It’s About More Than Banning Books And Distorting History

Anyone who hasn’t been marooned on a desert island or hiding in a cave for the past few years (options that sound increasingly appealing, actually…) has been inundated with reports of the unrelenting attacks on public school boards, curriculum, gay and transgender students, and the teachers and administrators who dare to stand up for any of them.

We shouldn’t get distracted by the purported targets of these attacks. The specific charges are monumentally phony–the actual aim is to dismantle American public education.

It’s tempting to respond to the absolute idiocy, for example, of claims that the schools are teaching “Critical race theory”–to point out that those leveling that charge couldn’t define CRT if their lives depended on it, and that it is explored (not “taught”) by legal researchers.

It’s equally tempting to point out that the parents “testifying” at school board meetings (actually, threatening school board members) are overwhelmingly the same parents who fail to attend parent-teacher conferences or otherwise involve themselves in the details of their kids’ educations (and those are the parents who actually have children in the system.)

And the effort to ban books, or remove them from the curriculum or the school libraries is ludicrous at a time when virtually all young people carry with them a device that connects them to a vast and dangerous world their parents cannot control.

The real goal of these efforts is to undermine support for the nation’s public schools, in order to make it easier to privatize them. As an article from Common Dreams began

When champions of market-based reform in the United States look at public education, they see two separate activities—government funding education and government running schools. The first is okay with them; the second is not. Reformers want to replace their bête noire—what they call the “monopoly of government-run schools”—with freedom of choice in a competitive market dominated by privately run schools that get government subsidies.

Today, that privatization movement is alive and pushing ahead, with Republican legislators in 16 states actively pushing bills to create or expand school vouchers and/or charter schools that are part of that movement.

The author then interviewed a lobbyist who had worked for the privatization movement; it’s worth clicking through and reading what a former “insider” has to say.

A more recent column in the New York Times, written by a resident of Tennessee, explains why the effort to remove “Maus” from the curriculum is the “least of our worries.” She reviewed the persistent and ongoing efforts of conservatives “trying desperately to insulate their children from the modern world without quite understanding how the modern world works”–and she argued that the new bans–often aimed at books that had been used without incident for decades– are really “a response to contemporary political forces whose true motivation has nothing to do with books. What they really want is to destroy public education.”

She writes that she is willing to give many censorious parents the benefit of the doubt, in the sense that they are deeply conservative and believe they are “protecting” their children. But as she points out,

these parents are being manipulated by toxic and dangerous political forces operating at the state and national levels. Here in Tennessee, book bans are just a small but highly visible part of a much larger effort to privatize public schools and turn them into conservative propaganda centers. This crusade is playing out in ways that transcend local school board decisions, and in fact are designed to wrest control away from them altogether.

I don’t mean simply the law, passed last year, that limits how racism is taught in public schools across the state. I’m talking about an array of bills being debated in the Tennessee General Assembly right now. One would purge books considered “obscene or harmful to minors” from school libraries across the state. Another would ban teaching materials that “promote, normalize, support or address lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender (LGBT) issues or lifestyles.” Yet another would prevent school districts from receiving state funding for undocumented students.

Most of all I’m talking about Gov. Bill Lee’s announcement, in his State of the State address last week, that he has approached Hillsdale College, a Christian institution in Michigan, to open 50 charter schools in Tennessee — Mr. Lee reportedly requested 100— that would follow a curriculum designed to make kids “informed patriots.” Not informed citizens; informed patriots, as conservative Christians define that polarizing term.

What the author calls–correctly–an “existential threat to public education”  is part and parcel of the GOP’s effort to destroy democracy.

As the late political scientist Benjamin Barber explained, public education is constitutive of a public; without it,  democracy is simply not feasible.

To today’s GOP, that’s a feature, not a bug.


  1. Remember when Ronald Reagan tried to eliminate the Department of Education? Remember when G.W. Bush hired his “No Child Left Behind” lackey? And who can forget the egregious Betsy DeVos? In Jane Mayer’s book “Dark Money”, she exposed the extreme right’s well-funded programs to create propaganda chairs and universities and colleges. It’s working for them. Those brain-flushed folks are now screaming at the people who get paid way too little to do way too much parenting – never mind teaching academics.

