Archives for category: Democracy

Maurice Cunningham is a professor of political science at the University of Massachusetts who specializes in unmasking the influence of billionaires’ dark money. “Dark money” is money that is contributed with the expectation that the donors’ name will not be disclosed. I wrote about the role of Cunningham in exposing the dark money behind the 2016 effort to pass a referendum to expand the number of charter schools in Massachusetts; his exposes alerted voters to the vast sums spent by out-of-state billionaires like the Waltons and Michael Bloomberg to buy education policy in Massachusetts.

As he demonstrates in this article, the Waltons–who cumulatively are worth about $200 billion–are still funding pro-charter, anti-union groups in Massachusetts, still pushing their anti-public school agenda. The Waltons’ vehicle of choice is the “Massachusetts Parents United” group, which claims to be just a lot of concerned moms while collecting millions each year from the Waltons and other oligarchs.

The leader of the Walton-funded parent group is collecting, according to tax records, nearly $400,000 a year. Not a bad gig.

Cunningham reviews a story in Commonwealth Magazine that compares funding for Massachusetts Parents United with funding for the state’s teachers union.

But there are crucial differences, Cunningham writes:

Stories like this tend to equate spending on organizations like MPU with the unions. They’re not comparable. Union funding comes from members’ dues. The unions are democratically organized. My local voted out an incumbent last year, as have other teachers’ unions. MTA term limits its president (a good thing, as Barbara Madeloni was far tougher than her surrender-prone predecessor Paul Toner). There is no democracy to MPU. The Waltons are from Arkansas and probably couldn’t find Chicopee or Tewksbury on a map; never mind getting Alice Walton to pronounce Worcester or Gloucester. The Waltons just write checks and measure ROI–return on investment. MTA and Massachusetts Federation of Teachers members live here. Want to hold the Waltons accountable for the vast changes to Massachusetts education policy they seek through MPU? Good luck with that.

If you’ve gotten this far let me say a few words about why I care about this stuff. We simply do not have a functioning democracy when the vast wealth of a few oligarchs sets the policy agenda and gains influence by showering money on upbeat sounding fronts like Families for Excellent Schools and Massachusetts Parents United. Nor do we have a functioning democracy when the true power—the men and women behind the curtain—remain unknown to the public and uncovered by the media. In Dark Money, Jane Mayer talks about “weaponizing philanthropy.” In Just Giving, Rob Reich points out the “plutocratic bias” enjoyed by the foundations. (Hey, did I mention all these public policy altering contributions by oligarchs are a valuable tax deduction to them? Yes, you’re subsidizing them to change your state’s policy. Never give a sucker an even break). Huge investments in policy change and hidden money threaten rule by the people.

And that’s what MPU is—a tax deductible front for oligarchs weaponizing their philanthropy in a campaign to privatize public goods. The Waltons, Koch, and other oligarchs don’t want us to peek behind the curtain. It is our democratic obligation to tear that curtain down.

Since the 2020 election, when Republicans won many seats in state legislatures, there has been an explosion of proposed voucher laws, to allow people to get public money to pay for religious schools. David Berliner, one of our nation’s most distinguished researchers of education, explains why funding religious schools with public money is a terrible idea.

Why Religious Schools Should Never Receive a Dollar of Public Funding

David C. Berliner

Regents’ Professor Emeritus

Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College

Arizona State University

I believe in separation of church and state. I think it has done the United States a lot of good to honor Jefferson’s metaphoric and aspirational “wall” between the two. I also believe that money corrupts too many people and too many institutions. Holding those two beliefs simultaneously means 1.) I never want to see any local, state, or federal money used to aide any religious group, and 2.) I don’t want to see any religious group, or affiliated religious organizations, donating to the campaigns of public officials. The latter may be impossible to stop in an era of “dark money.” But the former—government support of religious institutions– is almost always done in public view and is worth stopping now, immediately, as it could easily damage our fragile republic.

Overstated? Hardly! Read on! Few citizens pay attention to the expenditure of public dollars for support of religious schools, but it occurs frequently. It can cost citizens billions of dollars annually, and ends up supporting some horrible things. A contemporary example of this is the criteria for entrance to the Fayetteville Christian School in North Carolina. 

Fayetteville Christian School (FCS) are recipients, in a recent school year, of $495,966 of public money. They get this in the form of school vouchers that are used by students and their families to pay for the students’ religious schooling. The entrance requirements for this school, and other religious schools like it, are quite frightening to me, though clearly acceptable to North Carolinians. From their website, in 2020:1

“The student and at least one parent with whom the student resides must be in agreement with (our) Statement of Faith and have received Jesus Christ as their Savior. In addition, the parent and student must regularly (go to) a local church. (We) will not admit families that belong to or express faith in religions that deny the absolute Deity/Trinity of Jesus Christ as the one and only Savior and path to salvation. …. FCS will not admit families that engage in behaviors that Scripture defines as deviate and sin (illicit drug use, sexual promiscuity, homosexuality (LGBT), etc.)

Once admitted, if the student or parent/guardian with whom the student resides becomes involved in lifestyles contradictory to Biblical beliefs, we may choose to dis-enroll the student/family from the school.” 

So, despite the receipt of public money, the Fayetteville Christian School is really notopen to the public at all! This school says, up front and clearly, that it doesn’t want and will not accept Jews, Muslims, Hindu’s, and many others. Further, although supported by public money, it will expel students for their family’s alleged “sins”. Is papa smoking pot? Expelled! Does your sibling have a homosexual relationship? Out! Has mama filed for divorce? You are gone! The admissions and dismissal policies of this school–receiving about a half million dollars of public funds per yearare scandalous. I’d not give them a penny! North Carolina legislators, and the public who elects them, should all be embarrassed to ever say they are upholders of American democracy. They are not. 

Besides the anti-democratic admission and retention problems in many religious schools, Christian or otherwise, some have serious curriculum problems as well. Those curriculum problems actually terrify me when they occur in publicly supported religious schools. With public money–my money–many of these schools spread ideas that are objectively/scientifically untrue. And some are simply repugnant! 

