The Rattle Of Empty Vessels

There’s an old saying to the effect that empty vessels make the most noise. We can see the truth of that observation in multiple venues:  when we look at some of the loudest members of Congress and our state legislative chambers, when we look at a variety of media loudmouths–and it is painfully obvious in the assault that a few parents and others are mounting on their local school boards.

Periodically, we need to remind ourselves that decibels don’t translate to majorities. We are living through an era when people who feel threatened by change are emulating two-year-olds throwing tantrums–and unfortunately, tantrums are newsworthy. (They pull attention away from all the two-year-olds who aren’t lying on the floor shrieking.)

I’ve previously noted that Indiana’s Attorney General–desperate panderer Todd Rokita– has rushed to issue a “Parents Bill of Rights,” and now the empty vessels in Indiana’s Statehouse prepare to “empower” parents to overrule educators.(Next, perhaps they will allow unhappy citizens to overrule traffic engineers or building inspectors, or even police. After all, specialized training and expertise just gives people airs…)

As legislators rush to placate parents who want to protect their children from wearing masks or studying accurate history, it seems reasonable to inquire just how widespread the anger of parents with public school rules and curricula really is. The Brookings Institution has recently conducted research to assess parental satisfaction with their schools, and it will probably not surprise you to find that the screaming and irrational folks who’ve descended on previously boring school board meetings aren’t particularly representative of parents in general.

Brookings’ study concerned school rules and conduct during the pandemic, and the researchers found that earlier criticisms had abated considerably as school systems have returned to in-person instruction.

I was more interested in the hysteria over curricula–especially the hyped-up anger over (non-existent) teaching of Critical Race Theory. I wasn’t able to locate survey date focused on that issue, but a review of media reports on clashes at school board meetings suggested that the people expressing hostility to teaching about the more negative parts of America’s history were neither numerous nor particularly representative of the parents in the district. (In a couple of cases, the angriest folks didn’t even have children in the system.)

Of course, that hasn’t stopped the GOP from jumping on a divisive issue that they think may activate racism and give the party a political advantage.

House education leader Bob Behning said the next legislative session, which starts in January, will include a bill inspired by the critical race theory controversy that focuses on “transparency.” He suggested requiring districts to form “curriculum control committees,” groups of parents, community members, and educators who would review curriculum, classroom materials, or library books and advise school leaders to change aspects they disagree with.

Also in response to contentious school board meetings, Republicans are drafting a bill that could reshape school boards, which are currently formed through nonpartisan elections. Behning said his colleagues are considering a bill that would allow school board members or candidates to choose whether to reveal their political affiliation.

In other words, the empty vessels in our legislature want to stir up racial animosities and politicize previously non-partisan school board elections. In an already polarized age, they want to add to the polarization.

We shouldn’t be surprised. Here in Indiana, the legislature has waged persistent war on public education, draining resources from our public schools and sending millions of taxpayer dollars to predominantly religious schools via the nation’s largest voucher program.

In innumerable ways, Indiana’s legislators continue to signal their lack of respect for the professionalism of our public school teachers and school administrators, and their utter lack of understanding of the civic mission of the schools. Like the loud and self-righteous culture warriors descending on school board meetings, they are sure they know better than educators what the curriculum should and should not include and what lessons should be transmitted.

The emptier the vessel….


  1. When looking at low-information voters, Indiana ranks high across the spectrum. Lots of straight-ticket voters.

    However, when both parties are corrupt cow-turds, it kind of messes with the ranking system. When you add in the polluted media and think-tank apparatchiks, what relevancy does any of it have?

    I always wondered about the last remaining unions within the public and private sector? How on Earth were they allowed to survive?

    They embraced the economic system and the powers that ruled over the political systems. They are not really worker unions, are they?

  2. Todd gets my vote for “The Rattle of Empty Vessels” award on this blog; he occasionally hits the target but… He reminds me of such as Trump and Manchin who need to be speaking above the crowd whether what they say is viable or not. Manchin speaks loud and often; making a political name for himself at this time of need for wisdom and cool heads, while keeping his eye on Joe Biden’s job as his future.

    I first heard this saying in the 1940s by my math teacher to quiet the talkers in class; she told us to remember “Empty wagons rattle the most.” I understood immediately what she meant and later recognize that wisdom when I heard or read, “Better to remain quiet and thought to be a fool than open your mouth and dispel all doubt.”

