Tuesday, May 31, 2022

MO: Dark Money Group Targets "Woke" Schools

Liberty Alliance USA is a dark money far right group in Missouri, and one of their projects is the Woke Heat Map, a map offering "an interactive tool designed to expose the insane actions of the radical Left." All of the places marked on the map are schools. Here are the evil woke offenses being called out.

* a school offering diversity, equity and inclusion training

* some university students started a podcast entitled "Angry White Men and How They Ruined the World"

* a high school distributed safe space and safe zone stickers for staff to put up to indicate LGBTQ allies

* antiracism training for middle school staff

* a school district offered a "coming out closet"

* all state schools are hiding CRT in the curriculum

* a report of the already-removed Maya Angelou math homework assignment

* a school district hired a supporter of CRT

* a quiz about political ideology

* university students vandalized a pro-life display

* the genderbread man, used in some school

* and a  probably-legitimate concern about the district where the admin told teachers to just hide any lessons that might cause trouble

I'll link to that site again, just in case you feel moved to use the handy reporting form for telling them about any other places exhibiting naughty wokeness.

We've seen these kind of tattling on school sites before, but this one is different because this is aimed at a larger audience, not just people upset about schools. Which means the widest possible audience of anti-wokers (sleepers?) now has a set of handy targets. And really, if there's anything we don't need in this country, it's people drawing targets on schools.

Who are these people? For that part, I'm going to turn this over to a twitter thread I've unrolled from Lindsey Simmons, a Missouri attorney who ran unsuccessfully for the legislature in 2020. There's a lot here. 

It has been one week since the massacre at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas.

In response, a dark-money group from Missouri launched a "Woke Heat Map" so that fascists can "fight back" against a "woke agenda."

Twelve locations are tagged.

All of them are schools.

First, some history.

Missouri is a safe haven for dark money groups.

Dark money is cash used to influence our politics from a concealed source. Usually it's passed through a non-profit on its way to support a candidate or cause. 
You might be thinking, "But wait! I have to input my info everytime I make a donation--with my employer and everything."

Yup. You do.

But the Supreme Court has made a distinction between giving to a candidate and independent expenditures. 
An independent expenditure is money spent on communications to support or oppose a candidate or cause--without coordinating with the candidate's committee.

At least, technically that's the rule.

Also, these "independent expenditure" groups can accept unlimited donations. 
You probably know them best as SuperPACs.

So how does it work? Well. You can donate $10M to a so-called non-profit that doesn't have to disclose its donors + that non-profit can give your $10M to a SuperPAC that can then send out $10M worth of mailers telling your community. 
Until 2016, Missouri was one of a few states with zero campaign contribution limits. This made us ground zero for dark money operations.

Recall that Eric Greitens was accused of sexual assault--but didn't resign until his dark money contacts threatened to be revealed.Image
So it likely won't surprise you that dark money groups continue to flourish in our state.

One of them is Liberty Alliance USA--a group that has launched a "Woke Heat Map" so that their followers know which specific spots to target for "fighting back" against the "woke agenda."Image
Every single one of these 12 locations is a school.

And these schools are being targeted for supporting trans students, offering African-American and multicultural curricula, diversity education, and promoting equity.

The map reads like an anti-democracy school hit list. 
Liberty Alliance USA purports to "promote Conservative principles" while "fighting the reckless embrace of Socialism."

They mention politicians "fighting" only "half-heartedly" to "protect conservative values"--a callout to any Republican not towing the fascist line.Image
But who is Liberty Alliance USA? Why target 12 different schools?

Well. Buckle up. Because Liberty Alliance USA isn't even it's name. It's quite literally a "Fictitious Name" for Cornerstone 1791.

This allows Cornerstone 1791 to try and hide its work and avoid accountability.Image
Cornerstone 1791 listed Kristen Blanchard-Ansley as its President, Secretary and member of its Board--along with Shane Bartee and William Greim.

The Articles of Incorporation name Edward Greim as a registered agent and Matthew Mueller as as an incorporator.ImageImage
Mueller + Edward Greim are attorneys at Graves Garrett in Kansas City, MO--a law firm with strong ties to the Trump administration and that is paid by the legal defense fund for January 6th organizers.

