JAs extremists use the Big Lie concerning the 2020 election to subvert American democracy, so far-right advocates for privatizing public education also resort to Big Lies in order to destroy public schools. These attacks on public schools are unacceptable and must be resisted by supporters of the school.
Christopher Rufo (culture war organizer) gave a lecture to Hillsdale College about his plan for replacing public education in the future with an universal voucher system. “To get to universal school choice, you really need to operate from a premise of universal public school distrust,” Rufo explained. Earlier in that same lecture, describing how to lay siege to institutions, he noted the necessity to create your own narrative and frame and advised his audience they “have to be ruthless and brutal.”
Rufo and other dark-money-funded extremists use a consistent strategy to attack public schools.
They first concoct lies and smears to incite fear and anger. For example, eight-year old white students learn hate for themselves. are responsible for slavery, and that kindergarten teachers are grooming five-year-olds.
Then, the falsehoods spread online via Fox News and click-driven mainstream media.
Finally, extremist state politicians champion cookie-cutter bills provided by those same national voucher backers to “solve” the manufactured “outrage,” often under the banner of “parents’ rights.”
In the wake of the worst pandemic in a century, policymakers should be focusing on how to strengthen public education and support students’ success and well-being, by expanding pre-k, addressing shortages of teachers, nurses and guidance counselors, increasing access to AP classes and career technical education pathways that lead to well-paying careers, and better equipping schools to teach critical thinking skills and address spiraling rates of youth depression, anxiety, and suicide.
Instead, politicians following Rufo’s playbook are doing the exact opposite. The bans include the banning of textbooks, library books and news service that can help students identify misinformation. They are demanding teachers remain neutral on, or worse—teach both sides of—Nazism, slavery, lynching, and other historical atrocities. Teachers and school districts who are able to teach detailed and correct history will be subject to lawsuits. They marginalize and dehumanize LBGTQ students, teachers, and families with same sex.
Rufo stated that attacks on schools across the country are part a coordinated and well-funded national campaign. This is a plan to discredit public education and replace with unregulated, universal voucher systems that will increase segregation. It would also exacerbate existing wide gaps between the wealthy and the rest.
However, parents and people strongly support public school systems. There is also strong opposition to any attempt to degrade public education.
A bill that would have censored teachers and restricted access to mental health care, as well as imposed costly bureaucratic restrictions on schools and teachers was defeated in Indiana last month. It failed due to overwhelming opposition from students and parents.
In New Hampshire, in March school board elections, all 33 pro-public education school board candidates in 14 school districts who were endorsed by state civic groups and the two state teachers’ associations, won election against anti-public education candidates funded by an extreme national group.
And last week, in a must-watch 5-minute floor speech, Michigan State Senator Mallory McMorrow, a self-described “straight, white, Christian, married, suburban mom,” powerfully held legislator Lana Theis to account for Theis’ national talking points-filled fundraising email accusing McMorrow of supporting “grooming” and “sexualizing” kindergartners and teaching “that 8-year-olds are responsible for slavery.” McMorrow said, “We cannot let hateful people…scapegoat and deflect from the fact that they are not doing anything to fix the real issues that impact people’s lives. And I know that hate will only win if people like me stand by and let it happen.”
We know from history, and we are seeing in real-time with Vladimir Putin’s war on Ukraine, that unchecked disinformation and dehumanization cause untold damage and suffering.
If people of conscience stay on the sidelines, Rufo and other extremists could well succeed in their drive to weaken public education, undermining our democracy and further eroding America’s middle class.
But if people stand up against these attacks, as so many did in Indiana and New Hampshire recently and as McMorrow did last week, we can defeat this destructive push to privatize education and instead strengthen our public schools’ ability to help all our children succeed and create a better future for all of us.
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