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Maurice Cunningham is a political scientist with a deep interest in how Dark Money influences education policy. His motto is: “Dark Money never sleeps.” He is a master at following the money. He customarily blogs at a website called MassPoliticsProfs, but was kind enough to send me this post first.

He writes here about the groups pushing the attacks on critical race theory:

The Corporate Critical Race Theory Attack: Chaos is the Product

“The backlash” begins an opinion piece in Newsweek by Parents Defending Education outreach director Erika Sanzi, and these may be the most accurate two words published by those who are attacking “wokeness,” gender studies, and Critical Race Theory. The sad fact is that white backlash has a proven record of effectiveness in American politics and it is once again being employed in the service of right wing corporate interests. The end product desired has less to do with CRT than with spreading disruption, fear, and chaos across America’s most important democratic public institution, schools.

According to the Washington Post, as of June 24 CRT (a theory developed in law schools and not well known among most Americans) has exploded on Fox News. The term was heard on Fox only 132 times in 2020 but has been mentioned 1,860 times this year, escalating month by month. The narrative is that grassroots parents groups have discovered the threat CRT poses to their children in schools and have arisen organically across the country to form local parent groups, a movement noticed and captured by websites and the powerful Fox News. The truth is that of an oligarch-funded and coordinated campaign using time tested techniques.

Follow the Money

Over the past five years I’ve been following “education reform” groups created by billionaire investors with names like Families for Excellent Schools, Massachusetts Parents United, and National Parents Union which have presented diversity as their public face while attacking teachers. So when I saw the launch of Parents Defending Education on March 30 I took note because it follows a different path: white backlash aimed more at school boards, superintendents, and principals. The first thing to do when evaluating these groups is always, follow the money.

But as the financial backers of groups like PDE well know, public disclosure of funders will only come about nearly two years down the road, if then, in publicly available Form 990 tax returns for organizations with Internal Revenue Code 501(c)(3)status as charitable organizations. PDE president Nicole Neily has refused to disclose the organization’s donors when asked by media outlets. It’s not just that she won’t. She can’t. Disclosure would likely reveal ties to radical right funders tied into the Koch network and similar underwriters. We know this thanks to work done by PRWatch and from Sourcewatch at the Center for Media and Democracy. They show that Neily is a political operative at Koch network funded operations like the Independent Women’s Forum, Franklin Center, and Speech First.

The Speech First association is instructive. Neily is founding president of that non-profit as well. Sourcewatch has identified some of its funders as the Bader Family Foundation for $30,000, Fidelity Investments Charitable Gift Fund: $500,250, Judicial Education Project for $1,000,000, and National Philanthropic Trust: $500,000. The real check writers will probably never become known. Form 990s show that Neily is the sole employee, earning $161,000 in 2018 and $150,000 in 2019. Speech First brings lawsuits against universities for policies touching on race. For this, it paid the law firm Consovoy McMullen $950,000 in 2018, and to get the word out paid the Republican communications firm Creative Response Concepts $106,000. Boiled down, Speech First is a pass through that allows wealthy conservative donors to remain hidden while paying Consovoy McMullen to attack universities.

And who represents Parents Defending Education? Why, Consovoy McMullen. William Consovoy also represents Donald Trump and clerked for Justice Clarence Thomas. The firm is conservative legal royalty. PDE did not hire it after an especially successful bake sale.

Parents Defending Education, No Left Turn in Education, and Moms for Liberty

PDE launched its well-developed website featuring pages with links to its allies, most of which were branches of groups called No Left Turn in Education and Moms for Liberty. According to NBC, No Left Turn in Education was launched in 2020 when a parent from a Philadelphia suburb became enraged at her children’s school for teaching concepts of racism after the police murder of George Floyd. Elana Yaron Fishbein then sprang into action to attack wokeness and founded NLTE. In September she appeared on Fox’s Tucker Carlson program and the next day the group’s Facebook increased from about 200 followers to over 30,000 and there are now 30 chapters in 23 states.

But when I looked at local NLTE chapters’ Facebook pages linked to through the PDE site in April, I found sparse membership: Alabama, 7; Arkansas, 3; Delaware, 6; Iowa, 2; Idaho, 4; Indiana, 8; Michigan (Betsy DeVos home state), 13; Mississippi, 3; Montana, 2; North Dakota, 2; Massachusetts, 17; Hawaii, 1. All of the NLTE Facebook pages featured the same banner, a montage of diverse teens against a background of school lockers, each student smiling and engaged, not a pimple on their perfect teenage faces; probably models, most certainly not local students. As for Moms for Liberty, it too had sparse membership in its affiliates: Arizona, 17; Wright Co, Minnesota, 8; Corpus Christi Nueces, Texas, 70. Moms for Liberty’s creation story is similar to others in the anti-public education universe: “moms on a mission to stoke the fires of liberty.” The story goes that two parents became upset with their local schools and started up a parents group. It happens. It’s a lot more unusual for the two grassroots moms to then book former Fox host Megyn Kelly for a fundraiser with tickets running from General Admission of $50 up to Presenting Sponsor for $20,000 with perks including a photo with Ms. Kelly and corporate logo on print and online marketing materials.