Do you remember Bobby Jindal? A few years back, Jindal was Governor of Louisiana and even, for a short time, a candidate for president of the United States of America. He pushed hard for publicly supported charter and voucher schools. The curriculum materials in these schools frequently came from one of two sources: Bob Jones University Press (associated with the scandal-ridden university), or from A Beka Book, a publisher of Christian books (now called Abeka). Between them, with the public’s money, these publishers have taught our youth some amazing things, as reported either by Deanna Panor by Alice Greczyn.3

Pan and Greczyn share some very interesting text excerpts. For example, I never learned from the textbooks in my public school that “The majority of slave holders treated their slaves well.” Nor did I ever imagine that “To help them endure the difficulties of slavery, God gave Christian slaves the ability to combine the African heritage of song with the dignity of Christian praise. Through the Negro spiritual, the slaves developed the patience to wait on the Lord and discovered that the truest freedom is from the bondage of sin.”

I also didn’t know that “The Ku Klux Klan in, some areas of the country, tried to be a means of reform, fighting the decline in morality and using the symbol of the cross. Klan targets were bootleggers, wife-beaters, and immoral movies. In some communities it achieved a certain respectability as it worked with politicians.”

I admit that I didn’t exactly get an “A” in my high school algebra course, but I never thought that abstract algebra was too complicated to learn. Perhaps I was wrong. An A Beka book states that “Unlike the ‘modern math’ theorists, who believe that mathematics is a creation of man and thus arbitrary and relative, A Beka Book teaches that the laws of mathematics are a creation of God and thus absolute…A Beka Book provides attractive, legible, and workable traditional mathematics texts that are not burdened with modern theories such as set theory.” (Italics mine.)

Another analyst of Christian school text books, Rachel Tabachnick,4 also informed me of things I never suspected. I simply never knew that “Global environmentalists have said and written enough to leave no doubt that their goal is to destroy the prosperous economies of the world’s richest nations.” This quote is from Economics: Work and Prosperity in Christian Perspective, 2nd ed., A Beka Book, 1999.

Through Tabachnick I also learned that children receiving their education in some Christian schools supported with public money are informed that gay people “have no more claims to special rights than child molesters or rapists.” That quote is from the Teacher’s Resource Guide to Current Events for Christian Schools, 1998-1999, Bob Jones University Press, 1998.

         Writing in Salon Magazine, Wilson5 documents other outrageous claims made in these curricula materials, some of which are purchased with public money for Christian schools in the USA, although these curriculum materials are in use throughout the world:

  • Only ten percent of Africans can read or write, because Christian mission schools have been shut down by communists.
  • God used the ‘Trail of Tears’ to bring many Indians to Christ.
  • It cannot be shown scientifically that man-made pollutants will one day drastically reduce the depth of the atmosphere’s ozone layer.
  • God has provided certain ‘checks and balances’ in creation to prevent many of the global upsets that have been predicted by environmentalists.
  • The Great Depression was exaggerated by propagandists, including John Steinbeck, to advance a socialist agenda. 
  • Unions have always been plagued by socialists and anarchists who use laborers to destroy the free-enterprise system that hardworking Americans have created.

Religious schools should not be subject to much state oversight—I understand that. But many such schools claim to offer curriculum compatible with neighboring public schools, thus allowing their students to move to the public schools should they or their parents request that. For example, it is not uncommon for students in Christian schools to transfer at 6th or 9thgrade to a traditional, public junior or senior high. Or, with a high school degree after years of private Christian education, a student might seek admission to a public college. Since student transfers like these are common, shouldn’t there be more inspection and approval of the curriculum and instruction in private Christian schools? Shouldn’t Christian schools, or Jewish or Islamic or any other school receiving public money, be inspected regularly by some agency of the government so they can be certified not to be teaching anti-democratic, anti-scientific, and anti-communitarian values? We have enough strife in this country without paying for schools whose values and curriculum are antithetical to our increasingly secular democracy. 

Am I overreaching? Although ordinarily private schools should not be subject to public scrutiny, if they accept public funds and if they are teaching age-inappropriate or anti-democratic content to their students shouldn’t the public know? Shouldn’t all public funds be subject to some kind of public audit? 

         For example, Rawls6 cites an adult whose memory of sixth grade instruction in a Christian school was still quite vivid. The teacher “passed around shocking photographs of dismembered babies to teach about abortion.” Sometimes abortion in Christian schools is compared to the holocaust. Other times elementary school students have been taken to local and state abortion protests, even to national events in Washington DC. Some schools regularly take their students to abortion clinics to protest. Are public expenditures for curriculum materials and activities like were just cited appropriate? Shouldn’t we know what is taught and learned in schools supported by public funds?     

Naturally, as part of their anti-abortion campaign, many Christian schools worry a lot about sex. So, they pass along unsubstantiated claims about condom failure and the horrible and life-long consequences of sex outside of marriage. It is often public money that supports curriculum and instruction of this type. Should that be the case? Should the state, often with comingled federal funds, support schools with anti-abortion programs when many state courts, and the Supreme Court, has ruled that abortion is legal? I have absolutely no issues with debate about abortion issues in upper grade levels, but should schools be providing anti-abortion education for our youth with public funds? 

Pregnancy, as might be expected, is often greeted with expulsion for girls at Christian schools. I certainly don’t know anyone who recommends teen parenthood, but if it occurs, shouldn’t the mother be helped, not thrown out of school? Wouldn’t that be the Christian thing to do? 

