Archives for category: Civil Rights

The Miami Herald reported today on Governor DeSantis’ plans to cleanse higher education in the state. Conservatives are creating “civics” institutes as a vehicle for patriotic indoctrination, not as a means to think critically about how to improve democracy. Censorship, which DeSantis practices, would be condemned in any genuine civics class.

Gov. Ron DeSantis on Tuesday announced a package of major reforms to Florida’s higher education system, including tighter controls on faculty tenure, the establishment of “civics institutes” at three universities and prohibitions on diversity, equity and inclusion programs.

Speaking at a news conference in Bradenton, the governor unveiled a plan that would allow university boards of trustees and presidents to conduct reviews of tenured faculty members “at any time,” in addition to the periodic reviews that now take place. Regarding university presidents in particular, he proposes “reestablishing their authority over the hiring process.”

Currently, according to a flier distributed by the governor’s staff, “faculty committees can tie the hands of university presidents and bind them to only consider a small pool of recommended candidates.”

And under a heading in the flier that reads “Education not indoctrination,” he proposes changes in standards and course content “to ensure higher education is rooted in the values of liberty and western tradition.” His plan would require schools to “prioritize graduating students with degrees that lead to high-wage jobs, not degrees designed to further a political agenda.”

The proposal also would prohibit state schools from “supporting campus activities or programs that promote divisive concepts like DEI and CRT.” The letters refer to diversity, equity and inclusion programs and critical race theory.

In addition, he proposes establishing “world-class civics institutes” at the University of Florida, Florida International University and Florida State University. The institutes, according to the flier, would develop courses and curricula “that can be used to educate the next generation on the values of liberty and constitutionalism.”

The flier included information on the governor’s higher education budget proposals as well. He proposes $100 million for “recruitment and retention of highly qualified faculty at state universities” and $15 million for faculty and student recruitment at New College of Florida, where he recently appointed six conservative members to the board of trustees.

The New College board meets Tuesday for the first time since the appointments.

Read more at: https://www.miamiherald.com/article271870522.html#storylink=cpy

The College Board has not released the syllabus for the AP African-American Studies course that the state of Florida wants to ban because, they say, it has “no educational value” and violates state law by invoking “critical race theory.”

But the syllabus was released by NBC News and is easily found on the internet.

And here is the syllabus.

I suggest that you read it for yourself.

Stanley Kurtz, a conservative academic, wrote a scathing critique in National Review, where he blasted the AP course as “Neo-Marxist” and intent on propagating a socialist-Marxist-Communist mindset. Google and you will find follow-up articles by Kurtz.

I taught the history of American education, and I wrote books that specifically included the history of the education of Black Americans. To write about the history, I read many of the authors cited in the AP course. None of those authors, like Frederick Douglass or Carter Woodson or W.E.B. DuBois or Booker T. Washington, should be excluded from a course like this.

I will say without hesitation that the course is not, as Florida officials claim, “leftwing indoctrination.” Very few Americans know anything about African history, so my guess is that 99% of that history will be new to every reader. I am not sure why DeSantis is upset by “intersectionality.” A reporter should ask him to define it. I saw no problem in the mention of the Black Lives Matter movement or the reparations movement, because they are part of history; they exist. Why ban them? The DeSantis team wants the AP course of study to be upbeat; to show the celebratory rightwing view of American history; to exclude authentic African American thinkers, like Kimberlé Crenshaw and Michelle Alexander.

True there is a topic on “Black Queer Studies” that must drive Ron DeSantis and his allies crazy. I doubt that any students will be turned gay by learning about the topic. But this topic alone will be sufficient to get the course banned in DeSantis’ state and probably other red states. It might get axed by the College Board, which is alert to its bottom line. If the pushback hurts revenue, the College Board is likely to beat a hasty retreat.

Kurtz is right on one count. He wrote that “A stunningly large portion of the APAAS curriculum is devoted to the history of black studies.” This is true. Students will learn a lot about the leading scholars of the field and their contributions. Much of the scholarship is about the scholarship. And much, rightly, is about the brutal exploitation and degradation of African peoples.

In discussions with students about their expectations for the course, students said there should be an “unflinching look at history and culture.” Of course. They don’t want a sanitized history. They also said “Emphasis should be placed on joy and accomplishments rather than trauma.” They felt that they had learned about slavery every year, and “students feel they have been inundated with trauma.” In this course, it’s hard to find the “joy and accomplishments” that students are hoping to learn about. It is unlikely that they will learn much about barrier-breaking individuals like Dr. Charles Drew; LBJ’s Housing Secretary Robert Weaver; Guy Bluford (the first Black astronaut) or Mae Jamison (the first Black female astronaut); Ralph Bunche (the first African American to win a Nobel Prize for his diplomacy); Leontyne Price, the great international opera star, born in Laurel, Mississippi, or the newest international opera star Michelle Bradley, born in Versailles, Kentucky; or even the first Black President, Barack Obama. Of the hundreds and thousands of African Americans who have achieved their dreams, not much is said. The students say they know a lot about Dr. King, Malcolm X, and Rosa Parks; they want more. And they should have the pleasure of learning the inspiring stories of African-Americans who shattered stereotypes and made history.