    “The emptier the vessel….” The louder the rattle and the most often heard voice.

  3. Wasn’t there a comedian who used certain groups of ignorant people as foils for his one-liners? One of those depictions was those folks are attracted to bright shiny objects. You know, metal-flake boats and sparkling light hubcaps. These same folks also turn to the loudest voices, you know the ones that drown out the pain and discomfort of having to actually think and reason.

    So, it’s no wonder that these empty vessels appeal to that certain audience. The media in the business of making money follow the turning heads so they will watch and listen and stay long enough to buy the products of their sponsors. Todd should be able to give us a detailed read on how that works.

    Then, it’s always been like that. Snake oil and carnival barkers come to mind. The magic elixir that cures all ills. The bearded lady with two heads. But now the snake oil vendors and carnival barkers (an insult to dogs everywhere) are in our government making loud noises and hawking miracle cures. And the empty lives turn to the sound of the empty vessels.

  4. Una and JM; thanks for your support. After posting my comments I remembered reading early in Trump’s missadministration of our government; “Obviously, Donald Trump has never and an unspoken thought.” His verbiage led to the January 6th insurrection. Will those refusing to respond to Congressional subpoenas realize their silence is proving their guilt loud and clear? Keeping their mouths closed and being thought to be fools is endangering the future of this nation.

  5. While Todd is of the “curse on both your houses” party, he does remind us that we have a lot of work to do to catch up with the America we all thought we would have when we were protesting in the 60s. What we desperately need are solutions, not merely criticisms.

  6. The US labor movement has been on life support for several decades. But it’s revival is being fueled by Covid which has unmasked the class struggle.As someone who helped birth a collective bargaining chapter of the AAUP I have not given up on my fellow workers.

  7. It is what is going on “behind the curtain” that counts, not “their words” or ours here.

    We just starting working for a Congressional candidate in Texas in the same district we worked in in 2018 where the DEM came close to winning. In 2021, the GOP surgeons have carefully removed each and everyone of the most Hispanic and Black urban neighborhoods to ensure their victory.

    “Their” SCOTUS ruled in 2019 that redistricting was up to the states…

    We wring our hands and moan here; they work at every level with a money-powered and completely aligned ecosystem covering all three branches of our (their?) government…

  8. “Moms for Liberty” and other national “Moms for…” groups are behind the proliferation of school board disruptions. A member of my family is a “card-carrying” member, and she sincerely believes that she is a momma bear protecting her cubs. The right is very, very good at targeting groups for manipulation.

    Re: Todd. His musings have always been a curiosity but he totally lost me when he started promoting Robert Kennedy’s anti-vaxer book.

  9. Attacking education, educators and anyone with an education (Bachelors or higher degree) is the first step in destroying democracy and establishing a dictatorship. America is well on its way down this path.

  10. I understand we have a shortage of teachers. Moves by the legislature to empower parents to rule over curriculum in the schools and undermining the protection of children from COVID will only exacerbate the shortage of teachers.

    My sister who is a retired teacher told me that her best classes were those in which the parents of the students backed her. The kids did not misbehave much or fail to do their homework because there was a united front.

    This is another example of the mistrust toward government institutions that is harming our nation’s effort to contain COVID and create good education for the kids.

  11. The old Tea Party has been replaced by Moms for Liberty which changes the gender but not the targeted anger funded by those who feel entitled to harvest the wealth of the nation. Why create problems? First to stir up anger and noise, and second to attack the institution of education because it has the temerity to teach more people how to think for themselves. Apparently those who fund the Republican Party have moved now from breaking the institution of government to breaking the institution of education.

    The goal? To keep women barefoot and pregnant by starting them young.

  12. There’s a corollary to “empty wagons” and “empty vessels”. It’s: “An empty bag cannot stand upright.” I have always liked that aphorism, too. Shiela, keep writing! You are spot on (almost) every day with what you focus our attentions on. The “almost” leaves me room for an occasional quibble, but those don’t arise very often.

  13. Re: Rokita

    The louder he talked of his honor, the faster we counted our spoons.
    ~~ Ralph Waldo Emerson

  14. Good onya: Una, JM, Peggy, JoAnn, and Andrew. Everyone: Take time to count the spoons in the silverware drawer. Happy Hanukkah(late!) and Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to all!

Comments are closed.