Archives for category: Censorship

Mercedes Schneider takes issue with the new authoritarians who are imposing book bans in the name of “freedom” and limiting free expressions of views they disagree with in the name of of “choice.”

She writes:

We are certainly in an age in which the term, “free speech,” is indeed not free because of increasing conservative pressure to shape speech into that which a minority of extreme, right-wing conservatives would agree with.

Of course, that is not “free speech” at all.

In my school district, the St. Tammany Library Alliance is combating the right-wing conservative push to ban library books not to its liking. In its campaign declaring “Libraries Are for Everyone,” the Alliance is circulating a petition that states the following:

St Tammany Parish is a welcoming community to all and we stand firmly against banning books. As such we endorse the following statements:

  • We believe that all young people in our Parish deserve to see themselves reflected in our library’s collection.
  • We know a large majority of Americans (75%) across the political spectrum oppose book bans.We stand in opposition to the St Tammany Parish Accountability Project’s proposed “Library Accountability Board” ordinance because we believe parents should not be making decisions for other parents’ children about what they read or what is available in our public libraries.
  • Banning books from public libraries is a slippery slope to government censorship and a violation of our first amendment rights.
  • We hold our library Director, board and library staff in high regard and trust them to do their jobs.

We are united against book bans and we ask that our Parish President and Council pledge to act to protect the rights of members of our community to access a variety of books, magazines and other media through our public libraries.

Those truly adhering to and protecting free speech are at risk of losing their jobs– and under increasing pressure to modify their speech in order to please the extreme, disgruntled few.

I gladly signed the petition. Even though it is not likely that I might choose to read certain books harbored in my local public library, there is something much greater at risk if I try to impose a self-tailored book purge, and that something is freedom itself.

Freedom is not freedom if I tailor the freedom of others to suit my own preferences.

A great irony is that some of the same folks who would shape education and curriculum into their preferred image also promote themselves as great advocates of “school choice.”

Mercedes goes on to describe examples of “choice” that is no choice at all.” Freedom is curtailed when one group of people can curtail the rights of others to disagree.

Please open the link and read her warning about the threat to democracy posed by today’s narrow-minded ideologues.

Arnie Alpert is an activist in New Hampshire. In this post, he calls out the state GOP for attributing its racist “divisive concepts” law to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Its real author is Donald Trump, or more likely, Trump’s sidekick Stephen Miller. At the end of his article is a tape of Dr. king’s famous “I Have a Dream” speech of 1963. It has nothing in common with the GOP’s efforts to whitewash the curriculum of America’s schools. The GOP betrays Dr. King’s ideals.

When New Hampshire House Republican leaders quoted Martin Luther King, Jr. in their defense of the state’s “Divisive Concepts” or “Non-Discrimination” law last week, it wasn’t the first time King’s words were used to imply something quite different from what he intended.

All the law does, according to a statement from GOP Majority Leader Jason Osborne, R-Auburn, and Deputy Leader Jim Kofalt, R-Wilton, is prohibit “teaching children that some of them are inherently racist based on their skin color, sex, race, creed, etc. Is that not what Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. called for when he said, ‘I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character?’”

To that I say, no, that’s not what he called for, not if one takes the time to review the entirety of the speech now known as “I Have a Dream.”

Since all sides to this controversy say they want history portrayed accurately, a review is in order, starting with the New Hampshire law in question.  The statute began its life in 2021 as HB 544, sponsored by Rep. Keith Ammon, R-New Boston, and co-sponsored by Rep. Osborne, aiming to bar teachers, other public officials, and state contractors from the “the dissemination of certain divisive concepts related to sex and race in state contracts, grants, and training programs.”

The proposal was not of local origin.  According to The First Amendment Encyclopedia, “’Divisive concepts’ legislation emerged in multiple states beginning in 2021, largely fueled by conservative legislatures seeking to limit topics that can be explored in public school classrooms. The laws have been driven in large part by opposition to critical race theory, an academic theory that says racism in America has largely been perpetuated by the nation’s institutions.”  Those proposals followed an Executive Order on “Combating Race and Sex Stereotyping” issued by President Donald Trump the previous year, which blocked federal agencies from providing diversity, equity, and inclusion training “rooted in the pernicious and false belief that America is an irredeemably racist and sexist country; that some people, simply on account of their race or sex, are oppressors.”

In its statement of purpose, the order cited the same brief extract from Dr. King’s 1963 speech, talked about the “significant progress” made in the intervening 57 years, and went on to criticize diversity training conducted in a variety of federal agencies.  It listed nine “divisive concepts” which would be prohibited, among them were that “the United States is fundamentally racist or sexist,” and that anyone “should feel discomfort, guilt, anguish, or any other form of psychological distress on account of his or her race or sex.” 

Trump’s order was deemed unconstitutional by a federal judge and later rescinded by President Joseph Biden, but it’s intent and language were picked up by legislators in several states, including New Hampshire. 