To accommodate the fact of teen motherhood, a public high school I visited proudly showed me a classroom-cum-nursery, allowing teen mothers a safe place to leave their infants while attending classes to earn their high school diplomas. In fairness, one might ask if that is a proper role of a public school. I believe, as do many Americans, that preparation for successful adulthood is the mission of our public schools—even if it entails these kinds of accommodations to keep youth in school and help them to graduate.7

         Another curriculum question is this: Is it appropriate for American education to promote lessening tensions between nations and religions? I think so. But public funds support Christian schools that teach “[T]he darkness of Islamic religion keeps the people of Turkey from Jesus Christ as their savior.” They teach that “[O]ver 500 people saw the resurrected Jesus Christ, [but] no one witnessed Mohammed’s supposed encounters with the angels.” And they teach that Islam is “fanatically anti-Christian.” 3 

         Finally, I want to point out the almost unanimous call to end corporal punishment of minors by the UN and by psychologists and other social scientists. Because of this I ask, should public money be used to support schools that still engage in corporal punishment? Sadly, both Christian and public schools, particularly in the Southern United States, approve of and still engage in spanking, or “paddling.”8

Although physical punishment of children has not disappeared in contemporary times, it appears to be more prevalent in Christian schools than in public schools because many of them operate on the principle of “spare the rod spoil the child.” Codes of conduct for many Christian schools say it is their obligation to use physical punishment, citing Proverbs 23: 13 and 14, among other biblical sources. There they are told “do not withhold discipline from a child; if you strike him with a rod, he will not die. If you strike him with the rod, you will save his soul…” 

Thus the “rod,” switch, or paddle, along with other harsh punishments to ensure proper child rearing, is recommended in many Christian advice books for Christian parents.So it is not surprising that more physical abuse takes place in fundamentalist Christian schools than in public schools. For example, in 2007, a Chicago Christian school was sued for injury and surgical costs after forcing a 14-year-old boy to kneel in place for nine days, causing a hip injury. In 2011, a Christian school teacher in Orlando was arrested on charges of beating a boy at her home with a rusted broom handle.6 And in 2015, at the Christian based Zarephath Academy in Jacksonville, Florida, a cell phone video shows male students holding down a female student, while her teacher paddled her in front of the whole class. The horrible offence the student committed? Running in the cafeteria!10

         Conclusion: There are certainly debates to have about the admissions and retention policies, qualifications of teachers, and especially the curricula used in all our schools—public, private, charter, religious or secular. We, the American people, settle controversial debates about issues like these in public forums. We rely on an open press, and we settle these debates through citizen voting and in our courts. Public oversight of public funds is part of the American tradition. 

Frequently, oversight of public funding is carried out by inspector generals. In fact, the first inspector general of the USA was appointed, in part, because General Washington had an ill-trained army for the task he had ahead. So, our very first inspector general was charged with identifying an educational problem, and asked to rapidly fix it! 

Now, literally thousands of people work for various offices of federal, state, and (occasionally) municipal inspector generals. Each are typically responsible for identifying fraud, waste, abuse, and criminal activity involving public funds, programs, and operations. But outside of the federal government, few inspector generals are devoted to education, even though roughly 45 percent of all state budgets, and 45 percent of all local budgets are used to support educational activities11. Thus, there is little oversight of how educational dollars are spent, and some of that spending has turned out to be scandalous!12 Just as bad, I think, is that there is even less concern about what is taught and what is learned in secular charter and private schools, or religious schools, that receive public money. This is not how it should be. I certainly would rest easier if there were inspectors spending a bit more time in the field overseeing what is taught and what is learned in our schools, in addition to their worries about how public money is spent. In particular, we need to examine religious institutions receiving public funds, so that the public has the information needed to maintain Jefferson’s wall, as best we can. 

In fact, if I made law, I would see to it that no private school– religious or not—ever received a dime of public money! Such schools can too easily sow seeds of separateness, privilege and dissension, hindering the achievement of one of our nations most cherished goals: e pluribus unum. Out of our many, one!

1.   Fayetteville Christian Church, Admissions. Retrieved February 8, 2021 from https://www.fayettevillechristian.com/copy-of-criteria-1

2.   Pan, D. (2012, August 7). 14 Wacky “Facts” Kids Will Learn in Louisiana’s Voucher Schools. Retrieved February 13, 2021 from https:/www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2012/08/photos-evangelical-curricula-louisiana-tax-dollars

3. Greczyn, A. (2020, Blog of June 7). Christianity’s Role in American Racism: An Uncomfortable Look at the Present and the Past.

Retrieved February 2, 2021 from https://www.alicegreczyn.com/blog/christianitys-role-in-american-racism

4. Tabachnick, R. (2017, January17) Vouchers/Tax Credits Funding Creationism, Revisionist History, Hostility Toward Other Religions. Talk to Action. Retrieved February 18, 2021 from: http://www.talk2action.org/story/2011/5/25/84149/9275

5. Wilson, B. (2012, June 19). Shocking Christian school textbooks:Thousands of Louisiana students will receive state voucher money to attend religious schools. What will they learn? Retrieved February 7, 2021 from: https://www.salon.com/2012/06/19/shocking_christian_school_textbooks_salpart/

6. Rawls, K. (2015, January 12). 10 Frightening Things Happening at Conservative Christian Schools That May Be Funded With Your Tax Dollars. AlterNet. Retrieved January 29, 2021 from https://www.alternet.org/2015/01/10-frightening-things-happening-conservative-christian-schools-may-be-funded-your-tax/

7. It is worth noting here that public schools frequently do spend our public money counseling such students and their families, while private schools frequently do not. It is a simple fact that all sorts of “problem” students, the more costly ones, not just the sexually active or pregnant, are frequently expelled from charter and private schools of all kinds, and sent to genuine public schools. Moreover, most charter and voucher schools frequently find ways not to accept special education students, either. Thus, the public schools incur educational expenses that most charter and voucher schools receiving public money do not. So public schools face budgeting challenges that private schools receiving public money do not. Thus, when one hears that charter or voucher schools are more cost efficient than “wasteful government schools,” these facts must be kept in mind.

