The WSJ article by law professor Philip Hamburger asserting that public schools are unconstitutional relies on dubious assertions about the history of public schools. As a historian of education who has written about these issues, I disagree with his analysis.

Hamburger’s central critique of the public schools is that they were created by nativists out of fear of Catholicism and their central purpose was to homogenize all children and mold them into Protestants. He repeatedly asserts that the very idea of the public school was shaped by hostility to Catholics.

The earliest public schools, called “common schools,” were organized in the early 19th-century in small towns and villages by families who wanted their children to gain literacy and numeracy. The parents and communities who established common schools were not thinking about stamping out Catholicism. Families wanted their children to be able to read the Bible, and many wanted their sons to have the skills needed to work as clerks or in other non-agricultural work.

He paints an idyllic portrait of 18th century schools, which is a fantasy of his own creation. He writes:

“The shared civic culture of 18th-century America was highly civilized, and it developed entirely in private schools. The schools, like the parents who supported them, were diverse in curriculum and their religious outlook, including every shade of Protestantism, plus Judaism, Catholicism, deism and religious indifference.”

The truth is that very few children of any faith attended school in the 18th-century. Schooling was available to the wealthy, who hired private tutors, and to those who could afford to send their children to a “dame school,” where a woman instructed young children in her home. There were a few religious schools, for those who could pay for them. The children of the poor had no schooling until the turn of the 19th-century, when philanthropic societies began to organize rudimentary “charity schools” for the poor.

As I showed in my history of the New York City public schools (The Great School Wars), the city’s Catholic Bishop John Hughes (later Archbishop) adamantly objected to the schools of the Public School Society, a private group founded by Quakers. Like all schools at the time, the schools of the PSS used the Protestant Bible in their classrooms and had daily prayers. Bishop Hughes insisted that Catholic children should be taught only in Catholic schools, where they would read the Catholic Bible, learn Catholic prayers, and sing Catholic hymns. The founders of the PSS tried to reach a compromise, but Bishop Hughes insisted on creating a separate system of Catholic schools. He asked the Legislature to fund the Catholic “public schools,” as it was funding the Protestant “public schools,” but the legislature refused.

Were there anti-Catholics who supported public schools? Yes. Were there nativists who hated Catholics and who feared that the Pope wanted to seize control of their city or state? Yes.

Was the primary purpose of the public school movement to stamp out the influence of Catholics? No. The overwhelming majority of Americans supported the growth of public schools because they believed that a democratic society needed educated citizens who were prepared for self-government.

The Catholic school system grew and thrived. Catholic leaders thought their schools were unfairly denied public funding, but the idea of prohibiting the public funding of religious schools was broadly popular and appears in almost every state constitution. The public endorsed the proposition that society as a whole, through taxation, is responsible for maintaining a public school system that offers a free education for all who enroll.

Alongside the generalized belief that a democratic society must educate its citizens so that they will vote wisely and be prepared to serve on a jury, there was a concurrent belief that education had a social purpose. In the 19th-century, educators would speak glowingly about the value of children from different economic backgrounds learning together, the banker’s son next to the baker’s son. In the 20th century, the definition of which children learned side-by-side expanded in fits and starts, often with conflict. Education, it was believed, would overcome economic, social, religious, and racial divides, as children learned together.

Few, if any, would contend that the public schools have overcome differences of race, religion, class, and ethnicity. Yet, without them, who can doubt that those differences would be sharpened? For some, the public schools have been a ladder that enabled social mobility, as well as interracial and interreligious friendships. Would we really want to be a society where each sect, each racial and ethnic group has its separate schools? I don’t think so.

While Hamburger pounds his thesis that public schools are and have always been a nativist strategy to crush Catholics, he fails to consider the fact that in mid-20th century America, a significant number of public school teachers and administrators in urban districts were Catholic.

In my view, he misinterprets the seminal Pierce decision of 1925. The state of Oregon passed a law in 1922 that would have required all children to attend public schools, thus banning all private and religious schools. The Society of Sisters sued to prevent the closing of their religious school. The U.S. Supreme Court declared that the law was unconstitutional. The state could not compel children to attend only public school. Children do not belong to the state but to their parents. The decision was not grounded in free speech rights, as the author here contends. The Court declared the right of parents to choose a private school, but did not suggest that public money should be used to pay for their private schooling. The decision confirmed the right of parents to choose either a free public school or a private school at their own expense.