The Trump order’s list of “divisive concepts” was repeated almost word-for-word in Rep. Ammon’s bill, which received considerable attention from supporters, several of whom tried to recruit Dr. King among their ranks.  For example, a letter-to-the-editor published both in the NH Union Leader and Concord Monitor, stated, “HB 544 eliminates the use of Critical Race Theory (CRT) in the discussion of issues of race and the other ‘isms’ we are addressing today.”  It went on, “America has been moving in that direction of Dr. King’s idea for the last 50 years. We want to teach our children and share with our employees that we want to act in the way Dr. King has prescribed, not the CRT idea of systemic racism.”  Speakers made similar comments at a State House rally that spring, where one participant reportedly carried a sign reading, “Teach MLK, Not CRT.” 

But after a public hearing and extensive work in committee, HB 544 was tabled on the House floor.

The proposal was not dead, however.  Instead, it sprang back to life as a provision in the House version of the state budget.  Now titled, “Right to Freedom from Discrimination in Public Workplaces and Education” and with a somewhat reduced menu of concepts to be prohibited in schools and other public workplaces, the Finance Committee inserted it into HB 2, the budget trailer bill.  Under this version, “any person” who believed they had been aggrieved by violation of the law could pursue legal remedies. 

When Senate GOP leaders heard that Governor Sununu was not happy about the “Freedom from Discrimination” language, Senator Jeb Bradley re-re-wrote it, turning it into what is now the non-discrimination statute.  Once again the proposal’s scope was reduced, for example limiting it only to conduct of teachers.  But it did contain a provision that “any person claiming to be aggrieved by a violation of this section, including the attorney general, may initiate a civil action against a school or school district in superior court for legal or equitable relief, or with the New Hampshire commission for human rights.” 

It’s worth noting that other than in the original public hearing on HB 544, at no time did the House or Senate provide a meaningful opportunity for public comment on the proposal, whose final details were worked out in the rapid deliberations of a House-Senate conference committee.  

Following adoption of the budget, with the Bradley version intact, the NH Department of Education added a link to its website encouraging parents to report teachers they believe are disseminating ideas banned under the “Non-Discrimination” law.  A right-wing group promised $500 to the first family that files a successful complaint.

Given what we might call the “original intent” of its sponsors, it’s no surprise that some teachers are fearful that “any member” of the public might put their jobs at risk if they teach about the ways in which African Americans and other people of color have faced systematic discrimination. 

It was the clamor for laws that would end systematic discrimination that brought a few hundred thousand people to Washington DC on Aug. 23, 1963, for the March for Jobs and Freedom.  Inspired by A. Phillip Randolph, president of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters, the rally marked the 100th anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation which ended slavery in the states of the Confederacy.  It took place shortly after demonstrations in Birmingham, Alabama brought inescapable attention to the brutality needed to maintain racial segregation.  By emphasizing jobs and freedom, the march sought to advance an agenda for job training and an end to workplace discrimination as well as voting rights and a civil rights bill that would end segregation in schools and public accommodations.  Dr. King was one of several major speakers.  

A century after emancipation, Dr. King said, “the Negro still is not free; one hundred years later, the life of the Negro is still sadly crippled by the manacles of segregation and the chains of discrimination.”  Referring to the Declaration of Independence, Dr. King said, the founders of the nation had issued “a promissory note to which every American was to fall heir.” 

“It is obvious today that America has defaulted on this promissory note insofar as her citizens of color are concerned,” he charged, saying that instead of following through on a promise, America had issued a bad check.  “We’ve come to cash this check, a check that will give us upon demand the riches of freedom and the security of justice,” Dr. King said. 

Seeking to rescue the nation from “the quicksands of racial injustice,” including “the unspeakable horrors of police brutality,” Dr. King said, “There will be neither rest nor tranquility in America until the Negro is granted his citizenship rights.  The whirlwinds of revolt will continue to shake the foundations of our nation until the bright day of justice emerges.” 

Looking back, there is no doubt Dr. King was addressing the collective and systematic discrimination experienced by African Americans, a view fully consistent with what HB 544 backers decried as critical race theory. 

Yes, progress has been made since 1963. But the realities of police brutality, extreme inequality, and denial of voting rights which Dr. King condemned are still with us. Dr. King can still help us find the way forward if we take the time to study what he actually meant.

The AFT commissioned a highly reputable polling form to find out how voters think about the big education issues. The poll was conducted after the election last November. Bottom line: Voters want better, well/resourced public schools; few are interested in the Republican agenda of fighting “wokeness,” censoring books, and choice.

New Polling Reveals GOP/McCarthy Schools Agenda Is Unpopular and at Odds with Parents’ Priorities

Latest Data Show Parents, Voters Reject Culture War Agenda, Support Academic Focus and Safe Schools Instead

WASHINGTON—The American Federation of Teachers today released new national polling that shows voters overwhelmingly reject House Speaker Kevin McCarthy’s anti-school, culture war agenda. Instead, voters want to see political leaders prioritize what kids need to succeed in school: strong fundamental academic skills and safe and welcoming school environments. 