From Parents Defending Education, No Left Turn in Education, Moms for Liberty and on to groups like National Parents Union, the creation stories are similar. A handful of disgruntled moms talk over their frustrations, determine to start their moms or parents group to seek change, and then in pour the millions of dollars; contracts are quickly signed with nationally recognized public relations firms and pollsters (one newly birthed charter school-tied group in Rhode Island immediately hired a Biden pollster); the head mom is booked on Fox or featured in national media outlets. Conservative outlets like The Federalist, Washington Times, Campus Fix, and most importantly Fox News amplify the misleading message.

How to Attack Educators in a Few Easy Steps

The tactics for going after K-12 educators did not spring up anew but have been adapted from successful attacks on college and university professors. Isaac Kamola has explained this in an important article titled Dear Administrators: To Protect Your Faculty from Right-Wing Attacks, Follow the Money. Kamola finds that groups like Campus Reform and Campus Fix, which pay conservative students as “reporters” to whistleblow on their professors, are funded by wealthy right wingers including Koch who wish to gain leverage over what is taught and researched at America’s universities. These attacks follow a common script. Something a professor says or writes in research, a lecture, or even on social media is grabbed and most often taken out of context; there is never an engagement with the actual intellectual product. (In Shadow Network: Media, Money, and the Secret Hub of the Radical Right, Anne Nelson shows that Campus Reform is tied into right wing clearing house organizations the Leadership Institute and Council for National Policy). The targets are often scholars of color, especially women, and their work focuses on race or inquiries into capitalism. The out of context remarks are then percolated through a right wing ecosystem which includes web sites funded by the same network and all the way up to Fox News. Results can be stark. After Campus Reform did a story on a speech by Princeton University professor Keenga-Yamahtta Taylor the piece was picked up by Fox; threats against Professor Taylor were so virulent she cancelled talks in Seattle and San Diego. After Campus Reform misrepresented remarks by Trinity College professor Johnny Williams the campus had to be shut down due to threats and Williams was unfairly placed on leave. So the radical right knows how to generate chaos. Parents Defending Education has refined the play book further.

PDE relies upon two modes of attack on schools (which may include charter as well as public schools). The first, often well covered in the media and with appearances on Fox, is individuals who inundate school districts with public records requests. The second involves anonymous attacks on school personnel, concealment guaranteed by guidance offered by PDE to assure their agents remain hidden.

NBC News reported on one now famous Fox-supported attack by an individual wielding public law requests. A Maine parent named Shawn McBreairty was disgruntled with his local schools and joined No Left Turn in Education. He has filed over 50 public records law request with his Maine school district, tying up education professionals serving the public for his individual crusade. In South Kingstown, RI a parent whose child is enrolled but not yet attending kindergarten in the town filed 200 public records law requests “seeking copies of middle and high school curricula, lists of all books related to gender available in the library and 10 years’ worth of harassment complaints and emails.” The district estimated it would take 300 hours to fulfill the request. Local officials were undoubtedly right in assessing the attack as an effort to disrupt public education and attack a public good. The Rhode Island parent was rewarded with an appearance on Fox. When districts try to resist the onslaught of requests, corporate spokespersons like PDE’s Sanzi are ready with pro-wrestling sincerity to whine—to Fox News—about the people’s right to know. These groups weaponize the very openness of government to undermine government.

In a forthcoming work, Kamola and co-author Ralph Wilson show how groups like Speech First use discovery in lawsuits to create a “nightmare for administrators and their general counsel.” PDE and allies are now using public records lawsnationwide to achieve the same goal against public school districts.

While the public records requests are designedly onerous and discouraging, at least educators can tell where the attacks are coming from. The second tactic promoted by PDE is much worse, to encourage anonymous attacks against educators.

Take a recent example involving the Boston suburb of Wellesley, Massachusetts. This was an anonymous complaint forwarded by PDE grumbling that Wellesley had violated civil rights laws by providing affinity rooms for students to process their emotions after anti-Asian attacks across the nation. Ms. Neily confessed she has no idea who submitted it to PDE or if anyone in Wellesley agrees with the complaint. This is a baked in design by PDE as we see from examining the operation’s website page that teaches How to Create “Woke At” Pages. It provides detailed instructions for how to set up “an anonymous, safe Instagram page.” First set up a Gmail account “that can’t be tied to you.” Gmail is recommended because the site creator will also need to set up “an anonymous Google Form . . . which allows you to receive anonymous tips” that shields the informant’s identity, even from the Woke At administrator. At all times “we recommend erring on the side of secrecy.”

The Woke At instructions encourage PDE’s local spies to check out social media pages of educators which may reveal woke attitudes. The Understanding Woke Jargon page catalogs terms like “social justice” or “antiracism” the group finds offensive. Questions to Ask School Officials offers gotcha questions that can be asked of woke school officials “with cameras rolling.”

