of that gets dragged into court when the school has to defend itself from the lawsuit. Want to guess what the Venn Diagram for "parents whose children are afraid of them" and "parents who will sue the school over this stuff" looks like?

Our other bill is Senate Bill 1277

This is a naughty books bill, requiring schools to notify parents of any "sexually explicit content." Including all texts, instructional materials, and library books. The school district needs to come up with policy for all this, and must have public meetings to let everyone have a say on what the policies should look like. 

This bill applies to all schools--public, charter, vocational, cyber-charter. Parents can review any and all materials and require the school to provide their student nonexplicit materials. The bill defines "sexually explicit content" as anything that contains "written descriptions of sexual conduct," which is super-vague, "materials that contain "visual or visually implied depictions of sexual conduct or simulations of sexual conduct," which is even vaguer-- what exactly is a visually implied depiction of sexual conduct?  And no "visual depictions of nudity" at all for K-8. Tough luck, health teachers. Also, how nude are we talking? 

Laws like these get in their own way because they are so vague and arbitrary that they raise far more questions than solutions. 

The sponsors insist that they are being bombarded with parental concerns so they need to empower them, Florida-style. 

Watch for these and other bills in Pennsylvania. Fun times. 

Monday, June 27, 2022

SCOTUS Okays School Prayer Based On Alternate Reality

I am absolutely gobsmacked. I expected that SCOTUS would okay school prayer via Kennedy v. Bremerton School District. I did not expect that their decision would be based on a disconnecting themselves from reality. 

The result is here. I'll walk you through the highlights (sputtering as I go). Sorry. I don't have time to make this short.

This is the case of the football coach who wanted to pray at the 50 yard line after games, and when the district told him to stop, decided he'd get his fifteen minutes of holy fame out of it. Full summary here.

Justice Gorsuch wrote this one, and he's in an alternate reality in the very first paragraph.

Joseph Kennedy lost his job as a high school football coach because he knelt at midfield after games to offer a quiet prayer of thanks.

Nope. Joseph Kennedy decided not to put in for the job for another season.

Mr. Kennedy prayed during a period when school employees were free to speak with a friend, call for a reservation at a restaurant, check email, or attend to other personal matters. 

This line of reasoning will be followed throughout. If you're on the clock, but can get away with dividing your attention, that counts as personal time. Not for the last time, Gorsuch and the berobed conservative activists of the court will demonstrate no understanding of how school jobs work. As a teacher, if I'm on my computer or phone while I'm supposed to be supervising students, I'm asking for trouble. And if I'm a coach or activity advisor, and my students have not officially left the building for home, then I had better be doing my job, which is keeping an eye on them.

What follows is a glowing version of Coach Kennedy's history with the school, putting emphasis on how quiet and personal and totally not while performing his duties as a government employee Kennedy's praying was. We will have to wait for the dissent to get the full story from this planet. What Gorsuch gets semi-right is that this practice stayed below the radar for a while, until Kennedy had expanded it enough that word got back to district officials, who had a church-and-state-separation freakout. 

But Kennedy had an epiphany driving home one night, and felt "compelled" to do the prayer, and send a big letter to the district, in which he offered to do the prayer quietly "while students were busy with other activities--whether heading to the locker room, boarding the bus, or perhaps singing the school fight song" which--no! The offer of "I'll just slip a prayer in when I'm supposed to be doing my job" is not a great offer!

On October 16, "some members of the community" joined him and "this event spurred media coverage." Well, yes-- as the dissent points out, Kennedy spurred, courted, welcomed and recruited media coverage, as well as (not for the first time) participation from the other team. The district continued to put pressure on, feeling that to not do so would suggest they were endorsing a school prayer, and that their understanding of the Constitution would be that such an endorsement was wrong. How very old school of them.

The district noted in their evaluation that Kennedy failed to supervise students after games and failed to follow district policy regarding religious expression. Kennedy decided not to put in for the job for the coming year.