The College Board says this is a preliminary version of the ultimate AP exam. It’s a good start. Let’s see if it can survive the political maelstrom.

Civil rights attorneys out the state of Florida on notice that it was prepared to sue if the state bans the new AP course in African American studies.

Florida’s Black leaders delivered a warning to Gov. Ron DeSantis on Wednesday that if he doesn’t stop attempts “to exterminate Black history” in Florida classrooms, they would sue him for violating the constitutional rights of students.

“We are here to give notice to Gov. DeSantis,’’ said Ben Crump, a Tallahassee civil rights attorney, to a cheering crowd of supporters in the Capitol Rotunda, as three high school students stood at his side.

They were protesting the announcement last week by the Florida Department of Education that it had rejected a new Advanced Placement elective course on African-American studies, developed by the College Board for high school students.

“If he does not negotiate with the College Board to allow AP African-American Studies to be taught in the classrooms across the state of Florida, these three young people will be the lead plaintiffs,’’ said Crump, who has represented families in several high-profile civil rights cases.

The College Board is expected to release its updated version of the AP course on Feb. 1, the first day of Black History Month. As a pilot program taught in 60 select classrooms around the country, the board has been soliciting feedback from teachers for modifications to the curriculum. It is unknown how many schools in Florida are involved in the pilot program.

Read more at: https://www.miamiherald.com/news/local/education/article271651587.html#storylink=cpy

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.

Dr. Charles Foster Johnson, founder of Pastors for Texas Children, is a dear and beloved friend. I can’t give him enough praise for the work he does every day to protect the public schools of Texas and the five million children enrolled in them. He shared the following message today.

Dr. King and the Work for Justice

Dear PTC Pastor and Friend,

 

It is good to set aside a day as a nation to remember the world-changing life, ministry, and legacy of the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. The prophetic vision he cast for our nation is far from realized.

 

As a 65-year-old white man from Alabama, I remember very well how Dr. King was vilified by the white power structure of this nation. What the Hebrew prophet Isaiah said about the suffering servant was true for Dr. King: he was “despised and rejected.” He was assassinated not because he was popular but because he was hated. Indeed, God has used his death and martyrdom as means to bring our nation into a “more perfect union.”

 

In 2008, I was privileged to be inducted into the Martin Luther King, Jr. Board of Preachers at Morehouse College. I knelt with other ministers before the full congregation in the King Chapel that day, vowing before God that I too would dedicate my life and ministry to the justice of Christ. It was one of the most moving moments of worship Jana and I have ever experienced.

 

The Rev. Dr. Billy Kyles, Pastor of the Monumental Baptist Church of Memphis, was the day’s keynote speaker.

Rev. Kyles was on the balcony when Dr. King was murdered. They were on the way to the Kyles’ home for supper. He retold the story that day, moment by moment, building to the awful instant when the shot rang out.

 

Rev. Kyles began musing to himself in his sermon why God placed him on that Lorraine Motel balcony that day, at that historic moment, standing beside Dr. King. Then he paused, with the perfect timing of a great preacher, and said, “Now I know. I know why the Lord had me right there. Because every crucifixion has to have a witness.”

 

We dishonor Rev. Martin Luther King’s life and legacy with easy platitudes or historical whitewashing. We honor him– and our Lord who led him– only with the painful, painstaking work of justice-making.

 

That is why we stand strong for quality public education for all children. We have a long way to go in delivering this promise of justice. But, no private model of education will ever ensure this provision of God. Only the public trust can and will do this.

 

Thank you for bearing witness so faithfully to this call!

 

Rev. Charles Foster Johnson, Executive Director

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I just read Dr. Martin Luther King’s last speech out loud.

It was an enthralling experience. Uplifting, inspiring, and a bit depresssing to realize what has not happened, the persistence of racism and poverty and inequality, the scoundrels who distort his message and try to prevent the honest teaching of our history. The racist legislators who say that teaching honest history is a “divisive concept” that will make white children uncomfortable. That assumes they will identify with the oppressors. That assumes that the truth will make them woke. I assume they willl identify with the oppressed and join with those who want change.