Why the advice to always act with hidden identities? Because of the terrifying disposition of those “woke activists” who talk about “inclusion, equity, justice” but are really “divisive, toxic, and extreme.” PDE is one education organization that was absent on the day irony was taught, for it insists on secrecy while pretending it promotes transparency. Concealment is especially important “given how angry and retaliatory many woke activists get when criticized.” PDE understands that much of its audience consumes a heavy diet of Fox News. Research by Jeffrey M. Berry, James M. Glaser, and Deborah J. Schildkraut shows Fox’s “underlying strategy is to anger viewers by stoking their resentment of racial and ethnic minority groups” and building fear. For instance, after the images of George Floyd’s murder, which initially shocked even Sean Hannity, Fox repeatedly showed video of “rioting and looting by protestors, relying on film showing fires burning and Blacks running out of looted stores with stolen merchandise in their arms.” These images were repeatedly shown well beyond the first week, after which there was little new such behavior to report upon. But the coverage stokes ideas of lawlessness and fear.

Whether by an avalanche of public records requests or generating negative coverage from anonymous tipsters, PDE and its allies are in business to create disruption and chaos in public education.

Getting Results

As Kamola has shown with his work detailing the corporate backed assault on higher education, these tactics often work. They are now working at the K-12 level. Public records requests have tied up school boards and administrators. NBC reports that Washoe County, Nevada halted in person school board meetings “after residents filled a large auditorium and lobbed insults and threats of violence during the public comment portion.” When open meetings later convened in a smaller venue, many residents waited long hours in the hot sun to make their comments against CRT and anti-discrimination policies—including quite a fewwho do not even have students in the system. “During the most recent meeting, which lasted 11 hours, speakers railed at school board members, calling them Marxists, racists, Nazis and child abusers, among other epithets.” In Rockwood Illinois, the St. Louis Post dispatch reported, teachers called upon the school board and superintendent to protect them against “personal attacks and outright threats of violence.” In Camas, Washington, the state’s 2020 teacher of the year thanked the school board and administrators for defending her efforts to promote inclusion and access after some residents “railed against the school district’s ‘woke’ agenda, COVID-19 mask mandates, remote learning and racial justice and equity programs.”

After all, as No Left Turn Maine’s Shawn McBreairty said in an email to NBC News, “This is a war with the left, and in war, tactics and strategy can become blurry.”

As the corporate agitators behind all this understand, they are making public service exhausting and distasteful, a campaign to drive good community members away from serving. This isn’t an unfortunate byproduct. We’ve seen it at the university level. It’s intentional.

The Rise of the Right Wing Moms

In announcing PDE’s complaint against the Columbus, Ohio public schools for its willingness to address racism in the wake of the police shooting of 16-year-old Ma’Khia Bryant, Ms. Neily acknowledged that no Columbus parent had complained, but that PDE was just a concerned group of parents. “We just all work from home,” Neily told the Columbus Post-Dispatch. “We’re all working moms.”

That sounds cozy and homey but Neily is a well-compensated veteran of numerous right wing organizations, including not only Speech First but the Cato Institute. Sourcewatch reports that “Nicole Neily has worked for many Koch-affiliated groups.” Ms. Sanzi has worked for billionaire funded school privatization groups, also bringing home a hefty paycheck. According to research from Mercedes Schneider the Education Post, an online publication originally funded by Eli Broad, paid Sanzi $121,000 in 2016 and $131,000 in 2017. She is also a “senior visiting fellow” at the Fordham Institute.

This is another area where patterns are not immediately visible but things become more clear years down the road when Form 990s become available. What we see is that following the emergence of these organizations with their tales of concerned moms banding together is that the moms are actually political operatives or communications professionals being well paid. Take for example Keri Rodrigues, “mom-in-chief” of the Walton backed Massachusetts Parents United. One of the several creation stories is that Ms. Rodrigues (always identified as a former union organizer) and a few other mothers gathered in their local library and decided to start a parents group. Actually, Ms. Rodrigues had been state director for Families for Excellent Schools, which ran a losing ballot campaign to increase charter schools in Massachusetts in 2016. She is also a communications professional, having been a radio host. MPU and an affiliate paid Ms. Rodrigues over $388,000 in 2017-2018. But the mom-in-chief story has had some penetration.

When the CDC announced reopening guidelines for schools in May 2021 Ms. Rodrigues, now also of Walton and Koch backed National Parents Union, appeared on Fox News to accuse teachers unions of undue influence. The host accused “teachers unions of basically writing the guidelines” a claim that Ms. Rodrigues enthusiastically agreed with. There was no basis for that claim other than that the unions, like over fifty other advocacy groups, had offered comments to the CDC. But it was blown up by Republican senators from a letter provided by a Republican dark money group. And then on to Fox and the eagerMs. Rodrigues.

