Education

How the GOP’s rush to block Biden from forgiving student debt backfired

Over the last two years, Republicans argued that President Biden, who made a campaign promise to cancel student debt, does not have legal authority to fulfill that pledge, insisting that the tens of millions of Americans currently crushed by student loans should be forced to pay them down. But now, amid new reports that Biden is considering a partial jubilee, Republicans are backing a bill that would prevent the president from pulling the trigger – a tacit acknowledgment Biden appears to have the power to finally make good on his promise.

On Wednesday, five Senate Republicans introduced the "Stop Reckless Student Loans Action Act," a measure that would end Biden's ability to continue suspending debt payments (for debtholders of a certain income) and prohibit the president from canceling the debt altogether in the case of a national emergency.

The bill's sponsors – Sens. John Thune, R-S.D., Richard Burr, R-N.C., Mike Braun, R-Ind., Bill Cassidy, R-La., and Roger Marshall, R-Kansas – have attempted to frame the measure as a bulwark for American taxpayers.

"As Americans continue to return to the workforce more than two years since the pandemic began, it is time for borrowers to resume repayment of student debt obligations," Thune said in a statement. "Taxpayers and working families should not be responsible for continuing to bear the costs associated with this suspension of repayment. This common-sense legislation would protect taxpayers and prevent President Biden from suspending federal student loan repayments in perpetuity."

Braun has meanwhile claimed that a jubilee would force people without college degrees to "pick up the tab" for graduates.

"This transfer of wealth is not a move to 'advance equity,' but rather a taxpayer handout to appease far-left activists," he said.

The Republican-led measure comes just weeks after Biden extended his student loan repayment pause for the sixth time over the course of his administration. According to the Federal Reserve, Biden has saved borrowers, who hold roughly $1.7 trillion debt, about $5 billion in interest a month. Those savings have been a lifeline for over 40 million student debtholders, 11.1% of whose loans prior to the pandemic were in default or delinquent by at least 90 days.

Toward the beginning of Biden's presidency, many Republicans and establishment Democrats were adamant that the president could not forgive student debt by executive order. Some experts suggested that only Congress could rubber-stamp such a move, in part because it was the legislature – not the president – that appropriated the funds loaned out to borrowers.

But now, with the GOP waging a pre-emptive counteroffensive amid reports that Biden might relieve the debt, there's more reason to believe that the president has that very authority, as The American Prospect's David Dayen wrote this week.

"There would be no need for such [the GOP's] bill if there was not already authority granted by Congress to the executive branch to suspend, defer, or cancel student loan payments," Dayen argued. "The bill represents an effort to claw that authority back, or at the very least clarify the statute to remove all doubt."

Republicans appear to be targeting provisions contained within the HEROES Act of 2003, an amendment to the Higher Education Act that "allows the secretary of education to waive or modify any requirement or regulation applicable to the student financial assistance programs" in a time of national emergency.

The Stop Reckless Student Loans Action Act would prohibit the president from using the HEROES Act to pause repayments for any longer than 90 days. It would also means-test these pauses and make them subject to the Congressional Review Act, an esoteric law that allows the legislature to overturn actions taken by federal agencies, like the Department of Education.

To be sure, it's unlikely that the Stop Reckless Student Loans Action Act will be approved by a Democratic-majority Senate, paving the way for Biden to leverage the HEROES act without opposition. But even then, Biden will undoubtedly face a deluge of legal challenges, which could stop a jubilee in its tracks.

At present, very little legal precedent exists on whether Biden has the unilateral power to forgive student debt. No president before him has attempted the move, and "no court has considered where the outer boundaries of the Secretary's HEROES Act authorities lie," as the Congressional Research Services wrote last year.

Luke Herrine, Yale Law Ph.D. who has studied the legality around a potential jubilee, describes the predicament as "a vague terrain."

"Who would sue? I mean, that's the real question," Herrine said. "The [debt] servicers are probably the most plausible, but there are a number of problems with them having standing [...] They are not guaranteed any amounts of payments under their contracts with the Department of Education, so it's not really clear what their claim is."

There's also the question of whether sweeping debt relief would qualify as a mere "modification" or "waiver," as the Congressional Research Services noted. In the 1992 case MCI Telecommunications Corp. v. AT&T, the Supreme Court declined to defer to the Federal Communications Commission's interpretation of what the company felt was a modification to its tariff policies.

"If a court deemed the HEROES Act sufficiently analogous to the statute in MCI, it might conclude that the power to 'modify any statutory or regulatory provision applicable to the' Title IV programs likewise does not authorize the Secretary to make fundamental changes to statutes or regulations," the Congressional Research Services wrote.

And all of this legal analysis, Herrin said, will have to be weighed against the "political calculus" of issuing a jubilee whose economic implications are still ill-defined.

"First of all, do we think this is good policy? Is it regressive or is it progressive? Is it good politically?" Herrine explained. "I think that's the calculus that's really changed over the past few months."

Biden's pause on student debt repayments is set to expire on May 1. On Monday, Biden indicated to the Congressional Hispanic Caucus that he is open to both extending the repayment suspension and wiping away a portion of the debt, according to The Washington Post.

"I feel very confident that he is pushing on his team to do something, and to do something significant," Rep. Tony Cárdenas, D-Calif., a member of the caucus, told the Post. "That's my feeling.t

Liberty University’s handling of sexual assaults under investigation by Department of Education

ProPublica is a Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative newsroom. Sign up for The Big Story newsletter to receive stories like this one in your inbox.

The federal Department of Education has begun investigating Liberty University’s handling of student reports of sexual assault. In a statement to ProPublica, the school pledged its “full cooperation” with the investigation.

Last October, ProPublica revealed how the school, which was founded by evangelist Jerry Falwell, had discouraged students who tried to report being sexually assaulted. Some students who came forward were encouraged to sign forms acknowledging they might have broken Liberty’s moral code of conduct, “The Liberty Way.” Others described being encouraged to pray instead of reporting their cases.

Federal law requires that universities receiving federal funds properly handle claims of sexual assault. Liberty students receive hundreds of millions of dollars in federal aid. Following our story, senators urged the U.S. Department of Education to investigate.

Liberty students told ProPublica that federal agents have been at the school’s campus in Lynchburg, Virginia, this week. In an email viewed by ProPublica, a Department of Education official reached out to student advocates to arrange meeting times. An agency spokesperson declined to comment, citing a policy not to discuss ongoing investigations.

“Liberty University welcomes the U.S. Department of Education’s review of our Clery Act compliance program,” the university said in its statement to ProPublica. The federal Clery Act requires schools to inform students who report sexual assaults about the option of going to law enforcement and to assist in that reporting if necessary.

Sen. Tim Kaine, D-Va., one of the senators who had called for the investigation, praised the government’s move. “I’m glad the Department of Education is investigating Liberty’s handling of sexual assault,” he said in a statement to ProPublica. “I hope the Department looks into it thoroughly.”

In another development, an unnamed former Liberty University student filed a federal lawsuit against the school on Wednesday, claiming the university failed to properly investigate after she reported a rape to school authorities a year ago. The plaintiff also alleged that when she reported being sexually assaulted, she was penalized by the school for violating The Liberty Way, because she had been at a party where alcohol was consumed.

A spokesperson for Liberty declined to comment on the suit.

In November, two weeks after ProPublica’s investigation, Liberty pledged to launch an “independent and comprehensive review” of the school office tasked with handling discrimination and abuse. The school has not responded to ProPublica’s request for an update on the status of that review.

How the pandemic exposed the failures of the American education system

Frida Berrigan, Investing in the Pentagon, Not Our Children

The United States is a war state of the strangest sort. Your taxes go to war — in this century, losing wars — in ever more extravagant amounts. There’s simply no end to it. In fact, it’s safe to say that investing yet greater sums in the military-industrial complex is about the only subject on which congressional Republicans and Democrats seem capable of agreement (though even there, the Republicans are demanding more, much more!).

Meanwhile, as TomDispatch has recorded over all these years, this is a country that seems to be coming apart at — okay, I’m an editor, but I still can’t resist using the same-sounding word twice in this sentence — yes, the seams. If you don’t believe me, ask Trump appointee Kathryn Kimball Mizelle, the Florida District Court “judge” (and I put that word in quotes because she’s hardly more of a judge than I am) who lifted the national travel mask mandate, once again splitting this country in fervent disagreement and, it being in the Trump tradition, undoubtedly killing some of us in the process.

So here we are, more than two years into a pandemic estimated to have done in up to 15 million people globally, with cases and hospitalizations once again on the rise in the United States. In response, the country’s letting down its guard. What else is new? I have the feeling that what this society needs is attention from someone like the husband of today’s author and TomDispatch regular Frida Berrigan. He’s a “wellness interventionist” — a term I had never heard before — in our public schools, which, as she tells us (and she’s not alone at TomDispatch in that), are an increasing mess. Who could be surprised in a country that would never invest in public education, as she makes all too clear, the way it does in its military. Of course, given this country’s record at war in this century, perhaps that’s a good thing. Who knows anymore? Not me! Tom

A School System Goes to Hell and Back Again – A Pandemic Year of Hope, Trauma, and Tragedy, Up Close and Personal

A kid spat on my husband Patrick yesterday. That sentence just keeps running through my head. The student was up on a windowsill at school and, when instructed to come down, he spat.

It’s part of Patrick’s job not to take that — the most personal of insults and an almost universal expression of disrespect — personally. He knew enough about that boy and his sad story to see the truth of the maxim “hurt people hurt.” In this case, it was also a matter of “disrespected kids disrespect.” So, he handled it and his emotional response to the grossness of being spit on, too. He got that kid down and back into class. Then he cleaned himself up and went on with his day.

This is not the first time he’s been spit on this year and it probably won’t be the last. It isn’t even the worst. Once, he was so covered in spittle he had to go home in the middle of the day to shower and change clothes. And mind you, this is all happening during the coronavirus pandemic and the mandatory mask-wearing that is supposed to keep his school safe (at least from the virus).

Taking the Time

My husband’s official job title — and I’ll bet you didn’t even know such a job existed — is Wellness Interventionist. (Another school calls his position the Feelings Teacher). He works at one of our Connecticut town’s four public elementary schools, trying to keep things from getting overheated. He attempts to intervene in conflicts between kids before they come to a head. He leads class-circle discussions about emotional health, and helps students find more complex and nuanced ways than just anger or derision to express their feelings. They are supposed to seek him out for help navigating conflicts and repairing relationships.

There’s a jargonistic term for what he does: “restorative practices and social-emotional learning.” Because he works in a bureaucracy, you won’t be surprised to know that these terms have been reduced to the acronyms RP and SEL. However fast those may be to say, though, the work itself takes time, lots and lots of time, and time is the one thing my husband seldom has in his fast-moving school days with almost 500 kids needing attention.

He’ll sit down with two kids at odds with each another and just as they get to the crux of the matter, a call comes in over his walkie talkie that a student has “eloped” (the term of art for escaping the building) and is running towards the road. He’ll be about to connect with a youngster struggling with too many grown-up-sized problems at home, when a teacher urgently calls him to a classroom to help manage a fourth grader’s water-bottle-throwing tantrum.

What choice does he have? In that case, he promised the student with the home problems that he’d continue their conversation at lunch and sprinted for the classroom. Patrick entered the room with a smile on his face. In a calm voice he said, “Okay, friends, we are going to give X some space now, so please go with your teacher to the library.” He helped her usher the boy’s fearful, dumbstruck classmates out of the room. “See you in a little bit,” he said in his most reassuring voice, before turning to that flailing, furious youngster.

With the rest of the students gone, the temper tantrum was no longer a performance and so the two of them ended up working for almost an hour cleaning up the mess. As they set tables upright, wiped up spilled water, and taped torn posters back on walls, Patrick got the kid talking about the problems that had all too literally exploded out of his small body. No, my husband couldn’t fix them, but he offered a little perspective and some tools for managing anger more constructively. He then reached out to the school’s psychiatrist and social worker, while offering support to the family.

And yes, I may not be the most objective witness, but Patrick is really good at his job — patient, friendly, and ready to help. When he needs to restrain kids intent on hurting themselves or others, he does so with a sense of moderation and equanimity right out of the “safety care” training manual.

His problem, though, is time in a school and a system that, during the pandemic, hasn’t had enough teachers or para-educators or aides — and, all too typically, is losing more of them. The school’s psychiatrist just left for a better (less dangerous) job and the principal recently announced that she’s leaving at the end of the school year. There are a dozen teachers looking for new jobs or planning on early retirement. And yes, there are other staff trained to deal with aspects of his job, but it’s hard because too many of them aren’t fully capable of dealing with the physical demands of the job. He has colleagues who are pregnant, smaller than some of the fourth graders, or older enough not to want to risk an injured back or knee from chasing or restraining kids.

A Failure for Sure — But Whose?

All too often these days, my husband comes home sad, tired, and dispirited. Unfortunately, his feelings and experiences are just one person’s tale in the sweeping epic of a failing and floundering school system. Or maybe it’s not just that system, but our whole society.

You probably won’t be surprised to know that public schools have been in perpetual crisis for a long time. Fill in the blank for the calamity of your choice: from once-upon-a-time segregated schools and federal agents escorting Black youngsters to school to today’s fights over which bathroom kids should use and who plays on what volleyball team. Schools have long been the culture war’s battlefield of choice.