“The latest education poll tells us loud and clear: Voters, including parents, oppose McCarthy’s agenda to prioritize political fights in schools and instead support real solutions, like getting our kids and teachers what they need to recover and thrive,” said AFT President Randi Weingarten. 

“Rather than reacting to MAGA-driven culture wars, voters overwhelmingly say they want lawmakers to get back to basics: to invest in public schools and get educators the resources they need to create safe and welcoming environments, boost academic skills and pave pathways to career, college and beyond.”

According to Geoff Garin, president of Hart Research Associates: “One key weakness of the culture war agenda is that voters and parents reject the idea that teachers today are pushing a ‘woke’ political agenda in the schools. Most have high confidence in teachers. Voters see the ‘culture war’ as a distraction from what’s important and believe that politicians who are pushing these issues are doing so for their own political benefit.”

Polling conducted by Hart Research Associates from Dec. 12-17, 2022, among 1,502 registered voters nationwide, including 558 public school parents, shows that support for and trust in public schools and teachers remains incredibly strong: 

  • 93 percent of respondents said improving public education is an important priority for government officials.
  • 66 percent said the government spends too little on education; 69 percent want to see more spending.
  • By 29 points, voters said their schools teach appropriate content, with an even greater trust in teachers.
  • Voters who prioritized education supported Democrats by 8 points.
  • Top education priorities for voters include providing:
    • students with strong fundamental academic skills; 
    • opportunities for all children to succeed, including through career and technical education and greater mental health supports, as examples; and 
    • a safe and welcoming environment for kids to learn.
  • According to voters, the most serious problems facing schools include:
    • teacher shortages;
    • inadequate funding; 
    • unsafe schools; and 
    • pandemic learning loss. (And, critically, voters and parents are looking forward to find solutions: by 85 percent to 15 percent, they want Congress to focus on improving schools through greater support, rather than through McCarthy’s investigation agenda.)

“COVID was terrible for everyone,” added Weingarten. “Educators and parents took on the challenges of teaching, learning and reconnecting and are now asking elected officials to focus on the building blocks of student success. Instead, legislators in 45 states have proposed hundreds of laws making that harder—laws seeking to ban books from school libraries; restrict what teachers can say about race, racism, LGBTQIA+ issues and American history; and limit the school activities in which transgender students can participate. Voters are saying that not only are these laws bad policy—they’re also bad politics.”

In state after state in the November midterms, voters elected pro-public education governors and school board candidates and rejected far-right attacks on teachers and vulnerable LGBTQIA+ students. 

The survey’s confidence interval is ±3.0 percentage points.

Click here for toplines, here for the poll memo and here for the poll slides.

Far-right extremists concocted a cascading series of so-called culture wars that have no basis in fact or reality. Their purpose is to undermine public trust in teachers and public schools, paving the way for divisive “school choice,” which defunds public schools.

Teachers are intimidated, fearful that they might violate the law by teaching factual history about race and racism. Students are deprived of honesty in their history and social studies classes. Schools are slandered by extremists. Needless divisions are created by the lies propagated by zealots whose goal is to privatize public funding for schools.

First came the furor over “critical race theory,” which is not taught in K-12 schools. CRT is a law school course of study that examines systemic racism. The claim that it permeates K-12 schools was created as a menace threatening the children of America by rightwing ideologue Chris Rufo, who shamelessly smeared the teachers of America as purveyors of race hatred that humiliated white children. Rufo made clear in a speech at Hillsdale College that the only path forward was school choice. The entire point of Rufo’s gambit was the destruction of public trust in public schools.

Then came a manufactured brouhaha over transgender students who wanted to use a bathroom aligned with their sexual identity. The number of transgender students is minuscule, probably 1%. And yet again there was a furor that could have easily been resolved with a gender-neutral bathroom. Ron DeSantis made a campaign ad with a female swimmer who complained that she competed against a trans woman. What she didn’t mention was that the trans woman was beaten, as was she, by three other female swimmers.

And then came the nutty claim that teachers were “grooming” students to be gay. Another smear. No evidence whatever. Reading books about gay characters would turn students gay, said the critics; but would reading about elephants make students want to be elephants?

Simultaneously, extremists raised loud alarms about books that introduced students to dangerous ideas about sexuality and racism. If they read books with gay characters, students would turn gay. If they read about racism, they would “hate America.” So school libraries had to be purged; even public libraries had to be purged. One almost expected public book burnings. So much power attributed to books, as if the Internet doesn’t exist, as if kids can’t watch porn of all kinds, as if public television does not regularly run shows about American’s shameful history of racism.

As citizens and parents, we must stand up for truth and sanity. We must defend our schools and teachers against libelous claims. We must oppose those who would ban books.