Thus we shouldn’t be too surprised by a recent Media Matters study that showed that a number of the concerned parents featured on Fox News criticizing CRT are actually Republican political operatives. Quisha King, an African American woman billed by Fox News as an “everyday American” who is “Northeast Florida co-chair of Moms for Liberty” and “mom of two daughters” is also a GOP political consultant who worked for the Republican National Committee in 2020. Though Fox News billed Ms. Neily as a parent fighting against CRT in schools, Media Matters added that she “has spent her entire career working in and for libertarian and conservative political advocacy organizations and think tanks . . . .” PDE senior fellow Elizabeth Schultz was noted by Fox’s Dana Perino as a former Fairfax County, Virginia school board member. But she is also a former Trump appointee to the Department of Education, under Betsy DeVos. Before being defeated for re-election to the school board Schultz was known for opposing “‘expanding the school system’s sex-education curriculum to include lessons on gender identity and transgender issues’ and supporting armed teachers in classrooms.”

Charles Koch’s Pincer Movement

Far right groups like Parents Defending Education are new born but billionaire funded corporate education reform groups like Massachusetts Parents United and National Parents Union have been around a bit longer. Families for Excellent Schools was successful in New York until its 2016 Massachusetts charter school campaign was badly beaten, its dark money donors were ordered to be disclosed by the state’s Office of Campaign and Political Finance, and its CEO was fired after #MeToo allegations surfaced. These groups often present themselves as leaning liberal, non-partisan but vaguely Democratic, featuring spokespersons who are women of color, and advocating for their privatization policies as being pro-civil rights. National Parents Union even released a statement defending Critical Race Theory on May 21, but it seems to have dropped the topic since. Why then would Charles Koch, a likely source of support for the right wing groups, also be funding National Parents Union?

But he is, through his Charles Koch Institute, which is partnered with the Walton Family Foundation in a joint venture called the Vela Education Fund. Vela dropped $700,000 on NPU to promote home schooling. NPU then spread Vela funds around in grants for home schooling. As Casey Parks explained in The New Yorker these foundations “advocate ‘school choice’—rerouting money and families away from traditional public schools through such means as charter schools, which are publicly funded but privately managed, and vouchers, which allow public-education dollars to be put toward private-school tuition.” NPU had been launched by the Walton Family Foundation to help in the Waltons quest to undermine teachers unions. Recognizing the opportunity presented by closed schools Vela formed and wrote the $700,000 check even though NPUhad been in business only a few months. Vela has pursued other such opportunities including funding the far right Home School Legal Defense Association.

Coincidentally or not in 2017 the civil rights-proclaiming Ms. Rodrigues and the radical right Ms. Sanzi were partners in another venture named Planet Mom, which featured a podcast and proposed radio show. In her paid position at Education Post Ms. Sanzi wrote of Ms. Rodrigues “I consider her a partner in this work. And a friend.” It’s a small planet, after all.

The point is not Critical Race Theory, or charter schools, virtual schools, or home schools. The point is to undermine public education, keep taxes low, spread doubt of the efficacy of public goods, and demolish institutions like unions and local school communities that make demands on the Waltons and Kochs of the nation. It is, as Nancy MacLean has said, to put democracy in chains. Diverse-presenting National Parents Union and white backlash Parents Defending Education serve the same cause.

Whither We Are Tending and What to Do About It

I hope my colleagues in academia continue to speak out about the intellectual contributions of Critical Race Theory and the fine efforts of K-12 educators to provide the kind of schooling all our students need—open and honest about the nation’s race and history and our ongoing challenges, including corporate promoted white backlash.

On the other hand, don’t expect any engagement from Nicole Neily or the anti-CRT bard Christopher Rufo, who has helped spike this ridiculous campaign. In a triumphant appearance at the Claremont Institute, Rufo described his annoyance at scholars trying to bait him into a discussion of what CRT really means and proclaimed “I don’t give a shit about this stuff.” (Nine minute mark)

As Isaac Kamola has urged, start with follow the money and pursue that relentlessly. There’s a reason groups like PDE and NPU can’t come clean about their funding sources and amounts and that reason is that they know the public is suspicious of the Kochs and Waltons of the world and what’s more, the public and America’s billionaires are on a different page on policy issues.

These are corporate generated right wing attacks. Say it. Name names.

Come awake to the threat. Recognize what this is and that isn’t just about wokeness or even education but something else Koch and the Waltons can’t say out loud: to destroy the capacity of people to coalesce together and fight for a better life for themselves, a project that offends oligarchs ideologically and threatens their power and pocketbooks. They focus on educationbecause schools have been a fertile locale for white backlash but also a source of great progress, because teachers unions are a barrier to them, and because local community organizations defy them.

That means that teachers unions, school boards, superintendents, principals, lunch workers, school bus drivers, custodians, business, parents and students—everyone who serves their local school community—have to recognize that they need to fight together against this assault. In other words, join together to take action—exactly what the Waltons, Kochs, and other radical right billionaires fear.

And stand up for a real education for all our children, not the white(wash) backlash being promoted by phony AstroTurf fronts like Parents Defending Education. Remember, fronts are fronting for someone and in this case, fronting for radical right billionaires.