Next comes the dissection of the previous cases, including boneheaded statements like this from Justice Alito:

JUSTICE ALITO expressed concerns with the lower courts’ decisions, including the possibility that, under their reasoning, teachers might be “ordered not to engage in any ‘demonstrative’ conduct of a religious nature” within view of students, even to the point of being forbidden from “folding their hands or bowing their heads in prayer” before lunch.

One of the things the justices will deliberately, repeatedly ignore in this case is the authority of a coach over his team. Kennedy reportedly never said, "You have to come pray with me." He wouldn't have to, any more than any coach ever has to say, "You must come to the optional practice." The "if you want to stay on my good side and get to play" is always silent. The lower court correctly found that 

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.

Yes! How is that not the end of it? And the court the next level up was on point too

 According to the court, “Kennedy’s onfield religious activity,” coupled with what the court called “his pugilistic efforts to generate publicity in order to gain approval of those on-field religious activities,” were enough to lead an “objective observer” to conclude that the District “endorsed Kennedy’s religious activity by not stopping the practice.” 

How is that not the end? Well, SCOTUS has a way. Writes Gorsuch

Under this Court’s precedents, a plaintiff may carry the burden of proving a free exercise violation in various ways, including by showing that a government entity has burdened his sincere religious practice pursuant to a policy that is not “neutral” or “generally applicable.”

In other words--and stay with me here--a prohibition against religious speech is discriminatory if it's only applied to religious speech. I'm not sure--after all, I'm not a fancy lawyer--but I think Gorsuch is suggesting that the First Amendment's Establishment clause is invalid because it only applies to religious speech. At any rate, since the District's policies "were neither neutral nor generally applicable," they don't hold. Because the District admits that they didn't want to allow "an employee, while still on duty, to engage in religious conduct," they lose.

Gorsuch acknowledges that "none of this means the speech rights of public school employees are so boundless that they may deliver any message to anyone anytime they wish" because they are still government employees, which is a nice try, but I still will cross my fingers for a bunch of teacher lawsuits claiming  "My sincerely held religious belief require me to teach about systemic racism and regularly say gay."

I'm not going to try to capture the whole of Gorsuch's next point, but it boils down to something like this-- Kennedy's speech must have been private because it has nothing to do with doing his job, and therefor the District has no business firing him for engaging in speech that has nothing to do with his job."

Gorsuch goes on to acknowledge that those who say teachers and coaches are leaders and all that "have a point." 

But this argument commits the error of positing an “excessively broad job descriptio[n]” by treating everything teachers and coaches say in the workplace as government speech subject to government control.

If you listen, you can hear the sound of school administrator heads exploding all over America, as they realize they will now be responsible for figuring out exactly which words that teachers say count as workplace speech.

Next we move on to the district and its assertion that all this violated the establishment clause.

The District concluded that at a “reasonable observer” could think it “endorsed Kennedy’s religious activity by not stopping the practice." Which brings us to the Lemon test, a long-held (since 1971) means of assessing whether the establishment clause has been trampled or not and you could go study up on but--guess what!

SCOTUS just threw it out. This is a disturbing aspect of all this, because if Gorsuch's recital of the facts were true, then that would pretty much end things--but they still went out of their way to stamp on Lemon. So long, Lemon test. You were useful before, but the new guys don't like the answers you yield so, instead, they will substitute the--well, if you've been paying attention the last few weeks, you can see this one coming:

In place of Lemon and the endorsement test, this Court has instructed that the Establishment Clause must be interpreted by “‘reference to historical practices and understandings.“‘[T]he line’” that courts and governments “must draw between the permissible and the impermissible” has to “‘accor[d] with history and faithfully reflec[t] the understanding of the Founding Fathers.’” 

Jesus, Mary, Mother of God. As with previous uses, this "test" can be used to roll everything back! Brown v. Board, here we come!

Does the school letting a coach lead prayer on the field look like endorsement of his activity? Who cares?  