Read it. Out loud.

https://abcnews.go.com/Politics/martin-luther-kings-final-speech-ive-mountaintop-full/story?id=18872817

Historian Heather Cox Richardson reflects on the anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King’s birthday. We now look on him as a hero, but during his lifetime, he was treated shamefully by many whites, and militant African-Americans scorned him as well, preferring the angry approach of Stokely Carmichael and Malcolm X. Dr. King was principled and fearless. He faced death daily, and he never back down. It is usually forgotten that he was assassinated in Memphis while there to support striking sanitation workers, who were trying to organize a union. He knew that unions offered the best protection for working people. White conservatives who fraudulently praise him now, claiming that racism is a thing of the past and should not be taught or discussed (so that everyone can be judged by “the content of their character, not the color of their skin”), oppose everything he fought and died for.

You hear sometimes that, now that we know the sordid details of the lives of some of our leading figures, America has no heroes left.

When I was writing a book about the Wounded Knee Massacre, where heroism was pretty thin on the ground, I gave that a lot of thought. And I came to believe that heroism is neither being perfect, nor doing something spectacular. In fact, it’s just the opposite: it’s regular, flawed human beings, choosing to put others before themselves, even at great cost, even if no one will ever know, even as they realize the walls might be closing in around them.

It means sitting down the night before D-Day and writing a letter praising the troops and taking all the blame for the next day’s failure upon yourself, in case things went wrong, as General Dwight D. Eisenhower did.

It means writing in your diary that you “still believe that people are really good at heart,” even while you are hiding in an attic from the men who are soon going to kill you, as Anne Frank did.

It means signing your name to the bottom of the Declaration of Independence in bold print, even though you know you are signing your own death warrant should the British capture you, as John Hancock did.

It means defending your people’s right to practice a religion you don’t share, even though you know you are becoming a dangerously visible target, as Sitting Bull did.

Sometimes it just means sitting down, even when you are told to stand up, as Rosa Parks did.

None of those people woke up one morning and said to themselves that they were about to do something heroic. It’s just that, when they had to, they did what was right.

On April 3, 1968, the night before the Reverend Doctor Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated by a white supremacist, he gave a speech in support of sanitation workers in Memphis, Tennessee. Since 1966, King had tried to broaden the Civil Rights Movement for racial equality into a larger movement for economic justice. He joined the sanitation workers in Memphis, who were on strike after years of bad pay and such dangerous conditions that two men had been crushed to death in garbage compactors.

After his friend Ralph Abernathy introduced him to the crowd, King had something to say about heroes: “As I listened to Ralph Abernathy and his eloquent and generous introduction and then thought about myself, I wondered who he was talking about.”

Dr. King told the audience that, if God had let him choose any era in which to live, he would have chosen the one in which he had landed. “Now, that’s a strange statement to make,” King went on, “because the world is all messed up. The nation is sick. Trouble is in the land; confusion all around…. But I know, somehow, that only when it is dark enough, can you see the stars.” Dr. King said that he felt blessed to live in an era when people had finally woken up and were working together for freedom and economic justice.

He knew he was in danger as he worked for a racially and economically just America. “I don’t know what will happen now. We’ve got some difficult days ahead. But it doesn’t matter…because I’ve been to the mountaintop…. Like anybody, I would like to live a long life…. But I’m not concerned about that now. I just want to do God’s will. And He’s allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I’ve looked over. And I’ve seen the promised land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the promised land!”

People are wrong to say that we have no heroes left.

Just as they have always been, they are all around us, choosing to do the right thing, no matter what.

Wishing you all a day of peace for Martin Luther King Jr. Day, 2023.

Notes:

Dr. King’s final speech:

https://abcnews.go.com/Politics/martin-luther-kings-final-speech-ive-mountaintop-full/story?id=18872817

Donna Ladd, editor and CEO of the Mississippi Free Press, writes here about the sustained rightwing effort to co-opt Dr. Martin Luther King’s legacy of militant resistance to racism and his dedication to telling the truth about our tarnished history. This is an important essay. It’s about a concerted attempt to hijack the words of Dr. King by those who hate his message. It’s about conservative white people like Chris Rufo and Ron DeSantis trying to use his words to prevent honest teaching about the history of racism. I have left the fund-raising appeals in the article because I hope you will send some money to this brave publication.

She writes, powerfully:

I grew up hearing people around me badmouthing Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. To hear white folk in east central Mississippi in the 1960s and 1970s tell it, he was the very root of all evil, and everything wrong in their lives was his damn fault. He had marched in my hometown of Philadelphia, Miss., in 1966 amid violent chaos when I was a kid—he spoke near the murderers of James Chaney, Andrew Goodman and Michael Schwerner by law-enforcement officials.

