Archives for category: Bias

Trump and Barr have warned about the dangers of a group called “Antifa.” I had never heard of them and don’t know anyone who belongs to this group. I did a small amount of digging and learned that Antifa means “anti-fascist.”

That confused me. How can it be wrong to be anti-fascism?

Hitler and Mussolini were fascists.

We fought a world war from 1941-1945 to save the world from fascism.

During World War II, there were pro-fascist people in America.

The current American fascists are the Ku Klux Klan, white supremacists, neo-Nazis, and armed militias like those that stormed the Michigan State Capitol to protest public health measures to protect against the spread of the coronavirus. Fascists threaten their fellow citizens with military-type assault weapons. Fascists use extra-legal means to subvert the rule of law and to intimidate people of color and those who oppose them. Fascists want to make America a white a Christian nation where none is welcome who is either white nor Christian.

I oppose fascism. I support the efforts to suppress fascism.

I support the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution. I believe in democracy and the rule of law. I believe in equal justice under law for all. I believe in pursuing the goal of equality of educational opportunity. I know we are far from our ideals and values. I believe in pursuing them, not abandoning them.

I am a proud anti-fascist.

Are you?

Get ready for a vicious campaign. It has already started.

Trump, a man with no discernible religion, recently said that Biden, a faithful Catholic, will:

“Take away your guns, take away your Second Amendment. No religion, no anything. Hurt the Bible. Hurt God. He’s against God. He’s against guns. He’s against energy, our kind of energy.”

Now that Biden has chosen Kamala Harris as his vice-presidential candidate, the bigots are targeting her, and it will only get worse.

Trumpers say that she isn’t really black, because her mother was born in India. (She is half-black, half-South Asian).

They say she did not descend from American slaves, which is true. She descended from African slaves in Jamaica, on her father’s side.

They say that she isn’t really African American because her father was born in Jamaica. (On Twitter, someone asked, “Where do they think that black people in Jamaica came from?”).

Some claim that she can never be president because both her parents were immigrants. (Not true. She was born in Oakland, California, and native-born citizenship and the age of 35 is all the Constitution requires.)

Then comes the claim that her ancestors were slave owners, based on her father having written that he was descended from a slave owner in Jamaica. (Snopes judged thisa year ago to be “unproven,” but also notes that if she does have a lineage linked to a white Jamaican slave owner, it would likely be because he raped or cohabited with one of his slaves.)

On this blog, a Trumper dropped by yesterday morning to say that Harris is “unqualified” and to call her “an affirmative action hire.” Harris graduated from Howard University and earned her law degre from the University of California Hastings College of Law at San Francisco. Both of her parents earned Ph.D. degrees and were successful professionals. Harris was elected District Attorney of San Francisco, State Attorney General of California, and a U.S. Senator. Harris is highly qualified to be on Joe Biden’s ticket. Her qualifications are far superior to those of Trump and Pence. I judge the slur to be racist, sexist trash.

Expect more of the same from the flailing Trump camp.

The University of Kentucky College of Education and the NAACP have agreed to establish a research center at the university to address issues of concern to African American communities. The driving force behind this project is the new Dean of the College, Dr. Julian Vasquez Heilig, who is a nationally recognized scholar on equity policies. Heilig has written extensively about civil rights, charter schools, and Teach for America. He is a founding board member of the Network for Public Education.

Valerie Strauss writes in the Washington Post:

The NAACP, the oldest and largest civil rights organization in the United States, is launching a new education initiative with the University of Kentucky that will provide a home for Black faculty to conduct and disseminate research on the community in a new way.


The enterprise marks the first time that the NAACP has joined with university-based education scholars to help address racial inequities that for decades have plagued public schools around the country.


“It’s a brand new paradigm,” said Julian Vasquez Heilig, dean of the University of Kentucky’s College of Education who has served on the NAACP executive committee and as the education chair for the NAACP’s California Hawaii State Conference. “There is no playbook.”


Vasquez Heilig, who is the initiative’s mastermind, said research will be done not by finding topics in the halls of academia, as is usually done, but rather in African American communities.


The idea here is to go to communities and understand what research they think needs to be done,” he said in an interview. “Instead of going to communities in the colonial way and taking research, we are asking what research they think is important to do.”


The focus of the initiative’s work will be to advance and protect education for students from preschool through higher education — with an emphasis on race-based discrimination. Special attention will be paid to students from underserved communities in Kentucky, which reflects many around the country.


The initiative will also seek to understand the challenges of students who are marginalized in the education sector based on factors including ability, gender, ethnicity, age and sexuality — and it will explore the intersectionality of these identities.


The agreement for the new initiative — for which a director and researchers have been hired — was signed by Vasquez Heilig, NAACP president and chief executive Derrick Johnson, NAACP Chairman Leon W. Russell and David Blackwell, the provost of the University of Kentucky. It will be based in the department of educational policy studies and evaluation at the College of Education at the university, which is largely funding the initiative.


These scholars will partner with students, educators, and communities to document the experiences of those facing educational disparities and use research to shape public policy,” Johnson said in a statement. “To see change, we must focus on discipline policies, school funding structures, college and career readiness initiatives, and our own great teachers in underserved communities.”


The director of the initiative is Gregory Vincent, a renowned civil rights attorney who just joined the faculty of the University of Kentucky. He is also the outgoing Grand Sire Archon of the Boule’, the nation’s first Greek-letter fraternity founded by African American men.


Researchers hired for the initiative include Sarah LaCour, arriving from the University of Colorado at Boulder, who will serve as an assistant director of the civil rights initiative, and Cheryl Matias, a scholar who studies culturally responsive education practices.

Fred Klonsky writes here about “cancel culture” and about opinion columnist John Kass, who lost his prominent spot in the Chicago Tribune after his references to George Soros as a bad guy. Kass did not get fired, but his column did lose its highly desirable spot on page 2 of the paper.

Here is what you need to know about George Soros. He was born in Hungary, survived the Holocaust, and became a billionaire. He has used his fortune to promote democracy and civil society in eastern Europe and elsewhere. He is Jewish. When rightwing fringe elements invoke his name, they are using his name, irrespective of facts, as an anti-Semitic slur, to imply that his money (Jewish money) is supporting whatever they oppose. This is a “dog whistle” in the new lingo of our day.

I have been interested in “political correctness” and censorship for many years. In 2006, I published a book called “The Language Police: How Pressure Groups Restrict What Students Learn.” The book has a list of hundreds of words, phrases, and images that will never appear in a textbook or on a test because someone finds them objectionable. So, for example, students will never encounter references to owls or witches or Halloween or death on a test. They will never see an image of an elderly person using a cane or a walker. They will never see a rainbow or a picture of a man with his hands in his pockets. The list is hilarious and at the same time sad. The book contains many examples of books that were banned from school libraries and from classroom use, decades ago. It also goes back in history to demonstrate that censors bowdlerized Shakespeare to remove references to sex that the censors found objectionable.

“Cancel culture” (another new term, but not a new practice) has a long history, rooted in Puritanism and prudishness.

I only recently became aware of “dog whistle” and figured out its meaning from the context.

Here is the online definition:

dog whis·tle
noun
noun: dog whistle; plural noun: dog whistles
a high-pitched whistle used to train dogs, typically having a sound inaudible to humans.
a subtly aimed political message which is intended for, and can only be understood by, a particular group.
“dog-whistle issues such as immigration and crime”

Merriam-Webster added the word to its dictionary in April 2017:

The earliest, and still most common, meaning of dog whistle is the obvious one: it is a whistle for dogs. Dog ears can detect much higher frequencies than our puny human ears can, so a dog whistle is nothing more than an exceedingly high-pitched whistle that canines can hear, but that we cannot.

dog whistle
Figuratively, a ‘dog whistle’ is a coded message communicated through words or phrases commonly understood by a particular group of people, but not by others.

