Nora De La Cour is a high school social worker and former teacher in Massachusetts. She writes frequently about the attacks on public schools. In this brilliant article, which appeared in Jacobin, she shows how the privatizatizers have exploited the culture wars to promote their own agenda. They are not interested in better education or students. Their agenda is to destroy the public square.

In a nutshell: “A billionaire-backed network of free-market fundamentalists is ginning up controversy over “wokeness” in American schools with an ulterior motive: to demolish public education.”

Please open the link to read the article in full.

She begins:

In a Massachusetts school district neighboring the one where I work, four parents, backed by a conservative Christian organization, are suing the school committee and multiple district employees for calling students by their preferred names and pronouns without informing home. Because one of the defendants is a counselor, some of my counselor peers in the area are now on guard, afraid we could become the targets of litigation if we allow students to broach sensitive topics in our presence.

Setting aside the very real harm that kids and educators are exposed to as a result of the Right’s eagerness to linkacknowledgement of gay and trans people to sexual predation, there’s another problem here. It’s incredibly difficult to teach or counsel someone if you can’t call them what they wish to be called. Addressing students by their chosen names is a basic sign of respect that says, “I see you and I’m here to work with you.” If you need to call home to get permission first — potentially outing kids to their parents and inviting distressing blowback — you might miss the chance to form the human connection that undergirds collaborative scholarship.

Pandemic school closures reminded us that the social aspects of schooling are among the most vital for young people’s development and for society at large. Specific facts and figures (the what of school learning) can be easily forgotten and recalled with a few keystrokes. But the ability to establish a base level of trust with heterogeneous others in order to solve shared problems (the how of school learning) is absolutely essential for both a fulfilling personal life and engagement in the public square. It’s critical that educators be allowed to build that trust without fear of reprisal.

The Koch-backed parents’ rightsmovement aims to make that trust impossible. By pitting parents against schools, libertarian billionaires and Republican strategists intend to motivate voters in the short term and fully privatize K-12 education in the long term. As Christopher Rufo, the self-styled architect of the so-called war on critical race theory (CRT), has argued, “To create universal school choice [i.e., privatization], you really need to operate from a premise of universal school distrust.” Those poweringthe campaign against classroom “wokeness” are trying to hinder our ability to establish common ground from which to defend our last remaining public goods.

The illiberalism that dominates the Right can best be understood as the advanced stage of a long billionaire-funded plot to undo democracy in order to relieve capitalists of any constraints the rest of us might wish to place on them. This understanding clarifies why classrooms, the training grounds for democratic participation, are primary targets of radical right activism. If liberals are to have any hope of countering this coordinated attack, they need to remember the collective, public value of education.

Laying Siege to the Common Good

It makes sense to focus on the reactionary nature of all of this: the commitment to American exceptionalism animating the so-called CRT bans, the fresh fixation on classical education rife with chauvinist dog whistles, and the shockingly overt bigotry of the anti-LGBT “grooming” discourse. Ron DeSantis’s Florida, as some have observed, is looking more and more like Viktor Orbán’s Hungary. But while these efforts to reverse cultural change are incredibly alarming, we come up short when we try to understand what’s happening purely in terms of identity-based hatred. Intolerance has always been a feature of American politics. Why does it suddenly seem so viciously well-organized?…

Despite attention-grabbing campaigns to terrify them, a majority of public school parents remain satisfied with their children’s schooling. And massive amounts of outside funding notwithstanding, local parents’ rights candidates have in numerous cases failedto deliver decisive wins for the privatization movement. As in segregated Virginia, US families are not quite prepared to sign away their children’s right to publicly funded, democratically controlled schools. It’s the perfect time, in other words, for those looking to contest the radical right to offer a full-throated defense of public education and all public goods.

But Democrats, by and large, have been unwilling to mount that, scarcely standing up even against the horrific attacks on kids, families, and educators that we are seeing across the United States. And when you look at their record on education, it’s pretty clear why: for the past three decades of education reform, Democrats have ignored the social role that schools play in preparing children for engagement in the public square. Alongside Republicans, they have enabled the privatization of public schools. They have also privatized the ideaof schooling down to the individual level. In the view of the Democratic establishment, the sole remit of schools should be to boost “human capital.” Guided by this view, they have yoked the vision of education ever closer to the needs of employers — a kind of corporate indoctrination eerily similar to the “woke” indoctrination Rufo and his cohort tell tales about.

But Bill Clinton’s assertion that “what you earn depends on what you learn” has proven to be a dangerous oversimplification: Americans are more educated than ever before, and yet economic insecurity is rampant and rising. When public schooling is only justifiable insofar as it increases individual earning power, the case for it is wholly dependent on its utility to capitalist markets. Without acknowledging the higher collective purpose that education serves, we won’t be able to defend public schools ordemocratic governance.

Democracy or Capitalism

“Republican politicians and their strategists,” Nancy MacLean told Jacobin,

have seen . . . culture-war tactics help Jair Bolsonaro get elected in Brazil and Viktor Orbán get reelected in Hungary this spring. And, lo, the CPAC (the Conservative Political Action Committee) is traveling to Hungary . . . to learn from Orbán how to use the tools of democracy to rig the rules to achieve autocracy.

The long plot is reaching maturity.

The Right’s appeals to “the family” resonate in part because our oligarchic political system leaves families in the cold, allowing child poverty to soar even as parents spend long and exhausting hours working outside the home. Any effort to save our commons and restore a sense of public spiritedness must include a material response to the significant challenges that parents face.

We need to work fast to reclaim the places where we give one another the benefit of the doubt and collaborate in spite of our differences. Democrats can still enter the battlefield and expose the Right’s deceitful efforts to turn the public against itself. As MacLean argues, the movement Buchanan authored wants to save capitalism from democracy. We can counter it if we are willing to fight to save democracy — beginning with schools — from capitalism.