Of course, parents should meet with their children’s teachers. They should partner with them to help their children. They should ask questions about the curriculum. They should share their concerns. Learning benefits when parents, teachers, students, and communities work together.

Nancy MacLean, professor of history at Duke University, and Lisa Graves, board president of the Center for Media and Democracy, warn readers not to be fooled by billionaire Charles Koch’s efforts to rebrand himself as a nice guy who has mellowed, who no longer wants to fund divisive, hateful organizations. A nice guy.

The media fell for it. The new, nice Charles Koch.

MacLean and Graves write: Don’t believe it. Koch won’t stop until democracy is dead.

They write:

Koch, the single most influential billionaire shaping American political life, never changed course. And the head fake he pulled off in 2020 succeeded in securing for his vast donor network—and the hundreds of organizations they underwrite—the freedom to operate, virtually without scrutiny, over the two years since. In that time, far from ceasing their efforts to divide the country, they have ramped them up. Like a snake shedding its skin as it grows, Koch was merely rebranding—yet again after exposure—and grouping his numerous operations under a sunny new name: Stand Together.

In August, the Center for Media and Democracy (CMD) reported that Koch-funded organizations spent over $1.1 billion in the 2020 election cycle. At the same time his book claiming to have changed course was in press, Koch spent almost 50 percent more than the record amount the Koch network had raised in the 2016 cycle: $750 million. Koch did not endorse Trump, though his spending buoyed the top of the ticket and helped maintain a GOP Senate majority to secure Koch-backed policies and judicial nominees embraced by Trump.

One of these organizations, Koch’s Americans for Prosperity (AFP), a 501(c)(4) tax-exempt organization, claimed it was involved in more than 270 races in the 2020 election, reaching almost 60 million voters with door-knocking, phone calls, postcards, digital ads, and more. AFP also played heavily in the battle for U.S. Senate seats in Georgia, in January 2021—even as Koch was still getting favorable coverage for his supposed withdrawal from divisive electoral politics. AFP Action, the super PAC arm, alone raised and spent $60 million nationwide in that election cycle.

Meanwhile, other key organizing enterprises, think tanks, litigation outfits, campus centers, and more that were previously backed by the Koch network continue operating today, sometimes under new names, and with expanded funding. These include endeavors we consider unethical, only some of which we have the space to highlight here.

Take, for example, Koch’s longest running quest: enchaining democracy by rigging the rules of governance to free corporations from customary oversight and to prevent the will of the vast majority of Americans from securing federal, state, and local policies to improve their lives. With the connivance of Trump, the generalship of Federalist Society leader Leonard Leo, and the well-funded campaigning of Leo’s Judicial Crisis Network, the arch-right billionaire succeeded in capturing a supermajority in the U.S. Supreme Court. Koch had told his allied billionaire backers that this was one of his top priorities for the Trump Administration—along with the dramatic tax cuts for corporations and the wealthy that he also secured.

Senator Sheldon Whitehouse, Democrat from Rhode Island, a climate hero and senior member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, exposes how they did it in a recently published book, The Scheme: How the Right Wing Used Dark Money to Capture the Supreme Court. The long effort to reshape the judicial system, going back to the notorious Lewis Powell Memo of 1971, culminated in the Trump Administration’s appointment of more than 230 “business-friendly” federal judges, including three Supreme Court Justices, in a project overseen by longtime Koch allies Leo and Donald McGahn, who served as Trump’s legal counsel until 2018. The 6-3 stacked court is already delivering bombshell decisions for the coalition that put it in power, from undermining our options for mitigating devastating climate change and limiting the power of agencies to regulate corporations, to revoking people’s Constitutional freedom to decide whether and when to bear children. The current court term with the Koch-backed faction in control is expected to soon overthrow affirmative action and other hard-won reforms.

The Koch-funded American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) also continues its long campaign to shackle democracy on behalf of its corporate backers. Passing voter ID restrictions that make it harder for Americans to exercise their right to vote became a top ALEC priority after the United States elected its first Black President, Barack Obama. That measure was first voted on at an ALEC task force meeting co-chaired by the National Rifle Association in 2009.

ALEC is one of the nation’s leading promoters of charter schools, vouchers, and anti-union legislation. You can learn more about ALEC by reading Gordon Lafer’s The One Percent Solution.

Please open the link and read the article. Learn about the “new” Charles Koch, same as the old one.

If you are looking for a good read, read Nancy MacLean’s Democracy in Chains, which provides the context for understanding the links between the Koch brothers, Milton Friedman, and free-market economics. Suffice it to say that one of their goals was to privatize Social Security. Still working on that.

Josh Cowen, a professor of education policy at Michigan State University, has engaged in voucher research for two decades. Recently, he realized that the people and groups funding school privatization are the same as those funding other anti-democratic, extremist causes.

He writes:

There’s an old saying that “friends are the family we choose.”