If Professor Hamburger fears that children will be indoctrinated by their teachers, he should stand strongly against the remedies he proposes. The likeliest place where children might be indoctrinated is in a school that reinforces their parents’ views, a school where teachers all agree, a school where dissenting voices are never heard. The best schools, whether public or private, teach young people to make their own decisions, teach them to think for themselves, teach them about the courage of those who dared to stand alone.

The Wall Street Journal, owned by billionaire RupertMurdoch (who also owns Fox News), runs a steady diet of anti-public school editorials. Sometimes they bash public schools. Sometimes they praise charter schools and vouchers. Sometimes they do all of this in the same editorial. While an opinion piece that expresses a dissenting opinion occasionally gets published, it’s fair to say that the WSJ does not like public schools. In my last book, Slaying Goliath, I praised retired Austin librarian Sara Stevenson for responding to every WSJ vilification of public schools.

Peter Greene responded to the opinion piece by law professor Philip Hamburger, who claimed that public schools are not “constitutional” because they suppress parents’ freedom of speech, that is, their ability to ensure that their children hear, read, and learn only what their parents want them to learn.

Greene begins:

Last Friday, the Wall Street Journal (Fox News’ upscale sibling) published an op-ed from Philip Hamburger, a Columbia law professor and head of the New Civil Liberties Alliance, a Koch-funded pro bono firm that takes cases primarily to defend against the “administrative state.” It’s a hit job on public education with some pretty bold arguments, some of which are pretty insulting. But he sure says a lot of the quiet part out loud, and that makes this worth a look. Let me walk you through this. (Warning–it’s a little rambly, and you can skip to the last section if you want to get the basic layout)

Hamburger signals where he’s headed with the very first paragraph: The public school system weighs on parents. It burdens them not simply with poor teaching and discipline, but with political bias, hostility toward religion, and now even sexual and racial indoctrination. Schools often seek openly to shape the very identity of children. What can parents do about it?

Hamburger offers no particular evidence for any of this catalog of arguable points. Various surveys repeatedly show that the majority of parents approve of their child’s public school. The rest is a litany of conservative complaints with no particular evidence, but Hamburger needs the premise to power the rest of his argument.

So here comes Hamburger’s bold assertion:

Education is mostly speech, and parents have a constitutional right to choose the speech with which their children will be educated. They therefore cannot constitutionally be compelled, or even pressured, to make their children a captive audience for government indoctrination. Conservative talking points about public education routinely assert and assume that public education is a service provided to parents, rather than to the students or society at large. It’s case I’ve never seen them successfully make. At the same time, society’s stake in educated members is clear and the entire rationale behind having non-parent taxpayers help pay the cost of public education. In any other instance where the taxpayers subsidize a private individual’s purchase of goods or service (e.g. food stamps, housing), some conservatives say the social safety net is a Bad Thing, so it’s uncharacteristic for them to champion public education as, basically, a welfare program for parents when they want to dramatically reduce all other such programs to bathtub-drowning size (spoiler alert: they’d like to do that with public education, too).

But Hamburger has taken another step here, arguing that speech to children somehow belongs to their parents. It’s a bold notion–do parents somehow have a First Amendment right to control every sound that enters their children’s ears? Where are the children’s rights in this? Or does Hamburger’s argument (as some angry Twitter respondents claim) reduce children to chattel?

Hamburger follows his assertion with some arguments that don’t help. He argues that public education has always attempted to “homogenize and mold the identity of children,” which is a huge claim and, like much of his argument, assumes that schools somehow have the power to overwrite or erase everything that parents have inculcated at home. But then, for the whole argument currently raging, it’s necessary to paint public schools as huge threat in order to justify taking dramatic major action against them….

But “education is speech” is not the really bold part of his argument. That really bold part is where he goes on to say “therefor, parents should have total control over it.” I have so many questions. Should parents have total control over all speech directed at or in the vicinity of their children, including books, and so would I be violating a parent’s First Amendment rights if I gave their child an book for Christmas? And where are the child’s rights in this? Would this mean that a parent is allowed to lock their child in the basement in order to protect that parent’s First Amendment right to control what the child is exposed to?

Hamburger’s argument has implications that he doesn’t get into in his rush to get to “do away with them and give everyone vouchers.” The biggest perhaps is that he has made an argument that non-parent taxpayers should not have to subsidize an education system. I’m betting he’s not unaware of that.

