Archives for category: History

SB 167 in the Indiana Legislature received national attention when its chief sponsor, Republican Scott Baldwin, proclaimed that teachers must not take sides when discussing Nazism, fascism, or Marxism. He later apologized for the statement but not until after he became a subject of ridicule on national news. Now it is dead, although a similar bill is moving in the House.

The Indiana bill that sparked national outrage will not move forward, Senate leadership confirmed on Friday. 

Members of the Senate continued to work on Senate Bill 167, but have determined there is no path forward for it and it will not be considered,” Senate President Pro Tempore Rodric Bray, R-Martinsville, said in a statement. 

Less clear is the fate of a similar bill moving through the Indiana House. That bill was passed out of committee, 8-5, and heads to the full House floor next. Should it pass the House, it will be sent to the Senate.

A spokesperson for Bray said Senate Republicans would review the bill, if it passes out of the House.

More on bill:Indiana Senate bill that spurred Nazism remarks stalls; similar proposal advances

Senate Bill 167 was originally scheduled for a vote in the Senate’s education committee Wednesday but was pulled from the calendar, IndyStar previously reported, signaling it faced a rocky path forward. Earlier in the week, Bray said it was so lawmakers could address concerns raised during public testimony on the bill the previous week. 

An exchange during that testimony between the bill’s author, Sen. Scott Baldwin, R-Noblesville, and a history teacher from Fishers set off a viral firestorm after Baldwin said it would require teachers to remain impartial, even when discussing concepts such as Marxism, Nazism and fascism. 

“Of course, we’re neutral on political issues of the day,” teacher Matt Bockenfeld said at the committee hearing Jan. 5. “We don’t stand up and say who we voted for or anything like that. But we’re not neutral on Nazism. We take a stand in the classroom against it, and it matters that we do.”

Baldwin responded that may be going too far and that teachers need to be impartial and stick to the facts. He later walked back the comments in a statement to IndyStar and condemned those ideologies.Your stories live here

More:Find out what’s in controversial 2022 education bills, read full text

A similar bill has continued to move through the House. House Bill 1134 contains the same ban on “divisive concepts,” but was amended this week to clarify that teachers may condemn Nazism and other concepts that run counter to the U.S. Constitution. 

Adam Laats is a historian of education at the State University of New York in Binghamton. He recently wrote a hopeful article in The Atlantic about the future, which I posted here, while disagreeing with his optimism. As the Supreme Court seems poised to tear down the wall of separaration, as the charter industry grows despite its multiple failures, as Republicans embrace privatization of schools, I’m not able to share his optimism. I hope he is right, and I am wrong.

He writes:

Things in the world of public education are grim. Texas politicians are banning books. GOP leaders continue their attacks on teachers and curriculum. And teachers are left, in one case at least, literally scrambling for dollars to fund their classroom essentials. 

And for those who know the history, none of this is new. As I argued in my book The Other School Reformers(Harvard University Press, 2015), for a hundred years, politicians and activists have attacked public schools, humiliated teachers, and frightened administrators into purging good science, history, and literature from their classrooms.

In this environment, it might seem ridiculous to suggest that public schools are winning, in the long term. Yet that’s what I argued recently in the pages of The Atlantic. Yes, conservatives seem to be mounting a vigorous assault on public education, a series of mini-January 6ths at school board meetings. In the end, though, those assaults only amount to what I’ve called a “politics of petulance,” more about political theater than actual ed policy. In the end, I think, the widespread demand for public education will outweigh any short-sighted partisan rancor. As I wrote,

Politicians willing to stand in the schoolhouse door to keep out troubling ideas will not be willing to stand there forever. Sooner or later, the cameras will leave, and parents will demand that schools give their children the best available education.

On this blog, Diane asked fair questions about my optimism. As Diane put it,

If parents really cared about high-quality education, wouldn’t they demand higher teacher salaries, reduced class sizes, and better physical care of schools?

I appreciate the opportunity to respond. In my current book, I’m exploring the earliest history of public schools in American cities, a topic Diane knows very well from her research into the history of New York’s schools. That history shows exactly those trends Diane mentioned, leading to the birth of urban public education. Parents DID demand higher teacher salaries, reduced class sizes, and better school facilities.

Thanks to G.F. Brandenburg, who posted this very important report about The Battle of Blair Mountain, a largely forgotten milestone in the history of unionism.

Brandenburg opens his post by reminding us that the rich and powerful usually control history and write the narrative.

He adds this dramatic story of The Battle of Blair Mountain, which is unknown to most people and barely remembered in the state where it happpened. The famous but almost-forgotten battle pitted underpaid, impoverished miners against the coal industry’s hired and well-armed detectives and union-busters. After several days of fighting, federal troops were sent in to stop the combat.

The story was written by Irina Zhorov and appeared on PBS WHYY.

The site of the conflict is marked by an inconspicuous plaque. The land is inaccessible because its owned by a coal company.