Money never sleeps. Follow the money.

Maurice T. Cunningham is recently retired as an associate professor at the University of Massachusetts at Boston and a union member. He is the author of the book Dark Money and the Politics of School Privatization, forthcoming in 2022.

Here is an excellent suggestion from our reader Laura Chapman, whose original research and writing will always find a home here. We have already missed the first Thursday but perhaps TCM will do reruns:

For adults who are fans of Turner Classic Movies, TCM has introduced programing to examine stereotypes in films. This is in addition to programing on women who have and are making films, and many rarely seen films for Black history month.

The TCM experts for the current effort do not mince words and they use clips from many films (older and newer) that depict, for example, male violence against women as if perfectly acceptable, the slaughter of American Indians and ersatz appropriations of native clothing, black actors cast in yes-suh roles, white actors pretending to be black and so on.

This link shows which movies have been selected, the schedule for critical commentary about them, and introduces the experts in film and film studies who will be on camera for the series.
https://www.latimes.com/entertainment-arts/movies/story/2021-03-04/tcm-problematic-films-reframed

John Merrow is exasperated by the media narrative that it’s only the teachers’ unions that are blocking the reopening of schools.

Of course, students should be in real school, but schools must be safe for adults and students alike.

He writes that teachers should be vaccinated. And communities must prioritize what matters most in school, which is NOT testing.

He writes:

The giant lumbering beast known as the US Economy–akin to a conveyor belt with countless moving parts–wants public schools to reopen.  The beast needs workers, but right now too many adults are at home, supervising their children’s ‘remote learning.’  Open the schools, and the adults can go to work: it’s that simple….

But of course it isn’t simple.  Putting kids back in schools will allow adults to work, and that’s important, but it is what happens inside schools that matters more.  

A quick history lesson: We’ve always sent our children to school for three reasons: 1) Acquisition of knowledge, 2) Socialization, and 3) Custodial care.  The internet has turned that upside down because it puts infinite information at everyone’s fingertips wherever they happen to be and because thousands of apps allow for ‘socialization’ with anyone and everyone.  That left only custodial care as a vital school function, until the pandemic made even that impossible. 

However, students swimming in a sea of infinite information need guidance, because ‘information’ is not knowledge.  It takes a certain skill set to distinguish between wheat and chaff, and a certain value system to choose the wheat over the chaff.  Skilled teachers make that happen.

Socializing via apps, though convenient, is fraught with peril, because that person you believe to be your age and your gender might be an adult with evil intentions. Skilled teachers help students learn to discern. And skilled teachers see that students use this all-powerful technology for useful purposes.

But perhaps the major lesson of remote learning is that young people want and need to be with their peers.  Apps don’t cut it…and the kids are not alright.

The mental health consequences of prolonged isolation are becoming clearer by the day.  “Students are struggling across the board,” said Jennifer Rothman, senior manager for youth and young adult services at the nonprofit National Alliance on Mental Illness, to The Washington Post in January.  “It’s the social isolation, the loneliness, the changes in their routines.  Students who might never have had a symptom of a mental health condition before the pandemic now have symptoms.” 

If you read my blog last week, you were shocked by one reader’s response:  “John, I’m wondering if we could have a conversation sometime. I am passionate about this subject. Our 13-year old grandchild just committed suicide after return one single morning to virtual schooling. It was Monday, Jan. 4, first day back, after the holidays. They broke for lunch, Donovan wrote a note…. went outside, and shot himself.”

So when schools reopen, attention must be paid, not to catching up with the curriculum but to the needs of young people.

Now to the present: President Joe Biden has pledged to reopen schools by the end of his first 100 days, a monumental challenge.  Reopening schools is a complex issue, but–sadly and predictably–opportunistic politicians and some in the media are framing the issue as a conflict between the needs of students and the selfish wishes of teachers and, naturally, their unions.  

This false narrative hurts both groups...

What have school boards been doing?  Not much. The San Francisco School Board has spent months arguing whether to rename schools for people more admirable than Abraham Lincoln and George Washington, instead of preparing for reopening or pushing to make sure teachers would be vaccinated.  While that’s pathetically politically correct, the behavior of some school boards was borderline criminal, in at least one case allowing their family members to jump the vaccination line ahead of teachers!

And so, today, not even half of states have prioritized the vaccination of teachers and others who work with children in schools.  That’s an absolute disgrace.  As one teacher noted on Twitter, “…for us it’s been about the lack of care and preparedness of the school district, how they’ve treated the teachers and staff, the lack of communication, and the moving goalposts for how and when to reopen…”

So, yes, schools should reopen as fast as possible–but only after teachers have been vaccinated, classrooms have been provided with adequate ventilation and PPE, and schools have developed safety protocols. In some instances, this will require immediate attention to the physical condition of buildings, because there are public schools in America without hot running water!  