8. So common has been physical punishment that the precise size and thickness of paddle to be used has often been codified, eg., specifying the type wood, length of paddle, thickness of paddle, etc. Moreover, there is a likely reason that paddling is more common in Southern schools. Severe paddling was used to punish slaves so as to not leave any scars. A whip-scared slave was of less value than an unscared one, because the scars indicated an uncompliant slave and/or a runaway slave. Severely paddled slaves, it was believed, obeyed their masters better–as is desired of children by many adults.

9.  Berliner, D. C. (1997). Educational psychology meets the Christian      right: Differing views of children, schooling, teaching, and learning.  Teachers College Record, 98, 381-416. 

10. Retrieved February 10, 2021 from: https://www.news4jax.com/news/2015/03/10/video-shows-girl-held-down-paddled-in-school/

11. The Condition of Education, National Center for EducationalStatistics (2020).  Retrieved February 20, 2021 from https://nces.ed.gov/programs/coe/indicator_cma.asp

12. Berliner, D. C. (2022, in press). The Scandalous History of Schools That Receive Public Financing, But Do Not Accept the Public’s Right of Oversight. In Berliner, D.C. and Hermanns, C. (Eds.), Public Education: The Cornerstone of American Democracy. New York. Teachers College Press.

This story has justifiably gotten a lot of national attention. Tim Boyd, the mayor of Colorado City, Texas, resigned after posting the following message on his Facebook page. He has a philosophy of sink or swim. That Government has no responsibility to help you when the power goes out and the temperature goes below freezing. Surviving is your problem.

That worldview sounds like it derives from the late Rush Limbaugh. It is certainly not consonant with the core values embedded in the Holy Bible. I’m guessing ex-Mayor Boyd considers himself a Christian. From what I know of the words of Jesus, he taught love and kindness for one’s neighbors, not indifference.

For non-Christians, there is another source for believing that government has an obligation to help its citizens: the United States Constitution, which begins: “We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.”

”Providing for the general welfare” is a commitment that society makes to its citizens.

And then there’s the basic fact that the government in most parts of this country does control the power grid and the water supply. Texans should rightly hold their state government responsible for the lack of both. Individuals and families can burn wood in their fireplaces, if they have one, and they can draw water from a well, but most people don’t have a well. People in civilized societies pay taxes so the government will protect them, build roads, supply electrical power and potable water, provide free public education, and do those things that individuals can’t do for themselves.

When their lives are at risk because of a natural disaster, they rightly turn to government for help. At times of overwhelming crisis, only government has the resources and personnel (think National Guard) to save lives.

This is what ex-Mayor Boyd wrote, along with his sort-of apology:

ORIGINAL FACEBOOK MESSAGE (since deleted):

Let me hurt some feelings while I have a minute!!

No one owes you are (sic) your family anything; nor is it the local government’s responsibility to support you during trying times like this! Sink or swim it’s your choice! The City and County, along with power providers or any other service owes you NOTHING! I’m sick and tired of people looking for a damn handout! If you don’t have electricity you step up and come up with a game plan to keep your family warm and safe. If you have no water you deal without and think outside of the box to survive and supply water to your family. If you are sitting at home in the cold because you have no power and are sitting there waiting for someone to come rescue you because your (sic) lazy is direct result of your raising! Only the strong will survive and the weak will parish (sic). Folks God has given us the tools to support ourselves in times like this. This is sadly a product of socialist government where they feed people to believe that the FEW will work and others will become dependent for handouts. Am I sorry that you have been dealing without electricity and water; yes! But I’ll be damned if I’m going to provide for anyone that is capable of doing it themselves! We have lost sight of those in need and those that take advantage of the system and meshed them in to one group!! Bottom line quit crying and looking for a handout! Get off your ass and take care of your own family!

Bottom line – DONT (sic) A PART OF PROBLEM, BE A PART OF THE SOLUTION!!

APOLOGY

All, I have set back and watched all this escalating and have tried to keep my mouth shut! I won’t deny for one minute what I said in my post this morning. Believe me when I say that many of the things I said were taken out of context and some of which were said without putting much thought in to it. I would never want to hurt the elderly or anyone that is in true need of help to be left to fend for themselves. I was only making the statement that those folks that are too lazy to get up and fend for themselves but are capable should not be dealt a handout. I apologize for the wording and some of the phrases that were used! I had already turned in my resignation and had not signed up to run for mayor again on the deadline that was February 12th! I spoke some of this out of the anger that the city and county was catching for situations which were out of their control. Please understand if I had it to do over again I would have just kept my words to myself and if I did say them I would have used better wording and been more descriptive.

The anger and harassment you have caused my wife and family is so undeserved….my wife was laid off of her job based off the association people gave to her and the business she worked for. She’s a very good person and was only defending me! But her to have to get fired from her job over things I said out of context is so horrible. I admit, there are things that are said all the time that I don’t agree with; but I would never harass you or your family to the point that they would lose there livelihood such as a form of income.

I ask that you each understand I never meant to speak for the city of Colorado City or Mitchell county! I was speaking as a citizen as I am NOT THE MAYOR anymore. I apologize for the wording and ask that you please not harass myself or my family anymore!

Threatening our lives with comments and messages is a horrible thing to have to wonder about. I won’t share any of those messages from those names as I feel they know who they are and hope after they see this they will retract the hateful things they have said!

Thank you

Tim Boyd(citizen)

Randall Balmer is one of Iowa’s most accomplished sons. After growing up in Iowa and attending its public schools, he went on to success as a historian, author, and professor, now at Dartmouth College. In addition to writing award-winning books about religion, he wrote a biography of President Jimmy Carter and won an Emmy for a three-part PBS series on the Evangelical church.

He wrote a compelling editorial warning Iowans against the Republicans’ plans to introduce a sweeping choice plan, which will divert students and funding from community public schools. He called school choice a “mirage.”

He began with plain truths:

As a graduate of Iowa public schools, I was saddened to read about the governor’s “school choice” proposal. Public education is one of our nation’s best ideas, and the persistent attempts on the part of politicians to undermine it with the misleading rhetoric of “choice” represents a real threat to the future of democracy.