Yes, Dr. King gave his life in the search for more love and less hate, but he was not only spreading a message of love, as so many white thieves of his legacy try to say today. His message was pure fire. And he was out to hold a mirror up to our nation about white Americans—not only Mississippians and southerners—using terror to maintain power over everyone else and to enjoy the fruits of that terrorism.

Throughout his life, Dr. King toiled and ultimately sacrificed his life in the fight to change power structures and systems established and enforced to keep white people on the top and Black people on the bottom. He wanted America to understand that enslaved people built this nation—after many of their enslavers figured out how to steal the land from Indigenous Americans and forcefully remove them from the land they coveted.

None of this history is pretty or honorable, and Dr. King never tried to say it was or to cover up any of it. He wanted it taught to every person in this country and certainly wanted children to grow up having learned the lessons of the past. He knew that the “arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.” And he was blunt that he was not likely to live long enough to see that happen.

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When a white man shot him at the Lorraine Hotel in Memphis, Dr. King was more focused than ever on systemic racism and its links with poverty, and he was a harsh critic of capitalism and the Vietnam War. He was putting together the Poor People’s Campaign intending to occupy Washington, D.C., to bring more attention to the racism-poverty connection.

Of course, I didn’t know all that until I was well into adulthood. I knew most white folks in Mississippi hated him, and he was a martyred hero against racism. Like many Americans, I was fed the whitewashed version of Dr. King, which has worsened over the decades. I was nearly 40 when I studied with Dr.Manning Marable at Columbia University and learned the larger and more accurate history of Dr. King, Malcolm X, Marcus Garvey, and many Black freedom fighters. I’ve also read his speeches; I know fully what Dr. King was about and what he supported.

Just read his “I’ve Been to the Mountaintop Speech” in Memphis.

Now, 54 years after Dr. King went to Memphis to support a labor strike by sanitary workers, we see so many arrogant efforts by white Americans to remake him into their preferred hero—you know, the one who would tell us all now to forget all that sticky history and get along despite the systemic inequities our history embedded into our nation’s DNA.

It would be funny if it weren’t so sick and offensive. Right here in Jackson, a public-policy institute led by a former Brexiteer from the U.K. used a photo of Dr. King and his words out of context in a report a year ago to push legislation against so-called “critical race theory” in schools. Their report argued the precise opposite of what the Black freedom hero said or wanted. They even twisted his call for “being judged by the content of their character” out of context to make absurd statements about Dr. King, like this one: “Instead of celebrating the enormous achievements made since the Civil Rights Movement, critical race theory specifically rejects King’s color blind ideal and seeks to racialize every aspect of culture, sport, and public discourse.”

“Color-blind ideal”? That’s what this institute—and its board of prominent white Mississippians—think Dr. King meant by the need for white Americans to stop judging people by the color of their skin? Seriously? That’s some shoddy thinking. Or propaganda, as it were. Such cynicism can explain why this institute claiming Dr. King’s moral ground as its own has nine white men and two white women on its board.

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As we consider Dr. King’s legacy this weekend, we must study the whole legacy. No serious person can argue that he would want this nation to block the teaching of our full race history from colleges, schools and homes. No serious person would say that he would want us to simply be proud of how far we’ve come and not examine how far we’ve got to go—until that arc bends toward actual justice and inequity is no longer baked into our systems. No serious person thinks Dr. King would not want us to interrogate how and why inequity became baked into our systems and how to fix them so they don’t keep replicating themselves.

And no serious person would argue that Dr. King would not want the systemic history of slavery, massacres and lynchings that helped end Reconstruction and install Jim Crow, the story of little Ruby Bridges or our Medgar Evers or Lamar Smith down in Brookhaven, the story of ongoing attacks on public education since integration—or the full story of his real dreams taught to every American on this road to eradicating the baked-in legacies of racial suppression and white supremacy.

I get it. Complaining that teaching real race history is somehow “Marxism”—which no serious person would do, either—is bringing back the stunts and propaganda the rich and powerful white people used successfully to scare white folks back in the 1950s and 1960s and even inspire violence against Dr. King and Mr. Evers. The rewriting of history is sick politics. But it is a stunt that all serious people of any party who are, indeed, working not to judge people by their skin color must reject loudly and definitively.

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. gave his life to speak truth to power. We owe it to him to continue doing just that.

Donna Ladd, Editor and CEO

[I am not inserting a link because I can’t find one. Google Mississippi Free Press. If you find a link, please send it.]

I am sending my third contribution this year to MFP.

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.

https://www.aft.org/press-release/new-polling-reveals-gopmccarthy-schools-agenda-unpopular-and-odds-parents-priorities

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.