Matthew Whitaker (of counsel at the firm) was the Acting Attorney General. 
And it should be remembered that Whitaker was appointed by Trump as the Acting Attorney General illegally. That's because he never received Senate confirmation.

I mean--there's even an on point SCOTUS decision from 2016 where Roberts, Thomas and Alito wrote that rule down.Image
But Trump put in Whitaker in charge of the DOJ to dismantle Robert Mueller's investigation. Whitaker is the same man who wrote an op-ed suggesting Mueller's investigation went too far + who shared an opinion piece asking Trump's lawyers not to cooperate with the investigation.ImageImage
When the House January 6th Select Committee issued subpoenas to those who organized January 6th, Matt and Mercedes Schlapp created a legal defense fund to "pay for counsel from the law firm of former acting attorney general Matt Whitaker"--Graves Garrett.Image
William and Edward Greim are brothers. William has been the Treasurer for a handful of anti-democracy PACs in Missouri, such as Fair Missouri, Freedom to Work and, of course, Liberty Alliance.ImageImageImage
Worth noting is the address that appears on some of these organization papers--it's the same as the Graves Garrett law firm, where William's brother Edward Greim is a partner.

And then we have Kristen Ansley who is the former Acting Executive Director of the Missouri GOP. 
She's also the current Executive Director of "Private Citizen" a non-profit that originally was organized as "Nemo Resideo Group" located at--you guessed it--the very same address as Graves Garrett law firm.ImageImage
Ansley also sits on the Board of Directors of the Herzog Foundation, where she joins Todd Graves--named partner of the Graves Garrett law firm.

Graves is the brother of Sam Graves--United States Representative to Missouri's 6th Congressional District.Image
Yes, the same Sam Graves who signed the amicus brief undermining the 2020 election + who later voted against certifying election results.

But let's go back to Todd for a second. He's the former Chair of the MO Republican Party and is now on the U of Missouri Board of Curators.Image
If you dig into dark money groups, you'll learn that Graves Garrett partner Lucinda Luetkemeyer represented a Montana Representative during his case over the use of dark money.

Lucinda is married to MO State Senator, Tony Luetkemeyer--who voted for Todd Graves's appointment. 
Oh, and, Tony Luetkemeyer's cousin, once removed, is sitting U.S. Representative Blaine Luetkemeyer from Missouri's Third Congressional District.

And so what you have is one law firm, with strong familial connections to state and federal legislators, employing Trump loyalists. 
And now they're pushing out their latest effort to create a surveillance state. One where schools are placed on a list for doing any number of things that far-right radicals define as "unAmerican."

In chat rooms and on message boards since the sites launch, posters have pointed out exactly the kind of harm the targeting of schools and individuals can lead to.ImageImageImageImage
Concerned citizens are already reporting this targeted list of schools to law enforcement agencies.

Our country is playing with fascism. And our democratic republic will not last if our institutions protect + permit the targeting of democratic institutions by dark money groups. 

The Power Worshippers and Education

Katherine Stewart's The Power Worshippers: Inside the Dangerous Rise of Religious Nationalism came out in 2019, but her discussion of the political bent of Christian nationalism seems very on point right now. 

Two moments in particular leapt out at me in her introduction:

This is not a "culture war." It is a political war over the future of democracy,

It [Christian nationalism] asserts that legitimate government rests not on the consent of the governed but adherence to the doctrines of a specific religious, ethnic, and cultural heritage.

Stewart researched thoroughly and traveled extensively to places like the gathering in Tulane, where the man who Capitol Hill Bible studies hosts a string of speakers who speak religion, but are mostly about "money and power" and declare "their intention to dominate every aspect of life in America. 

She traces the movement back to its earlier and its founding fathers, men like Jery Falwell and Bob Jones, who felt that he had "not just a God-given right not just to separate the races but to receive federal money for the purpose." She looks at the story of how abortion was promoted to a major conservative rallying point by men who, in her telling, wanted to fight back government in general and in particular IRS threats to their tax-free status.

She notes hypermasculinity as a "leitmotif" in conservative Christianity, which really rang a bell for me. I spent much of my younger years around guys I called softball Christians--the guys who would preach the love of Jesus for your fellow man, and then after the picnic, lead their pick-up softball team with take-no-prisoners ruthlessness, like it wasn't just a game between a bunch of our fellow men. Love Jesus, but slide into base hard so you can push the defender off.