Experts have voiced concerns about what they call ‘Learning Loss,” which they tend to measure in months and sometimes years.  I hope that others find it offensive to define learning in terms of quantity rather than quality, but let’s save that for another day.  That said, it’s absolutely essential that adults stop obsessing about ‘learning loss.’  Cancel the damn standardized tests.  Meet the children where they are.  

Our giant lumbering economy wants schools reopened for another reason: It needs what our schools produce: high school graduates.  After all, America’s education system has been a reliable conveyor belt, moving students along for 12 years before dumping them out into society.  Higher education has come to depend on a fresh supply of close to 2 million freshmen each fall.  Branches of the military need recruits, and so on.

COVID has stopped the conveyor belt entirely in some places, and slowed it down considerably elsewhere, but I believe that many who are demanding that the conveyor belt be restarted are not thinking about either students or teachers. They want to get back to ‘normal.’

That ain’t happening, and we must embrace that reality.  This school year is unlike any other. For those students who have been able to stay on track, congratulations and Godspeed.  But for those whose lives have been turned upside down, you have not failed!  You shouldn’t have to go to summer school, have your ‘learning loss’ measured and published, or be held back.  

You should get a mulligan, a blame-free, no fault do-over.   

And finally, the interests of teachers and students are aligned. They may not sync up with the interests of higher education, restaurants, bars et cetera, but students and teachers are in this together.

John Merrowformer Education Correspondent, PBS NewsHour, and founding  President, Learning Matters, Inc.

The New York Daily News published messages released by Amazon to defend its decision to boot the right-wing Parler off its site.

Amazon sought to justify its shutdown of Parler on Thursday by sharing with a federal judge several deranged posts from the anti-social network.

Amazon attorney Ambika Doran said during a hearing in U.S. District Court in Seattle that the tech giant had no choice but to stop hosting Parler on company servers after the Jan. 6 riot at the U.S. Capitol.

“The content at issue … encourages rape, murder and torture,” Doran said. The lawyer filed examples of inflammatory, disturbing Parler posts in court, which she called “the tip of the iceberg.”

The posts showed Parler users discussing mass murder of liberals, extreme homophobia and transphobia, racism, and attacks on Amazon itself.

“On January 20 we need to start systematically assassinating #liberal leaders, liberal activists, #blm leaders and supporters, members of the #nba #nfl #mlb #nhl #mainstreammedia anchors and correspondents and #antifa. I already have news worthy events planned,” read one bloodthirsty post.

Parler is demanding that Amazon restore its services.

This is a clever farewell to @realDonald Trump, banished for life from Twitter, at last!

As someone said on Twitter in response, how will people know that they have been fired if they can’t read it on Trump’s Twitter feed?

Major newspaper editorial boards love standardized testing. They write from a position of complete ignorance of how useless these tests are and how little information of value they produce. Recently the New York Times came out in favor of resuming the spring tests–even though the scores won’t be returned for several months–and now the Washington Post has endorsed the annual testing.

Peter Greene explains why they are wrong. If parents want to know how their children are doing, they should ask their children’s teachers. They know far more than a standardized test will show and can answer without waiting for six months.

At the end of a shameful day, in which Trump claimed falsely (again) that he had won in a landslide, Twitter announced that it was suspending him—but for only 12 hours. Twitter warned Trump that his account might be permanently blocked.

Twitter locks Trump’s account for 12 hours and warns he could get kicked off permanently

President Trump took to Twitter on Wednesday to call for calm mere hours after he sought to rally his supporters outside the U.S. Capitol, sending mixed messages that incited real-world violence and forced congressional lawmakers into a lockdown.

Since he can’t tweet without lying, his account should be permanently suspended.

The Washington Post reported that FOX Business News commentator, Lou Dobbs, a big fan of Trump’s, was compelled to air a segment retracting his statements about a voting machine vendor, under threat of a lawsuit.

In addition, Newsmax apologized fully for its slanders against the two major voting machine companies, stating that they were not part of any conspiracy to rig the election. Please watch this. It’s unintentionally hilarious and makes mincemeat of the Sidney Powell-Rudy Guiliani conspiracy theories. Amazing what the threat of a lawsuit can accomplish, especially when the defendant has knowingly lied.

Here is the Lou Dobbs story:

Something surprising happened Friday night on Lou Dobbs’s top-rated show on the Fox Business Network.

Dobbs, an opinion host and conservative ally of President Trump who has consistently raged over the past month that the president was robbed of a second term by a rigged election, introduced a segment that calmly debunked several accusations of fraud that Rudolph W. Giuliani and other Trump supporters have lobbed against the election technology company Smartmatic.

“There are lots of opinions about the integrity of the election, the irregularities of mail-in voting, of election voting machines and voting software,” Dobbs told his viewers before introducing Edward Perez, an expert with the nonprofit Open Source Election Technology Institute, to give “his assessment of Smartmatic and recent claims about the company.”

Perez then appeared in an apparently pretaped segment, where he shot down various conspiracy theories in response to questions from an off-camera, unidentified voice — not Dobbs’s.