Please open the link and read the rest of the article.

The Wall Street Journal recently published a screed against the very existence of public schools, written by a libertarian lawyer. Imagine teaching in a school where children are allowed to learn only what their parents already believe, no matter how bizarre or hateful it may be. Imagine the difficulty of having a coherent society where there are no compromises, no bonds of mutuality among people of different faiths and ethnicities. The illustration accompanying the article shows the government turning diverse children into identical cookie cutter people. No one today could reasonably argue that the people of the United States, 90% of whom were educated in public schools, have identical views, values, and beliefs. It is Libertarians who would have all of our children molded into clones of their parents and grandparents, with everyone attending schools that narrowly confined them to their own religious, racial, and ethnic enclave. In reality, private sectarian schools are far more likely to “indoctrinate” children than are public schools that include teachers and children from different backgrounds.

Is the Public School System Constitutional?

Education consists mostly in speech, and parents have a right under the First Amendment to exercise authority over what their children hear.

By Philip Hamburger Oct. 22, 2021

ILLUSTRATION: PHIL FOSTER

The public school system weighs on parents. It burdens them not simply with poor teaching and discipline, but with political bias, hostility toward religion, and now even sexual and racial indoctrination. Schools often seek openly to shape the very identity of children. What can parents do about it?

“I don’t think parents should be telling schools what they should teach,” Terry McAuliffe, the Democratic nominee for governor of Virginia, said in a Sept. 28 debate. The National School Boards Association seems to agree: In a Sept. 29 letter to President Biden, its leaders asked for federal intervention to stop “domestic terrorism and hate crimes” against public school officials. Attorney General Merrick Garland obliged, issuing an Oct. 4 memo directing law-enforcement agents and prosecutors to develop “strategies for addressing threats against school administrators, board members, teachers, and staff.”

Mr. Garland’s memo did acknowledge that “spirited debate about policy matters is protected under our Constitution.” That is true but doesn’t go nearly far enough. Education is mostly speech, and parents have a constitutional right to choose the speech with which their children will be educated. They therefore cannot constitutionally be compelled, or even pressured, to make their children a captive audience for government indoctrination.

Public education in America has always attempted to homogenize and mold the identity of children. Since its largely nativist beginnings around 1840, public education has been valued for corralling most of the poor and middle class into institutions where their religious and ethnic differences could be ironed out in pursuit of common “American” values.

The goal was not merely a shared civic culture. Well into the 20th century, much of the political support for public schooling was driven by a fear of Catholicism and an ambition to Protestantize Catholic children. Many Catholics and other minorities escaped the indoctrination of their children by sending them to private schools.

Nativists found that intolerable. Beginning around 1920, they organized to force Catholic children into public education. The success of such a measure in Oregon (with Democratic votes and Ku Klux Klan leadership) prompted the Supreme Court to hold compulsory public education unconstitutional.

The case, Pierce v. Society of Sisters (1925), was brought by a religious school, not a parent. The justices therefore framed their ruling around the threat to the school’s economic rights. But Pierce says that parents can educate their children outside state schools in accord with the parents’ moral and religious views.

Although the exact nature of this parental freedom is much disputed, it is grounded in the First Amendment. When religious parents claim the freedom, religious liberty seems an especially strong foundation. But the freedom of parents in educating their children belongs to all parents, not only the faithful. Freedom of speech more completely explains this educational liberty.

Education consists mostly in speech to and with children. Parents enjoy freedom of speech in educating their children, whether at home or through private schooling. That is the principle underlying Pierce, and it illuminates our current conundrum.

The public school system, by design, pressures parents to substitute government educational speech for their own. Public education is a benefit tied to an unconstitutional condition. Parents get subsidized education on the condition that they accept government educational speech in lieu of home or private schooling.

There is nothing unconstitutional about taxation in support of government speech. Thus taxpayers have no generic right against public-school messages they find objectionable.

But parents are in a different situation. They aren’t merely subsidizing speech they find objectionable. They are being pushed into accepting government speech for their children in place of their own. Government requires parents to educate their children and offers education free of charge. For most parents, the economic pressure to accept this educational speech in place of their own is nearly irresistible.

To be sure, Pierce doesn’t guarantee private education. It merely acknowledges the right of parents to provide it with their own resources. And one may protest that economic pressure is not force. But the Supreme Court has often ruled otherwise.