Stewart sees a movement built on division and conquest. Notes one interview subject, "For the evangelical church right now, membership is no longer based on color. It is also not really based on religion anymore, either. Your litmus test for religious belonging comes from your political beliefs."

For longtime observers of certain sectors of the school privatization world, there is much to recognize. For one, there is the staunch belief in layers--not everyone is called to be on top, and schools among other institutions should be helping people find comfort in their level, their "right fit," not trying to unnaturally rise above it. Stewart tags Rousas John Rushdoony as one of the intellectual fathers of the movement and quotes him:

"Some people are by nature slaves and will always be so," Rushdoony muses, and the law requires that a slave "recognize his position and accept it with grace."

If it seems Christian nationalism is inherently hostile to democracy, Stewart hammers that home repeatedly. And they are particularly hostile to democratic-organized institutions, like, say, public schools. In 1979, she notes, Jery Falwell said he hoped to see the day when there would not be "any public schools--the churches will have taken over and Christians will be running them." Gary North, who developed for the Ron Paul Curriculum for his buddy Ron, said:

Let us be blunt about it: we must use the doctrine of religious liberty to gain independence for Christian schools until we train up a generation of people who know that there is no religious neutrality, no neutral law, no neutral education, and no neutral civil government. Then we will get busy in constructing a Bible-based social, political, and religious order which finally denies the religious liberty of the enemies of God.

Elsewhere Stewart shows how the movement has "gamed the American judicial system" to support a push for "religious liberty" that "serves to establish a very clear set of privileges for one variety of religion." That included establishing through repeated argument that a religious expression that would otherwise be seen as violating the establishment clause be recast as personal protected speech. In other words, if you tell me I can't preach Christianity in my classroom because I'm a government agent, I will argue that you are infringing on my personal faith-based freedom of speech. She cites Justice Souter as one who saw through to the end of this argument:

If excluding a religious group on account of the fact that it is religious is a violation of its speech rights, then religious groups belong to a super-category of activity that can never be excluded from school (or other government functions).

When you read this book (and you should) you will have to remind yourself that it was published in 2019, because Stewart speaks so clearly to much of what is going on now. 

There is much to recognize here. Betsy DeVos. Hillsdale College. The Council for National Policy, the shadowy group with a master plan for education and a truly scary membership list. If you've had the negging sense that the religious right's attack on public education is part of something bigger, that's here. And if you have the nagging feeling that much of it doesn't make sense, Stewart will show you the angle from which it makes perfect sense.

This book is not going to make you feel better about any of it, which is probably the best reason to read it. Highly recommended.

Sunday, May 29, 2022

NY: Andrew Giuliani Would Make A Terrible Governor

 Andrew Giuliani is running for governor of New York. In fact, he is reportedly doing pretty well, considering his less-than-stellar start.

Yes, he's the son of that other Giuliani, and yes, he has a whole bunch of bad ideas.

In response to the shooting in Buffalo, he says he wants the death penalty (which is not much help for the victims who have already been murdered). He's disgusted that New Yorkers "celebrated": the legalization of late term abortions (though he can't really tell you who was celebrating that or when or where) and he is disgusted, as a father, by the idea of abortions at 39 weeks (which is not actually a thing). 

When it comes to education, he also shines. 

Giuliani promises the "highest tax cut and budget cut in the history of our state" and when asked what he'll cut to fund that, he targets education. Giuliani apparently believes the notion that public schools are just a scam run by the teachers' union. From an interview with Capitol Tonight

“I think immediately we have to go and we have to look at the teachers’ union. And we have to look that it’s over $31 billion and I understand a lot of that comes from property taxes as well,” he said.

When Capital Tonight pointed out that $31 billion is the entire education budget for the state of New York, Giuliani said that education and the teachers’ union are “one and the same."

“I’m a big believer in bringing the free market into education,” he said. “I don’t think the teachers’ union should decide, exclusively, what our child’s education should be.”

He promises to raise the charter cap from 460 to over 1,000, and he wants a "tax voucher program," which I guess is some sort combination of tax credit scholarships and vouchers and maybe education savings accounts too and I think we can safely say that he just wants to hand over money to folks "so that way parents can take those tax dollars and take them to a private school, a parochial school, a Yeshiva, or a home school."