The idea is that none of us played a part in the manner in whichwe were born or raised. We can’t help which city or state or country we grew up in, or whether we had two married parents or parents who divorced, whether one or both of our parents were straight or gay or whether we were only or adopted children. We can’t help which religious tradition—if any—we were raised in although we can decide for ourselves what we believe as adults.

Eventually we come to be known—and to know ourselves—by the company we choose to keep.

I spend a substantial amount of time these days talking to reporters about education policy—not just school privatization but other issues I work on like teacher retention or issues like the dreadful “read or fail” law that Michigan adopted during its Florida-mimicry days. I have a lot of experience trying to explain complicated policy areas to lay readers and writers.

By far and away the most difficult task in that activity has been explaining just how extreme, fringe and even dangerous much of the advocacy around school privatization and school vouchers actually is.

Others have reported at length how artificial the so-called “parents’ rights” groups are, but the drum that needs to be constantly tapped is that the real goal of a voucher system or its latest incarnation of “Education Freedom” is entirely radical.

Let’s walk through it.

First, when we talk about vouchers—or “scholarships” as they’re almost universally euphemized—we’re talking about a policy that’s had catastrophic impacts on student achievement. I’ve written about this here on Diane’s page and in media outlets across the country. You have to look to the COVID-19 pandemic’s impacts on test scores, or to Hurricane Katrina, to find comparable harm to academics. Vouchers are a man-made disaster, and yet the intellectual and political drivers, from Betsy DeVos to Jay Greene, are the same people who were pushing for these policies 25 years ago.

That’s one form of extremism. DeVos herself admitted the Louisiana voucher program—where voucher test score drops were nearly double what COVID did—was “not very well-conceived.” If spending decades and millions of dollars on a policy that did that kind of harm isn’t dangerously radical, I don’t know what is.

But that kind of idolatry-level obsession with a particular public policy begins to make more sense when we look at the other forms of fanatism that voucher activists have linked up with in their organizing.

There’s election denial, for one thing. Voucher activism and research is funded by groups like the Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation—a key player in the Big Lie push to undermine confidence in the 2020 presidential outcomes. That foundation’s Board Secretary Cleta Mitchell has a starring role in the recently released January 6th Committee Report.

In a way that’s fitting. Vouchers work for kids like Donald Trump won the 2020 election. You have to suspend reality to believe either.

Next, there’s the extreme level of cruelty that voucher activists are increasingly embracing to push toward their goals. The Right-wing voucher-pushing Heritage Foundation has been pumping out screed after screed on topics ranging from book bans to diversity to transgender health care in its explicit exploitation of culture war divisions, and has all-but-encouraged the framing of public school educators as enemies to parents.

So right there that’s election denialism, anti-transgender, anti-diversity and book-banning marching arm and arm with school vouchers.

Add to that Greg Abbott’s busing of migrants to frigid northern cities on Christmas Eve and Ron DeSantis’s similar human trafficking this summer. Abbott is leading the privatization push in Texas with the help of Betsy DeVos staffers, and under DeSantis’s Don’t Say Gay policies, Florida voucher schools are newly empowered to reject LGBTQ kids and parents on the taxpayer dime.

Add further an opposition to reproductive rights. In Michigan for example, the DeVos-backed voucher initiative was led by the same political operatives running the campaign against our constitutional amendment to enshrine the right to choose, and an amendment against voter rights expansions all at the same time!

None of this is an accident. The push to privatize education isfundamentally an effort to discriminate against vulnerable children and to undermine civic institutions ranging from public schools themselves to democratic elections. It’s that extreme.

But really, none of this is new. Many of the younger reporters I talk to have no idea that the voucher movement actually began as part of the South’s “massive resistance” to integration ordered by the Brown v Board of Education decision.

In that sense, it’s hardly surprising that today’s voucher backers want to expel LGBTQ children and lean into book bans all in the name of “values.” As the author William Faulkner once said, “the past is never dead. It’s not even past.”

One of the tricks that advocates for school vouchers and other forms of privatization have been able to pull over the last two decades is to make the erosion of public education seem moderate—even reasonable.

But whether clinging for decades to a voucher policy failure that’s unprecedented in modern education, clinging in the same spirit to a failed presidential candidate’s baseless claims of an electoral victory, or a steadied push to stoke cruelty toward children as a means to an end, the school privatization movement and with it the Right’s attacks on public education are some of the most extreme forces operating today in American politics.

Extreme, and ultimately very dangerous. Defending public schools is becoming increasingly a movement to defend human rights.

Paul Bonner is a retired educator who consistently posts wise comments here. I wholeheartedly endorse his view here.