This article was co-authored by a group of educators who oppose privatization. They have identified the primary driver of privatization in their different communities: The City Fund, subsidized primarily by corporate “reformers” Reed Hastings and John Arnold. The City Fund is led by experienced privatizers who have tried their hand in places like Tennessee and New Orleans, where the PR was great but the results were not. It opened its operations with $200 million in hand from its funders. Lots of money, no members, and a charge to go out into the nation and find cities where they could disrupt the local school board elections by underwriting advocates of privatization. They are undermining public schools and democracy at the same time. They should hang their heads in shame. They won’t.

The authors of the following are: Dr. Tracee Miller was an elected member of the St. Louis Board of Education. Dr. Keith Benson is president of the Camden Education Association. Christina Smith is Secretary of Indianapolis Public Schools Community Coalition. Dawn Chanet Collins, East Baton Rouge Parish School System Board Member and Candidate for Metro-Council 6. Bobby Blount is a San Antonio Northside ISD Trustee. Don Macleay is a member of Oakland Public Schools Action 2020.

They wrote the following article:


Education Privatization: Eerie Similarities in Stories from 15 Major US Cities

A new education reform movement has made its way across the country whose goal is not reform, but privatization. That coalition is led by billionaires forcing their extreme market bias onto our school system. Its framework steers tax dollars away from the public schools and toward their chosen consultants, partner groups, curricula, and other products and services without oversight from elected officials. The movement manifests in the expansion of charter schools and their enrollment, division of public districts into factions, incubation of community advocacy groups, promotion of anti-public school legislation, and influencing of state and local campaigns. 

To say that the proponents of this model engage in deceptive tactics would be a gross understatement. Aside from disguising their approach with buzzwords like innovation, transformation, and social justice, they funnel money through PACs, then through individuals and groups, to make their funding difficult to trace. This shroud of financial and ideological secrecy also makes the money, desperately needed in public education, easier for schools and organizations to accept.

One major national funder of this reactionary education philosophy is The City Fund. The City Fund distributes money from corporate school reform philanthropists, such as John Arnold and Reed Hastings, to local city organizations to accomplish the goals listed above. Its political organization, Public School Allies, makes campaign contributions to local school board candidates who are likely to adopt the same philosophy. “Reform” money has changed what used to be $1,500 local campaigns into $20,000 races for school board.The model being promoted by The City Fund and its affiliated organizations has been seen nearly to fruition in New Orleans and Indianapolis, and the stories being played out in other cities where The City Fund operates are eerily similar. 

We are education experts and advocates who represent cities and schools across the country that are being impacted by this movement and we refuse to be complicit. Our stories from Camden, Oakland, Indianapolis, San Antonio, Baton Rouge, and St. Louis account for only a fraction of the cities where these movements are underway, and we hope that sharing our experiences will help others recognize the tactics wherever they appear.

Recent articles about The City Fund and its influence in St. Louis and in local school board races inspired us to contact each other. What we discovered is unsettling. The organizations funded by The City Fund present themselves as local grassroots organizations when nothing could be further from the truth. While propping up these local organizations with millions of dollars, The City Fund also places its own supporters on the organizations’ boards to influence their ideology and decision-making. These groups and their partner community advocacy groups have equivalents in at least 15 cities. A few examples of umbrella groups sponsored by The City Fund include The Mind Trust in Indianapolis, the Camden Education Fund in Camden, City Education Partners in San Antonio, redefinED in Atlanta, RootED in Denver, The Opportunity Trust in St. Louis, San Joaquin A+ in Stockton, REACH in Oakland, and New Schools in Baton Rouge. 

Naming more equivalent organizations here would be unhelpful, but recognizing their actions is critical to identifying their influence. In addition to the strategies listed earlier, organizations affiliated with The City Fund have engaged in a variety of similar behaviors. In most locations they have created a school-finder tool and promoted a common application for traditional and charter schools. These groups host community events or support the publishing of reports where skewed data imply the deterioration of public education, and often push the idea that charters are the only solution. They make similar demands of school boards and of individual board members to conform with their ideals, and react with similar misinformation when confronted by the public or the media.  The uniformity across cities is so striking that on several of our joint calls there was audible relief when one of us realized we weren’t the sole target of this deception.

These organizations are not home-grown local groups established to solve local problems, but are experts at pretending to be. While they employ well-meaning advocates who  are energized  by words like equity or opportunity and promote themselves as organizations who seek to understand community sentiment, these groups are the local arms of The City Fund, whose model seeks to, and has experienced frightening success in, advancing the privatization of public education. With privatization comes the loss of local control and democratic ideals. 

The City Fund does not make it clear when it is investing in a city; fortunately, we have the opportunity to learn from each other and to stop the corruption before it becomes so deeply embedded in our systems that it can’t be reversed. The individuals peddling their agenda under the guise of education equity will continue to steer public dollars toward their private programs and gain financial and political capital until we decide public education is too important to jeopardize for a scheme. We are all complicit in the perpetuation of inequity if we choose to let this continue now that we know the truth.

Co-authored by: 

Dr. Tracee Miller, former member of the Board of Education for St. Louis Public Schools; 

Dr. Keith Benson, President of the Camden Education Association and author of Reform and Gentrification in the Age of #CamdenRising: Public Education and Urban Redevelopment in Camden, NJ; 

Christina Smith, Secretary of Indianapolis Public Schools Community Coalition; 

Dawn Chanet Collins, East Baton Rouge Parish School System Board Member and Candidate for Metro-Council 6; 

Bobby Blount, San Antonio Northside ISD Trustee; 

Don Macleay, Oakland Public Schools Action 2020.

Dana Milbank is a regular opinion writer for the Washington Post.

He wrote about the Republicans’ anti-Semitism problem. They refuse to denounce anti-Semitism. Bigotry multiplies.