This is where we are, I guess-- someone can be anti-public education while only having a general rough idea of what the heck he is talking about. Good luck, New Yorkers.

ICYMI: Another Awful Week Edition (5/29)

It just keeps coming. I've said my piece elsewhere, and will continue to do so in places where it might matter. I hope you do the same. In the meantime, here's some reading from this miserable week, and I swear, most of it is not about the news you have already read about over and over and over again.

I'm as guilty of saying so as anyone, but Greg O'Loughlin, guesting for Andy Spears, points out that some things are very different.

This piece is more hopeful that the title suggests, but it's also a pretty sweeping indictment of... everything. It also provides a look at our situation that goes outside the usual lines of debate. I don't agree with all of it, but it's something to ponder.

America is a society screaming out in rage and pain. In shock and despair. It’s heart has been ripped out. It has been dehumanized. You can see it in the way dogs are treated. Now imagine how people are.

How people treat each other. That is they key choice a society ever makes. Europeans and Canadians treat each other in ways Americans don’t. With dignity, respect, gentleness, warmth. Americans treat each other on a completely different spectrum. It goes from indifference to hostility to outright hate.

This is what happens when trust collapses in a society, as people become dehumanized.

What's bothersome here is not that he did it, but that in doing it, he was not particularly out of the ordinary. From the Texas Tribune.

A really excellent piece of reportage from Rachel Cohen at Vox (who admitted that what she found challenged some of what she believed going in); a thorough look at the pros and cons of those stupid damn drills.

Nancy Flanagan on what it is that we need right now. Read this twice.

A good deep read into the contexst of Texas, a state whose leaders have lost their way.

Stephen Dyer points out just how hungry for tax dollars Ohio's charter schools are.

Chris Whittle just can't stop failing upwards. Washington Post has the story of his current project-- a private school that was supposed to change the world, but which can barely pay its bills.

When TC Weber covered this story, he was assured that no such thing happened. Now NewsChannel 5 in Nashville has the story of teachers suspended for daring to use their own materials in class and deviate from the proscribed teaching plan.

Cory Doctorow with an explanation of just how not-magical machine learning actually is.

Adam Laats in the Washington Post explaining that conservatives long since lost this battle, and that's why they are continuing to fight the way they are.

Teachers, deputized to fight the culture wars, are often reluctant to serve

Kelly Field at the Hechinger Report shows us what the prohibitions against--well, all the things-- looks on the ground.

When someone wrote a glowing tale of Highland Park's successes, critics popped up to explain that HPISD is a fine exercise in old-school segregation. The indispensable Mercedes Schneider has the receipts.

This school was in the new for being a target of a candidate's political ads. Now AL.com has a feature story about their year. 

Under new laws, some teachers worry supporting LGBTQ students will get them sued or fired

Meanwhile, in other places, Don't Say Gay laws continue to have the intended chilling effect. A USA Today story, via MSN (so no paywall).

Meet the mild, gentle kindergarten teacher who tackled an intruder at her elementary school

Heck of a story from Nashville, and a reminder that teachers are dealing with this kind of crap all the time.

Trial, Triumph, and the Art of the Possible: The Remarkable Story Behind Beethoven’s “Ode to Joy”

Maris Popova is a treasure. Her site The Marginalia (previously known as Brain Pickings) is loaded with fascinating and often uplifting material. I recommend subscribing. This piece about Beethoven's struggles in creating and presenting his Ninth Symphony-- it's inspiring and uplifting and it made me go listen to the symphony again.

Saturday, May 28, 2022

Another Attempt To Let Software Write

John Warner, whose book Why They Can't Write should be required reading for all teachers of writing, just took a look at GPT-3, one of the new generation of algorithms that is being sold as an artificial intelligence capable of writing. GPT-3's capabilities are perhaps being oversold, and it has exhibited some of the usual problems with generating gibberish and "learning" to say terrible things, plus a tendency, like many such algorithms, to get stranded in a linguistic uncanny valley.

Warner was surprised by the discovery that GPT-3 does not know grammar, or any of the rules about how words can be put together meaningfully. I suspect many people would be surprised to learn this. But it's really really important when talking about computer algorithms for handling language to grasp that computers do not "understand" language in any regular sense of the world.