Yet there’s another dog whistle we’ve been hearing about lately: a coded message communicated through words or phrases commonly understood by a particular group of people, but not by others.

Given that the term dog whistle has been around for over 200 years, it seems odd that it only developed a figurative sense recently. After all, it’s the perfect word to use to describe something that some people can hear, but others cannot. Yet it is only within the past 20 years or so that it has seen this figurative sense take hold. And it is primarily used to describe political speech.

If you want to cast him as just a nativist, his slogan “Make America Great Again” can be read as a dog-whistle to some whiter and more Anglo-Saxon past.
—Ross Douthat, The New York Times, 10 August 2015

Saul introduces the concept of the “figleaf,” which differs from the more familiar dog whistle: while the dog whistle targets specific listeners with coded messages that bypass the broader population, the figleaf adds a moderating element of decency to cover the worst of what’s on display, but nevertheless changes the boundaries of acceptability.
—Ray Drainville, Hyperallergic, 12 July 2016

Dog whistle appears to have taken on this political sense in the mid-1990s; the Oxford English Dictionary currently has a citation from a Canadian newspaper, The Ottawa Citizen, in October of 1995, as their earliest recorded figurative use: “It’s an all-purpose dog-whistle that those fed up with feminists, minorities, the undeserving poor hear loud and clear.”

The recent appearance of the figurative use does not mean that dog whistle has not been used previously to describe the habit that politicians occasionally have of sending coded messages to a certain group of constituents. In 1947, a book titled American Economic History referred to a speech by Franklin Delano Roosevelt as being “designed to be like a modern dog-whistle, with a note so high that the sensitive farm ear would catch it perfectly while the unsympathetic East would hear nothing.” However, saying that speech is like a dog-whistle (which is a simile) is not quite the same as saying that it is a dog whistle (which is a metaphor), and this subtle distinction is what causes us to judge the phrase as having originated in the 1990s, rather than the 1940s.

Trump is the master of the dog whistle. Every time he talks about his reverence for Confederate monuments and the Confederate flag as “our heritage” and “our history,” that’s a dog whistle, which racists hear clearly. It is such a loud dog whistle that even non-racists and anti-racists can hear it.

The National Education Policy Center released a report recently by Kristen Buras, one of my favorite scholar-writers. It focuses on dramatic racial disparities in New Orleans as the COVID-19 pandemic spread in the city. Her earlier book about the privatization of the public schools of New Orleans is powerful and, aside from my review, did not get the attention it deserved. It is titled Charter Schools, Race, and Urban Space: Where the Market Meets Grassroots Resistance.

NEPC announces the new report by Buras:

BOULDER, CO (July 28, 2020) – To inspire support for public health directives, many warn COVID-19 does not discriminate—everyone’s susceptible. The reality is more complicated. We are not “all in this together.” Racism ensures this, and New Orleans’ experience following Hurricane Katrina illustrates one way that racial inequities play out in times of crisis.

In a report released by the National Education Policy Center, “From Katrina To Covid-19: How Disaster, Federal Neglect, and the Market Compound Racial Inequities,” professor Kristen Buras of Georgia State University draws on history, storytelling, and political analysis to describe how the government neglect that disproportionately affected communities of color during Katrina is again evident during the COVID-19 crisis, with similar devastating results.

On August 29, 2005, Katrina struck New Orleans with disastrous effects. Yet while Katrina is regarded as one of the worst natural disasters in U.S. history, Buras argues that government neglect and market-driven public policy generated the worst effects, especially for communities of color. Despite forecasts that Katrina could kill tens of thousands, federal, state, and local governments did little to protect those in geographically vulnerable neighborhoods or evacuate those without cars. In New Orleans, African Americans were left to drown in floodwaters and dehydrate on rooftops, disproportionately suffering an array of harms.

But the harms did not end there. As floodwaters receded, policies aimed at privatizing assets in African American neighborhoods, including public schools, were enacted, compounding racial inequities wrought by a history of white supremacy.

Almost 15 years later, on January 20, 2020, the first U.S. case of COVID-19 was detected. Despite warnings that a pandemic could wreak physical and economic havoc, the federal government failed to take preventative action.

As a result, communities of color are again suffering disproportionately, with African Americans and other racially marginalized groups overrepresented among those who have died from the virus. Yet states have been slow to produce racially disaggregated data or provide racially targeted healthcare and other support. Instead of coordinating a federal response to the crisis and corresponding disparities, policymakers have advocated free market solutions, leaving states to compete for lifesaving medical supplies. The CARES Act, ostensibly passed to assist vulnerable communities, has been used to consolidate the wealth of corporate elites.

Katrina and COVID-19 have been framed as “natural” disasters—one ecological and the other biological—but Buras contends that government inaction and racism have been most responsible for the disproportionate harms experienced by communities of color. With COVID-19, African Americans and other marginalized communities risk infection as low-paid workers, struggle to access food and healthcare, worry about rent and eviction, confront a digital divide amid shuttered schools, and die at higher rates.

The experience of Katrina, then, has policy implications for the current moment, including concerns over profiteering and who will have a voice in rebuilding communities disproportionately affected by economic shutdowns and school closures.
Professor Buras ends her report with race-conscious, equity-focused policy recommendations spanning health, education, housing, labor, and democratic governance. These are necessary, she concludes, to realize an equitable future and hold accountable those whose negligence has inflicted and compounded harm for communities facing the crisis of not only COVID-19, but racism.
In sum, Professor Buras’ report critically analyzes the following:

*Reliving Katrina
*The Effects of Disaster Are Not Natural: Federal Neglect Kills—And Kills Unequally
*Crisis Reveals Preexisting Inequities and Exposes Tolerance for Racism
*Profiteering and Privatization Dispossess Communities of Color
*The Question of Who Has a Voice in Rebuilding the Economy Is Critical
*Negligence Is Racist and Criminal
*Toward an Equitable Policy Future

Find From Katrina To Covid-19: How Disaster, Federal Neglect, and the Market Compound Racial Inequities, by Kristen L. Buras, at:
http://nepc.colorado.edu/publication/katrina-covid

The following article appeared in the Grio and was co-authored by Dr. Andre Perry, Jitu Brown, Keron Blair, Richard Fowler, Stacy Davis Gates and Tiffany Dena Loftin.

George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and now Rayshard Brooks — all Black people whose lives and purposes were snuffed out by White Supremacy. These four slain Americans were fathers, brothers, mothers, sisters, and one-time students of our nation’s public education system.

If we acknowledge the truth about the systemic racism in our country, we must also acknowledge the impact that racism has on our children and their classrooms. For us, #BlackLivesMatter is more than just a hashtag or social media post. #BlackLivesMatter is a policy doctrine that should govern how we think about safety, health care, the economy and certainly our nation’s public schools.

For Black lives to matter, we must reconstitute our nation’s classrooms and ensure that they are places that push back against the epidemic of racism and anti-Blackness. Its symptoms include under-resourced school buildings, oversized classrooms, over-policing, less access to necessary protections, lack of opportunity, and disinvestment.

Together, we — parents, students, community, educators and our local unions — believe we can cure anti-Blackness in our children’s classrooms

Here are the 10 things we can do today to combat anti-Blackness and racism for the sake of our babies and their neighborhood public schools:

1. Our school curricula must be culturally relevant, responsive and designed to prepare Black students for a future as global citizens. We must move away from rote memorization for standardized testing to teaching and critical thinking. Forget Columbus and talk about the role colonialism and capitalism played in structuring our nation and the modern world. Incorporating ethnic studies, with an emphasis on the Black experience as a conduit to addressing other marginalized groups, is critical. That way, more people will be familiar with key concepts — such as the building of our economy on exploitation and extraction (through slavery, Jim Crow, labor suppression, mass incarceration and criminalization). This will allow future generations to see the power dynamic created by policing and how it evolved by protecting wealthy business interests and oppressing Black bodies, enslaved and as they exist today.