Here is the lead-up to the Battle of Blair Mountain:

In early 20th-century Appalachia, miners in the southern West Virginia coal fields lived in company towns. They were dependent on their bosses for every necessity, including their homes and food. Pay was low. Living and working conditions were deplorable.

The United Mine Workers union attempted to organize miners in the region, but the coal companies fought back, often violently. In a series of clashes now called the Mine Wars, both union and company supporters were killed.

By 1921, tensions were coming to a head. Miners in Mingo County, south of Blair, had joined the union. In retaliation, the company had evicted them from their homes. The miners had been rounded up and were being kept in pens. State police had cut off food supplies, so families were starving.

Then private detectives who worked for the coal companies brazenly murdered a union sympathizer named Sid Hatfield, a hero to the miners. It was broad daylight, and Hatfield’s wife was by his side. Tensions boiled over.

One week after the murder, Frank Keeney, the leader of West Virginia’s United Mine Workers chapter — and Chuck Keeney’s great-grandfather — gave a series of speeches to rally miners in the coal fields.

Miners—10,000-15,000 of them—marched 50 miles to Blair Mountain to protest and fight.

Clearly, there are many people in West Virginia today whose parents or grandparents took up arms against the tyrannous coal companies. They know the history because it’s personal.

Yet this legacy of labor militancy does not seem to have any role in today’s politics. West Virginia is a red state with a Republican-controlled legislature. The Governor, Jim Justice, was a Republican who became a Democrat for his election in 2016. Seven months after his election, he reverted back to being a Republican, at a political rally with Trump by his side. Governor Justice is a billionaire who controls many businesses, mostly in agriculture and coal mining.

Why do West Virginians keep electing and re-electing Republicans who are hostile to the interests of poor and working-class people?

Steve Luxenberg, an editor at The Washington Post and the author of a 2019 book on racial separation and the Plessy case, Separate: The Story of Plessy v. Ferguson, and America’s Journey from Slavery to Segregation, wrote to correct important errors in my post about Homer Plessy.

Plessy, you may recall, was arrested in New Orleans for attempting to ride in an all-white train car, thus violating state law. His was a test case of a recently enacted segregation statute. When his case reached the U.S. Supreme Court, challenging the constitutionality of the racial segregation law, the Court issued a ruling in 1896 endorsing the law and the legality of “separate but equal.” This endorsement of de jure segregation remained intact until the Brown vs. Board of Education decision of 1954.

Now, here are the facts about Homer Plessy, as documented by Luxenberg. I am grateful to him for correcting my version (and errors in the article I quoted):

1. Plessy was not found guilty after his arrest (in 1892), and as a result, his lawyers did not appeal that conviction. The case went to the Supreme Court on entirely different grounds. Cutting to the chase for now: Judge Ferguson held off on a trial, instead issuing a ruling on the constitutionality of Louisiana’s Separate Car Act. That was a gift to Plessy’s legal team, because it meant that they could appeal Ferguson’s ruling (he said the Act was constitutional) rather than pursuing a habeas corpus strategy as planned. The Citizens Committee (the group that planned and arranged for Plessy’s arrest as a test case) did not want Plessy in jail while the appeal was wending its way through the courts.

2. Judge Ferguson never found Plessy guilty, and he wasn’t convicted in 1890. In January 1897, nearly eight months after the Supreme Court’s ruling, Plessy pleaded guilty, before a different judge, to close the case. The Citizens Committee paid his $25 fine.

That ruling—Plessy vs. Ferguson— okayed racial segregation statutes that locked millions of Black Americans into second-class status, since separate was never equal in a racist society. Separate but equal remained in place until it was overturned by the Supreme Court in 1954, a decision that was boldly resisted by the South for years.

Homer Plessy will be posthumously pardoned as a result of a sustained effort by his descendant Keith Plessy, and the descendant of Judge John Howard Ferguson.

Keith Plessy and Phoebe Ferguson created a foundation to honor Homer Plessy and to advance the cause of racial reconciliation. Plessy and Ferguson and their allies worked for the past 11 years to get a pardon for Homer Plessy, and they have just succeeded.

Keith Plessy and Phoebe Ferguson’s drive to right a terrible, devastating wrong came to full fruition last month, when they appeared before the Louisiana Pardon Board to ask the board to extend a pardon to Homer Plessy for his conviction in 1890 [this date is wrong]. The board swiftly agreed with the pair and voted unanimously on Nov. 12 to pardon Homer Plessy.

Keith Plessy said that his ancestor Homer was selected by a local group of activists to challenge the law.

Keith Plessy placed their crusade for justice in further historical context, pointing out that Homer Plessy was actually carefully selected by late-19th-century civil rights advocates to test the state’s segregation laws of that era.

The New Orleans organization called the Comite de Citoyens, or Committee of Citizens – a multi-ethnic group of activists dedicated to fighting the 1890 Separate Car Act – chose Plessy, a mixed-race Creole, to test the law by getting arrested and placing the matter in the courts.

Once in court, Plessy’s attorneys argued that the Separate Car Act, and as such Plessy’s arrest, violated his Constitutional rights under the 13th and 14th Amendments, an argument the court rejected with his conviction.