Merely denying a government benefit will often suffice to violate a right—as when government refuses a benefit without a hearing (Goldberg v. Kelly, 1970), denies a grant on account of the recipient’s religious beliefs (Trinity Lutheran v. Comer, 2017), or subsidizes a media organization on the condition that it refrain from editorializing (FCC v. League of Women Voters, 1984). Financial pressures clearly count.

When government makes education compulsory and offers it free of charge, it crowds out parental freedom in educational speech. The poorer the parents, the more profound the pressure—and that is by design. Nativists intended to pressure poor and middle-class parents into substituting government educational speech for their own, and their unconstitutional project largely succeeded.

Most parents can’t afford to turn down public schooling. They therefore can’t adopt speech expressive of their own views in educating their children, whether by paying for a private school or dropping out of work to home-school. So they are constrained to adopt government educational speech in place of their own, in violation of the First Amendment.

A long line of Establishment Clause decisions recognize the risk of coercion in public-school messages. In Grand Rapids School District v. Ball (1985), the high court condemned private religious teaching in rooms leased from public schools. “Such indoctrination, if permitted to occur, would have devastating effects on the right of each individual voluntarily to determine what to believe (and what not to believe) free of any coercive pressures from the State,” Justice William Brennan wrote for the majority.

Coercion seemed central in such cases because of the vulnerability of children to indoctrination. Summarizing the court’s jurisprudence, Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, concurring in Wallace v. Jaffree (1985), observed that “when government-sponsored religious exercises are directed at impressionable children who are required to attend school, . . . government endorsement is much more likely to result in coerced religious beliefs.”

These precedents concern only religion in public schools and the coercive effect on children under the Establishment Clause. But the danger of coerced belief is not confined to official religious speech. Subjecting children to official political, racial, sexual and antireligious speech can be equally coercive. And if public-school messages are so coercive against children, it is especially worrisome that parents are being pressured to adopt public educational speech in place of their own.

Rights are “exceptions” to power, James Madison observed. That is, rights defeat power. But contemporary judicial doctrine allows power to defeat rights—at least when government asserts what is called a compelling interest. One might think that a state’s compelling interest in public education overpowers any parental speech right. Yet because such analysis allows power to subdue rights, it is important to evaluate whether the claimed government interest is really compelling.

The U.S. was founded in an era when almost all schooling was private and religious, and that already suggests that any government interest in public education is neither necessary nor compelling. Further, the idea that public education is a central government interest was popularized by anti-Catholic nativists. Beginning in the mid-19th century, they elevated the public school as a key American institution in their campaign against Catholicism.

In their vision, public schools were essential for inculcating American principles so that children could become independent-minded citizens and thinking voters. The education reformer and politician Horace Mann said that without public schools, American politics would bend toward “those whom ignorance and imbecility have prepared to become slaves.”

That sounds wholesome in the abstract. In practice, it meant that Catholics were mentally enslaved to their priests, and public education was necessary to get to the next generation, imbuing them with Protestant-style ideas so that when they reached adulthood, they would vote more like Protestants.

This goal of shaping future voters gave urgency to the government’s interest in public education. As today, the hope was to liberate children from their parents’ supposedly benighted views and thereby create a different sort of polity. Now as then, this sort of project reeks of prejudice and indoctrination. There is no lawful government interest in displacing the educational speech of parents who don’t hold government-approved views, let alone in altering their children’s identity or creating a government-approved electorate.

The inevitably homogenizing, even indoctrinating, effect of public schools confirms the danger of finding a compelling government interest in them. A 1904 nativist tract grimly declared that the public school is “a great paper mill, into which are cast rags of all kinds and colors, but which lose their special identity and come out white paper, having a common identity. So we want the children of the state, of whatever nationality, color or religion, to pass through this great moral, intellectual and patriotic mill, or transforming process.”

The idea of a common civic culture among children is appealing when it develops voluntarily, but not when state-approved identities and messages are “stamped upon their minds,” as the 1904 tract put it. Far from being a compelling government interest, the project of pressing children into a majority or government mold is a path toward tyranny.

The shared civic culture of 18th-century America was highly civilized, and it developed entirely in private schools. The schools, like the parents who supported them, were diverse in curriculum and their religious outlook, including every shade of Protestantism, plus Judaism, Catholicism, deism and religious indifference.