2. We need smaller class sizes. Black parents have been demanding this for decades. Smaller class sizes allow for more individualized attention to each student. As we return to schools in an ongoing pandemic, small classes will be critical to keeping students physically and mentally healthy while they academically progress.

3. School safety can no longer mean school police and security staff. We know by now that most Black children are justifiably terrified by the police. Research affirms that police presence in schools leads to harsher punishment disproportionately affecting Black students — regardless of the severity or frequency of the behavior. For far too long, misguided leaders have depended on police in our public schools as a form of discipline. It is time for that to change. Our students deserve to learn in safe, loving and welcoming environments. Law enforcement officials walking the hallways of America’s schools only stoke fear.

4. We must recruit and support Black educators. When schools undergo major changes, Black educators are deliberately shut out. Disregarding their institutional, classroom and community knowledge has crippled generations of students and harmed our community. Everyone, from cafeteria workers to bus drivers, should have the tools to support our students, especially those experiencing disproportionate levels of trauma. By supporting our most vulnerable kids and families, school staff can improve the climate for the entire community. Salaries, working conditions and the protected right to organize must reflect the high level of commitment required to be an anti-racist educator.

5. It’s time for serious investment in school infrastructure and technology. Too many Black children attend schools where the walls are crumbling, there is lead in the water and heating and cooling are in disrepair. We want playgrounds, libraries and digital devices for every child. We want broadband internet to be a public utility, free or subsidized for families that can’t afford it.

6. Our schools and communities can no longer be turned over to private interests through vouchers, charters, education savings accounts, commercial tech platforms and other schemes used to syphon off public monies for private profit. Privatization hurts Black students and communities by excluding the neediest students, stealing funds that would otherwise support the 90+ % of kids enrolled in neighborhood public schools, and requiring those schools to further cut budgets and services for the vast majority of students. Black communities are tired of false and destructive choices of others. Our tax dollars are controlled by somebody else who’s eager to make a profit, escape our communities, and starve our people as they push an anti-Black agenda.

7. Schools serving Black students need more resources, not less. COVID-19 has laid bare the disproportionate health vulnerabilities facing Black people. The same vulnerabilities exist in public education. For decades, Black students, parents and educators have suffered from educational neglect and discrimination in public schooling. This suffering must end today. It starts by building bigger budgets for our neighborhood public schools. In order to learn at the same level as their white counterparts, our kids need more nurses, guidance counselors, paraeducators, social workers, mentors, and enrichment opportunities. These critical supports cost money. Equity demands that more public school dollars should flow to our most vulnerable students and their classrooms.

8. We need sustainable community schools. Many of these elements (greater community control, parental engagement and support, wraparound services, challenging and culturally relevant academics and enrichment) come together in the sustainable community school model. The Journey for Justice Alliance has suggested following Maryland’s lead by turning any school receiving Title I funds into a sustainable community school — neighborhood public schools that bring together many partners to provide a range of supports and opportunities to children, youth, families and communities.

9. We must eliminate standardized testing. Based in racist ideology, these tests are biased against Black students and contribute to the evil myth of anti-Blackness mentioned above. They are used to rank, sort and deprive Black children of everything, from access to advanced coursework to a chance to study with the best teachers. Standardized tests are the excuse decision-makers use to stigmatize Black neighborhood schools with misleading grades before targeting them for closure, privatization and disinvestment — despite obvious student need. Meanwhile, schools serving children with the privilege these tests measure are rewarded. The children’s privilege, and that of the school, also gets compounded.

These ideas are not new. Folks have been waging campaigns to gain these wins for a long time. They are worth restating at this moment, and they are certainly worth fighting for. Let us take to the streets with these demands in hand to make a new world possible

Authors:

Dr. Andre Perry – fellow in the Metropolitan Policy Program at Brookings

Jitu Brown – National Director of Journey for Justice

Keron Blair – Executive Director for the Alliance to Reclaim Our Schools

Richard Fowler – Fox News Contributor/National Syndicated Radio Host

Stacy Davis Gates – Executive Vice President for the Chicago Teachers Union

Tiffany Dena Loftin – Director of the NAACP Youth and College Division

The US Supreme Court ruled today that teachers in religious schools are not protected by federal anti-discrimination law. Please note that Justice Alita says that the central mission of religious schools is to teach the faith, which is why so many object to public funding of religious schools. If religious schools take public money, are they still exempt from public laws that cover public schools?

David Savage wrote for the Los Angeles Times:

WASHINGTON — The Supreme Court on Wednesday restricted teachers who work at church-run schools from filing discrimination claims against their employers, ruling that the Constitution’s protection for religious liberty exempts church schools from state and federal anti-discrimination laws.

The justices, by a 7-2 vote, ruled that because two elementary school teachers at Catholic schools in Los Angeles County helped carry out the mission of teaching faith as part of their jobs, the schools are free to hire and fire them without concern for antidiscrimination laws.

The decision effectively closes the courthouse door to tens of thousands of teachers nationwide in religious and parochial schools who encounter workplace discrimination based on their gender, age, disability or sexual orientation that would otherwise be impermissible. It is also written broadly enough that it could include many other types of workers at the schools, such as counselors, nurses, coaches and office workers.

In the past, the Supreme Court has recognized an implied “ministerial exemption” that shields churches, synagogues or other religious bodies from being sued by priests, pastors and other ministers. The issue in the pair of cases from Southern California was whether that exemption extended more broadly to teachers in a church-run school whose primary duty was not necessarily religious instruction.

“The 1st Amendment protects the right of religious institutions to decide for themselves, free from state interference, matters of church government as well as those of faith and doctrine,” Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr. wrote for the majority.

“The religious education and formation of students is the very reason for the existence of most private religious schools, and therefore the selection and supervision of the teachers upon whom the schools rely to do this work lie at the core of their mission,” he continued. “Judicial review of the way in which religious schools discharge those responsibilities would undermine the independence of religious institutions in a way that the 1st Amendment does not tolerate.”

Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Sonia Sotomayor dissented.

Kristen Biel was a fifth-grade teacher at St. James School in Torrance whose teaching contract was canceled shortly after she told the principal she had been diagnosed with breast cancer. She later sued under the Americans with Disabilities Act, which protects employees from discrimination based solely on a disease like cancer. She died last year, but her husband, Darryl Biel, has maintained the suit.

Agnes Morrissey-Berru had taught fifth grade at Our Lady of Guadalupe in Hermosa Beach for decades when the principal suggested she may want to retire. She refused, and her teaching contract was not renewed. She then sued, alleging age discrimination.

Lawyers for the Catholic Archdiocese said the suits should be dismissed, citing the ministerial exception recognized by the high court. Two federal district judges agreed, but the 9th Circuit Court cleared both suits to proceed, ruling that neither teacher was a religious leader at school.

In dissent, Sotomayor called the court’s ruling “simplistic” because it allows a church to decide which of its employees are central to its religious mission and therefore not covered by antidiscrimination laws.

“That stretches the law and logic past their breaking points,” she said. “The court’s conclusion portends grave consequences.
Thousands of Catholic teachers may lose employment-law protections because of today’s outcome. Other sources tally over a hundred thousand secular teachers whose rights are at risk. And that says nothing of the rights of countless coaches, camp counselors, nurses, social-service workers, in-house lawyers, media-relations personnel, and many others who work for religious institutions. All these employees could be subject to discrimination for reasons completely irrelevant to their employers’ religious tenets.”