Why is there public education and what is its purpose? If the original system was built and funded at public expense to prepare the next generation of factory workers, today’s system is there so that parents can work. Covid-19 revealed that sad truth. When schools shut down, so does part of the economy. These days, they also provide a whole array of social support for families badly in need, often including food, clothes, health care, and access to technology.

The pandemic shutdowns revealed failures and weaknesses in a threadbare social system, but it did allow certain strengths to shine through as well. For one thing, the commitment of so many teachers, para-educators, and support staff, often under remarkably difficult circumstances, should be considered a marvel. Our educators are the under-appreciated, underpaid, undervalued superheroes of the Covid era. They transitioned to a new medium of education, the virtual classroom, and figured out how to mobilize the sort of resources that students and their families need just to keep going. School buses delivered computers, lunches, and dinners. Teachers made themselves available after hours to walk families through the new technology of schooling, even though they often had kids of their own and elders to care for as well. And they did it all for far too long amid the Trump administration’s dismal culture wars!

They worked on an emergency, pedal-to-the-metal footing for three semesters before going back to in-person instruction in the fall of 2021, with masks, plexiglass barriers, and the constant threat of shutdowns. They started the school year stressed and tired, and now, in April 2022, they’re exhausted.

Rage or Gratitude (or Both?)

You would think all of this would make a deep impression on my own children, one in second grade and the other in fourth, who can sometimes see their father in the hallways of their school. When it comes to school, though, our two kids are in their own world — one of new books and good friends. At dinner, when we say grace, they’re forever praising their teachers. As far as they know, school is going great. I wouldn’t have it any other way, so out of their earshot, Patrick and I try to talk through his hard days.

In the face of it all, I feel both inchoate rage and extravagant gratitude. The rage is easier. Patrick is dealing with many layers of trauma and tragedy all at once in the minds and bodies of five to 12-year-olds. It should surprise no one that, after 18 months of virtual “learning” and social isolation, kids are having a hard time reacclimating.

Educators don’t know everything that happened to every kid between March 2020 and September 2021, but they know enough to be sure that it was often bleak: many had family members who lost jobs or even died. Some moved into far smaller living spaces with more people or found themselves left alone for long periods of time with just the Internet and all its dark corners for company.

I was so relieved when our kids went back to school, but I wished that more time had been spent on reconnection, community rebuilding, and healing. Of course, I wasn’t in charge and had to watch helplessly as, in September 2021, they instantly went back to standardized testing.

I blame the school system for charging full steam ahead over the minds and bodies of the youngest, most vulnerable members of our community. Yet I’m grateful as well. It’s so confusing! In spite of everything, my kids are so happy to be back and I find myself surprised, impressed, and moved by what they bring home to share.

Time Is Money

Everyone has ideas about how to improve our schools and can point a finger at those they blame for the failures in that system: absent or omnipresent parents, video games and social media, cops in schools (as symbols of public safety or emblems of the “school-to-prison” pipeline), and that’s just to begin down an endless list.

Wherever you want to lay the blame, the solution isn’t hard to find, it’s just expensive.

An administrator told Patrick that the way to fix our schools would be to have each teacher and aide deal with a class of just 12 students, with plenty of time for exercise, recess, and the arts. Indeed, that would undoubtedly fix many of the problems Patrick faces daily, because so much of his work involves putting out fires long after they’ve broken out. In a class of 12, a teacher would be able to give any smoldering kid attention — and some choices.

However, we already do invest a lot of money in our schools with anything but the greatest results. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, the United States spent $14,100 per elementary and secondary student in 2017 — 37% more than the average of $10,300 paid by member countries of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), a group of 38 “highly developed” wealthy nations. On that list, only Luxembourg, Austria, and Norway seem to spend more than the U.S. does, but the academic performance numbers of many of those countries are so much better than ours.

Why? To explore the all-too-complicated answer to that question, you would undoubtedly have to dive into this country’s brutal history of the transatlantic slave trade and racism, Calvinist notions of who deserves to succeed, and so many other factors. But given my own background, I tend to think about it in terms of Washington’s military budget — in terms, that is, of how poorly we invest staggering sums of our taxpayer dollars. After all, it’s not just how much you spend, it’s how you spend it! In our case, prodigiously on war and preparations for more of it, rather than on our children.

The United States spends so much more on its military than any other country (more than the next 11 countries combined, according to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute) and we still aren’t safer, not faintly so. When we “invest” more than $800 billion annually in the military-industrial complex, as President Joe Biden proposes to do in 2023, there are a lot of things we can’t afford that would actually make us safer. Money wasted on the military doesn’t get spent on mental health — unsurprisingly, the man who attacked that Brooklyn subway car, injuring 23 people, suffered from mental illness — and it doesn’t get spent on gun-safety measures either. According to the Gun Violence Archive, more than 12,000 people have been killed by guns so far this year alone in this disastrously over-armed nation of ours. How can we even say that we’re a nation at peace, given the endless violence and mass killings that embroil us?

And guns aren’t the only thing killing us either. While we spend so much on military infrastructure, we don’t repair the rest of our infrastructure adequately. The American Society of Civil Engineers gives that civil infrastructure (roads, bridges, parks, water systems, etc.) a C-minus grade and estimates the spending needed there at $2.59 trillion. Finally, military spending hampers our ability to respond to genuine threats to safety and security like the coronavirus pandemic, which has already killed nearly a million Americans (and likely many more than that).

Education suffers, too. While the U.S. toolbox may be full of hammers, kids aren’t nails. And while federal education spending is relatively high, it’s spent all too politically instead of going where it’s most needed. Take New London, Connecticut, where I live, for example. I looked up what we get per student per year and it was more than I thought: $16,498 (with $1,210 coming from the federal government and the rest from the state and local taxes).

Nonetheless, we’re a poor community. The median income for a household in New London is about $47,000, well below the national average, and we have a homeownership rate of less than 40%. So many families in our school district qualify for free or reduced lunch that they just give every kid free lunch (and breakfast and a snack, too) without any paperwork. A lot of the students in our public schools are “English Language Learners” (ELL), meaning they speak another language at home and need additional support to learn the material in math or social studies as they are also learning English. Many of them also have “Individualized Education Plans” (IEPs) indicating that, with an attention deficit or learning disability, they need extra support and accommodation to learn. A not-so-small minority of students are ELL with IEPs. All that adds up to a lot of need and a lot of extra expense.

We should get more resources because our needs are high, but perversely enough, the needier a school district is, the fewer resources it gets, because in so many parts of the country education spending is pegged to property taxes. Chester, Connecticut, is just 20 miles away from here, but it might as well be in another world. Their schools spend $24,492 per student and have very few English-language learners in that very white small community.

In our town, until the pandemic shut down the schools, one of the elementary schools did double duty as a food pantry once a month. The food line would then snake around the building, including parents, grandparents, and people coming straight from work (among them, custodians, cooks, and teachers from that very building). No one got paid enough to turn down a free box of food toward the end of the month.

I helped out there sometimes and one thing struck me: the news media never showed up. Not a single reporter. That line of 200 or more people who needed food badly enough to spend a few hours there at the end of a workday just wasn’t a big enough deal. If doctors had lined up around the hospital in a similar fashion, or engineers and scientists employed at our local weapons manufacturer, General Dynamics, maybe that would have been news. But poor schools, poor people… nothing new there.

It’s Not Fair

With his limited resources, Patrick is part social worker, part social connector, part bouncer, part enforcer, and part small-group facilitator. An administrator who makes three times his salary saw him in action recently and said, “We should have five of you!” And she was right. That school does need more people like him. Her tone, though, was wistful, as if she were hoping for a unicorn for Christmas. Of course, having the resources to pay people who are going to help create the conditions under which children will learn in an optimal fashion shouldn’t be a fairy tale.

That kid on the windowsill probably needed more than any school could give him. He probably needed a grief counselor and a psychiatrist, a safe place to live and a good night’s sleep, glasses, shoes that fit, and a warmer jacket, too. And the one thing he knew for sure was that he wouldn’t get what he needed and it pissed him off. In that moment, I suspect school stuff was far from his mind. He undoubtedly wasn’t worrying about his math scores or his reading level. My best guess is that he wasn’t thinking about the consequences of his actions either, like being sent to the principal’s office or getting suspended. From what Patrick said afterward, it sounded like the kid was enraged, suffering, deeply sad, over-stimulated, out of options, and couldn’t believe that any adult would listen to him express his problems with words alone.

Schools can’t solve all of this society’s problems. But every day, my kids’ teachers show up and try, just as Patrick does. It’s not fair, it’s not working particularly well, but it does make a difference and that’s better than the alternative.

Liberals need better media 'framing' if they want to defeat the right-wing

A press release from the Florida Department of Education, entitled “Florida Rejects Publishers’ Attempts to Indoctrinate Students,” says it had rejected 41 percent of textbooks submitted by publishers.

“Reasons for rejecting textbooks included references to Critical Race Theory (CRT), inclusions of Common Core and the unsolicited addition of Social Emotional Learning (SEL) in mathematics”, the release stated.

Incredibly, about three out of four mathematics textbooks submitted for kindergarten through fifth grade were rejected by the department.

The press release and Governor Ron Desantis's comments later on – he said the books were using “indoctrinating concepts like race essentialism” – naturally led to people asking exactly what caused the department to swipe left on the textbooks. The Times reviewed 21 books, and as expected, there was little that had to do with race.

It is, indeed, political theater, Florida-style. But these performances, if the 2022 elections predictions are any indication, are sold out. The production of “Critical Race Theory in Schools” is still playing to packed houses. “Liberals Are Groomers” has been a surprise hit.

How?

Framing analysis

Some scholars examine how media influences public opinion through what is called framing analysis. Media outlets can set the political agenda by choosing certain issues and emphasizing certain aspects of those issues. By “media,” I mean not only traditional news organizations like Fox but also individuals with large followings like Ben Shapiro and organizations like the Manhattan Institute.

One approach to framing analysis was popularized by Robert M. Entman. A professor of political science at George Washington University, he’s written extensively on media framing. I find his approach to be useful, especially in today’s info-rich environment.

In an article discussing his approach, Entman writes:

To frame is to select some aspects of a perceived reality and make them more salient in a communicating text, in such a way as to promote a particular problem definition, causal interpretation, moral evaluation, and/or treatment recommendation for the item described.

Let’s unpack this.

The four frames

The first type of framing is naming.

There’s a lot going on in the world. One can pluck any number of issues to talk about. Republicans could talk about quality of life issues in ways that conform to their conservative ideology. They could talk about people mired in debt, rising income inequality, food deserts in urban neighborhoods, drug addiction and lack of access to healthcare.

Instead, right-wing media outlets identify as “problems” things like diversity training, incorporating Black people into the teaching of US history, teachers discussing variations in gender identity, and most recently, social-emotional learning incorporated in math textbooks.

The second type of framing is diagnosis.

What is the cause of things the rightwing identifies as “problems?” It could be framed as generational disagreements in how we progress as a society – an agree-with-the-ends-but-not-the-means type of frame.

It could be discussed in terms of new ideas coming from academia that are now being applied in ways people are unaccustomed to. But somehow, out of the ether, all of these problems are caused by something called “wokeism” (read: liberals, progressives, the left).

The third type of framing is moral evaluation.

It goes without saying here that when a problem is identified, it is seen as something that must be addressed. But Republicans have decided to pass moral judgments on these issues and their perceived causes.

It’s a kind of gaslighting.

Wanting to talk about the actual history of the United States - warts and all - means you are un-American, the thinking goes. Wanting to teach that Timmy has two dads means you are a pedophile. It’s not people of color who are being discriminated against - despite what all the data suggests. No, it is racist woke people discriminating against God-fearing white Christians, and so on so forth et cetera ad nauseam.

It’s mind-numbing.

The fourth type of framing is resolution.

It is astonishing that Republicans, the party of freedom and smaller government, now exclusively frame solutions in terms of expanding government oversight and restricting freedoms. The way to deal with the discomfort white students may feel when discussing slavery is to propose a law banning those lessons. The party of free speech is now supporting the banning of books and the muzzling of teachers.

A call for better framing

It’s not as if the left doesn’t frame stories. The simple choice of what to put in an op-ed is itself an exercise of it. But there’s a qualitative difference between the means of making stories resonate with one’s target audience, and, as Rick Perlstein recently tweeted in a thread:

careful propaganda campaigns to seed moral panics in order to roll back human rights for everyone who is not conservative, using techniques quite similar to Nazi propagandists.

This is on the money.

The motives and the endgame are different. The frames used by the rightwing have constructed a reality for conservatives in which “wokeism” is the most pressing issue in American society. Real Americans must do anything they can to stop it, up to and including compromising values they wrapped themselves in a decade before.

Many, including me, argue the left can wedge the audience for “Critical Race Theory in Schools” and “Liberals Are Groomers” extravaganzas by talking about quality of life issues. I still believe this, especially for members of Congress running for reelection in swing districts.

But media outlets on the left need to do more than just talk about different things. They need to be more deliberate in constructing a reality that is more beneficial to a greater number of Americans.

We need to identify problems; explain what caused those problems; give a moral evaluation; and describe how we can solve them.