In their freedom, the 18th-century schools established a common culture. In contrast, public-school coercion has always stimulated division. It was long used to grind down the papalism of Catholic children into something more like Protestantism. Since then, there has been a shift in the beliefs that public schools seek to eradicate. But the schools remain a means by which some Americans force their beliefs on others. That’s why they are still a source of discord. The temptation to indoctrinate the children of others—to impose a common culture by coercion—is an obstacle to working out a genuine common culture.

There is no excuse for maintaining the nativist fiction that public schools are the glue that hold the nation together. They have become the focal point for all that is tearing the nation apart. However good some public schools may be, the system as a whole, being coercive, is a threat to our ability to find common ground. That is the opposite of a compelling government interest.

The public school system therefore is unconstitutional, at least as applied to parents who are pressured to abandon their own educational speech choices and instead adopt the government’s.

Parents should begin by asking judges to recognize—at least in declaratory judgments—that the current system is profoundly unconstitutional. Once that is clear, states will be obliged to figure out solutions. Some may choose to offer tax exemptions for dissenting parents; others may provide vouchers. Either way, states cannot deprive parents of their right to educational speech by pushing children into government schools.

Judges will be reluctant to vindicate the uncomfortable truth that education is mostly speech. Many have assimilated the nativist ideal that public education is a central and compelling government interest. As in 1925, however, the threat to parental speech has become unbearable.

Mr. Hamburger teaches at Columbia Law School and is president of the New Civil Liberties Alliance.

State Senator Lincoln Fillmore is very worried about the teaching of “critical race theory,” although there is no evidence that anyone is teaching it in Utah schools. He is calling for a law requiring social studies teachers to post their daily lesson plans online, so parents and other concerned members of the community can scrutinize them. Teachers are rightly furious.

A Utah lawmaker wants to require that all materials for social science classes in K-12 be vetted and posted online for parents to review in advance — and teachers are pushing back.

Educators say the proposal shows a lack of trust in their judgment. They call it micromanaging. Some argue that it will hamper their ability to teach students about what’s happening in the world in real time. One called it a “classic witch hunt.”

“The ‘witches’ are social studies teachers who dare discuss current events,” said Deborah Gatrell, a teacher at Hunter High in Granite School District, in a post about her concerns.

The controversial idea comes Sen. Lincoln Fillmore, R-South Jordan, as a continuation of the effort by conservative Utah leaders to control what’s being taught about history in the classroom. Fillmore was also the Senate sponsor on the bill last session that banned discussion of critical race theory in public schools in the state.

Jeff Bryant reports on a frightening phenomenon: the notorious and violent Proud Boys are targeting public schools.

He begins:

When violent insurrectionists stormed the U.S. Capitol on January 6 to attempt to overturn the result of the 2020 presidential election, some of the rioters were members of the Proud Boys, a far-right group prone to street brawling and pro-Western, anti-Muslim, and misogynistic rhetoric.

The insurrectionists were thwarted, but now extremist groups—including the Proud Boys—are aiming their threats and violence at a new target: public schools.

In Orange County, North Carolina, the Proud Boys and other white nationalist groups have begun showing up at high school football games and school board meetings, “protesting the district’s COVID-19 and LGBTQ+ policies.” Their intimidating language, apparel, and physical gestures prompted officials to hire extra security and pass a resolution opposing “incidents of hostile and racist behavior,” according to a report in the News and Observer.

The resolution charged that the rightwing agitators had “shouted racist and homophobic slurs at students” and included “emails from teachers and students who describe how unsafe they feel being around the Proud Boys.”

A local radio station quoted Orange County board chairwoman Hillary MacKenzie describing a recent meeting of the board where “there were two men in Proud Boys shirts and hats . . . one wore a stocking over his face . . . the other one told our board during public comment that someone should tie rocks around our necks, and we should throw ourselves in a river.”

Similar occurrences from around the country seem to indicate that the Proud Boys’ targeting of public schools is a coordinated, nationwide effort, suggesting a direct line from the group’s involvement in the January 6 insurrection to its current participation in the wave of protests at public schools and school board meetings.

ProPublica and Nashville Public Radio investigated a case that happened in 2016, when the police arrested 11young children for a crime that doesn’t exist. What they found was not simply an outrageous miscarriage of justice, but a county whose juvenile justice system is run by tyrannical officials who like to punish children to “straighten them out.”