    This pre-occupation of the 25% to scream louder than anyone else about THEIR wants and needs continues to undermine our institutions. Again, George Lakoff’s book, “Don’t Think of an Elephant” tells us what makes these people act so crazily – at least in the context of the entire society and the greater good. They weren’t born that way. They were taught it.

    That all said, perhaps this is one of the last gasps of the bigoted white people trying to preserve their privilege and dominance. Perhaps the fear of losing some imagined social status drives these self-serving, self-absorbed and misguided people to do these destructive things. How sad we can be…

  2. Great! Let’s defund education even more. The left should follow this thought with “so you don’t want your tax dollars funding public schools, we don’t want our tax dollars funding religious-charter schools either! Let’s just stop paying property tax! Period!” Vote on that!

    I’m sure the state government would love that fight. Oh, maybe not, you say, lol.

    Hey no typos today 🙂

  3. I’d also encourage people to read Diane Ravitch’s books — Reign of Error is her seminal work, but she has published other books since, covering the right-wing effort to destroy public education.

  4. The current rise of the right wing reminds me of growing up during the 50’s. McCarthy, KKK, and other right wing movements had only the new advent of television to grab headlines while disrupting local civil discourse. My parents took me to a dentist who was a member of our church. Turns out he was a right wing true believer who opposed public infusion of fluoride in the city’s water supply and did not believe he should use novocain to make drilling more tolerable. In return for excruciating pain, I received a cheap candy sucker. Children exposed to this style of absurd anarchy grow up to oppose and dismantle such influences from positions of power.

    We have come full cycle. Today’s right wing true believers have social media tools they have mastered. The leaders behind the so called freedom convoy shutting down key corridors of surface trade routes are not even truckers or represent mainstream Canadians. My wife and I live in Canada half the year. Public compliance to health protocols is no nonsense even in rural areas. American right wing insurgency on the sovereignty of Canada is now under scrutiny.

    Children are watching. Turning on their right wing parents and others is inevitable as they become of age to do so.

  5. I would love it if Jeff Bezos would offer banned books free on Amazon to anyone under 18. Jeff, if you’re listening, now’s the time to do something really good for America!

  6. You know, in a way, it seems that this really parrotts a movement in England in the early 1800s.

    We are Witnessing a modern-day Luddite movement.

    The thought process behind the Luddite movement more or less resembles the thought process today concerning the right wing conservative religious movement into government and secular society.

    In times of distress people tend to be drawn to the like-minded, or are susceptible to propaganda accusing everyone but the real cause of their distress.

    It took government intervention to stop the whack-a-mole type of protesting and destruction that was used in the riots before the actual Luddite movement took hold.

    The British really took a hit on their economy because of the many wars and conflicts trying to hold their empire together. They spent their treasure in wars and ways that put a heavy burden on the citizenry. Politicians used that to encourage turmoil for political power.

    See what I mean by history being cyclical? Unfortunately, the dumbing down of America just makes it easier to bamboozle the weak minded or the ill informed.

    It took a Herculean effort by British government to stop what was happening. And, it’s going to take a Herculean effort to stop what’s happening now. That’s why Biden should declare martial law and put a stop to all of this before it completely disintegrates what’s left of secular society. If not, the current generation might be the last generation of true intellect and inclusion.

    The Luddite movement wanted to get back to more of a dystopian type of environment. A society that would have been bereft of reason.

    Can you see it coming? If you can’t you must have blinders on. Unfortunately too many in government that are supposed to protect the secular society are continuing to sleep at the switch.

    Religion has turned into a political party, and it should be treated as such with rules, regulations, and taxation.

  7. Thank you Vernon for reminding us that this has been the Republican playbook for forty years. And, let’s not forget the Republican Party’s number one tenet: It’s easier to keep ’em poor if you keep ’em dumb.