This Court has long recognized as well that “secondary school students are mature enough . . . to understand that a school does not endorse,” let alone coerce them to participate in, “speech that it merely permits on a nondiscriminatory basis.”

Yes, if there's anything we know about students, it's how resistant they are to any kind of social pressure. But the court is going to stick to the argument that if nobody is actually demanding the students pray, there's no pressure. And, he adds, even if some people are offended by certain forms of speech or prayer they are sure to encounter in a society where those activities enjoy such robust constitutional protection, "offense does not equal coercion." And though the district reported students and parents who said they felt coerced, the court waves that away (Heck, they could have been talking about prayers led by some other previous coach).

The District and court circle back to the notion that they have an establishment clause duty to "suppress" religious talk, 

The only added twist here is the District’s suggestion not only that it may prohibit teachers from engaging in any demonstrative religious activity, but that it must do so in order to conform to the Constitution. 

Such a rule would be a sure sign that our Establishment Clause jurisprudence had gone off the rails. In the name of protecting religious liberty, the District would have us suppress it. Rather than respect the First Amendment’s double protection for religious expression, it would have us preference secular activity. Not only could schools fire teachers for praying quietly over their lunch, for wearing a yarmulke to school, or for offering a midday prayer during a break before practice. Under the District’s rule, a school would be required to do so.

Well, no. It would require them to ask the teacher to stop, maybe, but I doubt it. But Gorsuch has to resort to this because his argument hinges on the fiction that Kennedy was just a guy having a quick head bow in a quiet moment, and not a guy praying publicly and with much fuss in a way guaranteed to pressure students to join in.  

But note also the old religious right argument that secular and religious activities are somehow mutually exclusive, that secular stuff is somehow the opposite of religious stuff. I'm not going to wander off on this tangent now, but this fiction is at the heart of all of these church-state arguments--that secular stuff is somehow just another religion that is getting preferential treatment instead of another thing entirely.

Gorsuch's other argument piece is that there's no tension between establishment and free exercise clauses here, and that the coach is on the right side of both and nobody involved really understands the establishment clause correctly. Which is perhaps the biggest whopper here. But I guess one way to make the free exercise clause dominate is to turn the establishment clause into a whispy nothing.
Gorsuch wraps up:

Respect for religious expressions is indispensable to life in a free and diverse Republic—whether those expressions take place in a sanctuary or on a field, and whether they manifest through the spoken word or a bowed head. Here, a government entity sought to punish an individual for engaging in a brief, quiet, personal religious observance doubly protected by the Free Exercise and Free Speech Clauses of the First Amendment. 

It's such a mischaracterization of the facts of the case one has to wonder, if Gorsuch is correct, how such a case could have been decided so incorrectly by lower courts. 

The answer, as laid out in detail in a dissent by Justice Sotomayor, is that Kennedy's "observance" was not brief, quiet, or personal. As Sotomayor writes

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.

To the degree the Court portrays petitioner Joseph Kennedy’s prayers as private and quiet, it misconstrues the facts.

Also, after noting that the majority just threw out Lemon, she writes

In addition, while the Court reaffirms that the Establishment Clause prohibits the government from coercing participation in religious exercise, it applies a nearly toothless version of the coercion analysis, failing to acknowledge the unique pressures faced by students when participating in school-sponsored activities. This decision does a disservice to schools and the young citizens they serve, as well as to our Nation’s longstanding commitment to the separation of church and state. I respectfully dissent.

The dissent uses pages to lay out the many details of how Kennedy was not quiet or brief, including his invitations to opposing teams to join in, and that very special time where he went out and led a student prayer right in front of the administrator who has just asked him not to. Why the District didn't just fire him for insubordination I do not know.

And here, finally, is why the case is a big deal:

Properly understood, this case is not about the limits on an individual’s ability to engage in private prayer at work. This case is about whether a school district is required to allow one of its employees to incorporate a public, communicative display of the employee’s personal religious beliefs into a school event, where that display is recognizable as part of a longstanding practice of the employee ministering religion to students as the public watched. A school district is not required to permit such conduct; in fact, the Establishment Clause prohibits it from doing so.