Fundamentalism is a disease not limited to a particular faith. I highly recommend “The Battle for God: Fundamentalism in Judaism, Christianity and Islam” by Karen Armstrong. It is a political strategy imposed by a minority to handcuff any meaningful progress in nation states and beyond. Israel is now teetering on a precipice as a failed democracy due to the efforts of Jewish, Christian, and Muslim radicals. ISIS and AL Qaida are actually reincarnations of the Jewish Maccabean’s prior to the common era. Nazi Germany used such tactics as did Mussolini in his fascist one man as superior ruler dictum. Putin uses the Russian Orthodox Church for the same purposes. In the U.S, we experience this through the organization that runs the annual prayer breakfast and the rampant grift we call televangelism. What these have in common is the desire of a minority to have control and wealth. I wish we could divorce the conversation from the Christian moniker, but the goal of such corruption is to misrepresent a savior as the answer. This is the ongoing archetype of the “anti-christ” against salvation. In spite of our technological and intellectual advances we seem unable to escape this threat to mankind.

Governor DeSantis has pushed through laws that ban the teaching of “critical race theory” and gender studies. The effect of this law and his denunciation of anyone who dares to say that racism is real has been to silence academic freedom. This article in ProPublica (Read the story) shows how professors are dropping the courses they usually teach or changing their names. Untenured teachers— the majority of professors in higher education in Florida and elsewhere worry about being fired if they offend DeSantis’ thought police.

Ironically, the story includes a photograph of a truck owned by a rightwing group, festooned with the words “Freedom of Speech.” To be clear, DeSantis and his rightwing goons are silencing academic freedom and freedom of speech. They are the Thought Police, practicing “cancel culture.”

The article begins:

Jonathan Cox faced an agonizing decision. He was scheduled to teach two classes this past fall at the University of Central Florida that would explore colorblind racism, the concept that ostensibly race-neutral practices can have a discriminatory impact. The first, “Race and Social Media,” featured a unit on “racial ideology and color-blindness.” The second, “Race and Ethnicity,” included a reading on “the myth of a color-blind society.” An assistant sociology professor, Cox had taught both courses before; they typically drew 35 to 40 undergraduates apiece.

As recently as August 2021, Cox had doubted that the controversy over critical race theory — which posits, among other things, that racism is ingrained in America’s laws and power structure — would hamstring his teaching. Asked on a podcast what instructors would do if, as anticipated, Florida restricted the teaching of CRT in higher education, he said that they would need to avoid certain buzzwords. “What many of us are looking at doing is just maybe shifting some of the language that we’re using.”

But a clash with state law seemed inevitable, once Florida’s governor, Ron DeSantis, proposed what he called the strongest legislation in the nation against “the state-sanctioned racism that is critical race theory.” Last April, DeSantis signed the Individual Freedom Act, also known as the “Stop Woke Act,” into law. It bans teaching that one race or gender is morally superior to another and prohibits teachers from making students feel guilty for past discrimination by members of their race. And it specifically bars portraying racial colorblindness — which the law labels a virtue — as racist. A DeSantis spokesperson, Jeremy Redfern, told me in an email that the law “protectsthe open exchange of ideas” (italics in the original) by prohibiting teachers from “forcing discriminatory concepts on students.”

Whatever one thinks of critical race theory, the state’s interference limits the freedom of professors who are experts in their fields to decide what to teach their students. Cox worried, not without reason, that the law effectively banned him from discussing his ideas in class, and that teaching the courses could cost him his livelihood. Cox, who is the only Black professor in the sociology department, will not be considered for tenure until this fall. His salary was his family’s only income while his wife stayed home with their baby.

A month before the fall 2022 semester was set to start, he scrapped both courses. Students scrambled to register for other classes. “It didn’t seem like it was worth the risk,” said Cox, who taught a graduate course on inequality and education instead. “I’m completely unprotected.” He added, “Somebody who’s not even in the class could come after me. Somebody sees the course catalog, complains to a legislator — next thing I know, I’m out of a job.”

Cox’s decision, along with another professor’s cancellation of a graduate course because of similar apprehension, created an unusual gap in the sociology curriculum at UCF, which, with almost 69,000 students, is Florida’s largest university.

Cox’s department chair, Elizabeth Mustaine, said she went along with the professors’ wishes because “I thought: ‘I’m not going to stress anyone out about this. It’s crazy.’” Still, she added, “it’s an absolute tragedy that classes like this get canceled.” Of the 39 courses offered this past fall by a department that specializes in the study of human society, none focused primarily on race.

In just over two years, critical race theory has gone from a largely obscure academic subject to a favorite bogeyman for Republican candidates. Activists such as Christopher Rufo, a senior fellow at the conservative Manhattan Institute, conceived of targeting CRT to foment a backlash against measures enacted following George Floyd’s murder in May 2020. At that time, Rufo told me in an email, “school districts across the country suddenly started adopting ‘equity statements,’ hiring ‘diversity and inclusion’ bureaucrats, and injecting heavily partisan political content into the curriculum.” Black Lives Matter and the left were riding high, said Rufo, who denies that structural racism exists in America. In our email exchange, Rufo described “the fight against critical race theory” as “the most successful counterattack against BLM as a political movement. We shifted the terrain and fought on a vector the Left could not successfully mobilize against.”

