Since this post was written in Texas by a Texan, you may have a clue about what these diverse phenomena have in common: They are sources of fear, anxiety, propaganda, and scare tactics used cynically to stir up the passions of voters. The article was written by Dr. Charles Luke of Pastors for Texas Children, a stalwart supporter of public schools.

Dr. Luke writes:

What do masks, library books, critical race theory (CRT), and transgender rights have in common? While this may sound like the beginning of a really bad joke, these are all issues that local school boards across the nation hear about frequently from their constituents. The concerns about these issues aren’t always expressed in the nicest ways, either. In fact, angry expressions over these issues have led to death threats and harassment, leading some school board members to request police protection or to resign their positions. Commonly dubbed “culture war issues” because they are highly politicized, school board disruption has gotten so bad that Saturday Night Live did a skit about it.

In Texas, it’s not just concerned citizens that are complaining. Politicians are cashing in on the fears of their right-wing base by issuing edicts, holding town halls, and leading charges against school districts. State Rep. Matt Krause, Chair of the House Committee on General Investigating, notified the Texas Education Agency that he is “initiating an inquiry into Texas school district content,” according to an article and an Oct. 25 letter obtained by The Texas Tribune. Krause included a list of 850 titles that he believes some people may find objectionable. Krause was then running for Texas Attorney General in a crowded field of candidates but has since dropped out.

Not to be outdone, Gov. Greg Abbott issued his own edict about library books – but to the wrong people. In a November 1, 2021 letter to the Texas Association of School Boards (TASB), he reminded the organization that their members have a collective responsibility to determine if obscene materials exist in school libraries and to remove any such content. When TASB Executive Director Dan Troxell informed Governor Abbott that TASB is merely a school trustee membership organization and has no regulatory authority over schools, Abbott responded by accusing the organization of abdicating their responsibility in the matter and directed the Texas Education Agency, the Texas State Library and Archives Commission, and the State Board of Education to address the issue by developing standards to “prevent the presence of pornography and obscene content in Texas public schools, including in school libraries.”

A rightwing think-tank (the Texans for Public Policy Priorities) has already sent out a fundraising appeal, hoping to raise $1.2 million dollars to institute what they call “massive education freedom reforms” by mobilizing 10,000 citizens in each of 60 legislative swing districts in order to “break the indoctrination of our children from Critical Race Theory, ‘gender fluidity’, and socialism.” TPPF claims to already have one donor that has provided $600,000 (rumored to be Tim Dunn of Empower Texans fame.

Read on to learn about the latest zany tactics of Texas Republicans, who are expert at campaigning on lies and fear.

The right-wingers have a goal: power. The power to destroy public schools and replace them with private alternatives.

These efforts in Texas follow a national push by extremist politics to take over school boards based on allegations that districts are teaching critical race theory. The Center for Renewing America, run by former Trump administration official Russ Vought, distributes a toolkit that encourages conservatives to “reclaim” their schools by taking over local school boards through campaigns focused on opposition to critical race theory. The Leadership Institute offers training on how far-right candidates can take over their school board and runs a program called Campus Reform which encourages students to “expose the leftist abuses on your campus” including the teaching of CRT.

Funded by wealthy donors and far-right-wing foundations, they seem to be having some success in Texas. In places like Cypress-Fairbanks ISD – the third-largest school district in the state – long-term and well-established trustees are being replaced over culture-war wedge issues like CRT. After a controversial “Resolution Condemning Racism” was approved by the board of trustees in September of 2020, Rev. John Ogletree – an African American – was defeated amidst allegations that the district was promoting CRT. Ogletree is the founder and pastor at the First Metropolitan Church in Houston, Texas, and the president of the board of Pastors for Texas Children (PTC) – a statewide public school advocacy group. Ogletree had been a member of the Cypress-Fairbanks ISD Board of Trustees since 2003.

Not everyone is silent about the far-right efforts. Rev. Charles Foster Johnson, Executive Director of PTC responded to the defeat of Ogletree by saying, “For Godly Christian servants like Rev. John Ogletree to be slandered with lies about his character is beyond outrageous. It is morally despicable. Rev. Ogletree is a faithful pastor who discharged his responsibility before God to call out racism. He did so with obedience and courage. It may come as a news flash to the morally confused folks at TPPF, but it is not racism to call racism for the sin it is: racism.”

According to staff writers for Reform Austin, “This appears to be a nationwide strategy by conservatives to take over school boards and cultivate a farm team of candidates for higher office.” If that’s the case, there could be plenty of opportunities for far-right candidates in 2022 to get elected. With several Texas Senators and over two-dozen House members deciding not to run again due to redistricting maps, the field could be wide open for ultra-conservative candidates launching campaigns on the back of these attacks on public schools.

What the right-wingers really want is to gin up enough anger towards public schools so that people will be willing to seek vouchers and abandon public schools. This might save money, but it would certainly be a nightmare for students and parents who want a quality education. The people stirring this pot against public schools harp on phony issues to advance privatization.

Take Governor Abbott (please). He has been Governor of Texas since 2015. Before that, he was State Attorney General from 2002 to 2015. Before that, he was on the Texas Supreme Court from 1996 to 2001. Is it credible that after 25 years in high public office, he just realized that school libraries are harboring pornography? Why didn’t he know that when he was the State Attorney General, or a member of the Supreme Court, or at some point earlier in his six years as Governor? Why, on the eve of the next gubernatorial election, did he just discover that school libraries are dangerous to young minds? Young minds are undoubtedly safer in the school library than they are at home on the Internet, where there is most certainly hardcore pornography. Will Governor Abbott tell parents to disconnect from the Internet? Of course not.

This whole propaganda campaign is a charade. It is not about making education better. It’s not about protecting youth from corrupting influences.

It is about creating a rationale to distribute public money to religious schools and private vendors.

Texans who want better education must stand up to the charlatans and drive them out of office. School boards elections are scheduled for December 13. Get out and vote for people who believe in education, reason, and thoughtfulness. Vote out the charlatans who want to destroy your schools.