“I feel that working together, we have been trying to tell the whole story of the Citizens Committee and the Civil Rights Movement that continued after this case,” Keith Plessy said. “[The Plessy strategy] was the blueprint that was used over and over again [by Civil Rights advocates] in the 20th century.”

“New Orleans,” he added, “was the crucible of the Civil Rights Movement.”

Governor John Bel Edwards (a Democrat) declared that he would swiftly sign Plessy’s pardon.

I had the pleasure of meeting Phoebe Ferguson and Keith Plessy when I spoke at Dillard University, a historically Black university in New Orleans, in 2010. It was incredible to meet these two people who symbolized such an important and infamous event in American history. Thanks to these two persistent people for their fight to keep Homer Plessy’s legacy alive and to pursue Justice. We are still struggling to overcome the legacy of Jim Crow era legislation.



Steven J. Koutsavlis, a research associate at the National Center on Privatization in Education reviews Audrey Watters’ new book on the history of education technology in schools. Its title is Teaching Machines: The History of Personalized Learning.

Koutsavlis writes:

On account of the pandemic, there has been a seismic shift to remote or hybrid instruction. However, long before COVID-19, forces to harness instruction to technology were at play within the American school system. In Teaching Machines: The History of Personalized Learning (MIT Press, 2021), Audrey Watters masterfully explores this story and explains the consequences technology has had on the nature and architecture of American schooling.

As many policy analysts know, Watters has been writing incisively about this important topic since 2010 on her blog, Hack Education: The History of the Future of Education Technology. With Teaching Machines, she cements a decade of lucid, riveting commentary.

In this NCSPE excerpt, in particular, Watters establishes the foundation for her analysis with a depiction of the first efforts of the Harvard psychology professor B.F. Skinner to mechanize learning. Skinner would go on to develop several teaching machines during the Sputnik era and beyond. Watters explains how he incorporated his work as a behaviorist into the design of these learning devices.

Skinner, along with other progenitors of teaching machines such as education psychologist Sidney Pressey, aimed to pioneer the automation of pedagogy, “freeing the teacher from the drudgeries of her work so that she may do more real teaching, giving to the pupil more adequate guidance in his learning,” Watters writes. In doing so, they prioritized the interests of private entities looking to engineer systems of learning at the expense of teachers and school leaders who aimed to engender more democratic modes of education.

The posture of automated learning presumes that the work of evaluating student responses and guiding them to new levels of understanding can simply be outsourced to a programmed device and does not require the nuanced touch of a seasoned practitioner with deep content knowledge. Yet the word “assessment” itself derives from the Latin assidēre, meaning “to sit down to.” The role of the teacher to sit beside children and listen deeply and intently, not only to learn how students are approaching a particular task, question, or problem, but also to hear from them about what piques their curiosity about the work at hand and motivates them to persevere. Watters deftly details how even the most well-designed or well-intentioned teaching machines fail to achieve this. She moreover describes how critics of Skinner such as Paul Goodman raised these concerns as they saw these devices dehumanizing the educational process.

“Who, then, will watch the puzzlement on a child’s face and suddenly guess what it is that he really doesn’t understand, that has apparently nothing to do with the present problem, nor even the present subject matter?” Watters quotes approvingly from Goodman’s 1960 book, Growing Up Absurd. “And who will notice the light in his eyes and seize the opportunity to spread the glorious clarity over the whole range of knowledge; for instance, the nature of succession and series, or what grammar really is: the insightful moments that are worth years of ordinary teaching.”

Even with advanced programming and interactive computer displays, personalized teaching machines or programs may not be able to elucidate nuanced understandings of difficult concepts with struggling learners. Independent work with these programs is often unsupervised, and students may receive unauthorized assistance to particular questions instead of actually supplying their own authentic response. A recurring issue with struggling learners is also the motivation to complete the tasks themselves. Extended independent assignments often, in fact, result in fatigue and non-completion for students who are still building task stamina.

Watters also writes about the very challenges of implementing such programs, where private demands for technocratic control over the levers of schooling have clashed with the needs of actual practitioners and students. As we see in contemporary education settings, Watters documents that programs were often rolled out in a hasty and haphazard fashion, unsupported by research evidence demonstrating their effectiveness or appropriateness for students and without adequate levels of teaching training or adoption.

Programmed instruction in the form of teaching machines as well as the modern incarnation of computerized learning engines, Watters likewise makes clear, represent a highly systematized and standardized form of education that collides with more progressive, constructivist, and student-led pedagogical methods. They also reify practices and norms within school systems that promote a highly functionalist model of education, where students are fed bits of information as they are trained to complete discrete tasks serving little more than the informational needs of private companies.

While programmed learning systems and algorithms aim to provide individualization and personalized learning, Watters demonstrates how they can conversely serve to stifle creativity and individual expression, on the student, teacher, school, and system level. “These technologies foreclose rather than foster possibilities,” Watters writes.