This case will liberate all sorts of religious folks in public schools, and we'll get plenty more Jesus prayers across the country at school functions. More than that, this opens the door for religious private and charter schools to be openly religious; teamed up with last weeks Carson verdict that says taxpayer dollars can go straight to private religious schools, this makes taxpayer dollars for openly religious (and discriminatory) schools that much closer, as well as the full use of that religious schooling (and of course, by "religious," these folks mean "Christian") to supplant, replace, and feats on the dismantled pieces of public education.

Folks with more legal expertise can fill in the blanks here. I can read writing on walls and follow arguments to their logical conclusions. This is one ugly wall. Thomas and Alito add their own concurrences, in which they sort of assure us that this verdict says nothing larger about speech, and I'm sure we can trust them because they've never lied to us before.

There are also going to be all sorts of messy unintended consequences, including shenanigans from the Pastafarians and the Satanic Temple. There are going to be huge headaches for all the public school administrators who just became arbiters of what religious expression is okay, and which is not. And for students who are part of some minority non-christianish religion, daily life at school is going to become that much more miserable. Plus, there's a whole history of decisions based on Lemon that are now ;eft twisting in the wind.

I'll be waiting to hear what the anti-indoctrination crowd has to say about all this.

What a freaking mess of a decision. What a mess of a court. 

ME: That Private School Funding Goal Isn't Fully Realized Yet

So Maine's voucher program must now include private religious schools. The Supremes have thrown more weight behind the notion that the free exercise of religion requires taxpayer subsidies.

But in Maine, there's still a catch.

As many of us have been reporting, Maine actually got ahead of this particular case by amending their Human Rights law to specifically say that a private school can't get taxpayer dollars unless they abide by the laws against discrimination, including laws forbidding discrimination against LGBTQ persons.

That's a problem for the schools involved in Carson v. Makin, because discrimination is baked right into their program. 

Bangor Christian Schools require adherence to a code of conduct; trans or gay students will be expelled, even if celibate. Their religious indoctrination is inseparable from their academic instruction. A fifth grade social studies objective is to “recognize God as Creator of the world,” while a ninth grade objective is to “refute the teachings of the Islamic religion with the truth of God’s word.” Teachers at BCS must certify that they are born again Christians.

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.”

Consequently, the schools have said all along that even if the case goes their way, they will not be accepting state money if it means altering their rules.

Not that they admit to discrimination. The spokesperson for the American Association of Christian Schools gave the AP this swell quote:

We don’t look at it as discrimination at all. We have a set of principles and beliefs that we believe are conducive to prosperity, to the good life, so to speak, and we partner with parents who share that vision.

This is not surprising rhetoric. There's a whole industry out there about helping Christian schools make sure they are only serving "mission-appropriate" families. It's not that they are discriminating against anyone; they're just refusing to serve people who aren't aligned with their values. And yes--because irony is not so much dead as drunk and in a ditch somewhere, this is a good parallel to the argument for not giving tax dollars to religious private schools, which the Supremes and their conservative lawyer friends characterize as "discrimination."

The private schools involved in the suit haven't had anything new to say, but if you think the hard-right law group that backed the case, the Institute for Justice (founded thirty years ago with Koch seed money), is about to shrug and say, "Well, the law is the law," senior attorney Michael Bindas has a statement for you:

“It was an erroneous opinion of the Maine attorney general that embroiled the state in five lawsuits spanning three decades and that culminated in the Supreme Court’s ruling against the state,” Bindas said Thursday in a statement. “The current attorney general seems to not have learned any lessons from that experience.”

The executive director of the Christian Civic League of Maine also predicts that more lawsuits are in the future if Maine tries to enforce this law (which, I should also mention, is not in any way shape or form a Blaine amendment).