  8. It is far past the time that churches and all religious organizations be required to pay both income and property taxes because they have been openly and shamelessly pushing their political ideals for decades. At least they would have far less money to do this if they had to pay their fair share of taxes.

    I get angrier every year as microscopic-minded members of our IN state legislature steal more public education tax dollars in order to force us to pay for the religious indoctrination of future generations. ALEC should be banned from existence because their Bill Mill is responsible for enabling billionaires and millionaires to take control of so many state legislatures. They then use their dark money nonprofits to fund the election campaigns of their state lackeys to join the US Congress. The Koch brothers long ago figured out how to take over our country by first taking control of the states. All they had to do was hold secret meetings with their fellow corporate billionaires to convince them to join in.

  9. If the Republican Party had a platform, this would fit right in. I think that platform can be summed up with: Remove all regulation, promote business, eliminate everything that might help “those” people, and win at any cost. This education angle has the added benefit of getting a lot of people angry and energized and out voting. School board meetings seem to be the one bit of local news reporting that happens now days, so everyone gets to hear about it. It is personal because everyone has gone to school and can relate. The right wing issues can be summed up in sound bites, so you can agree with them without having to understand the real issues. The opposing arguments are often nuanced and can’t be explained to somebody that has a 10 second attention span. So what you are going to see are Governors races won because of the idiots arguing at the school board meetings.

    Norris, I am not so sure that children are turning on their right wing parents. I know one father son pair, where the father is a moderate, but 17 year old is turning into right wing nazi with the influence of YouTube and PragerU.

  10. As long as the “25%” hang together, pray together, vote together, invest together…they get the job done with their excited drive to survive. The rest of us are too busy arguing amongst ourselves, philosophizing or, especially the young, just having fun. When the full darkness comes we will know it and be able to do little about it.

  11. Thank you for today’s topic – one that is close to my heart and on which I have ranted relentlessly in previous blog entry comments. When someone defends voucher-fueled private schools or charter schools (which they will claim are also public schools but they’re mostly not) just remember this one thing:

    That they are all just legal constructs and mechanisms to enable “private control of public resources”. And that’s private control without much scrutiny nor strings attached.

  12. It has been about reinforcing ignorance for the sake of then being able to manipulate the soon to be adults all the more easily. Manipulate
    them into continuing to support the GQP, as so many their parents have been doing…without a thought about the consequences.
    The only thing the GO(Q)P has been doing for decades has been trying to find ways to reverse their inevitable, long overdue, demise.

  13. Public schools are the cornerstone of American democracy and once they are destroyed so will our democratic process. They know exactly what they are doing and are “playing the long game”.

    Those wanting to control the school curriculum believe their children are their property, a belief passed down from the Dark Ages. They then believe they have the right to control the curriculum. However, the ultimate consumers of public schools are not the parents. They are the societies in which they are located. Schools are a critical piece of passing knowledge of how our society works from one generation to the next, and once they are destroyed so will our society.

  14. Thanks Vernon for mentioning “Dark Money” by Jane Mayer — an astoundingly courageous investigative reporter, who could be viewed as a modern-day muckraker that, I believe, Mr. Sorg lamented were absent today.

  15. Mitch, I hope you’re right! The idea of these blind, self-centered people taking and holding power in our country is abhorrent!

  16. If there was a red line for the death of our democracy, we crossed it many decades ago. As education centers, we are failing one generation after another. Our diploma mills aren’t doing much better. We’ve strapped trillions in debt on young people. The promise of high-paying jobs doesn’t look good at all.

    We continue constructing solutions that cost more for poor results with no end in sight. These are not sustainable propositions, and both political parties are captured by oligarchs who repeat the same flawed constructs with shinier marketing schemes.

    It’s insanity but unstoppable.

  17. “If there was a red line for the death of our democracy, we crossed it many decades ago.”

    I’m afraid there’s more in the offing than death of democracy.

    Hannah Arndt wrote a book in 1951 entitled “The Origins of Totalitarianism” and used as an example the Boers’ South African establishment of apartheid to control their Black population.