For longtime followers of Watters’s blog, which is now on hiatus, Learning Machines will fulfill all expectations. For those who haven’t read Watters’s blog, this excerpt should pave the way to reading the book. Agree or not with Watters, readers will be glued and challenged.

Stephen Sawchuk is a staff writer for Education Week. He wrote this article back in May, and I missed it. I think it’s one of the clearest, most balanced explanations of CRT that I have read.

Sawchuk writes:

Is “critical race theory” a way of understanding how American racism has shaped public policy, or a divisive discourse that pits people of color against white people? Liberals and conservatives are in sharp disagreement. 

The topic has exploded in the public arena this spring—especially in K-12, where numerous state legislatures are debating bills seeking to ban its use in the classroom. 

In truth, the divides are not nearly as neat as they may seem. The events of the last decade have increased public awareness about things like housing segregation, the impacts of criminal justice policy in the 1990s, and the legacy of enslavement on Black Americans. But there is much less consensus on what the government’s role should be in righting these past wrongs. Add children and schooling into the mix and the debate becomes especially volatile.

School boards, superintendents, even principals and teachers are already facing questions about critical race theory, and there are significant disagreements even among experts about its precise definition as well as how its tenets should inform K-12 policy and practice. This explainer is meant only as a starting point to help educators grasp core aspects of the current debate.

Just what is critical race theory anyway? 

Critical race theory is an academic concept that is more than 40 years old. The core idea is that race is a social construct, and that racism is not merely the product of individual bias or prejudice, but also something embedded in legal systems and policies.

The basic tenets of critical race theory, or CRT, emerged out of a framework for legal analysis in the late 1970s and early 1980s created by legal scholars Derrick Bell, Kimberlé Crenshaw, and Richard Delgado, among others.

A good example is when, in the 1930s, government officials literally drew lines around areas deemed poor financial risks, often explicitly due to the racial composition of inhabitants. Banks subsequently refused to offer mortgages to Black people in those areas.

Today, those same patterns of discrimination live on through facially race-blind policies, like single-family zoning that prevents the building of affordable housing in advantaged, majority-white neighborhoods and, thus, stymies racial desegregation efforts.

CRT also has ties to other intellectual currents, including the work of sociologists and literary theorists who studied links between political power, social organization, and language. And its ideas have since informed other fields, like the humanities, the social sciences, and teacher education.

This academic understanding of critical race theory differs from representation in recent popular books and, especially, from its portrayal by critics—often, though not exclusively, conservative Republicans. Critics charge that the theory leads to negative dynamics, such as a focus on group identity over universal, shared traits; divides people into “oppressed” and “oppressor” groups; and urges intolerance.

Thus, there is a good deal of confusion over what CRT means, as well as its relationship to other terms, like “anti-racism” and “social justice,” with which it is often conflated.

To an extent, the term “critical race theory” is now cited as the basis of all diversity and inclusion efforts regardless of how much it’s actually informed those programs. 

One conservative organization, the Heritage Foundation, recently attributed a whole host of issues to CRT, including the 2020 Black Lives Matter protests, LGBTQ clubs in schools, diversity training in federal agencies and organizations, California’s recent ethnic studies model curriculum, the free-speech debate on college campuses, and alternatives to exclusionary discipline—such as the Promise program in Broward County, Fla., that some parents blame for the Parkland school shootings. “When followed to its logical conclusion, CRT is destructive and rejects the fundamental ideas on which our constitutional republic is based,” the organization claimed.null

(A good parallel here is how popular ideas of the common core learning standards grew to encompass far more than what those standards said on paper.) 

Does critical race theory say all white people are racist? Isn’t that racist, too? 

The theory says that racism is part of everyday life, so people—white or nonwhite—who don’t intend to be racist can nevertheless make choices that fuel racism. 

Some critics claim that the theory advocates discriminating against white people in order to achieve equity. They mainly aim those accusations at theorists who advocate for policies that explicitly take race into account. (The writer Ibram X. Kendi, whose recent popular book How to Be An Antiracistsuggests that discrimination that creates equity can be considered anti-racist, is often cited in this context.)

Fundamentally, though, the disagreement springs from different conceptions of racism. CRT puts an emphasis on outcomes, not merely on individuals’ own beliefs, and it calls on these outcomes to be examined and rectified. Among lawyers, teachers, policymakers, and the general public, there are many disagreements about how precisely to do those things, and to what extent race should be explicitly appealed to or referred to in the process.

Here’s a helpful illustration to keep in mind in understanding this complex idea. In a 2007 U.S. Supreme Court school-assignment case on whether race could be a factor in maintaining diversity in K-12 schools, Chief Justice John Roberts’ opinion famously concluded: “The way to stop discrimination on the basis of race is to stop discriminating on the basis of race.” But during oral arguments, then-justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg said: “It’s very hard for me to see how you can have a racial objective but a nonracial means to get there.”

All these different ideas grow out of longstanding, tenacious intellectual debates. Critical race theory emerged out of postmodernist thought, which tends to be skeptical of the idea of universal values, objective knowledge, individual merit, Enlightenment rationalism, and liberalism—tenets that conservatives tend to hold dear.