Getting taxpayer dollars aimed at religious (Christian) private school bank accounts was never going to be enough. The goal is for these schools to collect taxpayer dollars and also to freely discriminate as they see fit. The path is clear-- from Hobby Lobby to gay wedding cakes to Espinoza to Carson, the far right wants it understood that the only way to freely exercise your christianist faith is if you are subsidized by the taxpayer and able to treat people badly that you believe ought to be treated badly. What Kevin Welner calls the "outsourcing of discrimination."

SCOTUS has another shoe to drop on this path--in Kennedy v. Bremerton School District, they heard the case of a coach who wants to lead student prayers at the 50 yard line after football games. It is absolutely clearly over the line--a public school employee while in the business of performing his duties as a public school employee leading a Jesus prayer with students over whom he exercises authority. But I would not bet even my dog's lunch that the court will not rule that his free exercise means he should get to lead whatever religious activities he so desires whenever he feels moved, thereby blasting one more hole in what's ;eft of the wall between church and state. 

Sunday, June 26, 2022

ICYMI: SCOTUS Gets Their Chainsaw Edition (6/26)

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.

Mark Joseph Stern at Slate puts it in the context of the "radical theory" that the establishment clause is not worth the paper its written on.

Blue Cereal Education takes a look at the relevant decisions that got us here. Plus a reading list.

How Supreme Court ruling lays groundwork for religious charter schools

Kevin Welner guests at The Answer Sheet (Washington Post) to break down how this gets us closer to a religious school free for all. Well, maybe not all.

No wonder Christian nationalists wanted these justices on the Supreme Court

Also at the Washington Post. If you want someone who's just pissed, here's Jennifer Rubin to call the reasoning "perverse"

The Hammer That Breaks The Church State Wall Has Hit Public Education Once Again. What Parts Of Our School System Will It Bring Down?

That wordy title courtesy of me, over at

All right. Let's move on to other issues, shall we?

In Wisconsin, a school board goes off the rails when it decides to toss out a book about Japanese internment. 

Federal judge to rule on attempt to block Florida law targeting 'woke’ lessons

Politico looks at an attempt to head off Ron DeSantis's anti "woke" rule.

Student initiates shenanigans from his home via social media. What are the rules for the school? A recent state supreme court decision offers a tiny bit of guidance.

Consulting firm will get $450,000 to help new Philly superintendent

Chalkbeat asks the question, "If you are hiring a high-cost new superintendent to run your district, should you also spend almost half a million bucks to hire someone to help him do his job?" They do not even get into the checkered Tennessee past of the consultant being hired.

A 30th anniversary look at a case that took Jesus prayers out of official school events, as a reminder that they're about to undo that one, too.

North Carolina is trying hard to pitch a lousy merit pay system. Justin Parmenter has found some documents about the people who have been hired to PR the heck out of that bad idea.

An Elite Christian College Has Become The Latest Battleground In America’s Culture Wars

Johnathan Cohn writes about a huge LGBTQ flap at an elite Christian college. A good reminder that such colleges are more complicated than you may think. Bonus: the college is Calvin College, the alma mater of Betsy DeVos.

Teacher Tom is here to make this point again--do not panic over sales pitches tied to the Learning Loss boogieman

Provincialism, Ways of Being, and the Failure of Democracy

Paul Thomas doing what he does best--tying together a host of ideas and perspectives to show us something bigger.

While we're discussing old issues that haven't actually been resolved, Nancy Bailey would like to remind us about the dismal state of recess in US schools.

Doug Mastriano’s Rootin’ Tootin’ School Shootin’ Prevention Plan in PA

Heaven help us, but in PA we have what may be the worst MAGAfied gubernatorial candidate in the country. He has many, many bad ideas, but Steven Singer would like to talk about just one--arming everyone in schools to stop gun violence.

Betsy DeVos is gone from DC, but her terrible national voucher plan now lives on. From me at

This Local Teacher Played Trombone in Zero Gravity for Science

Well, we need something pleasant, so here's a music teacher playing trombone in zero Gs (but, I would hope, four Fs). Plus, chance composition.