In other words, we need better frames.

Minneapolis teacher strike a reminder of the threats facing American public education

Teachers ended a nearly three-week strike, citing advances in pay and working conditions for many members. But more work remains.

When Minneapolis high school seniors Dom Newell and Emi Gaçaj head off to college this fall, they will have some impressive credentials to share with their fellow classmates.

This article was produced by Our Schools.

In addition to having strong academic records—the kind needed to get into Wiley College in Texas and Columbia University in New York, where Newell and Gaçaj are respectively headed—they will also be able to share stories of the activism they engaged in during the recent Minneapolis teachers strike.

Why Minneapolis Teachers Went on Strike

On March 8, the thousands of teachers and education support professionals (ESPs) who make up the Minneapolis Federation of Teachers (MFT) walked off the job for the first time since 1970 after contract negotiations with the Minneapolis Public Schools failed. Bread-and-butter union issues, including class size caps and stagnant pay, were at the heart of the dispute, along with debates over how best to recruit and retain teachers of color in Minneapolis.

The strike lasted for nearly three weeks. On March 25, a tentative agreement was reached between the union and the school district, and students and teachers were both back in the classroom by March 29.

This labor dispute puts the Minneapolis Federation of Teachers squarely in line with their counterparts in many other cities and states. In 2022 alone, teachers in districts that stretch from Sacramento to the Chicago area have gone on strike to protest ongoing contract stalemates and onerous working conditions.

National Education Association President Becky Pringle noted recently that school districts have the requisite resources to address the issues being raised through these teachers strikes, but are often unwilling to spend it to meet these pertinent demands. In an interview with Vox, Pringle questioned what came first: a purposeful underfunding of schools or the districts’ claims that the funds they have cannot be utilized to provide children with the support they need in classrooms. She told Vox that a lack of funding “is not an excuse that we [teachers] are willing to tolerate.”

Funding Crunch for Public Schools in Minnesota

In Minnesota, this dynamic is evident. Beginning in the early 2000s, state tax revenue for public education has shrunk while the demands on teachers, students, and school districts have dramatically increased—especially in the area of unfunded mandates for special education and English language services.

For the Minneapolis Public Schools, this means the district must pull millions of dollars out of its general education fund in order to cover the cost of educating all students in accordance with the law.

The process of drawing from one pot of money to cover required but unfunded services is known as a cross-subsidy, and it is a situation made worse by the fact that public school districts, like Minneapolis’, must also pay for the special education services that local charter schools and open enrollment programs provide. In recent years, that dollar amount has risen above $22 million.

Although education funding quagmires such as this are not new, the lack of adequate resources is an especially bitter pill to swallow in Minneapolis lately, as Minnesota lawmakers are currently wrestling with how to spend an unexpectedly large budget surplus that now exceeds $9 billion.

So far, there has been no indication that state legislators will use that money to fully fund public education, either in Minneapolis or across the state. This doesn’t mean the Minneapolis Public Schools should be left off the hook.

Greta Callahan is president of the teacher chapter of the Minneapolis Federation of Teachers and has repeatedly argued, for example, that school district officials are sitting on millions in federal COVID-19 relief funds that should instead be spent on the immediate needs of teachers, support staffers, and students.

Student Solidarity With Teachers

For Newell and Gaçaj, the overall lack of investment in Minneapolis’ public schools has galvanized their burgeoning political activism and allowed them to turn lessons learned in the classroom into action on behalf of their teachers and fellow students.

When reached by phone for an interview recently, Newell and Gaçaj were inside a classroom at Southwest High School in Minneapolis, working on a project related to Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s “Letter from a Birmingham Jail.”

“We are studying this in school” while also participating outside of school in nonviolent protests, Gaçaj noted. Newell also mentioned that, as a Black student, he’s grown up hearing about the Civil Rights era and the actions activists engaged in then to bring about monumental change.

These history lessons have helped Newell understand how to support striking educators through direct action, he says. So far, the efforts of the Coalition of Student Leaders, which both of them are part of, have been pretty remarkable. One example includes the sit-in coalition members held at Minneapolis Public Schools headquarters as the strike dragged on.

While there, more than 100 students sat on the floor of the headquarters’ entrance area, chanting, “Teachers’ working conditions are students’ learning conditions,” along with other pro-strike messages.

Newell said they had hoped their actions might lead to an invitation from district officials to meet. But, he noted, they were initially rebuffed; they were finally granted an audience with administrator Eric Moore.

“He was dismissive of our concerns and questions,” said Newell, who added that Superintendent Ed Graff was nowhere to be found.

On March 29, the day students returned to the classroom, members of the coalition took over a Minneapolis school board meeting to protest a decision that had been made to extend the school year into late June in order to make up for days lost to the strike.

As students chanted against this decision and implored Graff and his board members to rethink the additional days, Graff walked out of the meeting. The next day, he announced his resignation from the district.

While Newell and Gaçaj claim no direct credit for Graff’s decision to leave Minneapolis when his contract expires in June, they did note that neither his departure nor the end of the strike means their work is over.

As evidence, they shared a list of demands that have yet to be met, including the “uplifting of historically underfunded schools” and an overall improvement in the way students of color are treated in the district.

Spreading Awareness of Shocking Teacher Treatment via Tweet

Kaytie Kamphoff is an inclusion special education English teacher at Minneapolis’ Patrick Henry High School. She also has an active presence on Twitter, where she goes by the handle @whatMsKsaid.

For Kamphoff, seeing students, parents, and community members hosting sit-ins, joining educators on the picket line, and otherwise expressing solidarity with those on strike has been very rewarding. When she first joined Twitter in 2019, she did so out of a desire to communicate about public education with a wider network of people.

Now, she said, that effort is paying off.

“I have learned that I am a people connector,” Kamphoff stated, and the connections she wants to make involve engaging more community members in the fight to save public education—before, during, and after the Minneapolis educators strike.

Kamphoff began her teaching career in Milwaukee from 2007 to 2011, and her last year there coincided with former Republican Governor Scott Walker’s bludgeoning of Wisconsin’s public education system. When Walker pushed hard against teachers unions, members descended on Wisconsin’s state capitol in protest. With help from a research librarian friend, Kamphoff said she began learning about some of the forces behind Walker’s actions.

Those forces, Kamphoff found, included right-wing outfits such as the American Legislative Exchange Council, or ALEC, where very wealthy private citizens have used their personal wealth and influence as a weapon against public services, including education.

The situation in Wisconsin became so dire that Kamphoff said more experienced teachers who couldn’t easily switch jobs warned her to leave the state and pursue a career in education elsewhere. And so she returned to her home state of Minnesota and eventually secured a teaching position in the Minneapolis Public Schools.

Kamphoff then began putting her background knowledge and experience—as well as her natural organizing skills—to use.

When it became clear in early March that MFT was going on strike, Kamphoff had a network of supportive parents and community members to tap into. She said she gained 1,500 Twitter followers just before the strike began and used her platform to make parents and community members aware of the issues prompting educators to walk off the job.

Many were shocked to learn, for example, that district ESPs have been making starting salaries of around $24,000 per year while also paying health insurance premiums at the same rate as district administrators, who earn six-figure salaries.

Such information has opened the public’s eyes to what is going on in schools, Kamphoff said, and it has helped shine a light on the gap between the Minneapolis Public Schools’ stated values and how the district is actually being managed.

“District administrators pay lip service to things like social-emotional learning, restorative practices, and equity,” she stated, but they “don’t do these things themselves.” A key sticking point for her is the way ESPs have been grossly underpaid. And, since many ESPs live in Minneapolis and send their children to the city’s public schools, that amounts to the district adding to its own population of students who qualify for free and reduced lunch.

A week after the strike ended, Kamphoff acknowledged that MFT members didn’t get everything they were hoping for from the strike. Teacher salaries in Minneapolis are lower than those in many neighboring districts, and that doesn’t appear to have changed much under the union’s new contract.

Still, Kamphoff and others have said that the ESPs did win a better deal from the district, thanks to the strike. Many will now be making salaries much closer to the union’s goal of $35,000 per year, and there are new district agreements in place regarding the retention of teachers of color.

“We fought for ESPs, and now we have more bargaining power for our next contract negotiations,” Kamphoff said.

What the Strike Means Beyond the Minneapolis Public Schools

Macks Hopland has been working in Minneapolis as an ESP for five years. When asked about his thoughts on the outcome of the strike, he expressed some misgivings.

Yes, he acknowledged, the strike brought some victories, mainly seen in the way communities rallied around the picket lines and offered support to educators. Still, he said he would not call the settlement that ended the strike a win for ESPs.

Most ESPs will not get a salary boost that matches the current inflation rate (which is now 8.5 percent), Hopland stated, and this isn’t just a problem for individual employees. During his time in the Minneapolis Public Schools, there has been a chronic shortage of ESPs due to long-standing wage erosion.

Lower wages have meant fewer people can afford to work as ESPs, which sets up a cycle of understaffing, high turnover, and more stress for both students and the staffers who have decided to keep their classroom positions despite the low pay. This all adds up to an austerity-driven crisis for the students and staff members left behind to continually do more with less.

In Hopland’s view, this situation isn’t one that can be easily resolved through contract negotiations. Instead, he thinks it requires a deeper analysis of who really holds the power when it comes to public education. To try to answer this, Hopland published a Facebook post about some of the behind-the-scenes players who have an outsized impact on the Minneapolis Public Schools.

Hopland rooted his analysis in conversations he had with colleagues while on the picket line. Who, he wanted to know, did people think was really pulling the strings in the Minneapolis Public Schools’ hard-line negotiations with teachers and support staffers?

It is far too simple to only blame the district’s negotiating team or even its top administrator, he concluded. “The superintendent isn’t some stand-alone autonomous agent,” Hopland wrote, “but rather is just another gear, even if a large one, in the larger clockwork.”

The larger clockwork at play in Minneapolis will be recognizable to public education advocates across the country.

Wealthy individuals and corporations typically want to avoid paying more taxes, and public education is among the most costly segments of municipal budgets, Hopland wrote. For at least two decades, those wishing to reduce the tax burden presented by public schools have been lobbying for a grab bag of destructive neoliberal education policies, including the promotion of school choice schemes.

The Minneapolis Foundation does a lot of that work in the city. It is a century-old philanthropic fund that pulls in donations from some of the wealthiest, most established corporate and family foundations in Minnesota. In turn, it has been at the forefront of underwriting Minneapolis’ expansive charter school sector.

Despite the proliferation of school options for families, there remains only one pot of taxpayer-funded education dollars, and the billions of dollars provided to charter schools by the federal government seem to have been squandered over the years, leaving public schools with even fewer resources. Fewer tax dollars split among more public schools (charter schools are publicly funded but privately managed) have not added up to better outcomes for most students and educators, either locally or nationally.

It is clear that the recent Minneapolis teachers strike was about much more than class size limits or salary bumps, in other words.

Although some contract-based victories were won on behalf of MFT members, as outlined effectively by Eric Blanc in a recent Jacobin piece, public education in Minneapolis still faces an existential threat. For evidence, look no further than the district’s shrinking enrollment numbers.

Still, Hopland, Kamphoff, and the members of the Coalition of Student Leaders all mentioned the increase in political activism and awareness surrounding public education as a key highlight of the strike, and one they are all dedicated to upholding.

“Minneapolis parents, students, and educators are so awesome,” Kamphoff said. The way people came together on the picket line recently led her to conclude that “once we see each other’s humanity, we will help each other.”

Author Bio: Sarah Lahm is a Minneapolis-based writer and researcher. Her work has appeared in outlets such as the Progressive and In These Times. Follow her on Twitter @sarahrlahm.

The vague prohibitions in Florida's 'Don't Say Gay' law are 'guaranteed to be a lawsuit factory': columnist

Last month, Florida Republican Governor Ron DeSantis signed the Parental Rights in Education bill – colloquially nicknamed 'Don't Say Gay' – into law. The controversial legislation "prohibits classroom instruction on sexual orientation or gender identity in kindergarten through 3rd grade and prohibits instruction that is not age-appropriate for students and requires school districts to adopt procedures for notifying parents if there is a change in services from the school regarding a child’s mental, emotional or physical health or well-being."

The governor's allies claim that "Parental Rights in Education empowers Florida’s parents and safeguards our children." But from what, exactly? The law lacks concrete restrictions, relying instead on overinflated platitudes derived from old-school discrimination. It is scheduled to go into effect on July 1st barring a court injunction.

Thus, shortly after DeSantis' pen was put to paper, civil rights organizations and outraged parents filed a lawsuit challenging the law's constitutionality and accusing GOP lawmakers of an "attempt to stigmatize, silence, and erase LGBTQ people in Florida’s public schools."

The plaintiffs argue that the law is rooted in bigotry and that it is a transparent attempt to strip DeSantis' political opposition of their rights.

House Bill 1557 "piles one violation on top of another," the complaint reads. "It offends principles of free speech and equal protection by seeking to censor discussions of sexual orientation or gender identity that recognize and respect LGBTQ people and their families. It offends due process by using broad and vague terms to define its prohibitions—thus inviting discriminatory enforcement and magnifying its chilling effect on speech. And it arises from discriminatory purposes and outdated sex-based stereotypes that offend deeply rooted constitutional and statutory requirements."