What does any of this have to do with K-12 education?

Scholars who study critical race theory in education look at how policies and practices in K-12 education contribute to persistent racial inequalities in education, and advocate for ways to change them. Among the topics they’ve studied: racially segregated schools, the underfunding of majority-Black and Latino school districts, disproportionate disciplining of Black students, barriers to gifted programs and selective-admission high schools, and curricula that reinforce racist ideas. 

Critical race theory is not a synonym for culturally relevant teaching, which emerged in the 1990s. This teaching approach seeks to affirm students’ ethnic and racial backgrounds and is intellectually rigorous. But it’s related in that one of its aims is to help students identify and critique the causes of social inequality in their own lives.null

Many educators support, to one degree or another, culturally relevant teaching and other strategies to make schools feel safe and supportive for Black students and other underserved populations. (Students of color make up the majority of school-aged children.) But they don’t necessarily identify these activities as CRT-related.

As one teacher-educator put it: “The way we usually see any of this in a classroom is: ‘Have I thought about how my Black kids feel? And made a space for them, so that they can be successful?’ That is the level I think it stays at, for most teachers.” Like others interviewed for this explainer, the teacher-educator did not want to be named out of fear of online harassment. 

An emerging subtext among some critics is that curricular excellence can’t coexist alongside culturally responsive teaching or anti-racist work. Their argument goes that efforts to change grading practices or make the curriculum less Eurocentricwill ultimately harm Black students, or hold them to a less high standard. 

As with CRT in general, its popular representation in schools has been far less nuanced. A recent poll by the advocacy group Parents Defending Education claimed some schools were teaching that “white people are inherently privileged, while Black and other people of color are inherently oppressed and victimized”; that “achieving racial justice and equality between racial groups requires discriminating against people based on their whiteness”; and that “the United States was founded on racism.”

Thus much of the current debate appears to spring not from the academic texts, but from fear among critics that students—especially white students—will be exposed to supposedly damaging or self-demoralizing ideas.

While some district officials have issued mission statements, resolutions, or spoken about changes in their policies using some of the discourse of CRT, it’s not clear to what degree educators are explicitly teaching the concepts, or even using curriculum materials or other methods that implicitly draw on them. For one thing, scholars say, much scholarship on CRT is written in academic language or published in journals not easily accessible to K-12 teachers.

What is going on with these proposals to ban critical race theory in schools? 

As of mid-May, legislation purporting to outlaw CRT in schools has passed in Idaho, Iowa, Oklahoma, and Tennessee and have been proposed in various other statehouses.

The bills are so vaguely written that it’s unclear what they will affirmatively cover. Could a teacher who wants to talk about a factual instance of state-sponsored racism—like the establishment of Jim Crow, the series of laws that prevented Black Americans from voting or holding office and separated them from white people in public spaces—be considered in violation of these laws?It’s also unclear whether these new bills are constitutional, or whether they impermissibly restrict free speech.It would be extremely difficult, in any case, to police what goes on inside hundreds of thousands of classrooms. But social studies educators fear that such laws could have a chilling effect on teachers who might self-censor their own lessons out of concern for parent or administrator complaints.

As English teacher Mike Stein told Chalkbeat Tennessee about the new law: “History teachers can not adequately teach about the Trail of Tears, the Civil War, and the civil rights movement. English teachers will have to avoid teaching almost any text by an African American author because many of them mention racism to various extents.”

The laws could also become a tool to attack other pieces of the curriculum, including ethnic studies and “action civics”—an approach to civics education that asks students to research local civic problems and propose solutions.How is this related to other debates over what’s taught in the classroom amid K-12 culture wars?

The charge that schools are indoctrinating students in a harmful theory or political mindset is a longstanding one, historians note. CRT appears to be the latest salvo in this ongoing debate.

In the early and mid-20th century, the concern was about socialism or Marxism. The conservative American Legion, beginning in the 1930s, sought to rid schools of progressive-minded textbooks that encouraged students to consider economic inequality; two decades later the John Birch Society raised similar criticisms about school materials. As with CRT criticisms, the fear was that students would be somehow harmed by exposure to these ideas.

As the school-aged population became more diverse, these debates have been inflected through the lens of race and ethnic representation, including disagreements over multiculturalism and ethnic studies, the ongoing “canon wars” over which texts should make up the English curriculum, and the so-called “ebonics” debates over the status of Black vernacular English in schools.

In history, the debates have focused on the balance among patriotism and American exceptionalism, on one hand, and the country’s history of exclusion and violence towards Indigenous people and the enslavement of African Americans on the other—between its ideals and its practices. Those tensions led to the implosion of a 1994 attempt to set national history standards.

A current example that has fueled much of the recent round of CRT criticism is the New York Times’ 1619 Project, which sought to put the history and effects of enslavement—as well as Black Americans’ contributions to democratic reforms—at the center of American history.

The culture wars are always, at some level, battled out within schools, historians say.