The best metaphor I've seen for this kind of program is a weather forecasting model (I'm going to grossly oversimplify here--people who are knowledgeable about weather forecasting can take me to task in the comments). Think of weather forecasting as data crunching. When your infallible weather app tells you that there's a 50% chance of rain, what it means is that in all the times that the same weather conditions have been in place, half of them produced rain. To do this kind of predicting, you need two things-- a big bank of data of all the weather conditions from the past, and a good model for picking out which pieces of the data are important.

That's what language generating algorithms do. The algorithm crunches a whole lot of language "conditions" in the past--examples (sentences) scraped from a variety of sources-- and uses them to make predictions about what words could go together now. Or, as Warner aptly sums it up

As GPT-3 is “composing,” it is not referencing a vast knowledge of rules for grammatical expression. It’s simply asking, based on the word that it just used, what’s a good word to use next.

As Warner also notes, this has some parallels to how human beings write (raise your hand if you start composing a piece of writing by thinking about grammar rules). We do compose by stringing words or phrases together. But while computer algorithms compile their data, they are missing one major data point that humans include--the meaning or sense-making component of the language. These algorithms are being "taught" to write indifferent styles, a feat accomplished by simply tweaking the bank of data examples that are used. 

Warner finishes his piece with a question:

I’m thinking it might be fun to ask GPT-3 to write on a prompt to compare and contrast how GPT-3 and Joan Didion employ grammar in their writing, based in Didion’s famous quote, “Grammar is a piano I play be ear, since I seem to have been out of school the year the rules were mentioned. All I know about grammar is its infinite power. To shift the structure of a sentence alters the meaning of that sentence as definitely and inflexibly as the position of a camera alters the meaning of the object photographed.”

I wonder what it would say?

I thought that sounded kind of fun, too. So I turned to my old buddy Jarvis.

Jarvis is a commercial program for churning out ad copy, blog posts, essays, but mostly ad copy. Jarvis (via a marketing email that it probably wrote itself) claims 50,000 clients, which would make the program pretty profitable, because the economy version is $49/month. Jarvis has only been on the market for about a year; you can read more about it here.

Jarvis offers free five-day trials, and unlike many such dodges, it's not hard to unsubscribe from the service, so I hopped on and gave Jarvis a shot at Warner's topic.

The basic version of Jarvis lets you write a topic and then let Jarvis go to town, though it requires you to chime in with a contribution here and there. In the following examples, my contributions will be in bold. 

To start with, I swapped GPT-3 out for Jarvis and asked

Compare and contrast how Jarvis and Joan Didion employ grammar in their writing.

Here's what I got back:

Joan Didion and James Jarvis both use grammar in their writing, but they employ it differently. Joan Didion uses grammar to create short, declarative sentences that pack a lot of meaning into a small amount of space. On the other hand, James Jarvis uses grammar to create long, complex sentences that often meander and take a long time to end. Didion uses grammar as a piano she plays by ear ; Jarvis uses grammar as sheet music he meticulously follows.

Both writers use grammar to create their own unique effects in their writing. Joan Didion's short, declarative sentences often have a staccato quality that creates a sense of unease or tension. This can be seen in her essay "Slouching Towards Bethlehem," where she actually wrote a book, not an essay. The effect is achieved by the choppy, staccato quality of her sentences:

In Eureka, California, in the late fifties, I worked for a while as a waitress in a coffee shop called Roy's. It was on Fourth Street then; it is now on Broad- way and is called Roy's Restaurant.

First, as near as I can tell, James Jarvis is not some obscure author that had slipped my memory. I guess the algorithm found that Jarvis is mostly likely to be a last name, and James is most likely the first name to go with it. This highlights one of the problems with these algorithms--when you don't grok meaning, it's very hard to maintain any level of accuracy. Is Didion known for her "short, declarative sentences"? I'm not so sure. "Slouching Toward Bethlehem" is the title of an essay by Didion, but bit's also the title of a book collection of essays, so I tried nudging Jarvis, but it was unmoved. That last graph is supposed to be a Didion quote; I cannot find it anywhere on the interwebz at all and I'm not enough of a Didion scholar to know.