The case also notes that "the potential for arbitrary and discriminatory enforcement here is self-evident—and it reflects a choice designed to maximize the law’s in terrorem effects. H.B. 1557 thus operates in a manner antithetical to reasonable requirements of an age or developmentally appropriate education, instead creating a scheme in which parents can use the threat of litigation over vague statutory terms to menace school boards and intimidate teachers into offering a skewed, discriminatory curriculum."

Those "broad and vague terms," as mentioned in the suit, "might be a feature, not a bug," columnist Greg Sargent wrote in an editoral published in Monday's Washington Post. "It could encourage conservative parents to sniff out violators around every classroom corner, contributing to the atmosphere of moral panic it appears designed to stoke."

But as Sargent proceeded to point out, the law's nebulous "statutory terms" and open-ended enforcement could lead to its undoing.

The intentional omission of specific terms (gay, straight, et cetera), Sargent posits, provides an avenue for parents to raise hell over just about anything that teachers say.

"Couldn’t parents object to a teacher letting a student talk about her gay parents or letting a transgender student discuss her experiences? Couldn’t parents object to a teacher’s handling of the bullying of such students?" he asks. "The tension here is that the law does not directly ban discussion of particular sexual orientations or gender identities. Drafters deliberately didn’t define its language, apparently to maintain superficial neutrality."

The engrained hypocrisy and blatantly prejudicial wording of HB 1557, the lawsuit maintains, means that “anyone who discusses or acknowledges any aspect of LGBTQ identity must fear running afoul of the law,” because the law has “taken for granted that discussing heterosexuality or cisgender identity in school settings is perfectly fine.”

Joshua Matz, the attorney for the complainants, told Sargent that HR 1557 is, therefore “guaranteed to be a lawsuit factory” which has already triggered “conflict and discord for years to come.” He added that “given the breadth and vagueness of the statute, parents across the state will inevitably file suit over a huge range of classroom activities."

The crux of the matter, according to Matz, is what the law's framers intended without having explicitly codified.

“If a teacher can’t assign a story about a young girl who comes home after school to her two mommies, that teacher also can’t assign a book about a young girl who comes home to her mommy and daddy," Matz said, because both “equally instruct” on “sexual orientation.”

Matz predicted that "it will be extremely revealing to see which forms of classroom instruction its sponsors actually believe have been prohibited" once hearings – and what will surely be a fascinating discovery process – begin. HR 1557, notably, is not based on scientific data or research, and its uniquely malicious nature makes it ripe for an unending series of courtroom quarrels, the outcomes of which will profoundly impact students.

"The vagueness of the law is the point. It appears designed to stoke teacher fears of transgressing lines that aren’t at all clear, and to encourage conservative parents to zealously hunt for those transgressions wherever possible," Sargent concludes. "Nobody wants to see such a huge legal crap-fest unfold. But if it does, DeSantis and the law’s drafters are the ones to blame."

Sargent's full opinion column can be viewed here (subscription required).

McConnell slammed as 'evil' for blocking extension of free school lunch waivers

Federal waivers that have given U.S. schools the flexibility to offer universal free lunches throughout the pandemic are at risk of ending as Senate Republicans—led Mitch McConnell—stonewall a proposed extension of the relief measures, potentially depriving millions of children of no-cost meals in the coming months.

Politico reported Monday that McConnell, the Senate minority leader, is "forcefully opposing" a provision to extend the federal school lunch waivers as part of an omnibus government funding package that Congress must pass by midnight Friday to avert a shutdown.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has estimated that the average school district will face a 40% cut in federal reimbursements for meals if Congress allows the waivers—first approved in March 2020 and extended thereafter—to lapse. The USDA's authority to extend the school meal waivers further is currently set to expire at the end of June.

"Mitch McConnell never needed free lunch to get a hot meal at school. He never needed food stamps to survive," Charles Booker, a Democratic U.S. Senate candidate in Kentucky, wrote in response to the GOP leader's obstruction. "Nearly half of Kentucky's children live in households below 200% of the federal poverty line. I was one of them. He doesn't see us."

Nina Turner, an Ohio progressive running for U.S. Congress, called McConnell's efforts to block a waiver extension "evil."

Research shows that the school meal waivers, in concert with other federal relief programs, have helped alleviate costs for low-income families during the pandemic and reduce hunger among poor children, a widespread problem in the U.S.

Progressive lawmakers, including Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) and Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), have unsuccessfully pushed for a permanent federal program that would offer free breakfast, lunch, and dinner to all schoolchildren regardless of family income.

According to Feeding America—a relief organization that's imploring Congress to extend the school meal waivers—13 million children across the nation were at risk of facing food insecurity in 2021. Advocates fear that hunger is set to rise sharply in 2022 due to Congress' failure to pass an extension of a separate federal program, the boosted child tax credit.

"As it stands, schools and communities are in a state of limbo," said Vince Hall, Feeding America's chief government relations officer. "As they work to provide food for children daily, they need continued flexibilities to safely plan for and offer summer meal programs and nutrition assistance during the next school year. Congress can and should provide these schools and community providers with peace of mind by extending waiver authority in upcoming legislation."

"For millions of school children whose lives and educations have been impacted by the pandemic, school meals are often their only reliable nutrition source," Hall added. "These waivers offer stability, predictability, and an assurance that children will get the meals they need any time of the year."

As of Monday, CNN reported, a waiver extension is not part of the omnibus funding package, which is expected to include billions of dollars for the Pentagon amid Russia's ongoing assault on Ukraine.

If Congress ultimately fails to extend the waivers due to Republican opposition, the consequences could be far-reaching. As the Washington Post summarized:

The average reimbursement a school gets for a meal served will fall from $4.56 to an estimated $2.91. And that will happen while schools continue to face higher costs for food, labor, and supplies.

Schools also could lose critical flexibility in how they operate, which has allowed them to adapt traditional program rules to accommodate the pandemic and labor shortages, according to advocates for these programs. This includes flexibilities to offer meals in the classroom or grab-and-go meals for children required to miss school during quarantines.

Schools could lose the ability to substitute foods to meet requirements when they can't get what they ordered because of unexpected supply chain disruptions, advocates say. Finally, without waivers, schools could face financial penalties if they do not meet federal requirements as a result of supply chain issues, and by no fault of their own. For example, if they cannot serve a variety of vegetables or obtain whole grain-rich products that meet federal standards, states will be required to penalize the districts.

Tom Vilsack, the head of the USDA, told the newspaper in an interview Monday that "the failure of Republicans to respond to this means that kids are going to have less on their plates."

"And there's no reason for this," said Vilsack.

'Woke-panic': College student’s NY Times op-ed leads to mockery over 'self-censorship' complaint

The New York Times and college student Emma Camp are both under fire over her opinion piece published in the newspaper of record lamenting what she claims is an increase in “self-censorship” on college campuses.

“Even as a liberal who has attended abortion rights protests and written about standing up to racism, I sometimes feel afraid to fully speak my mind,” Camp says.

But Emma Camp isn’t just any University of Virginia senior. Despite claiming to be “a liberal,” she’s a writer at the libertarian outlet Reason and a former intern at the right-leaning Koch-funded Foundation for Individual Rights in Education. FIRE’s latest tweet is apparently a defense of right-wing activist Andy Ngo, who the Columbia Journalism Review describes as a “discredited provocateur.”

“I Came to College Eager to Debate. I Found Self-Censorship Instead,” is the title of Camp’s opinion piece – quite a coup for an oppressed college senior to be handed such a huge platform.

“Each week, I seek out the office hours of a philosophy department professor willing to discuss with me complex ethical questions raised by her course on gender and sexuality. We keep our voices lowered, as if someone might overhear us,” Camp’s op-ed begins.

“A friend lowers her voice to lament the ostracizing of a student who said something well-meaning but mildly offensive during a student club’s diversity training. Another friend shuts his bedroom door when I mention a lecture defending Thomas Jefferson from contemporary criticism. His roommate might hear us, he explains,” she writes.

By the way, the link embedded in “a lecture” that Camp includes in her piece is to a far right-wing organization, Young America’s Foundation. It is considered among the preeminent groups for conservative American youth and teens, and if you want to know the state of American conservatism you should know that two of YAF’s board members also sit on a conservative PAC that gave thousands of dollars to a white nationalist organization, according to a Mother Jones report from 2013. YAF is currently headed by former GOP governor Scott Walker and was the second organization former Vice President Mike Pence joined upon leaving the White House.

The essence of Camp’s opinion piece is that students on America’s college campuses are oppressed victims of forced liberal conformity necessitating them to self-censor. And yet nearly everything Camp mentions or links to is clearly right-wing activism: writing at Reason, linking to right-wing sites, pointing to a lecture featuring conservative speakers, interning at a right-wing free speech organization. Even the one professor she names is a right-wing anti-LGBTQ activist.

As to Camp’s complaints, none of this is new. People, at least wise ones, have been self-censoring since the dawn of time. Not every thought we think needs to be given voice, not every “hot take” truly is one, and timing indeed is everything.

Tech Dirt editor Mike Masnick responds to Camp’s op-ed, saying, “I am… confused about this article. (1) Publishing your thoughts in the NYT suggests you’re not being canceled (2) Am I missing it or does she not discuss any actual attempts to silence her, just vague feelings that people disagree with her?”

Slate’s Dana Stevens points to this episode:

Last year Camp posted evidence of the challenges at UVA she has endured:

Political theorist Patrick Giamario insightfully observes:

For all its cringiness, today’s cancel-culture freakout in NYT inadvertently does a great job highlighting how what’s at stake in these ‘debates’ is precisely NOT the ability to express unpopular views, but to guarantee they remain entirely uncontested.'

Senior NBC News reporter Ben Collins, who calls what he writes about the “dystopia beat,” says, “who’s really at fault here? The paper,” meaning The New York Times. “Nobody should expect their popularity at college to be acceptable grist for the op-ed mill. Everyone says and does stupid things in college. It’s the place to do that! You grow there. The paper should not be capitalizing on that.”

Collins also offers up this alternate headline:

Adam Kotsko, a political theologian and author of the 2012 book “Why We Love Sociopaths,” notes that Camp is “so intimidated to express her true views that she’s broadcasting them in the nation’s leading newspaper.”

Press Watch editor Dan Froomkin apparently did not self-censor when he commented: “Is there any other way for a college student to break into the NYT op-ed pages than to write woke-panic claptrap like this? Complete with citation to bogus far-right-funded poll. And hello, this is UVA we’re talking about, I call bs.”

Technologist, Activist, and Writer Emilite Gorcenski was a counter-protestor (anti-neo-Nazi) at the deadly 2017 Unite the Right neo-Nazi and “alt-right” rally in Charlottesville. She has a lot to offer:

“In any piece about white grievance—and this piece is about white grievance—the decision to frame a statue of Thomas Jefferson in the shot is a capital C Choice,” she adds. “But to choose *this particular* statue of TJ in a white grievance piece is absolutely beyond benefit of the doubt.”

Dave Karpf, an Associate Professor at George Washington University School of Media and Public Affairs sums up: “In a free society, ‘self-censorship’ is the price we pay for other people not thinking of us as tedious assholes.”

Conservative book banning fever heats up in red states

Amid the GOP's national campaign to purge "leftist ideology" from public schools, local officials across the nation are now banning certain books that deal with race, sex, and gender, from school shelves.

On Thursday, a Missouri school board voted 4-3 to formally pull Toni Morrison's "The Bluest Eye" from high school libraries in the district. The book, which tells the story of a young Black girl growing up in the Great Depression, includes passages that describe incest and child molestation. Central to the book's premise is the narrator's struggle with society's white standards of beauty, which cause her to develop an inferiority complex around the color of her skin.

Wentzville School Board member Sandy Garber told the St. Louis Post Dispatch that she voted against the book to shield her children from obscenity. "By all means, go buy the book for your child," Garber said. "I would not want this book in the school for anyone else to see."

The decision comes despite pushback from district staff and residents, who after a committee review advised the board that banning the novel would "infringe on the rights of parents and students to decide for themselves if they want to read this work of literature."

Kris Kleindienst, owner of Left Bank Books in St. Louis, told a Fox affiliate that the board's vote sweeps important discussions of race and sexual abuse under the rug.

"Kids are growing and developing and should have access to as much material as is out there," Kleindienst said. "It shouldn't be the decision of a few parents what kids should read."

The book banning fever has reached a pitch in Mississippi this week as well.

Ridgeland Mayor Gene McGee is currently engaged in a budgetary standoff with Madison County Library System. McGee is attempting to deprive the school board of $100,000 in funding because the Republican wants to see a spate of LGBTQ-themed books banned from school libraries.

Tonja Johnson, executive director for the Madison County Library System, told The Mississippi Free Press that McGee is withholding the money due to his own personal beliefs. "He explained his opposition to what he called 'homosexual materials' in the library, that it went against his Christian beliefs, and that he would not release the money as the long as the materials were there," Johnson said. "He told me that the library can serve whoever we wanted, but that he only serves the great Lord above."

According to the Free Press, McGee specifically demanded the immediate removal of the "The Queer Bible," an essay collection featuring the voices of queer figures like Elton John, Munroe Bergdorf, Tan France, George Michael and Susan Sontag.