To those who think that Donald Trump represents a new phenomenon in American politics, Sarah Churchwell’s essay in The New York Review of Books is a necessary antidote. Open the link to see the alarming photographs that accomparticle. Yes, it happened here. Yes, you should describe to the New York Review of Books.

She writes:

As militarized police in riot gear and armored vehicles barreled into peaceful protesters in cities across America, and its president emerged from a bunker to have citizens tear-gassed on his way to a church he’d never attended, holding a Bible he’d never read, many people recalled a famous saying often misattributed to Sinclair Lewis’s 1935 novel It Can’t Happen Here: “When fascism comes to America, it will be wrapped in the flag and carrying a cross.” Because Lewis’s novel is the best remembered of the many warnings against American fascism in the interwar years, he has latterly been credited with the admonition, but they are not Lewis’s words.

The adage probably originated instead with James Waterman Wise, son of the eminent American rabbi Stephen Wise and one of the many voices at the time urging Americans to recognize fascism as a serious domestic threat. “The America of power and wealth,” Wise cautioned, is “an America which needs fascism.” American fascism might emerge from “patriotic orders, such as the American Legion and the Daughters of the American Revolution… and it may come to us wrapped in the American flag or a Hearst newspaper.” In another talk that year, he put it slightly differently: American fascism would likely come “wrapped up in the American flag and heralded as a plea for liberty and preservation of the constitution.”

An American fascism would, by definition, deploy American symbols and American slogans. “Do not look for them to raise aloft the swastika,” Wise warned, “or to employ any of the popular forms of Fascism” from Europe. Fascism’s ultra-nationalism means that it works by normalizing itself, drawing on familiar national customs to insist it is merely conducting political business as usual. As José Antonio Primo de Rivera, the leader of Spain’s proto-fascist Falange party, proclaimed in 1934, all fascisms ought to be local and indigenous:

Italy and Germany… turned back towards their own authenticity, and if we do so ourselves, the authenticity which we find will also be our own: it will not be that of Germany or Italy, and therefore, by reproducing the achievement of the Italians or Germans we will become more Spanish than we have ever been… In fascism as in movements of all ages, underneath the local characteristics there are to be found certain constants… What is needed is a total feeling of what is required: a total feeling for the Fatherland, for life, for History.

Samuel Moyn recently argued in these pages against comparing Trump’s policies to fascism, because his administration is “pursuing causes with roots deep in American history. No analogy to Hitler or fascism is needed to explain these results.” But this presumes that fascism does not have its own deep roots in American history. It is arguable—not to say, exceptionalist—to presuppose that anything indigenously American cannot be fascist; this begs the question of American fascism rather than disputing it. Experts on fascism such as Robert O. Paxton, Roger Griffin, and Stanley G. Payne have long argued that fascism can never seem alien to its followers; its claims to speak for “the people” and to restore national greatness mean that each version of fascism must have its own local identity. To believe that a nationalist movement isn’t fascist because it’s native is to miss the point entirely.

Historically, fascist movements were also marked by opportunism, a willingness to say almost anything to get into power, rendering definitions even murkier. Trying to identify its core, the unsplittable fascist atom, has proved impossible; we are left with what Umberto Eco called fascism’s “fuzziness,” others its “hazy and synthetic doctrines.” There are good arguments against attempting through taxonomies to establish what’s become known as a “fascist minimum,” as if a checklist could qualitatively differentiate fascism from other authoritarian dictatorships. Some think anti-Semitism is a litmus test; others genocide. Does colonialism count? Aimé Césaire, C.L.R. James, and Hannah Arendt, among many other notable thinkers who lived through the first fascisms, certainly thought it did, arguing that European fascism visited upon white bodies what colonial and slave systems had perfected in visiting upon black and brown bodies.

Paxton has argued influentially that fascism is as fascism does. But conspicuous features are recognizably shared, including: nostalgia for a purer, mythic, often rural past; cults of tradition and cultural regeneration; paramilitary groups; the delegitimizing of political opponents and demonization of critics; the universalizing of some groups as authentically national, while dehumanizing all other groups; hostility to intellectualism and attacks on a free press; anti-modernism; fetishized patriarchal masculinity; and a distressed sense of victimhood and collective grievance. Fascist mythologies often incorporate a notion of cleansing, an exclusionary defense against racial or cultural contamination, and related eugenicist preferences for certain “bloodlines” over others. Fascism weaponizes identity, validating the herrenvolk and invalidating all the other folk.

Americans of the interwar period, though they could not predict what was to come in Europe, were nonetheless perfectly clear about one fact we have lost sight of today: all fascism is indigenous, by definition. “Fascism must be home grown,” admonished an American lecturer in 1937, “repeating the words of Benito Mussolini, that fascism cannot be imported,” but must be “particularly suited to our national life.” Logically, therefore, “the anti-Negro program” would provide “a very plausible rallying cry for American fascists,” just as anti-Semitism had for Germans. Others recognized that the deep roots of anti-Semitic evangelical Christianity provided equally plausible rallying cries for an American fascism. Wartime patriotism and the Allied triumph soon gave Americans permission to regard fascism as an alien and uniquely European pathology, but “the man on horseback,” the despot who could ride reactionary populist energies to power, had been a specter in American politics since at least as early as the presidency of Andrew Jackson in the 1830s.

One of the last, and most horrific, public lynchings in America took place in October 1934, in the Florida Panhandle, where a crowd of as many as 5,000 gathered to watch what had been advertised hours earlier in the local press. Claude Neal was burned and castrated, had his genitals stuffed into his mouth, and was forced to tell his torturers that he enjoyed their taste. After he was finally dragged to his death behind a car, his mutilated corpse was urinated upon by the crowds, and then hung from the Marianna Courthouse. The German press, quick to capitalize on reports of American lynching, circulated photographs of Neal, whose horrific death they described with “sharp editorial comments to the effect that America should clean its own house” before it censured other governments’ treatment of their citizens. “Stop Lynching Negroes is Nazi Retort to American Critics,” read the Pittsburgh Courier headline reporting German accounts of American racial violence.

The Courier was one of many African-American papers that not only saw affinities between Nazi Germany and Jim Crow America, but also traced causal connections. “Hitler Learns from America,” the Courier had declared as early as 1933, reporting that German universities under the new regime of the Third Reich were explaining that they drew their ideas from “the American pathfinders Madison Grant and Lothrop Stoddard,” and that “racial insanities” in America provided Nazi Germany with “a model for oppressing and persecuting its own minorities.” The African-American New York Age similarly wondered if Hitler had studied “under the tutelage” of Klan leaders, perhaps as “a subordinate Kleagle or something of the sort.”

The Nazis themselves saw a clear kinship. Recent histories have demonstrated that Hitler systematically relied upon American race laws in designing the Nuremberg laws, while the Third Reich also actively sought supporters in the Jim Crow South, although the political leadership of the white South largely did not return the favor. But the correspondence between the two systems was perfectly evident at the time, on both sides of the Atlantic. A Nazi consul general in California even tried to purchase the Klan, with the idea of plotting an American putsch. His price was too low—the Klan was nothing if not mercenary—but, as journalists remarked after the story came to light in 1939, the Klan could not afford to seem foreign; “to be effective,” its nativist agenda had to be pursued “in the name of Americanism.”

