Saturday, July 25, 2020

Divisive Rhetoric, Bad Policy

In his news conference Thursday, President Trump quoted the portion of the July 10 news release in which the American Academy of Pediatrics wrote

Lengthy time away from school and associated interruption of supportive services often results in [a] social isolation, making it difficult for schools to identify and address important learning deficits as well as child and adolescent physical [and] sexual abuse, substance use, depression, and suicidal ideation.  This, in turn, places children and adolescents at considerable risk of morbidity and, in some cases, mortality.  Beyond the educational impact and social impact of school closures, there has been [a] substantial impact on food security and physical activity for children and [for] families.

Unsurprisingly, the President omitted the part in which the Academy noted

Withholding funding from schools that do not open in person fulltime would be a misguided approach, putting already financially strapped schools in an impossible position that would threaten the health of students and teachers.

And so the President who added "being at the school, being on the campus is very, very important" warned

We’re asking Congress to provide $105 billion to schools as part of the next coronavirus relief bill. ...

If schools do not reopen, the funding should go to parents to send their child to public, private, charter, religious, or homeschool of their choice.  The key word being “choice.”  If the school is closed, the money should follow the student so the parents and families are in control of their own decisions.  So we’d like the money to go to the parents of the student.  This way, they can make the decision that’s best for them.

He almost had us there with the "private, charter, religious" bit, pretending that he is interested in so-called school choice and in the value of having children in school with other children.

However, he then exposed himself, adding "homeschool of their choice."  "Being at the school, being on the campus is very, very important," Trump protested.  That seems curious because whatever benefits there may be to homeschooling, it is not "being on the campus."  That's the reason for the word "home."

President Trump's proposal is not about protecting teachers, maintenance workers, administrators, or other staff. It's not about children or even about "choice," except insofar as that serves a larger policy objective.

And that larger policy objective is to destroy the (traditional) public school system. In his incendiary speech at Mount Rushmore on the eve of Independence Day, Trump had declared

our nation is witnessing a merciless campaign to wipe out our history, defame our heroes, erase our values and indoctrinate our children.

Elaborating on that theme, he said “in our schools, our newsrooms, even our corporate boardrooms, there is a new far-left fascism that demands absolute allegiance. The violent mayhem we have seen in the streets and cities that are run by liberal Democrats in every case is the predictable result of years of extreme indoctrination and bias in education, journalism and other cultural institutions. Against every law of society and nature, our children are taught in school to hate their own country and to believe that the men and women who built it were not heroes, but that they were villains. The radical view of American history is a web of lies — all perspective is removed, every virtue is obscured, every motive is twisted, every fact is distorted and every flaw is magnified until the history is purged and the record is disfigured beyond all recognition.”

It seems to have escaped the attention of most of the news media that the President of the USA, citing no evidence, claimed that children are being "indoctrinated" and "taught in school to hate their own country."  But it isn't a mere passing thought of his or one more example of his fertile imagination.  It's laying the groundwork for further privatization of education, a fundamental objective of a party which believes nothing is so important that it can't be leveraged for private profit.

Not only Republicans fall prey to this warped priority. President Obama's education secretary, Arne Duncan, was a leading proponent of charter schools, as more than a few Democrats have been (video below from 8/16).  But for now and at least the next six months, it's President Trump- and Education Secretary DeVos- who are pushing this more aggressively than has any Administration.


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