And in Tennessee, the Williamson County Schools committee has also joined the censorship fold, imposing restrictions on several different books in light of conservative backlash.

After a review of 31 different texts, the committee on Tuesday "removed one book" from the school shelves and "restricted seven others," according to The Tennessean. The committee specifically removed "Walk Two Moons," a 1994 fiction novel written by Sharon Creech. The book centers on the story of a 13-year-old girl with Native American heritage who is reckoning with the disappearance of her mother while traveling from Ohio to Idaho.

The books were reportedly first called into question by the Williamson County chapter of Moms for Liberty, a right-wing advocacy group that advocates for "parents' rights" in education. The committee concluded that the text contained "objectionable content," which according to Moms for Liberty, included "stick figures hanging, cursing and miscarriage, hysterectomy/stillborn and screaming during labor."

The bans in Mississippi, Missouri and Tennessee are part of a larger right-wing movement to crack down on books with "objectionable" works often featuring Black and LGTBQ+ themes. According to the American Library Association (ALA), between June and September of last year, the U.S. saw "155 unique censorship incidents" in cities and districts across the nation.

"We're seeing an unprecedented volume of challenges in the fall of 2021," said Deborah Caldwell-Stone, the director of the ALA's Office of Intellectual Freedom, last year. "In my twenty years with ALA, I can't recall a time when we had multiple challenges coming in on a daily basis.

'Orwellian': Tennessee school board just banned a Pulitzer Prize graphic novel from Holocaust curriculum

The McMinn County School board in Tennessee just voted 10-0 to ban the use of the Pulitzer Prize winning novel MAUS by Art Spiegelman, from the school’s 8th grade curriculum. The graphic novel is considered by some to be one of the most important pieces of art about the Holocaust. First reported on by TN Holler, the outlet reports that the board told them this didn’t have to do with the book being about the Holocaust.

But it does. Not unlike the Tennessee school board that voted to fire Sullivan County school teacher and baseball coach Matthew Hawn for assigning an opinion piece on white privilege by Ta-Nehisi Coates back in June, this latest move has to do with the discomfort some (white) parents feel in educators using the truth to talk about difficult aspects of human history. The Director of Schools, Mr. Lee Parkinson began the meeting by explaining that some of the folks on the board come to him with worries about “some rough, objectionable language in this book.” This led to some of the book’s text, a nude drawing in the book of a woman, and being redacted. But this wasn’t good enough.

The minutes of the discussion are well logged and while educators gave very well-reasoned defenses for the book, in the end the school board hid behind bad words to make their decision.

Reading the minutes you can see Steven Brady, an assistant principal in the McMinn County school system, and Julie Goodin trying to walk the school board through how social studies and history is taught in middle school and high school and why MAUS is used as a foundational part of the introduction to the Holocaust. Brady tries to mollify the board by saying that they can have the bad words like “Bitch” whited out the way television will bleep out a bad word from time to time.

Board member Tony Allman is having a difficult time wrapping his mind around it all, first thinking that the book is for 8th graders reading on a 3rd grade reading level. Brady explains that the book is a middle school book “Not just because of the words but because of the content and the deeper meaning to what is going on in the book.” Allman says he understands how redacting words the way he sees folks doing it on the television set but “being in the schools, educators and stuff we don’t need to enable or somewhat promote this stuff. It shows people hanging, it shows them killing kids, why does the educational system promote this kind of stuff, it is not wise or healthy.”

Julie Goodin pops in here to tell the board how she was a history teacher and so, she has actually taught history, “and there is nothing pretty about the Holocaust and for me this was a great way to depict a horrific time in history. Mr. Spiegelman did his very best to depict his mother passing away and we are almost 80 years away. It’s hard for this generation, these kids don’t even know 9/11, they were not even born. For me this was his way to convey the message. Are the words objectionable? Yes, there is no one that thinks they aren’t but by taking away the first part, it’s not changing the meaning of what he is trying to portray and copyright.”

Allman still doesn’t get it though he continues to start sentences off by saying “I understand.” He argues that these words would get a student in trouble in the hallway and so this book is teaching against the disciplinary policy of the school. That sound you hear is my brain screaming. Mrs. Melasawn Knight, a educational supervisor for the county hopes she can help out the board by reminding them that there are big kid pants that big kids have to wear when they are being big kids. “I think any time you are teaching something from history, people did hang from trees, people did commit suicide and people were killed, over six million were murdered. I think the author is portraying that because it is a true story about his father that lived through that. He is trying to portray that the best he can with the language that he chooses that would relate to that time, maybe to help people who haven’t been in that aspect in time to actually relate to the horrors of it. Is the language objectionable? Sure. I think that is how he uses that language to portray that.”

Allman says he ain’t denying the Holocaust sounds wicked terrible and all of that but, “may be wrong, but this guy that created the artwork used to do the graphics for Playboy. You can look at his history, and we’re letting him do graphics in books for students in elementary school. If I had a child in the eighth grade, this ain’t happening. If I had to move him out and homeschool him or put him somewhere else, this is not happening.” Oh. So Mr. Allman was sort of full of BS about that language thing. Now he’s onto some thing about Art Spiegelman drawing stuff for Playboy magazine? Does he know that Donald Trump was on the March 1990 issue of Playboy? We should probably ex- Trump out of all the history books. Just saying.

Allman then attempts to say what in the world will happen if a student reads some of these words out loud in the “cafeteria?” It’s drivel.

Steven Brady then comes up and gives a presentation on how things are taught in modules and subjects are built out so that children have a larger understanding to bring to more complex readings and subjects as the school year progresses.

The curriculum that we use is called EL, what does that stand for? I see some teachers here, what does that stand for? Expeditionary Learning. So, the whole idea is that students go on these expeditions, and they will spend two months or so on these different expeditions, and that’s their modules. In eighth grade that is four things. We do Latin America, we learn about food, The Holocaust and JapaneseInternment.
[...]
The task that students do at the end of this module, after they spend a couple months talking about the Holocaust, studying this project that they do that shows they understand what went on, they will write their own narrative and pretend that they have interviewed a Holocaust upstander. They are going to create graphic novel panels to visually represent a section of their narrative and they will present that to their peers. You have all these standards that we saw earlier are addressed through this project. Last part, how do we get there? Well, here’s out text. So, our anchor text is Maus, and we have all these supplemental things that we look at throughout this module that build to that anchor text.

Brady goes on to explain how there are interviews with Holocaust survivors they will read and watch and “excerpts from other books,” but that there is no replacing MAUS without changing the entire module of teaching. CTE Director Jonathan Pierce says he just can’t in good conscience let 8th graders read a graphic novel about the Holocaust, in part it seems, because he himself has such a loathsome history of dirtbaggery that … I don’t know what he’s trying to say honestly.

JONATHAN PIERCE: My objection, and I apologize to everyone sitting here, is that my standard no matter, and I am probably the biggest sinner and crudest person in this room, can I lay that in front of a child and say read it, or this is part of your reading assignment. I’ve got enough faith from the Director of Schools down to the newest hire in this building, that you can take that module and rewrite it and make it do the same thing.

Pierce goes on to spin some more poorly written Matlock-inspired dialogue before saying “I’m going to bring this to a head,” and asks for the removal of the book “and challenge our instructional staff to come with an alternative method of teaching the Holocaust.” Then former college baseball player and PTO co-president at both City Park School and Athens City Middle School,” Rob Shamblin says this: “we kind of jumped into the 7th, 8th, now the 9th inning on this and I appreciate the presentation, Mr. Brady, on the background of how the curriculum is set. But, we are here because some people objected to the words and the graphics used in the book. My bigger concern is that this is probably the tip of the iceberg of what is out there.”

You see where this is going? Shamblin wants to know how we weed out more of these Pulitzer Prize winning pieces of art that are considered by many to be the only way to really talk about a historic event where millions and millions of men, women, and children were singled out and murdered. Shamblin goes on to straight up lie and say that he has “read the background on this author and the series, talked to some educators, and it is a highly critically acclaimed and a well reviewed series and book context. It’s banned many places in Europe because of how critical it is against the heinous acts that were done.” There’s one place that has banned MAUS. Russia. According to Russia it isn’t banned “because of how critical it is against the heinous acts that were done,” but because the cover has a swastika on it.

But think about what he is lying about to excuse banning the book? That it has been banned because it is too critical of the Nazis?

The back and forth goes on and in the end Denise Cunningham, Bill Irvin, Quinten Howard, Sharon Brown, Mike Cochran, Mike Lowry, Donna Casteel, Jonathan Pierce, Tony Allman, and Rob Shamblin voted to remove MAUS from the teaching of the Holocaust.

As for the fact that the whole Holocaust module is anchored by the book? I leave you with this small interchange right before the vote:

Rob Shamblin: At that point if it’s been removed, it could be added back if there is no better alternative, I assume? I don’t know what it’s going to take to find an alternative.
Sharon Brown: It would probably mean we would have to move on to another module, they would
know better than I on that.

And just like that, those kids’ education about World War II and the Holocaust just became less honest and far less intelligent.

How COVID exposed the ways our education system harms the republic

Parents, teachers and politicians have been struggling for weeks over how schools should respond to the omicron surge, trying to balance the difficulties and losses associated with at-home learning and the dangers to student health of in-person learning.

The pandemic has forced institutions to choose between bad outcomes. There are no perfect solutions. But the outcomes are worse, and the choices more limited, because of America’s deliberately callous and deliberately inequitable educational system.

American schools have historically been as much about protecting the status of the powerful as about cultivating the broad knowledge and engagement in democracy that a republic requires. Poor students and students of color in the United States have long received worse education than their wealthier, whiter peers. Covid has turned a slow-rolling, generational cruelty into an immediate catastrophe.

Given our history, it’s unlikely that even our current orgy of failure and tragedy will prompt change. But if we want an educational system that is better prepared for a crisis, and which can better prepare the whole nation for the crisis, then change is what we need.

Schools are mostly funded by property taxes. This means that poor neighborhoods with a low tax base have poorly funded schools; wealthy areas with a high tax base have well-funded schools.

Discrepancies are stark.

A 2018 study found that high-income schools receive about $1,000 more in funding per student than low-income schools. Schools with the lowest concentrations of students of color receive about $1,800 more per student than schools with high concentrations of Black, Hispanic and Native American students.

Local gaps can be even more outrageous. Majority white suburban counties around Chicago have $10,000 more per student than the majority minority Chicago public school system.

These inequities are exacerbated and enabled by ongoing segregation. Americans like to think that school segregation ended in 1954 when the Supreme Court’s Brown v. Board of Education outlawed discrimination. The fact, though, is schools never integrated.

A 2017 study found that only 12.9 percent of white students attended schools with a high concentration of students of color as compared to 69.2 percent of Black students. Moreover, 72.4 percent of Black children attend high-poverty schools while only 31.3 percent of white students do.

Residential segregation, school segregation and a funding system that accepts or even encourages inequity make it easy for affluent white people to hoard educational resources, further impoverishing the most disadvantaged children in the country.

No school was really ready for covid. But in an educational landscape shaped by vast racial and economic inequities, some schools were a lot more ready than others.

In wealthy well-funded school systems, students often had computers at home or schools had them on hand. Wealthy districts have more counselors. Affluent families are more likely to have a history of high school completion, and students are less likely to drop out when faced with the learning barriers of the pandemic. Affluent families are also more likely to be able to replace school meals and to have space for students to study at home.

Factors such as these predictably contributed to worse outcomes for poor students of color.

A December analysis of student achievement in fall 2021 found that students had lost considerably due to stress and the limitations of remote learning. After a year of the pandemic, students knew only 67 percent of math and 87 percent of reading that they would typically have learned for their grade-level.

In schools that serve mostly students of color, though, the numbers were even worse: 59 percent of math and 77 percent in reading. Disparities like these are probably what prompted Nikole Hannah-Jones, the editor of the 1619 Project, to push for schools to continue with in-person learning during omicron.

The problem, as Chicago Alderman Carlos Ramirez-Rosa noted in response to Hannah-Jones, is that children in Black and brown working class communities aren’t just vulnerable to disruptions in learning. They’re also extremely vulnerable to the pandemic itself.

Black parents have more difficulty getting access to vaccines, citing difficulty in traveling to vaccine sites, worries that they may have to pay out-of-pocket and uncertainty about whether they can trust vaccine providers. Hispanic parents disproportionately say they have trouble taking off from work to get their children vaccines.

Data is sporadic, but available figures from seven states all show that Black children have been vaccinated at lower rates than white and Hispanic children. In Michigan, where 42 percent of white children 12-19 have received at least one vaccine dose, only 27 percent of Black children have.

Black and white hospitalization rates for children are comparable: 364 per 10,000 for white children, 340 per 10,000 for Black children. But Hispanic rates, at 533 per 10,000, and Native American rates, at 613 per 10,000, are disturbingly high.

Children are also affected when adult loved ones become sick.

Based on age-adjusted data, Hispanic, Black, and Native American people are about three times as likely to be hospitalized, and about as twice as likely to die from covid as their white peers.

Given these figures, it seems possible that higher rates of disruption of learning among Black and brown children could be linked not just to poorer-resourced schools, but to a higher likelihood of trauma resulting from the loss of caregivers and parents.