So next I returned the prompt to its original form:

Compare and contrast how GPT-3 and Joan Didion employ grammar in their writing.

That yielded this:

Joan Didion employs grammar in a very straightforward way. She uses simple, declarative sentences and her syntax is usually very clear and easy to follow. In contrast, GPT-3 often employs more complex sentence structures and its grammar can be more difficult to parse. However, both writers use grammar to effectively communicate their ideas. Even though GPT-3 is computer software and not actually a writer. It is still able to generate writing that is clear and concise. This demonstrates the power of grammar in conveying meaning.

didion's Joan Didion employs grammar in a very straightforward way. She uses simple, declarative sentences and her syntax is usually very clear and easy to follow. In contrast, GPT-3 often employs more

At that point I was supposed to take over. Jarvis often leaves you hanging mid-sentence (curiously, it also has definite ideas about where it is willing to take over or not). The random possessive at the beginning of the second graph is a mystery. 

As Warner and others have noted elsewhere, these algorithms have become able to produce work that sounds like it came from a human, but that human is one who is bored, uninspired, and focused on cranking out enough topic-adjacent word salad to fulfill the assignment.

Next, I offered Jarvis the full version of Warner's prompt:

Compare and contrast how GPT-3 and Joan Didion employ grammar in their writing, based in Didion’s famous quote, “Grammar is a piano I play be ear, since I seem to have been out of school the year the rules were mentioned. All I know about grammar is its infinite power. To shift the structure of a sentence alters the meaning of that sentence as definitely and inflexibly as the position of a camera alters the meaning of the object photographed.”

Here we go:

Joan Didion says, "Grammar is a piano I play by ear, since I seem to have been out of school the year the rules were mentioned. All I know about grammar is its infinite power. To shift the structure of a sentence alters the meaning of that sentence as definitely and inflexibly as the position of a camera alters the meaning of the object photographed."

GPT-3, on the other hand, says: "The rules of grammar are there for a reason: to ensure that communication is clear and unambiguous. To break those rules is to invite confusion and misunderstanding."

So, we can see that Joan Didion has a more relaxed attitude towards grammar, whereas GPT-3 is less relaxed, probably because it is a machine. However, both recognise the importance of grammar in communication. Playing a piano by ear, however, is something that only humans can do; GPT-3 may be able to follow the rules of grammar perfectly, but it lacks the creativity that Joan Didion has. Playing trombone by ear, however, would be harder for GPT-3. Even if it could follow the rules of grammar perfectly, the nuances of music are something that machines struggle with.

So, in conclusion, we can see that while GPT-3 is very good at following the rules of grammar, Joan Didion is better at playing by ear and picking up on the nuances of

Finally, just for giggles, I asked it to write about John Warner and computerized writing.   

John Warner's approach to computerized writing is all about making the process as simple and streamlined as possible. He believes that the best way to do this is to focus on the content, rather than the form. This means that he pays attention to things like structure, organization, and clarity, rather than worrying about things like grammar and style.

His work focuses on certain critical aspects of the writing process, such as understanding your audience, developing a clear purpose, and organizing your thoughts. By taking these things into account, he believes that you can produce much better writing, regardless of the medium.

One of the main goals of Warner's approach is to help users write more effectively for their specific audiences. To do this he recommends that writers should do the following steps, as outlined in his book "The Elements of Effective Writing":

1. Know your audience

2. Develop a clear purpose

3. Organize your thoughts

4. Support your ideas with evidence

5. Use appropriate language

6. Edit and proofread your work

While all of these steps are important, Warner emphasizes the

To all the attributes listed for the imaginary human student who could have written this, we should add ballsiness. I'm not aware that Warner ever wrote a book entitled "The Elements of Effective Writing," or that it would have included these highly generic instructions. This is uncanny valley stuff, where it seems to be meaning until you start looking. He doesn't pay attention to form, so he values structure? Those six steps are about writing for a specific audience? 

GPT-3 likely has a much huger sample base than Jarvis's, and perhaps a more sophisticated model for crunching them, so perhaps it would do a better job with these assignments. 

Friday, May 27, 2022

The Future of Vouchers

If you listen very carefully, you can hear what one likely future for school vouchers will be.