In 1935, African Americans organized around the country in mass protests against Mussolini’s slaughter of Ethiopians across the sea. “American Fascism Already Has Negroes,” declared the Jamaican-American journalist and historian Joel Augustus Rogers. Langston Hughes agreed: “Give Franco a hood and he would be a member of the Ku Klux Klan, a Kleagle. Fascism is what the Ku Klux Klan will be when it combines with the Liberty League and starts using machine guns and airplanes instead of a few yards of rope.” “We Negroes in America Negroes do not have to be told what fascism is in action,” Hughes told another audience. “We know.”

At the same time, in 1935, W.E.B. Du Bois published Black Reconstruction in America. This foundational work of African-American revisionist historiography appeared amid the tumult of the Scottsboro Nine’s persecution and as Jesse Owens’s medal haul at the Berlin Olympics was seen as both a joke against Hitler and a rebuke to Jim Crow America. In no way coincidentally, then, Du Bois implies in his study more than once that the white supremacism of Jim Crow America could indeed be regarded as “fascism.” Sixty years later, in a neglected but remarkable essay, Amiri Baraka made Du Bois’s notion explicit, arguing that the end of Reconstruction “heaved Afro America into fascism. There is no other term for it. The overthrow of democratically elected governments and the rule by direct terror, by the most reactionary sector of finance capital… Carried out with murder, intimidation and robbery, by the first storm troopers, again the Hitlerian prototype, the Ku Klux Klan, directly financed by northern capital.” It would take another twenty years for white American historiography to absorb the argument, when, in 2004, Paxton observed in The Anatomy of Fascism that a strong argument could be made for the first Ku Klux Klan in the Reconstruction South being the world’s earliest fascist movement:

[The first Klan was] an alternative civic authority, parallel to the legal state, which, in the eyes of the Klan’s founders, no longer defended their community’s legitimate interests. By adopting a uniform (white robe and hood), as well as by their techniques of intimidation and their conviction that violence was justified in the cause of their group’s destiny, the first version of the Klan in the defeated American South was arguably a remarkable preview of the way fascist movements were to function in interwar Europe.

After the KKK was resurrected in 1915, the second Klan claimed as many as five million members by the mid-1920s, a degree of proliferation in American society that represented one out of every three or four white Protestant American men. When Mussolini burst onto the world stage in 1921, many Americans across the country instantly recognized his project, as newspapers from Montana to Florida explained to their readers that “the ‘Fascisti’ might be known as the Ku Klux Klan,” and “the klan… is the Fascisti of America.” Comparisons between the homegrown Klan and Italian fascism soon became ubiquitous in the American press; the resemblance was not superficial.

The second Klan disintegrated in the late 1920s under the taint of corruption and sex scandals, but some of its erstwhile leaders soon began cutting their bloodstained cloth to fit new political fashions. The majority of the American fascist groups of the interwar period, more than one of which self-identified as fascist, began not as branches of Nazism, but as offshoots of the Klan. Their Christian nationalism was inextricable from their anti-Semitism, although it also led to a sectarianism that may have kept them from forging stronger alliances.

Many of these groups shared the fondness of their European counterparts for dressing up in “colored shirt” uniforms, to suggest organized force and militaristic might, to intimidate and exclude, including Atlanta’s Order of Black Shirts; the White Shirts, militant “Crusaders for Economic Liberty,” founded by George W. Christians, who cultivated a toothbrush mustache and Hitlerian lock of flopping hair; the Gray Shirts, officially “The Pioneer Home Protective Association,” founded in upstate New York; the Khaki Shirts (also “US Fascists”); the Silver Shirts, which William Dudley Pelley modeled on Hitler’s “elite Nazi corps,” and the Dress Shirts. By the end of 1934, American journalists were mocking the growing list. “Gray Shirts Make America No. 1 Among Shirt-Nations,” read one sarcastic headline, noting that unless other countries began cheating by combining colors, “it will be impossible to out-shirt us.”

But others took the threat more seriously. As James Waterman Wise repeatedly explained, “the various colored shirt orders—the whole haberdashery brigade who play upon sectional prejudice,” were “sowing the seeds of Fascism” in the United States. The Black Legion was an offshoot of the Klan that flourished in the Midwest, whose leader spoke of seizing Washington in a revolutionary coup, called the New Deal a Jewish plot “to starve the Gentiles out,” and espoused the extermination of American Jews by means of poison gas dispensers in synagogues on Yom Kippur. Anyone wondering “what fascism would be like in this country” should look to the Black Legion, with its “odor of Hitlerism,” its “anti-Catholic, anti-Jewish, anti-Negro, anti-labor platform, its whips, clubs and guns, its brazen defiance of law and order and the due processes of democracy,” warned a widely syndicated 1936 editorial. “These are the attitudes and equipment of fascism.”

The short-lived “Friends of the Hitler Movement” soon transformed into the more acceptable “Friends of New Germany” in 1933, before becoming the Bund. It held several large rallies in Madison Square Garden, including its 1939 “Mass Demonstration for True Americanism,” where a giant banner featuring George Washington was flanked by swastikas, and twelve hundred “storm troopers” stood in the aisles delivering the Nazi salute; footage from the rally was restored in 2019 as the short film “A Night at the Garden.” By 1940, the Bund claimed membership of 100,000 and had established summer camps in upstate New York, New Jersey, and Long Island where it trained American Nazi youth. The Bund’s propagandist, Gerhard Kunze, reported at the time that “the swastika is not foreign but one hundred per cent American. The Indians always used it,” while the emblem of another group, “The American National-Socialist Party,” was “an American Indian, arm outstretched in salute, poised against a black swastika.” They admitted to working to naturalize Nazism, seeking consanguinities with American symbolism.

Then, too, there was Father Coughlin. “I take the road of Fascism,” he said in 1936, before forming the Christian Front,” whose members referred to themselves as “brown shirts.” His virulently anti-Semitic radio program, regularly transmitting claims from the fabricated Protocols of the Elders of Zion, reached almost 30 million Americans at its height—the largest radio audience in the world at the time. Those listeners tuned in at the end of 1938 as Coughlin was justifying the violence of Kristallnacht, arguing that it was “reprisal” against Jews who had supposedly murdered more than twenty million Christians and stolen billions of dollars in “Christian property”; Nazism, he said, was a natural “defense mechanism” against the communism financed by Jewish bankers. Coughlin’s weekly newspaper, Social Justice, which had an estimated circulation of 200,000 at its height, was described by Life magazine at the time as probably the most widely read voice of “Nazi propaganda in America.”

But the American leader most often accused of fascist tendencies was Huey Long. As Louisiana governor (and senator), Long imposed local martial law, censored the newspapers, forbade public assemblies, packed the courts and legislatures with his cronies, and installed his twenty-four-year-old lover as secretary of state. Long was a racketeer, but his “Share Our Wealth” program did improve local conditions, building roads and bridges, investing in hospitals and schools, and abolishing the poll tax. His economic populism was also not predicated on furthering racial, ethnic, or religious divisions; he subordinated his white supremacism to his redistributionist political message. “We just lynch an occasional nigger,” he breezily declared when dismissing anti-lynching laws, though he also recognized “you can’t help poor white people without helping Negroes,” and so was prepared for his rising tide to lift all boats. When Long set his sights on the 1936 presidential election, Franklin D. Roosevelt was sufficiently alarmed to inform his ambassador to Germany: “Long plans to be a candidate of the Hitler type for the presidency,” predicting that by 1940 Long would try to install himself as a dictator.

