For at least the past decade, pundits reporting on the steady degradation of American political life have argued that America’s far-too-apathetic polity wouldn’t act “until we hit bottom.”
I think we’re there.
Posts and comments to this blog regularly grapple with the widespread lack of civility–not to mention intelligence–in public life. There’s the in-your-face bigotry, the denial of science and evidence, defense of the ever-widening gap between the rich and the rest, and the daily assaults on democracy and democratic norms.
Those very unAmerican behaviors and beliefs have recently been joined by an all-out MAGA attack on public education. GOP legislatures have diverted education funding to fundamentalist religious schools, Republican administrations are banning books, and extremists have taken over an uncomfortable number of school boards.
I recently came across an NBC report detailing one such takeover, in Colorado.
Woodland Park, a small mountain town that overlooks Pikes Peak, became the first — and, so far, only — district in the country to adopt the American Birthright social studies standard, created by a right-wing advocacy group that warns of the “steady whittling away of American liberty.” The new board hired a superintendent who was previously recalled from a nearby school board after pushing for a curriculum that would “promote positive aspects of the United States.” The board approved the community’s first charter school without public notice and gave the charter a third of the middle school building.
Among other moves that especially alarmed teachers was the decision by the new superintendent not to reapply for the grants that covered the salaries of counselors and social workers. When challenged, he told staff members that he “prioritized academic achievement, not students’ emotions. We are not the department of health and human services.” When asked if taxpayers would get a say in these changes, he said that they already had — when they elected the school board.
Woodland Park offers a preview of how quickly a new majority can move to reshape a district — and how those battles can ripple outward into the community. Some longtime residents say that the situation has grown so tense, they now look over their shoulder when discussing the school board in public to avoid confrontation or professional consequences…
When asked to respond to criticism from school personnel and parents, Illingworth, the board’s vice president, replied in an email: “I wasn’t elected to please the teacher’s union and their psycho agenda against academic rigor, family values, and even capitalism itself. I was elected to bring a parent’s voice and a little common sense to the school district, and voters in Woodland Park can see I’ve kept my promises.”
As the school year winds down, many of the Woodland Park School District’s employees are heading for the exit, despite recently receiving an 8% raise. At least four of the district’s top administrators have quit because of the board’s policy changes, according to interviews and emails obtained through records requests. Nearly 40% of the high school’s professional staff have said they will not return next school year, according to an administrator in the district.
While Colorado is rapidly becoming a Blue state, Woodland Park is a mostly white, middle-class city of 8,000 people up a mountain pass from Colorado Springs. The community voted for Donald Trump over Joe Biden by 2-to-1 a year earlier.
When teachers complained about Board decisions, the Board’s vice-president accused the teachers’ union of attempting to organize a “coup,” and issued a barely-veiled threat, instructing the Superintendent to make “a list of positions in which a change in personnel would be beneficial to our kids” and “help the union see the wisdom in cooperation rather than conflict.”
The article is lengthy, and much of what the new board has done is genuinely appalling. Case in point: the Board’s adoption of the American Birthright social studies curriculum referenced above, without any prior consultation with social studies teachers.
American Birthright materials emphasize patriotism, argue that the federal government should have no authority over public schools and say teachers should not encourage civic engagement, such as registering to vote or petitioning local lawmakers on issues students care about.
The curriculum was based on input from dozens of right-wing groups and activists, including the Claremont Institute, the Family Research Council and Moms for Liberty. Proponents defend it as a “bipartisan” alternative to coursework described as “hijacked by liberal concepts.” It’s heavily biased toward the right (for example, it includes Bill Clinton’s impeachment but not Donald Trump’s.)
The Colorado State Board of Education rejected American Birthright in October. The National Council for the Social Studies, a professional trade group for educators, issued a rare warning against using it.
You really need to read the whole thing.
If America hasn’t hit “bottom” I don’t know what bottom would look like…..