Monday, February 28, 2022

Concealed Aim

There has been insufficient analysis of the education "reform" movement in the USA, with both the intent and the genesis of the effort little explored. Of the latter, John Oliver, delivering a pro-Critical Race Theory commentary (most of which I disagreed with) on the 2/20/22 episode of Last Week Tonight, explained (beginning at 12:41 of this video)

Conservative organizations that have long pushed for school choice like the Heritage Foundation and Freedom Works have pored money into this fight. And of course no school choice push would be complete without lifelong rich person and occasional education secretary Betsy DeVos, who wrote an op-ed titled "Let's Liberate Kids from Race Indoctrination with School Choice."

And you should know this is just nothing new. Thee is a long history of responding to racial panic with a push for school choice. In fact, the roots of the school choice movement trace back to the Brown vs. Board of Education decision when southern states adopted voucher programs to facilitate the creation of private schools called segregation academies.

A few decades ago, conservative elites motivated tens of millions of "pro-life" Christians with rhetorical emphasis on abortion. However, as historian Richard Balmer has noted

In fact, it wasn’t until 1979—a full six years after Roe—that evangelical leaders, at the behest of conservative activist Paul Weyrich, seized on abortion not for moral reasons, but as a rallying-cry to deny President Jimmy Carter a second term. Why? Because the anti-abortion crusade was more palatable than the religious right’s real motive: protecting segregated schools.

The leaders were prompted far less by support for "life" than by opposition to school integration.  Currently, conservative parents are concerned about critical race theory because they fear race will be overemphasized in explaining American history and society. Yet, like the Christian right movement, the leaders harbor a different set of motives.

On the "Overtime" segment of the 2/25/ 22 episode of Real Time with Bill Maher, New York Times anti-Trump, Republican columnist Bret Stephens criticized Diversity, Equity and Inclusion programs, which are more than tangentially to related critical race theory and are increasingly used by corporations to train their employees.. He remarked

And the Democratic Party became the party- at least at the state levels- of school closures, of being beholden to unions, of not giving parents choices to get out of failing public school systems which they deserve, particularly  underserved minorities. And that's a huge issue and...

Those of us of a certain age (and over) remember the days when conservatives scolded liberals for allegedly believing that society was to blame for everything and thereby failing to hold individuals accountable. Nowadays, cultural conservatives typically blame society while corporate-enamored conservatives (such as Stephens) aim their fire at institutions such as the public school. The drive for school choice completely negates the impact of individuals such as students or their parents.

Stephens, decrying "being beholden to the union," is targeting unions. Closing out the serious discussion (before brief repartee at the end about parenthood), the columnist argues

Well, then, why don't we just expand access for kids who can't afford it to go to better quality schools that are local, that are able to govern themselves, set their rules, are independent of the unions if that's what- if that's the choice they make.

The qualifier "if that's the choice they make" is unnecessary. Stephens knows that cutting out unions is intrinsic to charter schools and, more broadly, to the campaign for "school choice." The harm done to teachers and their students is immense, however much the reformers claim to care about students.


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