For more than five years, I begged Republicans to reject the creeping anti-Semitism Donald Trump brought to the party, noting on the eve of the 2016 election that “when a demagogue begins to identify scapegoats, the Jews are never far behind.”


But I never expected I would see in my lifetime, in the United States of America, what occurred on the floor of the House this week. One hundred ninety-nine Republican members of Congress rallied to the defense of a vile, unapologetic anti-Semite in their ranks who calls for assassination of her opponents.


This is more than a Republican problem, it’s an American problem. You don’t have to be a scholar of 20th-century Europe to know what happens when the elected leaders of a democracy condone violence as a political tool and blame the country’s ills on the Jews.


Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (Ga.), who is quickly becoming the de facto face of the Republican Party, has suggested that the deadly neo-Nazi rally in Charlottesville, where white supremacists chanted “Jews will not replace us,” was actually an “inside job” to “further the agenda of the elites.”


She shared a video in which a Holocaust denier claimed that an “unholy alliance of leftists, capitalists and Zionist supremacists have schemed to promote immigration and miscegenation” with the purpose of “breeding us out of existence in our own homelands.”


She posed for campaign photos with a white-supremacist leader and then refused to renounce the man.
She approved of a claim that the Israeli intelligence service assassinated John F. Kennedy, and she speculated that wealthy Jewish interests — the Rothschilds, a target of anti-Semites since the 19th century — set forest fires in California using lasers from space.

This isn’t idle bigotry, for she “liked” a social media suggestion that “a bullet to the head would be quicker” to remove House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (Calif.), who has committed “a crime punishable by death.” She posted on social media about hanging Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton, approved of a suggestion that FBI agents be executed, and posted a photo of herself with an automatic weapon next to three Democratic members of Congress, calling herself their “worst nightmare.”


On the House floor this week, she offered no apology and no direct mention of her anti-Semitic and violent statements. Using Christ-on-the-cross imagery, she condemned those who would “crucify me in the public square for words that I said, and I regret, a few years ago.”


But she didn’t regret them. She had tweeted the night before: “We owe them no apologies. We will never back down.” She retweeted an article featuring another QAnon adherent attacking the Republican Jewish Coalition. And several Republican colleagues gave her a standing ovation Wednesday night when she delivered a private speech that Republicans said was similar to the unrepentant one she gave in public on Thursday.


House Republicans refused to sanction her for her outrages, and on Thursday, all but 11 House Republicans voted against a successful Democratic measure to remove her from House committees.
“Marjorie Taylor Greene will be remembered for breaking new ground for her wild anti-Semitism,” Jonathan Greenblatt, head of the Anti-Defamation League, told me after the vote. Greenblatt, whose group has tracked all-time high levels of anti-Jewish incidents during the Trump years, wrote three letters to House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) about Greene since her nomination, and he urged McCarthy to remove her from committees. Greenblatt received no reply.

Greene’s ugly pronouncements about Muslims and Black people, and her harassment of school-shooting survivors and families of victims, are no less reprehensible. But the rallying around this unrepentant anti-Semite by Republicans is an ominous new frontier. The Republican Jewish Coalition said it is “offended and appalled by [Greene’s] comments and her actions.”


Yet on Thursday, House Republicans rushed to her defense. “We’ve all said things we regret,” said Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio), top Republican on the Judiciary Committee.


Rep. Chip Roy (R-Tex.) protested the proceedings by forcing a vote to adjourn. “We shouldn’t be wasting the time of this body attacking a member of this body,” he said.


Rep. Tom Cole (R-Okla.) disowned Greene’s rhetoric, but what he really found “sad” and “unprecedented” was that Democrats weren’t giving her “due process.”


Rep. Ted Budd (R-N.C.) informed Democrats that “today is really about one party single-handedly canceling a member of the other party because of something said before that member was even elected.”


Republicans have used similar gaslighting in their response to impeachment. Trump helped organize a rally, incited his supporters to attack the Capitol and refused to call for an end to their murderous spree as they rampaged in search of elected officials in their hopes of overturning the election. But Democrats are the ones doing something “unconstitutional” by holding an impeachment trial after he left office?


Insurrection? Sedition? Assassination? Move on, the Republicans say. These actions and threats are mere “distractions” from the real issues.

Republicans defended Greene with absurd parallels. They attacked Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) for past anti-Semitic statements — omitting the crucial distinction that Omar, after Democrats roundly condemned her words, said, “Anti-Semitism is real and I am grateful for Jewish allies and colleagues who are educating me on the painful history of anti-Semitic tropes. … I unequivocally apologize.”


Greene, by contrast, remained unrepentant. On Friday, she held a celebratory news conference, again refusing to recant, or apologize for, her violent and anti-Jewish words and gestures.


Would she apologize for advocating for the execution of Pelosi?
“

I don’t have to,” she said, calling for the journalist to apologize instead.


Would she disavow her endorsement of putting “a bullet to the head” of Pelosi?


Accusing the questioner of lying, she replied: “That’s your problem and that’s how we end news conferences.” She walked away.


In retrospect, it’s clear Trump led us to this point. In his 2016 campaign, he singled out prominent Jews as part of a “global power structure” that doesn’t “have your good in mind.” He elevated white supremacists, spoke of “blood suckers,” told Jewish Republicans they wouldn’t support him “because I don’t want your money,” and shared an image of a Star of David atop a pile of cash.


As president, he spoke of the “very fine people” marching among the white supremacists in Charlottesville. Anti-Semitic violence increased significantly: pipe bombs sent to favorite Trump targets such as financier George Soros, and the synagogue massacre in Pittsburgh, the deadliest anti-Semitic attack in U.S. history. Yet Trump continued, embracing the far-right, violent Proud Boys in a presidential debate.

As Thursday’s emotional debate drew to a close, Rep. Steny H. Hoyer (D-Md.), the House majority leader, displayed a poster taken from one of Greene’s social media posts showing her with an AR-15 next to photos of two Muslims and one Latina — Reps. Omar, Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.) and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) — and Greene’s caption: “Squad’s Worse Nightmare.”