“It’s because they’re nervous about broad social things, but they’re talking in the language of school and school curriculum,” said one historian of education. “That’s the vocabulary, but the actual grammar is anxiety about shifting social power relations.”

Yes, you read that right. The astroturf Koch-funded “Moms for Liberty” is offering a $500 reward to anyone who catches a teacher teaching “divisive concepts,” which is against state law. What is a divisive concept? Maybe teaching about the First Amendment is one. Teaching about the horrors of war is another. Teaching about the effects of climate change, for sure. Teaching that vaccines save lives is another so don’t talk about polio or other diseases, certainly not coronavirus.

Randi Weingarten spoke out:

For Immediate Release
Nov. 18, 2021

Janet Bass

Statement by AFT President Randi Weingarten on
Bounties on Heads of NH Teachers

WASHINGTON—Statement by American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten on a $500 bounty offered by Moms for Liberty to someone who alleges a New Hampshire teacher is teaching so-called divisive concepts and breaking the New Hampshire law called Right to Freedom from Discrimination in Public Workplaces and Education:

“Putting bounties on the heads of New Hampshire teachers, much like the controversial vigilante bounties envisioned by Texas law to thwart the legal right to reproductive choice, is offensive and chilling in any context. The New Hampshire bounty effort is a result of a state law that bans something that doesn’t happen in New Hampshire or anywhere else—teaching that any group is inherently superior or inferior to another. We teach honest history and respect for all. Culture warriors offering bounties for a teacher supposedly violating the law are doing this at a time when we all need to work together. The stakes are high—unjustified accusations against teachers could cost them their teaching licenses. The clear intent is to undermine public education and scare teachers. 
“State Education Commissioner Frank Edelblut even set up a webpage to facilitate complaints against teachers. Perhaps Edelblut’s judgment should lead him to a different line of work. We need school leadership that believes in safe and welcoming environments, not one of fear and division. This is distracting from teachers’ focus on helping our kids thrive and excel. Teachers shouldn’t have to worry that history, literature, science or art lessons can be misconstrued and lead to a public flogging or worse. The overwhelming majority of parents support and trust their children’s teachers, value their neighborhood public school as the center of the community and are astounded by this brazen attempt to stifle learning. 

“Parents and teachers are partners in supporting children. Teachers work very hard to help our children through tough times like the pandemic and now to get them back on track. We should do everything we can to support them, not put a price on their head.”

# # #

After months of negotiations among Democrats over the fate of President Biden’s historic $3.5 trillion proposal, a compromise seems to have been reached (although nothing is certain). At the insistence of Democratic Senators Manchin and Sinema, the size of the ambitious plan has been cut in half. Many of its parts were cut away, including two years of free community college and 12 weeks of paid family leave for medical reasons (the U.S. is the only major nation that doesn’t provide it). Three Democratic members of the House killed the provision to lower prescription drugs. And of course the Republicans opposed everything.

This is how Harold Meyerson of The American Prospect described it.

World’s Biggest Half-Full, Half-Empty Glass

Biden’s bill is historically great and bitterly disappointing.

Well—had we not anticipated, had it never seemed, that the Democrats, having won control of Congress and the White House, would proceed to enact paid family leave, expansions of Medicare, a permanent Child Tax Credit, disincentives to fossil fuel use, the ability to negotiate down drug prices, and such—had we not counted on that, then today would be a day of unmitigated celebration. Instead, celebration of the groundbreaking social provisions that actually are in the bill President Biden outlined today—universal pre-K, child care subsidies, incentives for clean energy, commonsense tax reforms that will compel corporations to pay some taxes, and the like—has to be mitigated by the fate of the even more commonsense provisions that now lie on the cutting-room floor.

For me, the most absurd relegation to that floor has been killing the proposal to give Medicare the ability to bring down drug prices. Seldom is a serious change to social and economic policy backed by more than three-fourths of the public, but this one surely was. Reportedly, President Biden has persuaded Kyrsten Sinema to accept a deal so preposterously weak—one that enables Medicare to negotiate down the price of drugs whose patents have expired (that is, after the big drug companies have wrung out the lion’s share of profits on those drugs, and which simply incentivizes those companies to extend their patents)—that few Democrats on the Hill seem inclined to vote for it. (Its merits are so nonexistent that the provision was omitted from Biden’s bill.)

By opposing giving Medicare the capacity to stop Big Pharma from charging Americans vastly more for their medications than they charge the citizens of any other nation, Sinema and three House Democrats effectively killed the one provision of the proposed $3.5 trillion package that would have most reduced the cost of living, significantly slowed the pace of inflation, and quite possibly moved more swing votes into the Democrats’ column than any other.