    Trevor Noah in “Born a Crime” gave more background on growing up in South Africa. He explained that the Boers had researched United States 1800s techniques of terrorizing their slave population. They implemented terrorism, tight regulation and I.D.s in their apartheid system to enable a small minority to dominate the mass of citizens.

  18. And so the Democrats do what? Fight amongst themselves and provide fodder for the cable news. Meanwhile, the good things they have done in the last year – and there has been some bright moments – gets totally lost in the shuffle. Get on message and fight fire with fire and don’t assume the average American has any idea what the right wing is up to. Get on Fox News and stop preaching to the choir.

  19. Republican propaganda always references in some way “individual freedom” which is really power over others. Vlad the bad has a great many individual rights. That’s what Republicans promise their base in return for absolute fealty. It’s authoritarianism on steroids.

    What the Constitution promises is collective freedom in which we all are equally free from both imposition from others by laws and imposition from government by our Constitutionally guaranteed rights and ability of the majority to hire and fire those who govern.

  20. For those who were upset about the banning of “To Kill A Mockingbird”; they need to read Harper Lee’s sequel, which was written before “….Mockingbird” to learn who and what Atticus Finch actually was. “Go Set A Watchman” brings back Scout who is still lovable Scout and is highly disturbed to learn the real Atticus.

  21. Gordon,

    Absolutely! And, the Germans did their research also. That’s why the Germans thought the Americans would end up coming into the war on their side, the Nazi side.

    The Germans were also admirers of the english, and, the reason was their history and slavery and eugenics along with the United States history. And using Religion, Slavery and Eugenics in conquering the less advanced civilizations to expand their own power.

    America called it Manifest Destiny, and, as Tacqaville said, American Romanticism.

    The Germans coined it as liebenshrum, or, Room To Grow…

  22. Why does the U.S. government grant broadcasting licenses to corporations such as Emmis Communications who propagate GOP advocacy? Stop granting bastions of hate speech such a wide forum.

  23. Thank you Nancy. I couldn’t have said it better. And, yes, I am afraid of what’s to come.

  24. I wonder, when people say that the schools are failing our students, exactly what standards they are using for basing their evaluation, or are they just parroting a decades-old charge that has lost its original meaning? It sounds like another attack on teachers, or is it a bogus evaluation of student performance based on standardized test scores?

    I have a number of college freshman art students who can’t use a ruler, read cursive, or read a clock. Does that mean that schools failed them? It constantly surprises me, but I just teach them how to use a ruler and move on. What really bothers me is that their critical thinking skills have diminished over time. They want to know how to get the “right” answer. Some have trouble accepting the fact that there may be several possible answers and multiple ways of getting there. The phrase, “What if…,” isn’t part of those students’ vocabulary.

    I don’t blame the schools for this. I blame state legislatures (Republicans in particular) who emphasize test scores over education and critical thinking. I blame them for saddling the students with debt. I blame them for turning universities into credentialing institutions, where the attitude of some students is to get the credits while boxing up what they were supposed to have learned and putting it on a shelf in a closet. Their goal, of course, is to turn out worker bees who either won’t go to college or are too busy trying to pay off their student loans to question anything for fear of losing their jobs.

    And I blame tribes for part of it. How do you teach a student about Hitler’s death camps when their parents at home are telling them they never existed? There are influencers out there that are stronger than anything a teacher or a school can overcome.

  25. Sherry – I am aware that schools no longer teach cursive, but not learning how to use a ruler or read a clock is news to me. Since you are a teacher could you explain when and why these three things are no longer taught?

  26. Just an public education is constitutive of a public, so too is liberal education (i.e., an education that liberates one from narrow-mindedness, uninformed prejudice, parochialism, etc.) essential to democracy. Sadly, both are under attack and on life support. And our country hangs in the balance.

  27. Nancy – I don’t teach K-12, I teach college-level art students, so I am as mystified as you. I don’t know, but I think some were abandoned so that they can focus on the test skills. I do know that when the credit requirements were changed for the various high school diplomas, students weren’t able to take art classes as they once could.