Roosevelt was hardly alone in fearing that Long sought to be an “American Fuehrer”; Long’s political career gave plenty of reason for doubting his democratic bona fides. He inspired Sinclair Lewis’s Buzz Windrip in It Can’t Happen Here, the president-dictator who promises Americans $5,000 a year if they vote for him, as Long had done. But the name Windrip also suggests Rev. Gerald B. Winrod, the “Kansas Hitler” who led the “Defenders of the Christian Faith” and had been touring the nation lecturing on the millenarian role of Hitler, Stalin, and Mussolini in Biblical prophecy since the late 1920s. That Lewis also viewed the Klan as a fascist movement is clear from an extended denunciation that opens the novel, in which Lewis rips through a genealogy of American proto-fascist tendencies, including anti-Semitism, political corruption, war hysteria, conspiracy theories, and evangelical Christianity, before ending on the “Kentucky night-riders,” the “trainloads of people [who] have to gone to enjoy lynchings.” “Not happen here?… Where in all history has there ever been a people so ripe for a dictatorship as ours!”

President Windrip himself is “vulgar, almost illiterate, a public liar easily detected, and in his ‘ideas’ almost idiotic.” His fascist regime, driven by Christian nationalism and a desire for ethnic homogeneity, turns both African Americans and Jews into enemies of the state, decreeing that all bankers are Jewish. It Can’t Happen Here suggests that in America, fascism’s most dangerous supporters would be those “who disowned the word ‘Fascism’ and preached enslavement to Capitalism under the style of Constitutional and Traditional Native American Liberty.” It would be “government of the profits, by the profits, for the profits.” Fascism’s cancerous version of nationalism means that an American fascism will always graft American pieties about individual liberty onto realities of systemic greed, printing “liberate” on flags waved by a huckster.

Dorothy Thompson, the celebrated journalist and anti-fascist campaigner and Sinclair Lewis’s wife at the time, similarly earned the sobriquet of “Cassandra” for prophesying that fascism in the US would look all too familiarly American when it arrived. (Thompson enjoyed the riposte that Cassandra was always proven right in the end.) “When Americans think of dictators they always think of some foreign model,” she said, but an American dictator would be “one of the boys, and he will stand for everything traditionally American.” And the American people, Thompson added, “will greet him with one great big, universal, democratic, sheeplike bleat of ‘O.K., Chief! Fix it like you wanna, Chief!’” A year later, a Yale professor named Halford Luccock was also widely cited in the press when he told an audience: “When and if fascism comes to America it will not be labeled ‘made in Germany’; it will not be marked with a swastika; it will not even be called fascism; it will be called, of course, ‘Americanism.’” And Luccock went on: “The high-sounding phrase ‘the American way’ will be used by interested groups, intent on profit, to cover a multitude of sins against the American and Christian tradition, such sins as lawless violence, tear gas and shotguns, denial of civil liberties.”

A few years later, Thompson wrote again in similar terms, saying she was reminded of what Huey Long himself had once explained to her: “American Fascism would never emerge as a Fascist but as a 100 percent American movement; it would not duplicate the German method of coming to power but would only have to get the right President and Cabinet.” FDR’s vice president, Henry Wallace, issued his own warning. “American fascism will not be really dangerous,” he wrote in The New York Times in 1944, “until there is a purposeful coalition among the cartelists, the deliberate poisoners of public information, and those who stand for the K.K.K. type of demagoguery.”

Wallace’s warning came amid the Roosevelt administration’s misguided prosecution on sedition charges of many of these figures, including Winrod, Pelley, Elizabeth Dilling (of the so-called Mothers’ Movement), and James True (who founded a group called “America First Inc.” and called for an American pogrom). This constellation had orbited around the America First Committee of 1940–1941 and its figurehead Charles Lindbergh, the celebrated aviator who, for a time, lent their conspiratorial anti-Semitism a veneer of legitimacy until he met with disgrace in September 1941 for a speech widely condemned as anti-Semitic and “un-American.” As the United States entered World War II, the meaning of “America First” underwent an abrupt volte-face from patriotic to seditious, becoming a byword for anti-Semitic Nazi sympathies.

That did not stop Huey Long’s former deputy, the Rev. Gerald L.K. Smith—who had built his own political career on denunciations of presumptively Jewish “international bankers”—from running for president in 1944 on a promise to fix the nation’s “Jewish problem.” Smith’s party was called America First.

Now, in 2020, we find ourselves with an America First president. Arguments that Donald Trump can only be understood in relation to the modern conservative movement in America, best framed by the turn to the right under Barry Goldwater or Lee Atwater’s famous Southern Strategy, assume a rupture with American politics of the interwar period that was not necessarily evident at the time. To give just one example, Goldwater was described more than once during his presidential run in 1964, by both his supporters and his critics, as an “America First” politician.

Nor is it only Trump’s critics who see fascist tendencies in his administration’s rhetoric glorifying violence and disregarding the rule of law, democratic processes, and civil liberties; the president and his supporters regularly embrace traditions of American fascism themselves. “America First” was initially the favorite slogan of American xenophobic nativist movements and politics from 1915 to 1941, starting with Woodrow Wilson’s loyalty test, demanding that immigrant “hyphenate Americans” prove they were for “America First,” followed by its use as a rallying cry to keep America out of the League of Nations and from ratifying the Treaty of Versailles. Warren G. Harding also ran on an America First campaign in 1920, even as the slogan was being appropriated by the second Klan, which regularly marched with the legend on banners and used it in recruitment ads. It was invoked on the floor of Congress by supporters of the nativist and eugenicist Immigration Act of 1924. Then it was assimilated by self-styled American fascist groups of the 1930s, including the German-American Bund and the virulently anti-Semitic “America First, Inc.,” before it was adopted by the America First Committee of 1940–1941, when Lindbergh used it to convince Americans that “Jewish interests” were seeking to manipulate the United States into taking part in a European war.

Trump himself has echoed the “Nordicist” rhetoric of interwar Klansmen and American fascists when he said he would prefer more immigrants from Norway and fewer from “shithole” places like Haiti and Africa. He has praised the “bloodlines” of Henry Ford, who circulated the series of articles titled “The International Jew,” which promulgated the Protocols of the Elders of Zion across America during the 1920s. In that same decade, Fred Trump, then a young man (later, father of Donald), was arrested after a brawl involving Klansmen broke out at a Memorial Day Parade in Queens. Donald Trump was reported to own the speeches of Hitler during the 1990s; he denied ever reading them—but then he is also incapable of telling the truth.

And lately, in response to the killing of George Floyd in the spring of 2020 and the Black Lives Matter protests that swept the nation and then the world, Donald Trump announced that he would hold a rally for his supporters in Tulsa—one year short of the centenary of the worst anti-black pogrom in American history, which left as many as 300 African Americans dead, 8,000 homeless, and the city’s black community destroyed. Trump’s rally was to have taken place on June 19, a day known as “Juneteenth” that has come to be celebrated as an anniversary marking the end of slavery in the US and the emancipation of African Americans. For complex historical reasons, the deferral of liberty and the franchise, the belatedness of free and full citizenship under the law, the active suppression of black rights, all resonate in the Juneteenth celebration. (After widespread outrage at the clear provocation, Trump’s rally was postponed a day, to June 20, still in Tulsa. Trump proceeded to take credit for educating the country about Juneteenth.)

Trump is no student of history, but someone around him clearly is. But it is also true that Trump’s thundering ignorance does not mean he doesn’t understand the racist and fascist rhetoric he deploys. We need not argue that he is a mastermind plotting a fascist coup to recognize that Trump has a demonstrable sense of how white supremacism works in America, without ever having troubled to organize his thoughts, such as he has, about it.