The segment, it turns out, was in response to a 20-page legal demand letter that was sent this month by Smartmatic to Fox News Media. Similar letters went to Fox’s smaller competitors on the right, Newsmax and One America News. The letters demanded “a full and complete retraction of all false and defamatory statements and reports” aired by the network in its coverage of the Nov. 3 presidential election.

Specifically, the company charged: “Fox News has engaged in a concerted disinformation campaign against Smartmatic. Fox News told its millions of viewers and readers that Smartmatic was founded by [the late Venezuelan President] Hugo Chávez, that its software was designed to fix elections, and that Smartmatic conspired with others to defraud the American people and fix the 2020 U.S. election by changing, inflating, and deleting votes.”

Not only are these claims false, the company said, it played only a relatively minor role in this year’s presidential election, as a contractor for the election process in Los Angeles County, Calif.

In the legal letter, Smartmatic included segments from Dobbs’s prime-time show as examples of “false and defamatory statements/implications,” with some comments coming from Dobbs himself — Dobbs said on Nov. 18 that the company consists of “left-wing radicals” — and others from guests such as Giuliani and onetime Trump campaign attorney Sidney Powell.

Fox News confirmed to The Washington Post on Saturday that the fact-checking segment seen on Dobbs’s show Friday night will also air on “Justice with Judge Jeanine,” hosted on Saturday night by Jeanine Pirro and “Sunday Morning Futures,” hosted on Sunday morning by Maria Bartiromo, the shows mentioned in the demand letter. (Smartmatic had demanded that the corrections “must be published on multiple occasions” and must be made during prime-time shows, so as to “match the attention and audience targeted with the original defamatory publications….”)

In the segment, Perez clarified that Smartmatic is, “for all intents and purposes,” a completely separate company from Dominion Voting Systems, another voting technology company that has faced unsubstantiated charges of wrongdoing. In a Nov. 12 appearance on Dobbs’s show, Giuliani claimed that Dominion is owned by Smartmatic; on Nov. 16, Dobbs said that “Dominion has connections” to Smartmatic, while also claiming the since-debunked theory that Smartmatic “had ties to” Venezuela’s Chavez.

During Friday night’s fact-checking segment, the questioner asked Perez: “Have you seen any evidence of Smartmatic sending U.S. votes to be tabulated in foreign countries?”

This appeared to be a reference to Giuliani’s Nov. 12 claim on the show that with Smartmatic software, “the votes actually go to Barcelona, Spain.” Perez responded, “No, I’m not aware of any evidence that Smartmatic is sending U.S. votes to be tabulated in foreign countries.”

It is unclear whether the fact-checking segment fulfilled Smartmatic’s demand for a retraction. A spokesperson for the company declined to comment Saturday. In the legal demand letter, Smartmatic said that the comments made on Fox will cost the company “hundreds of millions, if not billions, of dollars” in value.

Thus far, Fox appears to be the only network that has publicly made amends in response to Smartmatic’s complaint. Newsmax, which began referring to Joe Biden as “president-elect” only on Monday, released a statement responding to Smartmatic’s demand letter by placing the burden of blame on the guests who expressed those views on air.

This is what accountability looks like.

The organization Fairness & Accuracy in Reporting writes that the New York Times has become a “cheerleader” for reopening the schools as the COVID surges to new heights.

it is strange indeed because there is evidence to support reopening and equally impressive evidence against reopening schools. Yet the New York Times consistently lands on one side: reopen the schools.

Ari Paul of FAIR writes:

We’re still dealing with a pandemic of biblical proportions, and the scientific community is still conflicted about how schools reopening fits into the crisis. Anthony Fauci, one of the nation’s top infectious disease experts, favors school reopening (Business Insider11/29/20)—as does the American Academy of Pediatrics, though it notes that “the current widespread circulation of the virus will not permit in-person learning to be safely accomplished in many jurisdictions.”

But the idea that children are not vectors, or are merely low-risk vectors, for spread of the coronavirus is in dispute (Healthline9/24/20AP9/22/20). The Journal of the American Medical Association (7/29/20) reported “a temporal association between statewide school closure and lower Covid-19 incidence and mortality,” saying that school closures between March 9 and May 7 were associated with a 62% relative decline in Covid incidence per week and a 58% decline in deaths per week.

Nature (11/16/20) cited JAMA’s finding to bolster its comprehensive statistical review of governmental “non-pharmaceutical interventions” against Covid, which found that school closures were one of “the most effective NPIs” in curbing the spread of the disease. A report in US News and World Report (12/2/20) based on data compiled by the Covid Monitorproject on the coronavirus in K–12 schools  concluded that “the data suggests schools are NOT safe and DO contribute to the spread of the virus—both within schools and within their surrounding communities.”

And that’s partially why parents and teachers are so worried about de Blasio’s plan. Individual schools in the city have to deal with budget shortfallsdeteriorating buildings and lack of supplies in the best of times, and now they suddenly must rapidly and safely implement in-person teaching. And as many New York schools advocates, like one-time gubernatorial candidate Cynthia Nixon, have argued, reopening schools tends to benefit whiter communities, as whiter, more affluent schools tend to have more resources to adapt to the current environment.