The initial arrests occurred after a scuffle among three boys. The boys who threw punches were not arrested, but the children watching the fight were. One was only eight years old. Some were handcuffed.

A few weeks before, a video had appeared on YouTube. It showed two small boys, 5 and 6 years old, throwing feeble punches at a larger boy as he walked away, while other kids tagged along, some yelling. The scuffle took place off school grounds, after a game of pickup basketball. One kid insulted another kid’s mother, is what started it all.

The police were at Hobgood [Elementary School] because of that video. But they hadn’t come for the boys who threw punches. They were here for the children who looked on. The police in Murfreesboro, a fast-growing city about 30 miles southeast of Nashville, had secured juvenile petitions for 10 children in all who were accused of failing to stop the fight. Officers were now rounding up kids, even though the department couldn’t identify a single one in the video, which was posted with a filter that made faces fuzzy. What was clear were the voices, including that of one girl trying to break up the fight, saying: “Stop, Tay-Tay. Stop, Tay-Tay. Stop, Tay-Tay.” She was a fourth grader at Hobgood. Her initials were E.J…

In Rutherford County, a juvenile court judge had been directing police on what she called “our process” for arresting children, and she appointed the jailer, who employed a “filter system” to determine which children to hold.

The judge was proud of what she had helped build, despite some alarming numbers buried in state reports.

Among cases referred to juvenile court, the statewide average for how often children were locked up was 5%.

In Rutherford County, it was 48%…

What happened on that Friday and in the days after, when police rounded up even more kids, would expose an ugly and unsettling culture in Rutherford County, one spanning decades. In the wake of these mass arrests, lawyers would see inside a secretive legal system that’s supposed to protect kids, but in this county did the opposite. Officials flouted the law by wrongfully arresting and jailing children. One of their worst practices was stopped following the events at Hobgood, but the conditions that allowed the lawlessness remain. The adults in charge failed. Yet they’re still in charge. Tennessee’s systems for protecting children failed. Yet they haven’t been fixed…

Eleven children in all were arrested over the video, including the 8-year-old taken in by mistake. Media picked up the story. Parents and community leaders condemned the actions of police. “Unimaginable, unfathomable,” a Nashville pastor said. “Unconscionable,” “inexcusable,” “insane,” three state legislators said. But Rutherford County’s juvenile court judge focused instead on the state of youth, telling a local TV station: “We are in a crisis with our children in Rutherford County. … I’ve never seen it this bad.”

Rutherford County established the position of elected juvenile court judge in 2000, and ever since, Donna Scott Davenport has been the job’s only holder. She sometimes calls herself the “mother of the county.”

Davenport runs the juvenile justice system, appointing magistrates, setting rules and presiding over cases that include everything from children accused of breaking the law to parents accused of neglecting their children. While the county’s mayor, sheriff and commissioners have turned over, she has stayed on, becoming a looming figure for thousands of families. “She’s been the judge ever since I was a kid,” said one mother whose own kids have cycled through Davenport’s courtroom. One man, now in his late 20s, said that when he was a kid in trouble, he would pray for a magistrate instead of Davenport: “If she’s having a bad day, most definitely, you’re going to have a bad day.”

While juvenile court is mostly private, Davenport keeps a highly public profile. For the past 10 years she’s had a monthly radio segment on WGNS, a local station where she talks about her work.

She sees a breakdown in morals. Children lack respect: “It’s worse now than I’ve ever seen it,” she said in 2012. Parents don’t parent: “It’s just the worst I’ve ever seen,” she said in 2017. On WGNS, Davenport reminisces with the show’s host about a time when families ate dinner together and parents always knew where their children were and what friends they were with because kids called home from a landline, not some could-be-anywhere cellphone. Video games, the internet, social media — it’s all poison for children, the judge says.

Davenport describes her work as a calling. “I’m here on a mission. It’s not a job. It’s God’s mission,” she told a local newspaper. The children in her courtroom aren’t hers, but she calls them hers. “I’m seeing a lot of aggression in my 9- and 10-year-olds,” she says in one radio segment…

Scrutinizing the inner workings of Tennessee’s juvenile courts can be difficult. Court files are mostly off-limits; proceedings can be closed at a judge’s discretion. But on the radio, Davenport provides listeners a glimpse of the court’s work. “I’ve locked up one 7-year-old in 13 years, and that was a heartbreak,” she said in 2012. “But 8- and 9-year-olds, and older, are very common now.”