And this, too, was how fascism always operated in practice: it was nothing if not opportunistic. What Paxton calls its “mobilizing passions” catalyze fascism, which is propelled, as he notes, more by feelings than by thought. Only “the historic destiny of the group,” matters to fascists, he adds: “their only moral yardstick is the prowess of the race, of the nation, of the community. They claim legitimacy by no universal standard except a Darwinian triumph of the strongest community.” Its “hazy and synthetic doctrines,” combined with its ultra-nationalism and anti-intellectualism, mean that fascism is never a coherent set of ideological doctrines. Force takes the place of ideology, as the fascist strong man performs for his followers their sense of rightful dominance and rage that other groups, in embracing equality, reject their entitlements.

American fascist energies today are different from 1930s European fascism, but that doesn’t mean they’re not fascist, it means they’re not European and it’s not the 1930s. They remain organized around classic fascist tropes of nostalgic regeneration, fantasies of racial purity, celebration of an authentic folk and nullification of others, scapegoating groups for economic instability or inequality, rejecting the legitimacy of political opponents, the demonization of critics, attacks on a free press, and claims that the will of the people justifies violent imposition of military force. Vestiges of interwar fascism have been dredged up, dressed up, and repurposed for modern times. Colored shirts might not sell anymore, but colored hats are doing great.

Reading about the inchoate American fascist movements of the 1930s during the Trump administration feels less prophetic than proleptic, a time-lapse montage of a para-fascist order slowly willing itself into existence over the course of nearly a century. It certainly seems less surprising that recognizably fascistic violence is erupting in the United States under Trump, as his attorney general sends troops to the national capital to act as a private army, armed paramilitary groups occupy state capitols, laws are passed to deny the citizenship and rights of specific groups, and birthright citizenship as guaranteed under the Fourteenth Amendment is attacked. When the president declares voting an “honor” rather than a right and “jokes” about becoming president for life, when the government makes efforts to add new categories of ethnic identity to the decennial census for the first time in the nation’s history, and when nationwide protests in response to racial injustice become the pretext for mooting martial law, we are watching an American fascist order pulling itself together.

Trump is neither aberrant nor original. Nativist reactionary populism is nothing new in America, it just never made it to the White House before. In the end, it matters very little whether Trump is a fascist in his heart if he’s fascist in his actions. As one of Lewis’s characters notes of the dictator in It Can’t Happen Here: “Buzz isn’t important—it’s the sickness that made us throw him up that we’ve got to attend to.”

Marilee Coles-Ritchie is a teacher educator in Utah. She wrote this advice for her fellow educators and other concerned citizens in Utah but it is good advice for everyone.

Here are her recommendations:

1. Decrease standardized tests. They harm students who are Black, Indigenous, and People of Color.

2. Increase the numbers of teachers from these groups across the schools.

3. Eliminate all police officers in schools. Restorative justice empowers students to resolve conflicts on their own and in small groups. This strengthens school communities, prevents bullying, and reduces student conflicts. Early adoption has shown drastic reductions in suspension rates, and students report feeling more welcome, safe, and calm.

4. Require all students to take at least one course of history and literature of these groups.

5. Increase linguistic and cultural appreciation in all schools, diversifying the voices that are represented in the curriculum, with a goal of equity and inclusion.

Standardized testing has been used in American schools for a century, though never on the scale of the past twenty years. It first was introduced into some schools as IQ tests, which were used (wrongly) to judge students’ innate ability and to assign them to different tracks, which then determined their life outcomes. I wrote about the IQ tests in my 2000 book “Left Back: A Century of Battles Over School Reforms.” The psychologists who created the tests believed that IQ was innate, inherited, and fixed. They asserted that the tests demonstrated the superiority of whites who spoke English well. Their views were welcomed and used by racists and anti-immigrant groups to support their policies. They were used to defend segregation and to restrict immigration. Their critics pointed out that the tests measured culture and life circumstances, not innate intelligence.

One of the psychologists who developed IQ tests and wrote a racist book about the results was Carl C. Brigham of Princeton. Brigham later created the prototype for the multiple-choice SAT in the 1930s, which replaced the essay-based “College Boards” in 1941.

Many schools used standardized tests in the second half of the twentieth century. Some states required periodic state tests, like the Iowa tests. No state required standardized testing every student every year until the passage of No Child Left Behind in 2001, based on George W. Bush’s assertion that there had been a “miracle” in Texas because of annual testing in grades 3-8.

We now know that there was never a miracle in Texas, but the every U.S. public school has been required to administer standardized tests since NCLB was signed into law on January 8, 2002.

When NCLB was re-authorized in 2015, there were demands to eliminate the testing mandate, but the Gates Foundation organized many of its recipients to insist on preserving the testing as a “civil right,” which was ironic in view of the racist and culturally biased history of standardized testing and its negative impact on marginalized groups. The new Every Student Succeeds Act preserves the annual testing. (Be it noted that every Democratic senator—including Sanders and Warren—on the Senate HELP Committee drafting the law voted in 2015 to preserve the most punitive aspects of NCLB, including the testing mandate, but the Murphy Amendment was voted down by Republicans).

Recently, Valerie Strauss wondered whether the nation’s obsession with standardized testing was ending due to the pandemic pause. While I share her enthusiasm to make the pause permanent, I know it won’t happen unless the federal law is changed. That requires sustained citizen action to counter the millions that the testing industry will certainly spend to preserve their economic interests.

She wrote:

America has been obsessed with student standardized tests for nearly 20 years. Now it looks like the country is at the beginning of the end of our high-stakes testing mania — both for K-12 “accountability” purposes and in college admissions.


When President George W. Bush signed the K-12 No Child Left Behind Act in 2002, the country began an experiment based on the belief that we could test our way to educational success and end the achievement gap. His successor, Barack Obama, ratcheted up the stakes of test scores under that same philosophy.
It didn’t work, which came as no surprise to teachers and other critics. They had long pointed to extensive research showing standardized test scores are most strongly correlated to a student’s life circumstances. Real reform, they said, means addressing students’ social and emotional needs and the conditions in which they live, and making improvements in school buildings.


Higher education was not immune to the testing frenzy, either, at least not in admissions. Scores on the SAT or ACT became an important factor in deciding who was accepted. College rankings — led by the annual lists of U.S. News & World Report, which were heavily weighted on test scores — became powerful as students relied on them and schools tried to improve their rankings with targeted reforms. Scholarship programs were linked to test scores, and some companies checked the scores of potential hires.

Florida spent millions of dollars to give bonuses to teachers with high SAT scores — even decades after the tests were taken.




Now, we are seeing the collapse of the two-decade-old bipartisan consensus among major policymakers that testing was the key lever for holding students, schools and teachers “accountable.”

And it is no coincidence that it is happening against the backdrop of the coronavirus pandemic that forced educational institutions to revamp how they operate.
States are learning they can live without them, having been given permission by the Department of Education to not give them this past spring. Georgia has already announced its intention to get a waiver for 2020-21, too.


A tsunami of colleges and universities have dropped the requirement for an ACT or SAT score for at least a year. The huge organizations that own the tests, ACT Inc. and the College Board, are clearly struggling in the new environment.
Even high-stakes law exams are starting to be waived. Washington state’s Supreme Court just decided to allow graduates from American Bar Association-accredited law schools who were registered to take the bar exam in July or September to be licensed without passing the test. The winning argument was that it would be too difficult for many students to study for and take the exam during the pandemic. The justices must have thought the education and grades the students received in law school were good enough.


Politically, too, the stars seem aligned for a serious de-escalation of testing. President Trump has never been a loud advocate for standardized testing and has repeatedly said his education priority is expanding alternatives to public school districts. His education secretary, Betsy DeVos, has not been a testing proponent either, with her eye instead on expanding school “choice.”




Former vice president Joe Biden, who is the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee and ahead of Trump in many polls, has tried to distance himself from the pro-testing policies of the Obama administration. He was not a cheerleader of testing during Obama’s two terms and has said recently he is opposed to high-stakes testing. That’s not a promise that he will work to reduce it, but it is a promising suggestion.