The anti-CRT campaign quickly expanded from sloganeering to writing laws. Seven states, including Florida, have passed legislation aimed at restricting public colleges’ teaching or training related to critical race theory. Those laws face impediments. On Nov. 17, 2022, a federal judge temporarily blocked enforcement of the higher-education provisions of Florida’s Individual Freedom Act. “The First Amendment does not permit the State of Florida to muzzle its university professors, impose its own orthodoxy of viewpoints, and cast us all into the dark,” Judge Mark Walker wrote. The DeSantis administration filed a notice of appeal on Nov. 29 and is seeking to stay the injunction pending that appeal. The 11th Circuit, where most of the judges are Republican appointees, will hear the appeal, with briefs to be filed in the next few months and oral arguments potentially this coming summer.

Additionally, with DeSantis’ landslide reelection — after a campaign in which he repeatedly denounced “woke” education — and Republicans gaining a supermajority in both chambers of the state’s Legislature, they are likely to look for new ways to crack down on CRT and what they perceive as higher education’s leftist tilt. And at the federal level, conservatives are drafting a “potential suite of executive orders in 2024,” in case the next presidential election goes their way, to “disrupt the national network of left-wing ideological production and distribution,” according to Rufo.

It’s easy to dismiss the conservative crusade against critical race theory as political theater without real consequences. But most colleges and universities offer social science and humanities courses that address racial inequality and systemic racism, and the anti-CRT laws are already having repercussions for people who teach or take these classes in red states. Moreover, the push against CRT is hitting academia after decades of declines in the proportion of professors protected by tenure, meaning that most faculty members are not in positions secure enough to resist political pressure. Now, forced to consider whether they face any legal or career risk, some are canceling courses or watering down content, keeping quiet rather than sharing their expertise with students.

“When you implement a law like this, you’re asking professors to leave out things that clearly happen or have happened in the past,” Grace Castelin, a UCF undergraduate who plans to introduce a resolution in the student senate condemning the law, told me. “It’s making us more ignorant in this generation and generations to come.”

Fearful that legislators will retaliate by cutting their budgets, few top university administrators have publicly criticized the laws, which put institutions as well as individual teachers at risk. Indeed, UCF Provost Michael Johnson told faculty last July that the university would “have to take disciplinary action” against any faculty member who repeatedly violated the Individual Freedom Act because it couldn’t afford to lose a “catastrophic amount” — $32 million — in state funding linked to graduation rates and other metrics. (Johnson declined an interview request.)

Other states have left professors similarly undefended. In Tennessee, which passed a law much like Florida’s, the provost of the state university’s flagship Knoxville campus made clear to professors that the administration wouldn’t necessarily help them. If they were sued under the law, Provost John Zomchick told faculty, Tennessee’s Republican attorney general would decide whether the university would represent them in court. “People freaked out,” said Anne Langendorfer, a senior lecturer at UT Knoxville and the president of a union for campus workers at the state’s public universities.

A university spokesperson, Kerry Gardner, said that the attorney general makes the final decision in “any situation” where individuals are sued in their capacity as university employees. Administrators “wanted to be fully transparent about how the process works,” while assuring faculty that “we will take every step to defend them,” Gardner said. Zomchick, she added, “does not agree with the view of some faculty” that the law “infringes on the First Amendment or academic freedoms.”

With uncertain support from above, most full and associate professors at least enjoy the protection of tenure, which shields scholars whose insights or research are politically unpopular. Tenured professors can’t be fired without cause and a hearing by their peers. Other faculty typically work on contracts, which the university can decide not to renew without specifying a reason.

Some tenured professors in Florida have resisted anti-CRT pressure. The historian Robert Cassanello, the president of the UCF chapter of United Faculty of Florida, was comfortable becoming a plaintiff in one of the lawsuits contending that the Individual Freedom Act violates free speech. Cassanello, who keeps a life-size cutout of Karl Marx in his office window, told me that he’s less threatened by the law than his untenured colleagues are.

Robert Cassanello, a tenured professor, teaches history at the University of Central Florida and became a plaintiff in a lawsuit challenging a state law that restricts the teaching of critical race theory. (Tara Pixley, special to ProPublica and The Atlantic)

By contrast, Juan Salinas, an assistant sociology professor at the University of North Florida in Jacksonville, declined to be a plaintiff. “For me to stick my name out, I didn’t feel comfortable,” Salinas said. “If I had tenure, I would be more active.”

But even having tenure didn’t feel like “adequate protection” to Scott Carter, the other UCF sociologist who scrapped a course on race in the fall semester. “It’s very sad for students,” Carter told me. “They won’t get the experience of hearing from scholars on contemporary race relations.”

Darcie Cimarusti served on the school board of Highland Park, New Jersey, from 2013 to 2022. She is the communications director of the Network for Public Education. This article appeared in the Bedford Gazette.