  28. Indoctrinate your cannon fodder. This is not freedom. These people are trying to create unthinking automatons that to promote their prejudices.

  29. I caretake children, for thirty years. Mine is grown and a real person.
    My current batch is two, five and 11. This by way of credibility.

    I think the current handwringing is overdone. The key is familiarity
    with current society. Too much “above my pay grade” excuse-making.

    Do you have a smart phone? A data plan? Apps? A car with a map screen?

    What age group is inventing these things? The internet informs them.

    The reactions against wokeism etc are already extant.

    Those who want an education can get it for $20 a month.
    You’ve heard of Kahn Academy? MIT free online?
    Wikipedia? Facebook and VR aren’t everything.

    Everythings gonna be OK.

  30. Sherry and Nancy,
    Veteran Jimtown educator here- first and second grade teacher.
    I taught the use of a ruler, how to read the analog clock as well as digital.
    Our third grade teachers are still teaching cursive.
    It may depend on your district. It may depend on what the kids remember.
    Maybe they have forgotten because they didn’t use it (and lose it).
    You are correct in teaching them and moving on.
    We CANNOT give up on our public schools no matter what the opponents claim, because those schools are ALL our free and reduced lunch kids have- as well as the rest.
    If we truly claim to be ‘followers of Christ’ we cannot leave those kids to their own devices.

  31. Beth and Sherry,
    I found out schools had stopped teaching cursive when I gave a congrats card with a personally written message in it to my 13 year old granddaughter – she couldn’t read my writing, which happens to be very legible. She is a top student at Warsaw high school. Then I found out my younger grandchildren in the Noblesville school system are also not taught cursive writing. Apparently it has been decided that cursive is not needed since everything is done on computers. Personally, I cannot imagine printing my signature on a legal document. Maybe it really isn’t as important as I think it is.
    Not being able to use a rule or a tape measure is a different story.

  32. All: The Tennessee governor, Bill Lee, he who is lightly tethered to reality, actually said this, at least for one whole day before it was dropped and never mentioned publicly again: NO child entering school for the first time would be required to have shots/vaccines of ANY kind. WHAAAAT? May I reiterate that it was said only once and it has not been mentioned again. That is who and what we in Tennessee are dealing with. Unbelievable! It’s my hope that one of his lackeys got to him and said, Governor, you cannot say things like that.” Whew!

  33. Oh, and thank goodness that rulers, clocks, and cursive writing are still being taught in some places. One young teacher I corresponded with briefly a while back clearly was a victim of ‘no cursive writing,’ as her writing looked like that of maybe a second grader. It was printing and hardly readable. It made me sad. At least she thought to write the thank-you note.

  34. You are right Sheila. There is method to this madness. In order to gain government funding for less accountable private and charter schools which can make a profit by cherry-picking their students and narrowing curricula to make a profit, the private/charter school proponents starve the public schools and then accuse them of educational malnutrition.

    Ironically, the school choice schools offer far fewer choices and much narrower curricula than their public school counterparts: fewer foreign languages and few if any bi-lingual services, fewer sciences and labs, very limited fine arts (music, art, drama, dance), far fewer athletic offerings and facilities, and only the most highly functioning special ed. students need apply. Sadly, when private and charter schools reject the students needing these programs, the public schools to which they return are struggling to maintain them. We’re on a track for so many of these courses and services to disappear entirely because funding them appropriately is too expensive for the profiteers to embrace or the public schools to afford.

    If our innovative future depends on top notch educations for our future adults, our historic commitment to a well-rounded, good education for every student sorely needs revival.

  35. And I still say Joann that AF joined the KKK to better know huw to deal with his enemy.
    Go Set A Watchman is a biblical reference
    Help me here John Sorg

  36. I have seen where charter schools do a good job in a few select cases, but in light of the incrementalism, and where the Republican party seems to be untimely headed, this seems to be just another branch of the axis of evil.

    How, as a tax payer can I sue the state for using my tax dollars to “establish religion” and more importantly how can my tax dollars be used to fund schools that don’t have to follow state education standards?

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