None of this means standardized testing will stop, or even that every state and district will cut back, or that all colleges and universities will stop requiring an SAT or ACT score to apply.


But here are some developments in the testing world that show that more policymakers understand tests can’t fix problems in schools — and that schools alone can’t fix the nation’s problems.


This past spring, K-12 school districts across the country did something that for nearly two decades had been deemed unthinkable.
With permission from the Education Department, they canceled annual high-stakes standardized testing after the covid-19 crisis upended the last several months of the school year.

Millions of students were at home, learning remotely either on paper or on screens. And state leaders realized it wasn’t plausible or fair to give students the tests.


Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine (R) made the point that “the world will not come to an end” if the federally mandated tests weren’t given — though for years, federal and state policymakers had acted as if it would.


States require students to take standardized tests for different purposes. Some tests are mandated by K-12 law, and while that didn’t start with No Child Left Behind (NCLB), it ushered in the high-stakes testing era in which punishments were meted out to schools and teachers based on how well students performed on the exams. It didn’t matter that testing experts repeatedly warned that using scores for these purposes was not valid or reliable.




States give standardized tests, too, for reasons including third-grade retention, high school graduation, and end-of-course exams. A two-year study released in 2015 revealed that kids were being forced to take too many mandated standardized tests — and that there was no evidence that adding testing time was improving student achievement. The average student in America’s big-city public schools was then taking some 112 mandatory standardized tests between prekindergarten and the end of 12th grade — an average of about eight a year, the study said. Those were on top of teacher-written tests.


The purported goal of NCLB — written with the input of not a single public school teacher — was to ensure that marginalized communities were not ignored by looking at test scores by student subgroups and targeting help where it was needed. Schools concentrated on math and English so students could pass the exams while giving short shrift to, or eliminating, classes in history, science, art, music, physical education and other subjects.


Public education advocates hoped Obama would stop the country’s obsession with standardized tests and address inequity baked into the funding system. His administration instead heightened the importance of the test scores by dangling federal funds in front of states that agreed to evaluate teachers through the exam results. States developed cockamamie schemes to do this, including grading teachers on students they didn’t have and subjects they didn’t teach.



A grass-roots effort to get the administration to change course took hold, and some states tried to find ways to cut back on local testing. But then-Education Secretary Arne Duncan micromanaged education policy so much that the department was derided as a “national school board,” and Congress, in late 2015 — eight years after it was supposed to — passed a successor law that sent policymaking largely back to the states.



By early 2016, Obama and his second education secretary, John B. King Jr., said kids were, after all, over-tested. Still, the new federal law, the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), mandated the same testing regime, and states were still spending millions of dollars each year on testing programs.
Ostensibly, the tests would provide data to schools about what students had learned and how effective teachers were.

But research study after study showed that the highest correlation was between the scores and whether a child lived in poverty.
This all made DeWine’s statement about the world not coming to an end if tests were suspended for a year an unusual admission.

On June 18, Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp (R) made it clear he doesn’t think missing two years of standardized testing is a big problem, either.
This past spring, DeVos gave all states a one-year waiver to suspend the federally mandated testing. Kemp announced that his state would be the first to seek a second testing waiver from the Education Department, this time for the soon-to-start 2020-21 school year.

Other states are likely to follow suit amid so much uncertainty about the trajectory of the pandemic.
Kemp also said that the “current high-stakes testing regime is excessive,” and promised to keep pushing an initiative in the state legislature to eliminate four of eight end-of-course exams required for high school students, and another standardized test given in middle school.


Georgia isn’t the only state that is now moving to cut back on standardized testing. In late May, the Ohio House of Representatives passed legislation to reduce standardized testing.


What could make this effort to cut testing different from earlier ones are the outside circumstances.

Because of the pandemic, states and school districts are facing potentially unprecedented budget deficits — and school spending in some states has still not recovered from the Great Recession of 2007-2009.
Because testing programs are extremely expensive, states could decide the costs aren’t worth the dubious results. Many teachers say they don’t need standardized tests to help them assess where students are in their learning.


Add to that the effects of the national uprising for racial justice, sparked by the death in police custody of George Floyd, an unarmed black man in Minneapolis.
Protesters in the streets are looking for justice not only in policing and the courts. They also want social, economic and educational justice.

Though educators have long known that students need more than tests to thrive and that schools must address more than academics, there is a new awareness among the people who make policy.
Spending mountains of money for inequitable testing accountability systems isn’t compatible with calls for more holistic ways of educating and helping students grow and thrive.


College admissions
On the higher education front, the pandemic also interrupted the SAT/ACT college admissions testing juggernaut.
With exam days canceled and aspiring college students getting frantic about not having a score to add to their applications, many colleges and universities said they would drop their requirements for an SAT or ACT test score for admission in fall 2021.



To be sure, a “test-optional” movement had been building for years. A nonprofit group called the National Center for Fair and Open Testing (FairTest), which operated on a shoestring budget with a mission to end the misuse of standardized tests, worked with testing critics and compiled a list of colleges and universities that had dropped the use of ACT or SAT scores for admissions.
Hundreds of schools had already done so, as research showed the test scores were linked to socio-economic factors and not predictive of college success, despite counter statements by the College Board and ACT Inc.


Then the pandemic hit. Schools shut down and college students went home to finish their semesters virtually. The two testing giants canceled repeated administrations of their exams, losing millions of dollars and making it difficult for many students to get a score required by most institutions of higher education.


The inevitable happened: Colleges and universities announced suspensions of testing requirements for 2020-21. Some said they would not require tests for a few years as an experiment to see how the admissions process would do without them.


Then, in May, in what was called a seminal event in college admissions, the University of California system announced it would phase out SAT/ACT testing requirements over several years, with some members of the Board of Regents saying the tests were not helpful in creating diverse student bodies and one member labeling them “racist.” The prestigious system has long been a force in public higher education, and its decision is expected to influence other schools.
By mid-June, every Ivy League school had agreed to drop SAT/ACT requirements for students entering in the fall of 2020. FairTest’s list includes more than 1,250 schools that in some way allow students leeway in including test scores on their applications, albeit some of them just for 2020-21. (The list includes for-profit schools.)




The College Board and ACT have been struggling during the pandemic. Both were forced to cancel multiple administrations of the SAT and ACT, losing millions of dollars and leaving many students fearful they wouldn’t have a score for applications. Both promised they would offer at-home exams this fall if necessary, but the College Board backed off after its experiment with at-home Advanced Placement tests.
Though most students had no problem taking the AP tests, thousands did, and the College Board decided not to try an at-home SAT.

The ACT said it will go ahead, but the Iowa-based organization has other problems.
In May, ACT chief executive Marten Roorda, who aggressively lobbied against the UC decision, lost his job. At the same time, ACT announced it was taking “a series of cost-cutting measures,” including no raises and cuts in fringe benefits.


Meanwhile students trying in May to sign up for future AP and SAT exams, should they be given, ran into online trouble.


The fundamental notion that standardized testing is an effective way of gauging student achievement is being challenged more strongly than ever.
Some K-12 schools will continue to use these exams extensively, seeing them as a valuable tool, including in Florida, where former governor Jeb Bush (R) pioneered high-stakes accountability testing and still has influence in education policy.

And many colleges and universities will require admissions test scores, seeing them as a useful data point in making decisions on whom to admit.


But the combination of the pandemic, the uprising and disillusionment with the testing industry — which has been building among teachers, parents and students for years — points to a new chapter for public education, or, at least, the beginning of the end of our obsession with high-stakes standardized tests.