Leading the resistance to this measure in the House was Scott Peters, the California Democrat whose North San Diego County district includes many of the biotech companies that reap fortunes from high drug prices. While Sinema and the two other House Democrats who joined with Peters can likely be successfully primaried, the economy of Peters’s district is so dependent on high drug prices that he might well survive such a challenge…

One provision of the PRO Act—which, taken as a whole, would have been a new Magna Carta for American workers—has made it into Biden’s bill. The provision requires employers to pay fines ranging from $50,000 to $100,000 when they commit unfair labor practices, such as firing employees for their pro-union activities. Under current law, there are effectively no penalties assessed on employers when they’re found guilty of such practices. By excluding the more fundamental provisions of the PRO Act from Biden’s bill, chiefly because they don’t fit under rules of reconciliation, the employer-employee playing field remains steeply tilted toward employers, but if these fines pass muster with the Senate parliamentarian (an open question), they do reduce that tilt by a decidedly modest margin.

As befits a half-empty, if also half-full, glass.


The WSJ article by law professor Philip Hamburger asserting that public schools are unconstitutional relies on dubious assertions about the history of public schools. As a historian of education who has written about these issues, I disagree with his analysis.

Hamburger’s central critique of the public schools is that they were created by nativists out of fear of Catholicism and their central purpose was to homogenize all children and mold them into Protestants. He repeatedly asserts that the very idea of the public school was shaped by hostility to Catholics.

The earliest public schools, called “common schools,” were organized in the early 19th-century in small towns and villages by families who wanted their children to gain literacy and numeracy. The parents and communities who established common schools were not thinking about stamping out Catholicism. Families wanted their children to be able to read the Bible, and many wanted their sons to have the skills needed to work as clerks or in other non-agricultural work.

He paints an idyllic portrait of 18th century schools, which is a fantasy of his own creation. He writes:

“The shared civic culture of 18th-century America was highly civilized, and it developed entirely in private schools. The schools, like the parents who supported them, were diverse in curriculum and their religious outlook, including every shade of Protestantism, plus Judaism, Catholicism, deism and religious indifference.”

The truth is that very few children of any faith attended school in the 18th-century. Schooling was available to the wealthy, who hired private tutors, and to those who could afford to send their children to a “dame school,” where a woman instructed young children in her home. There were a few religious schools, for those who could pay for them. The children of the poor had no schooling until the turn of the 19th-century, when philanthropic societies began to organize rudimentary “charity schools” for the poor.

As I showed in my history of the New York City public schools (The Great School Wars), the city’s Catholic Bishop John Hughes (later Archbishop) adamantly objected to the schools of the Public School Society, a private group founded by Quakers. Like all schools at the time, the schools of the PSS used the Protestant Bible in their classrooms and had daily prayers. Bishop Hughes insisted that Catholic children should be taught only in Catholic schools, where they would read the Catholic Bible, learn Catholic prayers, and sing Catholic hymns. The founders of the PSS tried to reach a compromise, but Bishop Hughes insisted on creating a separate system of Catholic schools. He asked the Legislature to fund the Catholic “public schools,” as it was funding the Protestant “public schools,” but the legislature refused.

Were there anti-Catholics who supported public schools? Yes. Were there nativists who hated Catholics and who feared that the Pope wanted to seize control of their city or state? Yes.

Was the primary purpose of the public school movement to stamp out the influence of Catholics? No. The overwhelming majority of Americans supported the growth of public schools because they believed that a democratic society needed educated citizens who were prepared for self-government.

The Catholic school system grew and thrived. Catholic leaders thought their schools were unfairly denied public funding, but the idea of prohibiting the public funding of religious schools was broadly popular and appears in almost every state constitution. The public endorsed the proposition that society as a whole, through taxation, is responsible for maintaining a public school system that offers a free education for all who enroll.

Alongside the generalized belief that a democratic society must educate its citizens so that they will vote wisely and be prepared to serve on a jury, there was a concurrent belief that education had a social purpose. In the 19th-century, educators would speak glowingly about the value of children from different economic backgrounds learning together, the banker’s son next to the baker’s son. In the 20th century, the definition of which children learned side-by-side expanded in fits and starts, often with conflict. Education, it was believed, would overcome economic, social, religious, and racial divides, as children learned together.

Few, if any, would contend that the public schools have overcome differences of race, religion, class, and ethnicity. Yet, without them, who can doubt that those differences would be sharpened? For some, the public schools have been a ladder that enabled social mobility, as well as interracial and interreligious friendships. Would we really want to be a society where each sect, each racial and ethnic group has its separate schools? I don’t think so.

While Hamburger pounds his thesis that public schools are and have always been a nativist strategy to crush Catholics, he fails to consider the fact that in mid-20th century America, a significant number of public school teachers and administrators in urban districts were Catholic.

In my view, he misinterprets the seminal Pierce decision of 1925. The state of Oregon passed a law in 1922 that would have required all children to attend public schools, thus banning all private and religious schools. The Society of Sisters sued to prevent the closing of their religious school. The U.S. Supreme Court declared that the law was unconstitutional. The state could not compel children to attend only public school. Children do not belong to the state but to their parents. The decision was not grounded in free speech rights, as the author here contends. The Court declared the right of parents to choose a private school, but did not suggest that public money should be used to pay for their private schooling. The decision confirmed the right of parents to choose either a free public school or a private school at their own expense.

