“Republicans are trying to dismantle public education that educates 90% of American children. It’s game over, folks,” I tweeted recently hearing billionaire Betsy DeVos, Trump’s former education secretary, admit, “I personally think the Department of Education” – which she ran – “shouldn’t exist”.
The comment should come as no surprise to anyone who has followed the GOP’s 70-year crusade to dismantle and privatize our public education system.
After Brown v. Board of Education ruled segregation unconstitutional, white supremacy sparked the right-wing culture war that burns across the country in 2022 with battles over textbooks, critical race theory, school boards, mask mandates and diversity initiatives. But instead of deploying the overtly racist tactics of the mid-20th century, the GOP now filters its agenda through racially neutral Trojan horse slogans such as “school choice” and “parents’ choice.” The latter helped Republican Glenn Youngkin win the governorship of Virginia, and suburban parents have been successfully weaponized by Florida Governor Ron DeSantis’ efforts to ban books, punish teachers and help children avoid “liberal indoctrination” ignoring the existence of homosexuals.
DeVos was simply true to form when she made her recent remarks at a Moms for Liberty summit, a training site for conservative activists to learn how to create majorities on local school boards. For years, she zealously spent her millions on “educational reform” and created the blueprint for Republican state legislatures. Specifically, she was a “school choice” evangelist, arguably the main political focus of the 2020 Republican National Convention, which had no platform except to “enthusiastically endorse Donald Trump.
School choice advocates like DeVos want to channel public funds and resources toward private schools and charter schools and away from public schools, which educate the majority of American children.
Although Republicans claim that their quest for “school choice” is to help children, you have to be wise enough to know by now that Republicans – who oppose the child tax credit, control of guns and food stamps – only care about unborn children. Once you get out of the womb, you have to get up from your bootstraps and run for your life to avoid the mass shootings.
Just listen to the late Milton Friedman, the libertarian free market economist and one of the preeminent ghouls of the 20th century, whose failed and disastrous belief that the “social responsibility of corporations is to increase their profits” inspired a generation of Republicans to pursue policies that lead to deregulation, corruption, racial inequality and income inequality.
Before he was a Nobel laureate, Friedman began advocating “educational freedom” in 1955 as a racially neutral way to privatize schools and help racists get government bonds to avoid integration. In a 2006 meeting with the right-wing advocacy group ALEC (American Legislative Exchange Council), Friedman proposed that the best strategy for parents to control their children’s education was “to abolish the public school system and to eliminate all taxes that pay it. ”
Thanks to “school choice”, the conservatives can kill two birds with one stone. They will have the ability to eliminate public schools and significantly weaken teachers’ unions, such as the National Education Association, the nation’s largest union, and the American Federation of Teachers, both of which are huge donors. of the Democratic Party, active in the development of education policy, and whose members vote overwhelmingly for the Democrats. Conservative anti-tax crusader Grover Norquist admitted as much in 1998 when he said, “School choice gets to the heart of the Democratic coalition and drives people out of it.”
Since 2000, Republicans have tried to win over another Democratic coalition, the Latino and African American communities, by selling them “school choice”. In particular, the GOP promotes charter schools as the best chance for their children to advance educationally and escape “dead-end” public schools.
“… Republicans are like arsonists who deliberately burn down your community school, then have the shameless audacity to turn around and say, ‘Wow, your schools are really terrible. Here, let me sell you my equally shitty school instead.”
Fortunately, American parents already have a “choice” when it comes to sending their children to private or public schools. Some even choose homeschooling! I am a product of public and private education, having first received an excellent Jesuit education at Bellarmine, a private high school in San Jose that promoted diversity, community service and also taught evolution and Toni Morrison. Beloved. Later, I attended stellar public universities – University of California-Berkeley for undergraduate and University of California-Davis for law school.
There are indeed excellent charter schools (which, by the way, are publicly funded but private), with a highly qualified staff of educators who are committed to teaching their students and providing children with essential opportunities.
However, a 2020 study from the Center for Research on Education Outcomes confirms that charter schools, which educate 6% of children nationwide, don’t do much better than public schools. For example, the DeVos charter school experiment in Michigan—which was mostly funded by his own millions and initiated by right-wing “school choice” organizations—was a disappointment, with students recording test scores below the state average. In fact, almost 50% of charter schools close in their 15th year.
Meanwhile, valuable funds are being drained from public schools where some teachers and educators are now forced to use their own salaries to pay for school supplies. A number of charter schools have also been accused of being profit-making schemes for corporations and of avoiding accountability and transparency, especially when it comes to helping low-income students.
Nor did charter schools emerge as an educational panacea for poor children of color. There’s a reason the NAACP in 2017 called for a moratorium on charter schools, citing concerns about “the quality, accessibility, and accountability of some charters, as well as their broader effects on funding and managing the school districts that serve most students of color. .” On the contrary, charter schools encouraged “white flight” and slightly increased racial segregation in their neighborhoods. Since they can choose their students, these schools have also historically been found to enroll fewer students with disabilities.
Through “school choice,” Republicans are like arsonists who deliberately burn down your community school, then have the shameless audacity to turn around and say, “Wow, your schools are really terrible. Here, let me sell you my equally shitty school instead.
For Republicans who want to privatize education, the majority of American children are ultimately the inevitable victims who must be sacrificed to achieve their cultural agenda, which is not about choice, but rather entrenchment of power. , control and Christian nationalism. .
Betsy DeVos, in 2001, said, “Our desire is to confront culture in ways that continue to advance the kingdom of God. She spoke these words at “The Gathering,” an annual gathering that brings together the country’s wealthiest Christians (who are good at completely ignoring Jesus and his teachings).
Specifically, schools are DeVos’ chosen battleground and “choice of school” is his weapon to ensure “greater kingdom gain”. She laments that the church “has been replaced by the public school as the center of activity.” And she fulfills the hopes and dreams of the late Reverend Jerry Falwell, who once wrote that he “hopes[d] to see the day when… we won’t have public schools anymore. The churches will have taken them over and the Christians will lead them. According to Andrew F. Seidel, a constitutional lawyer who has written extensively on Christian nationalism, the GOP’s ultimate goal in attacking education, books, and diversity initiatives is to “completely destroy public schools.”
This evil goal now has powerful allies thanks to right-wing activists who wear black robes and sit on the Supreme Court for life. During its last term, the Court helped erode the separation of church and state by ruling that Maine could not deny religious schools public funds that were available for secular schools. The court also ruled in favor of a Christian public school football coach who led his students in prayer on the field.
Right-wing activists tell me that I should celebrate these decisions as a Muslim and that it is a victory for “religious pluralism”. They also said they would welcome Muslim prayers in their children’s schools. You can’t blame me for being agnostic about their noble intentions. These are the same people who also supported Trump’s Muslim ban, helped spread fake anti-Sharia hysteria, and continued to promote hateful anti-Semitic conspiracy theories about Jews trying to replace and weaken Western civilization. Color me skeptical.
Actually, I have a brilliant idea that helps us out of this mess. If the right is really so concerned about the education of our children, perhaps the United States, the most powerful and wealthy country on the planet, could invest more in our public schools and offer better salaries to our teachers. We can pay for this by taxing our religious institutions and churches. This will make America’s children more competitive when looking for jobs in the global marketplace, which will help make America great again!
Isn’t it nice to think so?
Alas, we know that Republicans and Christian Nationalists don’t care about our children. They only care about power and control. All of their choices about our schools are just one way to get there, by any means necessary.