Paul identifies Times’ reporter Eliza Shapiro as purveyor of a consistent anti-union, anti-teacher perspective, who consistently supports reopening and ignores the voices of teachers who complain about the lack of funding for protective measures for both students and teachers.

Paul concludes that the New York Times, the newspaper of record, “should be playing a much more balanced and compassionate role.”

Sam Wineburg and Nadav Ziv, professor and student at Stanford University, maintain that it is crucial to teach students how to recognize misinformation, a point that the recent election made clear. The Republican Party repeatedly called Democratic candidates “radical socialists” and smeared any proposal to improve the lives of people as “socialism.”

They wrote in the Los Angeles Times:

The 2020 election has once again demonstrated how easy it is to spread misinformation online. And universities across the U.S. are failing in teaching students how to identify it. Many colleges offer students guides to evaluate the trustworthiness of websites. But too many of them base their advice on a report from 1998. That’s nine years before the first iPhone, and 18 years before Russian interference sparked an urgent discussion on how we interpret information online.

There’s something deeply wrong with using advice on the internet of 20 years ago to teach students how they should interact with the internet of today. That demands 21st century skills. 

In a report released last month that we co-authored for the Stanford History Education Group, we saw what happens when educators provide students with outdated advice. Most of the 263 college students we tested floundered when trying to discern fact from fiction online.

Students viewed a post of a “news story” from the Seattle Tribune, a satirical site whose masthead proudly proclaimed that “any resemblance to the truth is purely coincidental.” Two-thirds failed to identify the story as satirical.

On another task, students examined a site offering “nonpartisan” research that argued against raising the minimum wage. The site is actually run by a PR firm that also represents the restaurant industry. Nine in 10 students never made that connection.

Why are intelligent students falling for misinformation they could easily identify with a quick search? It’s not that they lacked strategies. It’s that the strategies deployed were forged during the internet’s Paleolithic era. To students’ detriment, many of these strategies remain prominent on colleges’ and universities’ guides for web credibility.

Students displayed an almost religious faith in the meaning of domains — particularly dot-orgs. “Reliable sources have .org at the end of the URL,” said one sophomore. Numerous college internet guides suggest that dot-orgs are credible because they are restricted to nonprofits. That’s just plain wrong. Anyone can purchase or acquire a dot-org, including for-profit companies such as Craigslist and hate groups such as Stormfront.

Students similarly turned to a site’s “About” page to determine credibility. One prominent university says an About page can “help determine a mission, point of view, or agenda.” A media outlet tells readers to be skeptical if the About page’s language is “melodramatic and seems overblown.” But dispassionate language is just as dangerous when it confers legitimacy on a shady site. Students should be told that, like Instagram profiles, About pages present curated portraits of how people and organizations want to be perceived.

One of the most common tools for teaching web credibility is called the CRAAP test (standing for Currency, Relevance, Authority, Accuracy and Purpose), popularized by a librarian at Cal State Chico. Versions of it are used by universities across the United States, including at other schools in the Cal State and University of Californiasystems.

The CRAAP test assumes that websites are like print texts — the best way to evaluate them is to read them carefully. Except skilled web searchers do the opposite. When professional fact-checkers land on an unfamiliar site, their first move is to leave it by opening new tabs and checking other sources.

There’s good news too. Our study shows that students who followed the same method as professional fact-checkers upped their chances for success. They learned that the Seattle Tribune was fake news and discovered that the “nonpartisan” Employment Policies Institute was managed by a PR firm that also represents the restaurant industry and opposes raising the minimum wage.

Some institutions, including Rowan University and the University of Louisville, are creating materials based on what fact-checkers do. Their lesson plans equip students with strategies to be intelligent digital consumers. And even modest interventions — in one case just 150 minutes in two college classes — can lead to marked improvements.

We’re in the midst of an infodemic that imperils our students’ ability to make informed decisions. Changing course will require multiple tactics. First and foremost, we need to cut the CRAAP and stop teaching ineffective strategies. We need to create a menu of regularly updated courses that teach students how to recognize misinformation, empowering them to be engaged and thoughtful citizens.

Additionally, we need to work together across departments and specializations rather than mainly putting this challenge on the shoulders of college librarians. Overhauling a 20th century curriculum for a digital 21st century requires a group effort.

Doctors who develop a patient’s treatment plan without considering medical advances are negligent. And universities are derelict when they teach or provide source evaluation strategies without considering how today’s internet functions.

Because when anti-vaccine content goes mainstream, when Holocaust deniers peddle digital pseudo-histories, and when issues such as gerrymandering and police brutality are litigated online, no one can afford to shelter in place.

Sam Wineburg is a professor of education at Stanford University. His latest book is “Why Learn History (When It’s Already on Your Phone.)” Nadav Ziv is a junior majoring in international relations at Stanford.