So what’s to be done?

In the short term, we have only bad choices. Remote learning is likely to lead to poor outcomes, especially for less affluent Black and brown students. In-person learning is likely to lead to more disease and death, especially for Black and brown families.

PPE and testing can help make schools safer – but poorer schools also have less access to those. The American Rescue Plan was supposed to cover the gap. In Chicago, though, teachers unions say Mayor Lori Lightfoot did not invest available resources in schools and there has been a lack of transparency about the allocation of federal dollars.

The most disturbing aspect of the covid disaster for schools and children is that the disparate outcomes are not exactly failures. Schools in the United States are funded in a way specifically designed to ensure disparate outcomes and to maintain generational advantages in resources, education and power. The fact that certain communities were harder hit by covid is in line with our current educational vision, which is meant to ensure that wealthy white students prosper and thrive at the expense of their less privileged peers.

A country that sees education as a zero-sum game is a country that is ill-equipped to respond with civic responsibility and wisdom to a public health emergency.

Nor can you build a strong democratic public when everything about children’s engagement with public life tells them that some people deserve support, care and knowledge, and some do not.

Covid has shown how badly our education system harms our republic when it enshrines in law that some kids are more valuable than others.

Florida county cancels civil-rights seminar for teachers over CRT 'red flags'

The day after the Florida state Senate's education committee passed a bill banning public schools and private businesses from making people feel "discomfort" when learning about U.S. racial history, a school district in central Florida canceled a teacher training seminar about the civil rights movement that had been months in the planning.

This past Saturday, Dr. J. Michael Butler, the Kenan Distinguished Professor of History at Flagler College in St. Augustine, was supposed to lead a day-long seminar for Osceola County elementary school teachers on "The Long Civil Rights Movement." The event was hosted by the nonprofit National Council for History Education, a leading provider of professional development for history teachers, and was part of a three-year partnership between the council and the district to enrich history education at underserved public schools. (Osceola County, just southeast of Orlando, has a population of close to 400,000, which is nearly two-thirds Black or Latino, and a median household income of $52,000, well below the national median.)

Butler, the author of multiple books about Southern and civil rights history, including most recently "Beyond Integration: The Black Freedom Struggle in Escambia County, Florida, 1960-1980," planned three presentations, covering historic milestones like the Brown v. Board of Education decision, the March on Washington, the integration of the University of Mississippi, and the Montgomery bus boycott. Seminar attendees would then work with a curriculum specialist to translate that history into grade-appropriate lesson plans and classroom resources. A seminar agenda noted that teachers would receive two children's books to consider for classroom use: the elementary-targeted "White Socks Only" and, for middle schoolers, "The Watsons Go to Birmingham." Butler saw the training as part of his career-long mission to teach that "people who are marginalized have a history too, and it's a very inspiring American story."

But last Wednesday afternoon, Butler and his colleagues learned that Osceola school officials were forcing NCHE to cancel the seminar. The district, he was told, had instituted a review committee to investigate all training materials for the possibility that they might promote "critical race theory," and its curriculum director worried the seminar's advance reading materials would raise "red flags."

According to NCHE executive director Grace Leatherman, district officials were particularly concerned about the seminar's use of primary source materials, including decades-old political cartoons about the Great Migration and Plessy v. Ferguson, the Supreme Court decision that established segregation's "separate but equal" doctrine, as well as images of contemporary civil rights protests like Colin Kaepernick kneeling on a football field. Since the committee wouldn't have time to review those materials before Saturday, the seminar was canceled and wouldn't be rescheduled.

To Butler, this was not just the culmination of Florida's year-long demonization of so-called critical race theory — however vaguely or inaccurately defined — but also the realization of something he warned his students about years ago. "When our former president used the term 'fake news,' I told my classes to be aware of what's coming next, and that's fake history," he told me. "If there's a topic that can be censored today, that means there's a precedent for the censoring of any topic in any state moving forward. And that should scare all teachers."

On Thursday, after Osceola's participating teachers were sent notice of the seminar's cancellation, with no explanation, Butler took to Twitter to warn that this is "what the war against CRT in Florida is really about": not keeping teachers from "going rogue," or protecting white children from feeling guilty, but "making it difficult — if not impossible — to teach any history that considers the Black experience," period.

At the broadest level, the seminar was yet another victim of the nationwide right-wing crusade against CRT. In vying to emerge as the face of that fight, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis has launched numerous attacks against CRT, or related targets, over the last half-year.

These have included policies equating teaching "that racism is embedded in American society and its legal systems" with Holocaust denialism; bans on schools using The New York Times' "1619 Project" or pedagogical concepts like "culturally responsive instruction"; requirements that civics classes teach "portraits in patriotism"; and two bills currently under consideration to establish an annual "Victims of Communism Day," mandating that schools observe the anniversary of the Bolshevik Revolution to teach about communist dictators, and DeSantis's "Stop W.O.K.E. Act," which would empower private citizens to sue school districts they believe are teaching CRT.

But that fight is also taking place at the local level, including in Osceola County, where the school board's general counsel, Frank Kruppenbacher, has taken repeated aim at the supposed specter of critical race theory in recent months. In October, Kruppenbacher, who has said that "as an American" he finds CRT "frankly frightening," investigated parents' complaints that a district center for new teachers promoted CRT because its website included references to race and "equity." After sending some 60 pages of documents related to parents' complaints to the state Department of Education, last Wednesday Kruppenbacher introduced a draft resolution to ban CRT at the district level, explaining, "We want to educate employees that they've got to adhere to this, and we'll be aggressive with dealing with every report we get," and warning that educators' teaching certificates were on the line. That was the same day that district officials canceled the NCHE civil rights seminar.

An administrative employee in a different Florida school district, speaking to Salon on condition of anonymity, speculated that Osceola's district authorities likely saw that the NCHE seminar would cover civil rights protests and "got so nervous that it was easier not to hold it than to not only have external opposition but internal opposition too," particularly "if your own school board attorney is not going to have your back."

Across Florida's school districts, the employee said, an environment of self-censorship and risk avoidance is becoming commonplace as DeSantis and his education commissioner, Richard Corcoran — who has described the primary purpose of education as instilling moral values — are running a multifaceted approach to overhaul Florida schooling, including by defining the central message of U.S. history and civics as "America was intended as a good place and always will be," and making educators "very afraid to bring up any topic that makes people feel uncomfortable."

The employee noted that their own request for anonymity in speaking to a reporter reflected that environment: "It's a really strange and hard time. Places like Florida and Virginia are living one reality, and places like New York and California are living a different one completely. The combination of this uber-patriotic Americanism, that's defined as 'either you're with us or against us,' and the demonization of questioning, are the worst aspects of fear and anti-intellectualism."

Butler says he has heard from numerous Florida public school history teachers who say their lessons are being scrutinized to see whether they run afoul of the DeSantis administration's new laws and policies. One teacher, Butler relayed, ordered photocopies of a handout for a lesson about the infamous Birmingham church bombing of 1963, only to have her request trigger a phone call from district authorities to her principal, asking what was going on.

In Dunedin High School in central Florida's Pinellas County, history teacher Brandt Robinson has been the target of one parent's attacks for months. First, a student's mother accused him at a July school board meeting of promoting "Marxist indoctrination of our youth," because he'd urged his school board to stand firm against the growing attacks on CRT. Then, after her son briefly enrolled in, and then dropped, Robinson's elective African American history class last August, the mother lodged multiple formal complaints about his curriculum. Specifically, she charged that Robinson's use of historian Nell Irvin Painter's 2006 book "Creating Black Americans: African-American History and Its Meanings, 1619 to the Present" must mean that Robinson was violating Florida's new ban on teaching materials from the "1619 Project" — even though Painter's book was published 13 years before the Times series.

"What's happening is these groups are conflating CRT with all these other initiatives," as well as basic, factual history, said Robinson. "Then that intimidates school boards. And, to the degree that these boards are politically vulnerable, some are caving."

That pattern is repeating around the country. A report released last Wednesday by UCLA's Institute for Democracy, Education and Access, studied the local impact of anti-CRT fights, and found that almost 900 U.S. public school districts, representing around 18 million K-12 students, or 35% of the U.S. student body, have been affected by local anti-CRT campaigns. Interestingly, the study notes that — as with the recent finding that participants in the Jan. 6 insurrection were often motivated by changing racial demographics around them — school districts where the percentage of white students has declined sharply in recent years were three times more likely to experience local conflicts over CRT. But across the board, what the study calls anti-CRT "conflict campaigns" have left educators "terrified" to do their work, often without the support of school or district authorities, and sometimes afraid to introduce subjects that might spark anger from parents, politicians or advocacy groups.

While Robinson's school stuck by him — a committee formed to review his curriculum unanimously dismissed the complaining mother's appeal — he said many of his colleagues fear being similarly targeted for a book they've assigned or a discussion they led. On top of the incredible stresses of teaching through the pandemic, he said charges that teachers are trying to "indoctrinate" their students or "teach them to hate our country" have left him, and many other teachers, feeling that they could "break down almost at any moment."

The Osceola School District didn't respond to multiple requests for comment, but in an email to seminar participants obtained by Salon, district superintendent Debra Pace explained that "the district team received the prereading document on Wednesday and felt like we needed an opportunity to review them prior to the training in light of the current conversations across our state and in our community about critical race theory." While the superintendent said she remained committed to "open discussion" about difficult topics, she added that the district must be "mindful of the potential of negative distractions if we are not proactive in reviewing the content and planning its presentation carefully."

Even in a time when caricatures of CRT have become a dominant prop in right-wing political theater, the call for "proactive" reviews of teacher training materials suggests a disturbing new development: the preemptive censorship of straightforward historical instruction — even when aimed at adults rather than students — out of fear that the content might spark community or political outrage.

"It's unfortunate that school districts in what is supposedly the 'freest state' in the nation are so concerned about retaliation from the governor that they feel compelled to review and censor instructional materials," said Andrew Spar, the president of the Florida Education Association, the state's largest labor union. "As this kind of second-guessing goes on in districts throughout the state, Florida's public schools are experiencing severe and sometimes overwhelming shortages of teachers and support staff. Inciting fear in our districts and classrooms is not the way to attract more employees. It does nothing to help students."

"What happened in this case is a really good example of how [the anti-CRT discourse] is going to affect everyone, and the kinds of erasure of history or censorship we're going to see," said Kirk Bailey, political director of the Florida ACLU. "In this case, it's even pre-censorship. The legislation being discussed in Tallahassee hasn't even passed, and we're already seeing school districts changing their behavior. I think we just don't know how far it could go."

Butler warned that what happens in Florida could become a disastrous national model, quoting documentary filmmaker Billy Corben's maxim that "the Florida of today is the America of tomorrow."

"That has always resonated with me," Butler said, "because what we've learned from the Florida experience is that, ever since the passage of Brown, this state has perfected the tactics of stonewalling, delaying and complicating the process of integration. That's Florida's contribution to the civil rights narrative: You can't stop it, but you can slow it down. You can stonewall, delay and use rhetoric to say, 'This isn't about civil rights, this is about laws, this is about procedures, this is about local parents determining their own decisions for their children.'"

Today, he said, that historical narrative is playing out again. And the only silver lining he sees is that developments like these may force educators, and the rest of the country, to recognize "what the stakes are in this battle."

Omicron continues to batter schools, with staffing shortages forcing many to close

Staffing shortages have forced more school closures around the country in recent days, and the locations of some of those schools should give pause to the flood of hot-takers wanting to blame it on teachers unions and Democratic lawmakers any time a school closes or goes remote.

Six elementary schools in Wichita, Kansas, were closing on Tuesday due to coronavirus-related absences. Three of the schools were public, three were private, and two of the private Catholic schools were planning to be closed Wednesday as well. A Wichita high school had to close last Friday. About 10% of students and 8.5% of staff in the district were in quarantine.

Wichita isn’t unique in Kansas: Schools in Olathe, Kansas City, Eudora, Desoto, Manhattan-Ogden, Bonner Springs, and El Dorado have also had recent closures because of high COVID-19 rates.

In Alabama, one in four students were on remote learning last week, and many schools in the state remained remote in the days following Martin Luther King Day. Elmore County, Alabama, was returning to in-person school on Tuesday, but anticipated school bus delays “due to a shortage of drivers and substitute drivers. This situation may continue for the duration of the COVID spike.”

Two school districts in Hancock County, Indiana, have shifted to distance learning, one of them with a staff absence rate hitting 19%. Schools didn’t even have enough teachers to do remote teaching; rather, students were accessing assignments online and doing them from home. But hey, a day of canceled school plus a long weekend plus the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s revised five-day isolation period means teachers should be coming back.

“The nice thing with the five days is that we can get teachers back to work sooner,” a school official said. Yeah, gee, really nice.

Two districts in the San Antonio, Texas, area closed for part or all of the week, with one saying the closure would give students and staff time to “restore their health.”

”Closing schools is a difficult decision to make, and I apologize for any inconvenience that this may cause. However, to mitigate the spread of this virus has lead us to this decision,” said the superintendent of the other district. "As able, our teachers will be providing educational resources for the next two days or until this school closure ends.”

Neither district requires masks in schools.

Schools in Fulton, Missouri, were closed Tuesday, with at least one potentially remaining closed Wednesday.