“They’re not ‘the Squad’,” Hoyer thundered. “They are people. They are our colleagues.”


He asked Republicans: “Imagine your faces on this poster. Imagine it’s a Democrat with an AR-15. Imagine what your response would be, and would you think that person ought to be held accountable?”
One hundred ninety-nine House Republicans looked at that invitation to assassination and voted to defend its author. God only knows what horrors they have unleashed.

This article in the New York Times magazine describes a protest at the Capitol in Virginia on January 20, 2020. It is supposed to be an annual event where people peaceably assemble to exercise their Constitutional rights and express support for their causes.

But last year was different. And it raises this question: Can Americans peaceably assemble when many of them are armed with military-grade weapons that threaten those who dissent?

There are 400 million privately owned guns in America, by some estimates, and on Jan. 20, 2020, some 22,000 of their owners arrived at the State Capitol of Virginia, a neoclassical building designed by Thomas Jefferson that sits on a rolling lawn in the hilly center of downtown Richmond. The occasion was Lobby Day, a recent tradition in Virginia, held annually on Martin Luther King’s Birthday, on which citizen groups come to the Capitol to directly air their concerns to their representatives in the State Legislature. The concerns of the gun owners, who were assembled by an organization called the Virginia Citizens Defense League, were in one sense specific: They were protesting a raft of firearms-related bills the Legislature’s new Democratic majority was taking up that would tighten the state’s generally permissive gun laws. Seventy-eight counties in the state, making up the near-entirety of its rural areas, had declared themselves “Second Amendment sanctuaries,” according to the V.C.D.L.

Gun owners see any restriction on guns, no matter how reasonable, as a threat to their “rights.” They are certainly unaware that the Federal Government banned the manufacture of assault weapons for civilian use in 1994.

The Public Safety and Recreational Firearms Use Protection Act or Federal Assault Weapons Ban (AWB) was a subsection of the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994, a United States federal law which included a prohibition on the manufacture for civilian use of certain semi-automatic firearms that were defined as assault weapons as well as certain ammunition magazines that were defined as “large capacity.”

The 10-year ban was passed by the US Congress on September 13, 1994, following a close 52–48 vote in the US Senate, and was signed into law by US President Bill Clinton on the same day. The ban applied only to weapons manufactured after the date of the ban’s enactment. It expired on September 13, 2004, in accordance with its sunset provision. Several constitutional challenges were filed against provisions of the ban, but all were rejected by the courts. There were multiple attempts to renew the ban, but none succeeded.

So there is nothing in the Constitution or in the Second Amendment that prohibits limits on the sale or manufacture of military-grade weapons to civilians.

Will Congress act again? Not likely with a Congress so evenly divided along ideological lines. Not likely with the Republican Party in thrall to the gun lobby, which opposes all restrictions. The Sandy Hook massacre of twenty babies and six staff members at an elementary school in Connecticut in 2012 did not move Congress to limit gun purchases, nor did the Parkland massacre of seventeen people in 2018. Nor did the Orlando massacre of 49 people in 2016. Nor did the Las Vegas massacre of 2017, when a lone killer murdered 60 people and injured others who were attending an outdoor concert.

What will it take?

Jonathan Swan and Zachary Basu interviewed people who were in the “room where it happened,” the meeting where Trump’s lawyers duked it out with conspiracy theorists in the White House on December 18. Their account of the meeting is gripping.

Four conspiracy theorists marched into the Oval Office. It was early evening on Friday, Dec. 18 — more than a month after the election had been declared for Joe Biden, and four days after the Electoral College met in every state to make it official.

“How the hell did Sidney get in the building?” White House senior adviser Eric Herschmann grumbled from the outer Oval Office as Sidney Powell and her entourage strutted by to visit the president. 

President Trump’s private schedule hadn’t included appointments for Powell or the others: former national security adviser Michael Flynn, former Overstock.com CEO Patrick Byrne, and a little-known former Trump administration official, Emily Newman. But they’d come to convince Trump that he had the power to take extreme measures to keep fighting. 

As Powell and the others entered the Oval Office that evening, Herschmann — a wealthy business executive and former partner at Kasowitz Benson & Torres who’d been pulled out of quasi-retirement to advise Trump — quietly slipped in behind them.

The hours to come would pit the insurgent conspiracists against a handful of White House lawyers and advisers determined to keep the president from giving in to temptation to invoke emergency national security powers, seize voting machines and disable the primary levers of American democracy.

The Axios’ story is a dramatic account of a turning point that led to the Insurrection on January 6 and the second impeachment of Trump for inciting sedition.

The New York Times published a dramatic account of the 77 days in which Trump and his faithful allies planned and plotted to overturn the election he lost. I hope you can open the article. It’s Kong and well-worth the time to read. Trump has a faithful base of people who will believe anything he says, no matter how far-fetched, no evidence necessary. One thing they all have in common: they are ignorant about our Constitution and the norms of our democracy.

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Joel Westheimer is American-born but lives in Canada, where he teaches Democracy and Education at the University of Ottawa.

He writes:

The attack on the U.S. Capitol building was shocking but not a surprise to those studying extremism in the United States where support for democracy has been plummeting.

In 1995, just one in sixteen Americans agreed with the idea that it would be “good” or “very good” for the military to run the country rather than elected democratic officials. Today, one in five agree.

Nearly one in four Americans think democracy is a bad way to run the country and would like to live under a political system in which a strong leader could make decisions without being bothered with elections or interference from congress. But as someone who studies the role of schools in democratic societies, what keep me up at night is the finding that almost half of millennials share that view.

Democracy, it seems, is not self-winding.

Public schools in the United States were founded on the idea that democracy could not work if citizens were not taught the principles and habits of democratic life. But in the same period that support for democracy has declined, that founding purpose of schooling has shifted—you could say that it was hijacked—by the standards and accountability movements of the last two decades.