The article is long and heartbreaking, to anyone with a heart. In the past five years, the county has been forced to pay out more than $11 million to the children and families who were mistreated. But Judge Davenport plans to run for another eight year term..

This is a case that should be viewed through the lens of critical race theory.

In this opinion piece in the Baltimore Sun, Kalman R. Hettleman describes the creation in Maryland of a new state agency that has the same functions as the Maryland State Department of Education and the power to override local control. This agency is supposed to guarantee “accountability,” but it’s limitless power leaves many unanswered questions.

A bombshell, with uncertain force, is about to land on school reform in Maryland. It’s the startup in the next several weeks of the Accountability and Implementation Board (AIB) created under the Blueprint for Maryland’s Future. More than any other part of the blueprint, the AIB is a radical experiment in school governance — untested anywhere in the U.S. — with virtually limitless authority to make or break school reform for generations to come.

The AIB’s super-muscle comes from its unambiguous power to fully govern public schools. This means it can usurp the functions of the Maryland State Department of Education (MSDE) and control local school policies.

As a member of the Commission on Innovation and Excellence in Education (known as the Kirwan Commission) that drafted the blueprint, I favored the concept of the AIB. I still do. But I recognized that opponents, though some were overwrought, had a point. The seven-member board, to be appointed by the governor from a list of nine persons just selected by the AIB nominating committee, could actually cause more bureaucracy and less accountability, unless it acts wisely.

Predictably, formidable political groups opposed such a drastic departure from current law and practice. The MSDE board, state superintendent and local school district boards and superintendents argued that they would be micromanaged; in the process, they said, local control — so sacrosanct for so long — would be emasculated.

In addition, Maryland just appointed a State Superintendent with impeccable reform credentials.

Read the article. If you understand why the state is creating a powerful new agency to run its schools, please let me know.

Our blog poet reverses the state motto of New Hampshire (“Live Free or Die”).

“Die Free or Live” They made their bed
And there they lie
May soon be dead
But free they’ll die

The Republican war on “critical race theory” began in the closing months of Trump’s term in office, when he denounced it and called for “patriotic education.” One Republican state after another began passing resolutions and laws banning the teaching of CRT, which was interpreted to mean teaching about racism or anything that might make “some” children feel uncomfortable or be “divisive.” Teaching about the Ku Klux Klan or white supremacy apparently made some children feel uncomfortable.

Jan Resseger reports that the Ohio State Board of Education repealed a 2020 anti-racism resolution, since any such proposal are “divisive.” She goes into detail about the national reach of the Republican effort to eliminate anti-racist materials from the schools.

She begins:

Late on Wednesday night, the Ohio State Board of Education repealed Resolution 20, an important declaration passed in the summer of 2020 directing the Ohio Department of Education to establish staff diversity training and launch a curriculum review intended to reduce racism and bias in the state’s public schools.

The Columbus Dispatch’s Anna Staver reports: “Ohio’s State Board of Education repealed an anti-racism resolution Wednesday night and replaced it with one condemning any teachings that ‘seek to divide.'” Staver explains that the 2020 anti-racism resolution: “condemned hate crimes and white supremacy movements ‘in the strongest possible terms,’ but it also directed the Ohio Department of Education to teach its employees about implicit bias. Local school boards were asked to review their graduation rates, discipline records and classroom resources… Opponents… argued that (the resolution) opened the door for districts to teach ‘disturbing’ and ‘divisive’ material about racism and identity.”

State Board member Brandon Shea drafted Resolution 13, a counter statement which eventually passed but without some of Shea’s proposed language. Shea’s proposal, according to Staver’s report, “observed not only a growing national divide but a troubling focus on the color of one’s skin rather than on the content of one’s character.'” Shea’s proposal also condemned “critical race theory.”

While Staver reports that Resolution 13, as passed, removes the incendiary language about critical race theory, the replacement resolution condemns “any language that seeks to divide” and “any standards, curriculum, or training programs for students, teachers, or staff that seek to ascribe circumstances or qualities, such as collective guilt, moral deficiency, or racial bias, to a whole race or group of people.” This is, of course, language that conforms to the prescriptions of far right ideologues who want to protect the white majority from looking honestly at white privilege and examining the history of slavery and racism in the United States.