If Professor Hamburger fears that children will be indoctrinated by their teachers, he should stand strongly against the remedies he proposes. The likeliest place where children might be indoctrinated is in a school that reinforces their parents’ views, a school where teachers all agree, a school where dissenting voices are never heard. The best schools, whether public or private, teach young people to make their own decisions, teach them to think for themselves, teach them about the courage of those who dared to stand alone.

Jim Sleeper is a journalist and alumnus of Yale, as well as a lecturer there. He published an enlightening article about the role of Yale University in forging the Grand Strategy, a strategy of American imperial power to safeguard the world (and American interests). For those of us who came of age in the 1950s, it seemed like the American Colossus was invincible and profoundly moral. But since the debacles in Vietnam and Afghanistan, the Grand Strategy no longer looks so grand, and America’s role as the “world’s policeman” appears to be a fruitless enterprise. To understand the Grand Strategy and Yale’s role in shaping it, read Sleeper’s article.

Sleeper urged me to post a larger portion of his excellent essay. Here it is.

When a new leader of the Grand Strategy program tied to change its focus, she was forced out.

Sleeper begins:

Yale history professor Beverly Gage has been praised widely for defending academic freedom from donors’ meddling by announcing her resignation (effective in December) from the directorship of Yale University’s Brady-Johnson Program in Grand Strategy, which she took over in 2017 from Cold War historian John Lewis Gaddis. But there are more politically urgent, and arguably profound, questions at issue here beyond professors’ right to design their courses free of outside interference.

Since the program’s inception more than two decades ago, Grand Strategy’s intensive seminars have engaged undergraduate as well as graduate students with close readings of classical works on strategy, stressful crisis decision-making simulations, and meetings with accomplished policymakers. In 2010, David Petraeus, at the time the four-star Army general commanding U.S. military operations in the Middle East (and later to become director of the CIA), visited the seminar, as did former U.S. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, observers from the CIA, and U.S. Military Academy cadets.

That the program, prior to Gage’s arrival, nudged students toward embracing the U.S. military and national security state was hardly a secret. “A Yale Class Seeks to Change the World … Before Graduation,” read a headline on a Columbia News Service report in 2004, when Grand Strategy was directed by Gaddis. “We are looking for leaders,” the late Charles Hill, a program co-founder, career Foreign Service officer, and Yale’s diplomat-in-residence, told the reporter. “This course gives us a great opportunity to get our hooks into them early. We are not … looking for the kind of person who would be protesting the [World Trade Organization] at Davos,” the World Economic Forum.

But Gage wanted students to scrutinize foreign-policy elites, not elevate them. She welcomed social movement activists in civil rights, environmental, and other domestic causes, expanding Grand Strategy’s horizons to include people who challenge the dominant world arrangements that other visitors defend. Soon she was “second guessed and undermined,” as she put it, by the Yale administration’s failure to resist a demand for a conservative board of program overseers made by Grand Strategy’s benefactors: former Treasury Secretary Nicholas Brady, a former director of the Mitre Corporation and manager of federally funded research and development projects for the Defense Department; and Brady’s billionaire business associate Charles B. Johnson, an overseer of the conservative Hoover Institution on War, Revolution, and Peace. The two had endowed Grand Strategy with $17.5 million in 2006.

In an essay for the recently published anthology Rethinking American Grand Strategy, Gage writes that “as a citizen, I have, for better or worse, been as likely to be a protester as a policy maker,” and she urges anyone drawn to the latter “to pay more attention to voices bubbling up from below.” To Grand Strategy’s emphasis on foreign-policy decision-making, she added “the art of … channeling collective grievances into effective action.”

Gaddis, Hill, and other original faculty had sided generally with the powerful. “We hauled the entire Grand Strategy class down to New York to meet Henry Kissinger and hear about his sense of the great deficit that exists in grand-strategic thinking,” Gaddis told a large assembly of Yale alumni (including me) at a reunion in 2004. “A student was outraged by Christopher Hitchens’s book accusing Henry of war crimes. So I said, ‘Why not do a senior essay on Kissinger’s ethics?’ I saw a draft, called Henry, and he said ‘Bring him in.’ He hired him on the spot, … to fact check Christopher Hitchens.”

Many alumni swooned, not least over Gaddis’s exhibition of first-name familiarity with the famous and powerful. This was how things had been done at Yale in their time, and by God, Gaddis was bringing back the old elan! But nobody stopped to ask how that fits with a college education for undergrads, or whether intermingling national security professionalism with liberal education prematurely narrows their intellectual and moral development.

Yale College has often been a crucible of U.S. national statesmanship and espionage: Nathan Hale, class of 1773, was hanged for spying on British-colonial troop movements; the CIA was founded at Yale during World War II; and the State Department and its diplomatic corps have been instructed and advised by Yale professors for decades. Yale’s president from 1951 to 1963, A. Whitney Griswold, a descendant of colonial Connecticut governors and an “establishment” figure par excellence, abolished Yale’s Institute for International Studies, which had been funneling students into murky foreign missions with help from conservative alumni, but even then the university continued to serve as a recruitment grounds for the foreign-policy establishment.