New Hampshire, in particular, seems to have leapfrogged over other voucher states to come that much closer to the end game. Nationally, Libertarian-leaning folks make the case that choice is good for its own sake, that the moral imperative to give people school choice outweighs any potential down side. But in New Hampshire,  in a Libertarian Institute podcast, Free State board member Jeremy Kaufman explained that school choice and vouchers are just "a stepping stone towards reducing or eliminating state involvement in schools." But that's only a part of the picture.

The flap over public education in Croydon, NH, is also instructive. Croydon had a choice program--in fact, a voucher program far more expansive and reaching than virtually any other in the nation. The deal was simple--the town would pay every students' full tuition to the school of their parents' choice. Private, public, even religious. It was exactly what school choice fans ought to love. Instead, the Free Staters and friends in Croydon took an axe to it, cutting the district budget so severely that parents faced the prospect of no choice at all except for low-cost "microschools"-- basically computerized homeschooling. That company (Prenda) is being pushed on the whole state. 

The "problem" was that the program was too expensive; the cut-in-half budget was based on the idea that it should cost about $10K for each kid to get an education.

Take this quote from a piece by Jody Underwood, one of the Free Staters who was wielding the ax in Croydon (Underwood told me that this piece is not her speaking, but her adopting the voice of a hypothetical taxpayer--for our purposes it doesn't make any difference.)

But I think the proponents of ‘school choice’ programs don’t understand (or take seriously) one of my major concerns. If they can use my money to send their children to private schools, then I can demand that it not be wasted on ‘schools’ that might be no more than glorified day care centers. That requires some kind of oversight — although not necessarily by bureaucrats who benefit when prices go up and quality goes down.

Also, I don’t think the people on either side of this debate appreciate how frustrating it is for someone like me, who is on a fixed income, to have to pay to school the children of people who can afford to pay for it on their own. To have poorer people providing a discount to richer people is perverse. There’s just no other word for it.

When and/or if we get a fully voucherized state, and once that battle is in the rear view mirror, we'll see language shift. At some point, vouchers will be called an entitlement. And once we've been conditioned to think of the money following the child rather than funding a school, we'll hear more of Underwood's rhetoric: "Why am I paying tax dollars to send Those Peoples' Children to school? Why is MY money following YOUR child?"

We'll start cutting the entitlement, or if the political winds aren't right, simply letting inflation whittle it away. Parents will complain, "I can't get my child a decent education with this paltry voucher," but voucher-cutters will protest, "Sure you can. Just look at Bob's Mini-Microschools and Ed-R-Us School In A Box! Perfectly fine. If you want something better, pay for it yourself."

Maybe there will be some sort of Poverty Bonus Voucher so that it's not obvious that the poors are being abandoned. Maybe "public schools" will exist as underfunded holding pens for students that can't be accepted anywhere else. Maybe someone will come up with a clever way to funnel block grants to select private (religious) schools. Local districts would, in many cases, follow the Croydon plan and cut any remaining public school system's taxpayer support to the bone, or just shut it down.

But once we are in voucherland, it is likely to look like this::

Parents will be on their own.

Anti-tax forces will be empowered to shrink the voucher.

Private schools will retain their ability to discriminate against students and staff as they see fit.

Students who are poor and/or require extra supports for their education will get sub-optimal education.

Well-to-do families will have fine choices.

Taxes will go down, which would be an insidious side effect because any attempt to restore an actual public education system would involve a huge bump in taxes to fund any such system. 

Remember, privatization is not just about privatizing schooling and making private individuals and corporations the owners and operators of the education system; it's also about privatizing the responsibility for providing an education and making it the private problem of parents instead of the shared responsibility of the community.

I have no doubt that there are voucher advocates who sincerely believe in the power of choice and who think that it would give us a richer, stronger, more robust education system. But for far too many voucher fans, it's a tool for gutting the public education system, getting government (and its taxing powers) out of education,  and restoring a world in which people know their proper places--and stay there. For some the dream really is that each person is an island, and everyone else better stay the hell off mine!

Tuesday, May 24, 2022

Let's Blame The Targets

Damn it. Damn it to hell. 

I include the link not because I think you aren't aware of the latest mass murder in a school, but because when I come back to this post some time in the future, the link will help me remember which mass murder I was raging about.