Most school districts now emphasize preparing students for standardized assessments in math and literacy at the same time that they shortchange the social studies, history, and even the most basic forms of citizenship education.

The obsession with standardized testing in only two subject areas and the relentless pressure on schools to cover more and more material means lessons that develop the attitudes, skills, knowledge, and habits necessary for a democratic society to flourish are crowded out.

Finnish educator Pasi Sahlberg calls this kind of school reform GERM (for Global Education Reform Movement). It’s like an epidemic, he says, that “spreads and infects education systems through a virus. It travels with pundits, media and politicians. Education systems borrow policies from others and get infected. As a consequence, schools get ill, teachers don’t feel well, and kids learn less.”

When the testing tail wags the school reform dog, democracy loses. Why would we expect adults, even senators or members of Parliament, to be able to intelligently and compassionately discuss different viewpoints in the best interests of their constituents if schoolchildren never or rarely get that opportunity in school? When policymakers focus obsessively on learning metrics, teachers are forced to reduce their teaching to endless lists of facts and skills, unmoored from their social meaning.

Like most educators, I have nothing against facts. But, democratic societies require more than citizens who are fact-full. They require citizens who can think and act in ethically thoughtful ways.

A well-functioning democracy needs schools that teach students to recognize ambiguity and conflict in factual content, to see human conditions and aspirations as complex and contested, and to embrace debate and deliberation as a cornerstone of democratic societies.

More than 100 years ago, the philosopher John Dewey wrote that democracy must “be born anew every generation, and education is its midwife.”

We will all be glad when the global Covid-19 pandemic is brought under control. But there is another virus that threatens the United States that is fed by a toxic combination of disinformation and conspiracy theories. Luckily, the vaccine is already available: education. But public schools need to be allowed and encouraged to reclaim their democratic mission. We can no longer take democracy for granted.

Joel Westheimer is University Research Chair in Democracy & Education at the University of Ottawa and author of What Kind of Citizen? Educating Our Children for the Common Good.

joelwestheimer.org  |   joelwestheimer@mac.com  |  (613) 265-8077

References for assertions and quotations:

John Dewey, Plan of organization of the university primary school, 1895. In J. Boydston, Early works of John Dewey 1882-1898, vol. 5. Carbondale, IL: Southern Illinois University Press, 1972. Pages 223-243.

World Values Survey: Round Seven – Country-Pooled Datafile. http://www.worldvaluessurvey.org/WVSDocumentationWV7.jsp

Pasi Sahlberg, How GERM is infecting schools around the world. The Washington Post. [blog: The Answer Sheet web log by Valerie Strauss], June 29, 2012. http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/answer-sheet/post/how-germ-is-infecting-schools-around-the-world/2012/06/29/gJQAVELZAW_blog.html

John Merrow, former PBS education correspondent, writes about the choices that we should make when the COVID is someday behind us.

He offhandedly reminds us that “School Choice Week” was originally funded by right-wingers and charter school funders.

(SIDEBAR: In case you are curious, the ‘School Choice Week’ website does not list its funders, but, as Valerie Strauss reported in the Washington Post,  “According to the Center for Media and Democracy, the National School Choice Week website listed the American Federation for Children, the Walton Family Fund, ALEC, SPN, the Freedom Foundation, FreedomWorks, Cato Institute, Reason Foundation, the Heritage Foundation, the James Madison Institute, and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce as education partners in 2016. Using the Wayback Machine, you will also find so-called progressive organizations such as Democrats for Education Reform (DFER), KIPP and Education Reform Now on the partners’ list that year.”

It is a stretch to refer to KIPP and DFER as “progressive” organizations, although they claim to be. KIPP, you may recall, performed at the Republican National Convention in 2000, to showcase their schools and promote George W. Bush’s No Child Left Behind program. DFER is the hedge-fund managers’ group, not a progressive organization at all; DFER promotes charter schools and high-stakes testing. Two state Democratic parties (California and Colorado) passed resolutions disavowing DFER).

Merrow says that schools should not revert to where they “used to be.” They should be much better.

Here are a few of his suggestions: Schools should be less autocratic, more democratic.

What better place to start practicing democracy than in classrooms?  Teachers can make the classrooms more democratic by letting students develop the rules for classroom behavior–I.E. for their own behavior.  

As I wrote back in March, 2019:  “I am partial to teachers and classrooms where the children spend some time deciding what the rules should be, figuring out what sort of classroom they want to spend their year in. I watched that process more than a few times. First, the teacher asks her students for help.

Children, let’s make some rules for our classroom.  What do you think is important? 

Or she might lead the conversation in certain directions:

What if someone knows the answer to a question?  Should they just yell it out, or should they raise their hand and wait to be called on?

Or: If one of you has to use the bathroom, should you just get up and walk out of class? Or should we have a signal?  And what sort of signal should we use?

It should not surprise you to learn that, in the end, the kids come up with reasonable rules: Listen, Be Respectful, Raise Your Hand Be Kind, and so forth.  But there’s a difference, because these are their rules.”

Those words–Kind, Safe, Respectful–are found in store-bought laminated posters, but when students create the rules, they own them and are therefore more likely to adhere to them.

Merrow adds:

Some other suggestions:

1. Give kids time and space to get accustomed to being with peers, even socially distanced, for the first time in many months, while recognizing that social and emotional learning (SEL) may matter more than book-learning for these first weeks and months, because we don’t know the effects of isolation. 

2. Make time for lots of free play.  Schools need to be happy places

3. Suspend high stakes testing for the foreseeable future–and perhaps permanently–while also calling a halt to hand wringing conversations  about ‘remediation’ or ‘learning loss,’ because that’s blaming the victim, big time.  Some states, including New York, are calling on the US Department of Education to suspend its requirements, something that then-candidate Biden pledged to do at a Presidential Candidates Forum in Pittsburgh in December, 2019. I was there and heard him with my own ears. Let’s push him and his choice for Secretary of Education to follow through!