The school superintendent in Couer d’Alene, Idaho, recently warned parents to be prepared for schools to temporarily close after a week in which one in six teachers needed a substitute, and on at least one day, only 60% of teacher absences could be covered by the available substitutes.

These are not states in which either Democrats or unions have a tight grip on policy. And indeed, school closures or temporary transitions to virtual learning are not a matter of policy right now. They are a matter of numbers: the number of teachers and staff (very much including bus drivers) either sick or quarantined, the number of students either sick or quarantined. Yet the steady stream of local news stories about these closures is met with a loud debate in the national media over whether schools should go remote and who is to blame when they do. (The virus. The virus is to blame.) Virtually nobody—or, to be specific, a majority of absolutely no group—thinks that remote learning is ideal for kids. Or for teachers, for that matter. The question is what is safe and, lately, what is even possible under the circumstances. Anyone who wants to talk about schools without acknowledging the reality should face serious questions about their motives.

Virginia's new GOP Governor Youngkin sparks outrage as he pushes to block school mask mandates

For months Virginia’s incoming Republican governor has been promising he would neither mandate masks in schools nor ban school districts from requiring them.

“Virginia Governor-elect Glenn Youngkin (R) will not outlaw local COVID-19 mandates when he takes office in January,” reported the far right wing website Daily Wire back in November.

Local ABC affiliate 8 News, also in November reported, “Youngkin won’t try to block local mask, vaccine mandates like other Republican governors.”

Glenn Youngkin was sworn into office on Saturday, January 15, 2022.

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Business Insider reports that on Saturday, after Youngkin was sworn into office, he “signed an executive action that banned schools from requiring that students wear masks to stem the spread of COVID-19, instead allowing parents to decide when their children wear masks during the school day.”

Youngkin’s first act as governor was to sign eleven executive orders. Among them: effectively banning any mask mandates in schools across the state, by allowing parents to opt-out for any reason or no reason.

In other words: flip-flopping on his promise.

Youngkin is using his Lt. Governor to threaten angry school districts. Fox News’ John Roberts:

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Pundit and political analyst Bill Scher:

Youngkin made a big deal over the weekend claiming schools have to “listen to parents” and if they oppose his mask ban they aren’t listening to parents.

Gov. Youngkin is the one not listening.

In poll after poll after poll after poll Virginia parents make clear they support mask mandates in schools, and Virginians overall support mask mandates, period.

'Madness': Oklahoma bill would empower parents to remove books from school libraries

A bill proposed by a Republican state senator in Oklahoma would empower parents to have books that discuss gender identity removed from public school libraries—a measure that rights advocates warned could have life-threatening consequences for LGBTQ+ children across the state.

Under Senate Bill 1142, introduced earlier this month by state Sen. Rob Standridge, just one parent would have to object to a book that includes discussion of "sexual perversion, sex-based classifications, sexual identity, or gender identity" and other related themes in order to begin the process of removal.

Upon receiving a written request to remove a book, a school district would have 30 days to eliminate all copies of the material from circulation.

In a provision that appeared inspired by S.B. 8 in Texas—the law that deputizes any citizen and entitles them to a financial reward if they successfully sue someone for aiding a pregnant person in obtaining abortion care—parents will be able to collect $10,000 per day for as long as the book in question remains in library.

They could also be entitled to compensation for court and attorneys' fees, according to Newsweek, if the district refuses to remove the book and the case proceeds to court. School librarians could also be fired for keeping the book on shelves and barred from working in public schools for up to two years.Democratic state Rep. Jacob Rosecrants called the proposal "asinine," but told the McAlester News-Capital he believes that bill has the potential to make it to the governor's desk in light of the Republican Party's pursuit of similar legislation in other states, including at least one proposal that's been passed into law limiting how teachers can discuss race and gender.

"I think it's just trying to feed into the fearmongering that it looks like the GOP really is going for here," Rosecrants told the local outlet. "It blows me away."

Standridge said books he has seen in school libraries that could be targeted by the bill include Trans Teen Survival Guide, A Quick and Easy Guide to Queer and Trans Identities, A Quick and Easy Guide to They/Them Pronouns, and The Art of Drag.

Even if the bill is voted down, Morgan Allen of Oklahomans for Equality told the News-Capital, the public condemnation of such material by a state legislator is "absolutely harmful" to young people in Oklahoma, where one in four LGBTQ+ youths report having attempted suicide, compared with 7% nationally.

"These books are there to give our kids the language that they need to express how they are already feeling, and that's it," Allen told the newspaper. "These books are not there for anything else other than to affirm and show the kids their love for who they are, and that there are other people out there like them, that they are not alone. And if we take those books away from their libraries, then we're saying that their schools and the people who are in those schools don't see them for who they are, and that they are alone in those schools."

S.B. 1142 is one of several "education gag orders" that are moving through state legislatures, Dr. Jeffrey A. Sachs of Acadia University noted on social media. Such proposals, which Republicans have fashioned both as attacks on LGBTQ+ students and on classroom discussion of racial injustice and U.S. history, "increasingly include a private right of action," Sachs said.

New Hampshire's S.B. 2, which has been passed into law, allows "any person claiming to be aggrieved" by school discussions of race, sex, or gender to file a civil suit against the school in question.

Lawmakers in Missouri plan to take up a proposal next year which would allow private citizens to sue schools if they fail to promote "an overall positive... history and understanding of the United States."

"If found guilty, a school would be required to pay the plaintiff's legal fees and up to $1,000 in civil penalties," Sachs wrote at PEN America last week.

The slew of "education gag orders" represent "a madness that, at its core, is about putting the paralyzing fear of god into teachers, school districts, and local officials," tweeted Sachs.

The proposals "present themselves in the guise of so-called 'Parents' Bills of Rights'," Sachs added, using a term applied to a law pushed by Florida Republicans and signed last year by Gov. Ron DeSantis. "But don't be fooled. They are about fear."

The case for Biden to go big on student debt forgiveness

The Biden administration had been debating whether to restart federal student loan payments. Payments had been paused because of the pandemic in March 2020 and were scheduled to begin again in February. The moratorium was extended Wednesday until May.

The looming sunset on the moratorium had led to renewed calls to simply forgive federal student loans altogether. Biden has forgiven debts for people with permanent disability and for students defrauded by for-profit colleges in accordance with preexisting federal programs.

During the 2020 campaign, though, Biden promised to forgive $10,000 in loans for hundreds of thousands of borrowers. He has not kept that promise. Senator Elizabeth Warren and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer called for $50,000 in loan forgiveness for all federal borrowers, which they argued Biden could do without even asking Congress. But he hasn’t done that either.

Republicans and even many Democrats opposed broad student loan forgiveness on grounds that it’s unfair. They argue that people who have already responsibly paid off their loans won’t benefit – which is a bit like arguing that fixing roads is unfair to those who have just moved out of town. A more reasonable concern is that people who have debt are wealthier and more privileged than those who don’t, so that debt forgiveness is essentially a regressive redistribution of wealth.

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But the claim that forgiving debt is a giveaway to elites doesn’t hold up. Worse, framing debtors as immoral and undeserving plays into talking points about scarcity and the undeserving, profligate poor that make it harder to pass any progressive legislation. Opposing student debt makes it harder, not easier, to advance programs for the needy.

Brookings’ Adam Looney makes the strongest good faith case for deprioritizing debt forgiveness. Debt relief is very expensive. Forgiving all student debt would cost about 1.6 trillion; $50,000 forgiveness would cost $1 trillion; and $10,000 would cost about $375 billion.

The $50,000 forgiveness would be about what the government has spent on Supplemental Social Security Income since 2000. It’s twice as much as the government has spent on Pell Grants since 2000, which are awarded to low and middle income undergraduates. In contrast, Looney says, the median income of houses with student loans is $76,400.

“In terms of demographics and educational attainment, households with student debt largely mirror the characteristics of households in the population at large, except they are better educated,” he said. That means people with loans are overall better-off and whiter than people who receive transfer payments more targeted at poorer families.

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Andre M. Perry, Marshall Steinbaum and Carl Romer, also at Brookings, point out flaws in the argument. Because of the racial wealth gap, Black households carry far more debt than white ones. Four years after college, Black graduates owe $52,726 on average while white graduates owe $28,006 on average. That means if you eliminate all debt, the average Black graduate with debt will be $52,000 richer and the average white graduate with debt will only be $28,000 richer.

It won’t eliminate the racial wealth gap. But it would help.

Along the same lines, Perry, et. al, point out that debt elimination would be progressive, not regressive, because taxation is evaluated relative to income, not in dollar amounts. Sales taxes tend to take more money from wealthy people because wealthy people buy more stuff. But sales taxes are nonetheless regressive taxes, because poorer people have to spend a larger share of their income to pay them.

Poor families’ loan debts are huge compared to household wealth. But loans are a negligible percentage of wealth for high-income families. As a result, “canceling student debt would make the income and wealth distributions more egalitarian and nearly eliminate negative net worth households from the wealth distribution,” the authors said. “That is the definition of a progressive –not regressive – program.”

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More broadly, if we take Looney’s frame, and set up an either/or choice between debt forgiveness and other transfer payments like Social Security or housing assistance, progressives have already lost. When it comes to defense and transfer payments to the rich, conservatives and moderates always seem to come up with infinite money. But when it comes to helping average people, we have to choose between education and freezing on the street?

The fact that canceling student debt would be a massive transfer payment isn’t a bug. It’s a feature. It’s a statement that the government should do more – much more – for average families. It’s a statement that education should be for everyone, not just for the wealthy.

Since 2011, funding for public education has plummeted; in 2018, state funding was $6.6 billion below what it was in 2008, just before the Great Recession. Private university tuition has ballooned 144 percent in the past 20 years among universities surveyed by USA Today. In-state public school tuition has risen by 211 percent. Student debt has also ballooned, growing more than 100 percent in the past 10 years.

Students who want to go to college can expect to repay loans for years or decades. Education in that context is not a way to enrich lives or promote human flourishing. It’s a high-stakes gamble.

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“This forces us to think very narrowly about education,” activist Astra Taylor told Vox. “If you’re young and want to think about how best you can contribute to society, if you want time to pursue your curiosities, you think, ‘Well, damn, I can’t do that because I have to be pragmatic and pay all this debt back.’” Debt turns passion into burden. It makes poets into bankers. Then it encourages us to kick and condemn anyone who dares to say they’d like to value poetry over money.

We condemn them specifically, because we all know high-stakes gamblers are frivolous foolish elites in need of chastisement. Students are forced to take on huge debt. And then the fact that they have taken on huge debt marks them as immoral and unworthy of relief.

This is the reactionary logic of hierarchy, which has structured America’s stingy social safety net for decades. It’s the same reasoning West Virginia Senator Joe Manchin used in refusing to support the Build Back Better plan. He said that people receiving a $300 to alleviate child poverty would spend it on drugs. The wealthy (like Manchin) are industrious and so deserve to bathe in government billions. The less well off are all, by definition, undeserving, and can’t be trusted to help their children, or educate themselves. Let them eat debt.

The question isn’t whether the richest country in the history of the world can afford to pay for its people’s education. The question is whether we can afford not to. Debt prevents people from dreaming. It creates a more cramped, more grasping future. By abolishing debt, Biden could help millions of people, and make us a more generous, more dynamic, more equal country. He should do so.

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The new right-wing attack on education is part of a long tradition of white conservative panic over schools

Conservative attacks on education through anti-critical race theory laws are the newest strategy in a long history of politicizing public education and delegitimizing integrated and inclusive academics.

While public education should be a neutral conversation supported by all (why would educating your children be political?), its history as a flashpoint for desegregation and racial inclusion fuels white panic.

Anti-CRT laws might seem outlandish, but they are the latest attempt by white conservatives to justify objections to acceptable public education. They are a continuation of attempts to use public education to indoctrinate students into white Protestant Americanism.

One reason public education is inherently politicized is that the federal public school system actually began after the Civil War. Public education was a local matter and much more common in New England. Boston Latin was the first public school in the original 13 colonies founded in 1635. Massachusetts began the first free taxpayer-funded school in 1639 called the Mather School in Dorchester.

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Education in this period was often in the hands of the parents to teach literacy and arithmetic while children had apprenticeships to learn other skills. However, the ability of the parents to teach literacy was partially related to their religion. Those who were Protestant were more likely to be able to read well so they could read the Bible.

Public education was less common in the South where the rich would employ tutors for their children rather than building a community school project. While New England’s public grammar school network expanded and became required in Massachusetts in 1647, they opened prestigious private academies, many of which still exist today.

In addition to a greater emphasis on primary education, most of the earliest universities were also located in the North. Therefore elite Southerners would travel to the North to enroll in universities.

Education was both a necessary component for a functioning democracy and also the purview of the elite. Not only did educating one’s children cost money, it meant there was luxury time for those children. Even with the focus on public education in New England, there wasn’t a public high school in the United States until 1820 or a compulsory education law until 1852 (both in Massachusetts).

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Until the late 19th century, even those supportive of public education for all usually only meant access to grammar school for basic literacy and arithmetic. Further education was a luxury and a sign of wealth.