Like plenty of other folks, I have run out of things to say about school shootings in this country. Well, almost. There's one more thing to add.

Things I've said before:

We have a new standard for coverage of school shootings in this country-- it's only news if it sets a new record of some sort. Usually that means highest body count. That's grim news indeed-- if your goal is to become famous as a school shooter, and you're paying attention, then you have to know that you'll only get there with a super-high body count. This may qualify as the most perverse incentive ever.

And this:

Sandy Hook stands out among all our many various mass murders in this country, all our long parade of school shootings, because Sandy Hook was the moment when it finally became clear that we are not going to do anything about this, ever. "If this is not enough to finally do something," we thought, "then nothing ever will be."

And it wasn't.

"No way to prevent this," says only Nation Where This Regularly Happens is the most bitter, repeated headline The Onion has ever published. We're just "helpless."

There's always the hypocrisy to point out. Friday is supposed to be a big NRA celebration of the 2nd Amendment in Houston, headlined by Beloved Leader, plus Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, Sen. John Cornyn, Sen. Ted Cruz, Rep. Dan Crenshaw, North Carolina Lt. Governor Mark Robinson, and South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem. All of those luminaries are, of course, busily sending thoughts and prayers and "lifting up the families" on social media. 

In the last decade it has become a blindingly obvious statement to say that we have done nothing since Sandy Hook or Columbine or any of the rest, but that's not entirely true.

We have been busy blaming the targets.

We have developed entire industries that are all about hardening the targets, about making schools (and churches and a whole host of public places) harder to get into. We subject students to regular "active shooter" drills, and we make sure that staff are up on the latest approved technique for "coping" with an "active shooter situation." Or shit like this--one poster reported that at his wife's school, kindergartners closest to the door are taught to "throw things in the air and wave their arms" to buy time for their classmates (read the whole thread if you dare). 

There's an ugly damn implication in all of this--kids and teachers are dying because they are just too easy to kill. They have to make harder targets out of themselves. They have to learn to duck and cover and fight and flee.

But the responsibility for not getting dead is all on them. Because even though this is the only damn country in the world where this regularly happens, there just isn't a thing legislators can do about it except thoughts and prayers and banning race stuff and naughty books and making sure that abortion is illegal in all cases because they are so damned pro-fricking-life. 

They're already out there on social media, explaining that if all the teachers were armed this would never have happened. If the schools had spotted the signs this time (or ten days--TEN DAYS--ago in Buffalo) then they could have stopped this. 

We won't pass laws, we won't support even the most rudimentary checks on firearms, but we'll by God send you consultants and trainers and other folks to help you make yourselves harder targets (most of whom also think that gun control not only can't, but shouldn't happen) because if you end up dead it's really your own damn fault.

I am so sick and angry at all this stupid wasteful death, at the idea that my teacher wife and my soon-to-be-kindergarten children and my school and soon-to-school grandchildren are considered acceptable losses in the Noble Frickin' Fight to preserve the 2nd Amendment right to own guns that have no purpose except to blast lumps of metal through human flesh. 

We will now proceed with the routine and ritual. Thoughts and prayers. The proposal of stupid ideas: Arm teachers, custodians, administrators, bus drivers, because clearly more guns equals more safety and since we have the most guns on Earth we are clearly the safest nation and not one where shooting deaths and mass murders are ordinary (Yup--there's the Texas AF, right on schedule, advocating arming teachers--you know, those evil indoctrinatin' teachers who can't be trusted with students). Statistics to prove that the situation isn't really that bad. Whackburgers claiming this is a false flag meant to spur gun control--as if THAT has ever happened after a mass shooting before. Someone will blame it on mental health issues (spoiler: this will not lead to more government support for mental health treatment).

And then nothing, except the usual background noise right up until it happens the next time. 

I don't want the moon. I don't imagine there's a way to completely end gun violence and murder and awful scenes like we have today in Texas, but can't we try to be better? Can't we just try? And why wouldn't we want to? And if you don't want to at least try something other than saddling the targets with the responsibility for not dying, then by God do not come at me with any education reform fix the schools because it's For The Children bullshit. You tell me what policy changes you want to implement to help keep these children alive and then I'll listen to your yammering about phonics and saying gay. 

Damn it. Just damn it.