For The Intercept, Akela Lacy summarized the original July 2020 resolution which was rescinded on Wednesday night: “The resolution, introduced by board President Laura Kohler, acknowledges that ‘Ohio’s education system has not been immune’ to racism and inequality, and that ‘while we earnestly strive to correct them, we have a great deal of work left to do.’ It calls for the state education board to offer board members implicit bias training, programs designed to help people understand their own unconscious biases and the ways stereotypes can distort their beliefs; for all state Department of Education employees and contractors to take the training; for the department to reexamine curricula for racial bias; and for school districts to examine curricula and practices for hiring, staff development, and student discipline.”

As Lacy explains, ever since the original resolution passed, there has been an outcry from members of the public and a loud minority within the State Board itself complaining that the resolution constitutes “critical race theory.” Under pressure, the State Board finally asked Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost to determine whether the resolution is constitutional. He let the resolution stand, saying such a determination is outside his authority, except, he said, the State Board cannot impose these mandates on private contractors. For months, the resolution has been the subject of hearings in the Ohio House of Representatives’ State and Local Government Committee, where hundreds of educators and members of the public have offered testimony in favor of last year’s resolution. However, at one hearing, Lacy reports that one member of the State Board of Education, Diana Fessler, openly defended white supremacy.

It would be one thing if this sort of battle were happening only in Ohio’s state board of education, but instead the same fight is being reported in local school boards all across the country. And the arguments and downright fights are highly politicized. In the Washington Post, Adam Laats reported: “Conflicts (have) roiled school board meetings across the country, over a range of hot-button issues: masks, vaccines, policies for trans athletes, Critical Race Theory. The conflicts moved past yelling, to lawsuits and demands for recalls—and not just of individual members but entire boards. Over and over again, local school board meetings have turned from staid discussions of budgets and staffing to heated ideological forums, hosting a go-nowhere series of fights that have little to do with the actual needs of the local schools. Conservative pundits have talked up these confrontations as part of a larger political strategy… Why have school boards become ground zero for these aggressive ideological skirmishes? Quite simply: They are accessible. Most meetings are open to the public, in local town halls or school district offices; their members are local volunteers, who usually have no campaign war chests or partisan election support… And if school board meetings are disrupted, members recalled, teachers threatened, students intimidated, it is that much harder for schools to function and children to learn.”

Open the link and read on.

Peter Greene notes that 2021 has been a year of attacks on public education, and he introduces us to an organization that is a little-known but influential player behind the scenes. It has actively sought to destroy teachers unions and to bring Christian beliefs into the classroom. That is, their version of Christian beliefs.

He writes:

The Christian Educators Association is not a new player (you may have heard the name before–we’ll get to that shortly). They were founded as the National Educators Fellowship in 1953 by Dr. Clyde Narramore, an author of over 100 books, most focusing on psychology. He even had a syndicated radio show with his wife Ruth. His shtick was psychology steeped in Christian belief, and he eventually launched and led the Rosemead School of Psychology which has since been folded into Biola University, a private evangelical Christian university in La Mirada, California (we’ll meet them again). Biola was founded as the Bible Institute of Los Angeles by the president of the Union Oil Company of California, based on the model of the Moody Bible Institute, later broadening their programs (including an education department)…

In 1984 they changed the name to Christian Educators Association International, and in 1991, then-leader Forrest Turpen continued restructuring the group to be “an alternative to teachers’ unions, at a time when unions were embracing values more and more hostile to the Biblical worldview.” I was teaching then; I’m not sure what exactly they were upset about (Outcome based education?) Turpen led the group from 1983 till 2003, expanded membership, and went after the secular unions. As always, the mission was unequivocally evangelical; when he died, friends noted his “dogged determination to see the gospel proclaimed to the children of this nation.” After his death, CEAI set up the Forrest Turpen Legacy Grant, asking teachers “Do you dream of impacting your school for Christ?” Grants were awarded for Bibles, tracts, t-shirts, and transportation costs to visit the Ark Encounter, all for various school clubs.

Of one thing you can be certain, the CEAI wanted the schools to be religious. But they also had a political goal: to weaken the teachers’ unions, which they considered godless. CEAI was behind a lawsuit intended to free teachers from any obligation to pay dues. Their plaintiff was Rebecca Friedrichs. She represented teachers who wanted to collect the benefits negotiated by the unions without paying dues. As Greene explains, her case reached the U.S. Supreme Court, but was deadlocked when Justice Scalia died. The next anti-union case, Janus, completed the mission.