She writes:

I have been a local school board member since my daughters, now 11th-graders, were in second-grade. In that time, I have been involved in education policy discussions at the local, state and national levels on issues related to the rights of LGBTQ+ students, standardized testing and the privatization of public education. The rise of the so-called “parental rights” movement in public education has been one of the thorniest, most perplexing issues I have encountered.

There is no doubt that parents play a crucial role in the education of their children. Who would dare argue that they don’t? But in the face of the anti-critical race theory, anti-LGBTQ+, anti-social emotional learning, anti-diversity equity and inclusion juggernaut unleashed by heavily funded, right-leaning astroturf parent groups such as Moms for Liberty, it has become imperative that we have an honest discussion about how much say parents should have in what is (or is not) taught in our public schools.

My district, unlike many, is racially, ethnically and socioeconomically diverse, with 31 languages spoken in the homes of our students. Educating such a diverse student body presents many challenges and requires a nuanced approach to policy and practice that ensures all students have equal opportunities to learn, thrive and grow. While it is easy for school leaders to say they embrace diversity, equity and inclusion, it’s far too challenging to implement policies promoting those principles.

I have spent my time on the school board helping to develop systems that ensure decisions are made collaboratively and with as many voices at the decision-making table as possible. This means making space not only for administrators, teachers, parents and students but also ensuring that historically marginalized groups are represented.

Decisions that affect students should never be based on the whims of those with the most privilege or power and indeed not on who has the loudest voice in the room.

However, the latter has become the hallmark of parental rights activists. They attend meeting after meeting, berating, shouting down and even making death threats against school board members. During the pandemic, battles over masks erupted at podiums at far too many school board meetings across the country and quickly morphed into demands to ban books, censor curriculum and muzzle “woke” teachers that parents accused of “grooming” their children.

In the 2022 midterm elections, parental rights activists were on the ballot in numerous states. With the support and endorsement of Moms for Liberty, they ran campaigns to become school board members in districts in red, blue and purple states. Moms for Liberty operates county chapters that aim to serve as watchdogs “over all 13,000 school districts.” Chapters empower parents to “defend their parental rights” and “identify, recruit & train liberty-minded parents to run for school boards.”

The “anti-woke” agenda espoused by Moms for Liberty endorsed school board candidates who had the greatest successes in Florida, where Gov. Ron DeSantis proudly declared the state being “where woke goes to die.” But in many other parts of the country, parental rights candidates lost their elections, with even conservative political operatives acknowledging that many of their campaigns were “too hyperbolic.”

Chaos has already erupted in several districts where they succeeded and won board majorities, with newly formed, inexperienced boards firing superintendents or forcing them to resign. One board voted to ban the teaching of critical race theory just hours after being sworn in.

After a decade of experience as a school board member, there’s one thing I can say for sure: The majority of parents, teachers and community members do not respond well to instability and disruption in their local public schools. When school boards run amok and rash decisions make headlines, communities work quickly to restore calm. If parental rights school board majorities continue to govern recklessly, they will undoubtedly face a backlash from voters.

Creating and implementing sound school policies and practices that respect and affirm all students requires collaboration. It does not allow for the divisive, polarizing rhetoric and impetuous, rash decision-making that have become the calling cards of the so-called parental rights movement.

One of the regular readers of the blog alerted me to the fact that there were several comments today (January 5) that contained vulgarity and profanity that are not allowed on this blog.

These disgusting comments were written in response to a post I wrote on June 1 called “I Am Woke, You Should Be Too,” in which I asserted that I care about justice, equality, freedom, and other fundamental ideals of our society. I took issue with those who would censor the views of those who disagree with them. I specifically criticized Florida Governor Ron DeSantis for passing laws to silence those who don’t agree with his censorious views.

I wrote:

One of the hot-button words that has been appropriated by rightwing politicians is “woke.” They are trying to turn it into a shameful word. I looked up the definition of WOKE. It means being aware of injustice and inequality, specifically when referring to racism. I strive to be aware of injustice and inequality and racial discrimination and to do whatever I can to change things for the better. Shouldn’t we all do that?

My acronym for WOKE is “Wide Open to Knowledge and Enlightenment.”

What would you say about someone who is not WOKE? They are “asleep,” “unconscious,” “indifferent.” They are “Mind Closed, Mouth Open.”

Yes, I am WOKE. I want Dr. King’s dream someday to be true. It is not true now.

Apparently, this post was reprinted on a rightwing site. Consequently, I have received quite a few hostile, vicious, profane comments, especially today.

I regret that several such profane comments got past me today. I was busy and did not carefully screen every comment.

I apologize for allowing profanity on this site.

I will try to block them as soon as possible.

Yes, I am woke. I am proud to be woke. I hope someday everyone will care passionately about justice, equality, and freedom. Curse all you want. But not on this blog. I will delete them as soon as I see them. I won’t back down.

Diane Ravitch