Some states specified free public education would only be for the poor, thereby ensuring two tiers of education. After the revolution, the concept of Republican Motherhood ascended. That linked republican citizenship to education and put the responsibility in the mothers’ hands. This had the positive benefit of including women in some education since it was up to them to educate the next generation.

Until the Civil War, education was very limited for free Black people in the North and illegal for enslaved people. In the North, it was rare for schools to accept Black students, though there were exceptions.

For example, Caroline Forten attended an all-white private grammar school in 1854 and was hired eventually to teach white students in Salem, Massachusetts. She joined a group traveling to South Carolina islands to teach former enslaved people during the Civil War (the white slave owners had fled, leaving the Black people behind).

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There were examples of schools dedicated to teaching free Black people, like the New York African Free School. Their mission was often controversial (it was burned down in 1814) and difficult, because their students had to work and didn’t have basic necessities.

In the South, literacy was considered dangerous for enslaved people as it would allow communication between plantations and could lead to an organized revolt. It was also in the best interests of the planter class to keep enslaved people from knowing too much about radical politics.

The federal Department of Education was founded in 1867, but there was an immediate concern it could exercise too much control over local populations. It was made into the “Office of Education” to be housed within different departments a year later. By 1870, all states had public elementary schools paid by taxes. While these schools were meant to educate everyone, they were not initially compulsory.

Mississippi was the last state to pass a compulsory education law in 1917 but with little enforcement. During Reconstruction, the Freedman’s Bureau opened many schools, and Republican politicians set up a system of taxpayer-funded schools in the South.

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When Reconstruction ended, Democrats took back power. They cut funding for education. There was no requirement that schools be integrated, only that there be a school available for all children. The “separate but equal” rule was formalized in Plessy v. Ferguson in 1896.

Public education has a history of forcing a white Protestant curriculum with the idea of “civilizing” the poor, immigrants and Native Americans. Compulsory education gained popularity in the late 19th and early 20th centuries because it was seen as a tool of assimilation.

Compulsory education has a particularly brutal history for Native Americans. who were required to learn in English (not their native languages) and were taken off reservations to be taught at boarding schools. One of the most commonly used readers for public schools in the late 19th and early 20th centuries was the McGuffey Readers. Its antisemitic tropes were taught to Jewish children. Public schools were a place of forced assimilation into a white Protestant culture.

When Brown v. Board of Education forced the integration of public school education in 1954, the worst fears about federalism and compulsory education came true for white conservatives. Integrated education was dangerous, because it could lead to interracial sex – “miscegenation” – which was a direct threat to white supremacy.

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With integrated schools, it would be harder to ensure that Black education was always worse and less funded, though de facto segregation has continued many of these disparities. The North mostly relied on existing de facto segregation or parents pulled children out of public school and sent them to newly formed “segregation academies,” which were all-white private schools. While these can’t legally discriminate, after the 1976 Supreme Court case Runyon v. McCrary, many still exist today with very low Black enrollment.

The history of public education is highly politicized and racialized in who was excluded and how the content of public education enforced a specific white Protestant worldview. Recent attacks on “critical race theory” are the latest bogeyman to attempt to elevate a mythologized white-centric history over an inclusive and accurate education.

Democrats are inviting their own 2022 nightmare

Progressives are spelling out for the Democratic Party the disastrous implications that are likely to come with the government's possible failure to extend the enhanced child tax credit right as the White House plans to require tens of millions of people to restart their federal student loan payments—warning that the 2022 midterms could be "brutal" if the party imposes new financial burdens on working families.

With right-wing Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) telling the White House Wednesday he wants to "zero out" the child tax credit (CTC) in the $1.75 trillion Build Back Better reconciliation package, millions of families with children may have received their final monthly payment of up to $300 per child this week.

The most recent payment hit bank accounts on Wednesday as the White House announced it would shelve negotiations over the social spending package in light of Manchin's objections.

In order to ensure families can receive another monthly check by January 15, the legislation would have to be approved by December 28, according to CNBC.

Without the CTC, nearly 10 million children are at risk of falling into poverty, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, while another 27 million children will lose income that has been credited with helping families across the country afford rising grocery bills, utilities, school expenses, and other necessities.

According to Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), the Democrats are "looking at all procedural options available for a stand-alone short term extension of the CTC," which would require the votes of at least 10 Republican senators to pass with the legislative filibuster in place.

Without congressional action, wrote Eric Levitz at New York Wednesday, "shortly after Christmas—and in the midst of rising prices—just about every U.S. household with minor children will see its monthly income abruptly fall. It seems likely that this would be politically disadvantageous for the ruling party. It is certain that allowing the enhanced CTC to expire would increase child poverty."

According to an analysis by the Urban Institute, the continuation of the CTC—which is only included in the current version of the Build Back Better Act for one year—would slash child poverty by 40%.

"Millions of people are depending on us," tweeted Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.).

If the White House goes through with its current plans, weeks after receiving their final CTC payment tens of millions of Americans—including many who are raising children—will also be required for the first time in nearly two years to begin paying off their student loans again.

Congress imposed a moratorium on the payments in March 2020 and the pause has been extended several times by both the Trump and Biden administrations.

White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki made clear in a press briefing last week that the administration currently has no plans to extend more relief to student loan borrowers, whose monthly payments are nearly $400 on average.

Psaki told reporters that the White House is "focused on starting repayment" as planned. As Common Dreams reported in October, the Education Department has been examining ways to avert "a surge in delinquencies" through a "return to repayment" program.

"If I were trying to prevent handing power back to the GOP for at least a decade I would simply not do this," journalist Kate Aronoff tweeted last week.

Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), who has been joined by Rep. Ayanna Pressley (D-Mass.) and Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) in urging the White House to cancel significant amounts of student debt—as the Higher Education Act permits—said Thursday that restarting monthly loan payments will be a "hard blow" to households across the country.

"The pause on federal student loan payments, interest, and collections has improved borrowers' economic security, allowing them to invest in their families, save for emergencies, and pay down other debt," wrote Warren, Pressley, and Schumer in a letter to the administration last week. "Restarting payments without canceling student debt will undermine these families' economic progress."

High school teacher and former UFC fighter Cory Gibson shared on social media how the Democrats' failure to prioritize working families in the coming weeks will affect his family, saying they would face a "$1,400 swing" in income over the course of a month and a half.

Some progressives preemptively denounced centrist Democrats and pundits who may blame the left for congressional losses in 2022 rather than connecting negative electoral outcomes to the party's failure to help working families.

"These are policy choices," said the Debt Collective, which advocates for student debt cancellation. "We don't have to choose this. All of this is 100% unnecessary and avoidable."

While many progressives have denounced Manchin for his part in objecting to the extension of the CTC, Levitz pointed out that the party leadership chose to cut the extension down to one year rather than making it permanent to satisfy Manchin's spending demands:

For months, the senator has suggested that he will not support new spending far in excess of $1.75 trillion, that he would like every cent of that spending to be offset with new taxes, and that cutting the bill's costs by phasing out programs Democrats intend to eventually make permanent is a gimmick that would not satisfy his demand on the spending cap. As Manchin told Politico back in September, "Once you start doing something, it becomes ingrained in it. We want to do it and do it right and finance it."
[...]
Even as Democratic leaders heeded Manchin's demands on the bill's top-line price and tax provisions, they ignored his consistent, emphatic opposition to budget gimmicks. Instead of paring down Biden's social agenda to two or three programs and then funding full permanent versions of those policies, House Democrats chose to retain nearly all of Biden's proposals and then cram them under a $1.75 trillion spending cap through a variety of means tests, phase-ins, and phaseouts."

"Right now, Democrats have a rare opportunity to permanently expand the American welfare state," Levitz continued. "Merely supplying permanent funding for the enhanced CTC would lift millions of U.S. children out of poverty a year, in perpetuity. Establishing universal prekindergarten or closing the Medicaid gap would be a similarly laudable achievement. By attempting to enact nearly all of Biden's social policies in miniature, however, Democrats risk permanently establishing none."

The pandemic didn't break our schools — it exposed the crisis they're already in

There is no question that American public schools are in crisis. But critical race theory, diversity initiatives, subversive books and online learning implemented during the pandemic are only the most recent chapters of the story in which politicians speak the language of school reform while draining actual schools of needed funding.

Instead, state and local governments rely on the private sector to address the changing needs of students. Charter schools, high stakes tests, surveillance and rote curriculum devised by consultants divert public funds to private entities. And the Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) initiatives that have become so controversial in the past six months? Even they are provided by for-profit consultants.

Since none of these developments are reforms, it’s no wonder our schools folded like a house of cards when faced with a pandemic. I often wonder: what would a real reformer, like John Dewey, think?

A philosopher trained at the Johns Hopkins University, Dewey believed schools were the foundation of democracy. At a time when secondary schools featured rows of unmovable desks, and classrooms were dominated by rote memorization, Dewey proposed the radical idea of learn by doing. Reasoning, making choices and experiencing the world as it is prepared students, he said, for a modern, democratic society.

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This influential turn-of-the-century scholar founded the University of Chicago Lab School to test his theories and, in 1919, my own university, The New School in New York City. Dewey believed that a school was a model community, where students and teachers cooperated in the learning process. The function of school was not to turn out students as quality products, but to cultivate individual creativity and, most importantly, incubate citizens capable of life-long learning.

While Dewey’s ideas were implemented in their most literal form in private, progressive schools, over time they had an impact on public education as well. Whenever students complete a chosen research project, go on a field trip or reorganize moveable desks into small groups to thrash out a problem, it’s an idea derived from Dewey.

But there is less and less room for students to learn by doing, and more pressure for teachers and students to consume rigid curricula that prepare them for standardized tests. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the charter school movement that began in the 1970s, and that was first enacted into state law as educational alternatives in 1991, promoted charter schools as more accountable than mainstream public schools, something that could only be gauged by tests.

The idea that private entities could provide a public service cheaper, and more efficiently, than the government (a theory otherwise known as “neoliberalism”) had a particular impact on schools in the late 20th century, as Republicans and Democrats both bemoaned the decline of public schools and refused to tax Americans to fund them properly.

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Instead, school reform came to mean demanding accountability: from students, parents, teachers and principals. Pedagogies that emphasize discipline, mandatory curricula and grading resurged powerfully after Congress passed George W. Bush’s “No Child Left Behind” legislation in 2002, which threatened to (and did) close “underperforming” schools.

While most public charter schools showed little improvement, others like New York’s Success Academy, prided themselves on imposing rigorous discipline on both students and parents, pointing to their high test scores as proof that regimented classrooms work.

But regimented classrooms are not democratic: they teach children to take orders, not think for themselves. And as we learned during the pandemic, regimentation does not prepare students to learn on their own, nor does rote learning thrive in an online learning environment in which students must be motivated to succeed. Despite the fact that public secondary schools doubled down on rigid rules, requiring students to adhere to school dress codes, sit up straight and show a neat, utilitarian workspace – student performance steadily declined.

Worse, schools couldn’t replicate community in a virtual environment. While substance abuse among teens dropped in 2021, depression and anxiety accelerated as students experienced school without any moderating influence from teachers or friends. The National Institute of Health (NIH) measures average learning loss from school closures at 20 percent, but that number rises to 60 percent among the most disadvantaged students. Up to 3 million students simply vanished.

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At a time when students need good teachers more than ever, they are in short supply. A pre-pandemic shortage, fueled by low pay that pushes one in six teachers to hold a second job, is intensifying. Two out of every three Colorado teachers are contemplating a new career, and Minnesota is reaching out to retirees.

And it’s not just the pay and the working conditions. Teachers often don’t have tools allowing them to do their jobs. Stories about teachers purchasing supplies for their students that school systems won’t, or can’t, budget for were back in the news this week when a video featuring eight South Dakota teachers scrambling for cash in a hockey arena, money intended to supplement classroom budgets, went viral.

The pandemic did not cause our school systems to break. It exposed the fact that schools’ fragile capacity to support students has declined. Not surprisingly, so have their buildings, a factor that has inhibited a full-scale return in many places. In 2020, the Brookings Institution reported 36,000 schools were in need of new heating, ventilation and HVAC systems. Over half of American schools needed approximately $197 billion in upgrades to return them to a good condition.

To be sure, the pandemic has been a sucker-punch to education at all levels. But culture-war issues, which occupy hours of broadcast time on cable news and endless social media outrage, only hide what is really wrong with our schools: long-term managed decline and disinvestment. But they do distract voters from policymakers’ repeated failures to reimagine curriculum, invest in infrastructure and create incentives to recruit and retain talented teachers.

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As John Dewey would remind us, that’s a problem for democracy too.

School shootings are at a record high this year – but they can be prevented

by James Densley, Metropolitan State University and Jillian Peterson, Hamline University

Whenever a school shooting takes place like the one at Oxford High School in suburban Detroit on November 30, 2021, it is typically followed by a familiar chorus of questions.

How could such a thing happen? Why doesn’t the government do more to stop these shootings from occurring?

Those questions are even more urgent in light of the fact that the shooting at Oxford High School was one of 222 school shootings in 2021, an all-time high, according to the Center for Homeland Defense and Security’s K-12 School Shooting Database. That’s over 100 more school shootings in 2021 than in 2019 or 2018, respectively the second- and third-worst years on record.

In the Oxford High School case, a 15-year-old boy armed with a semiautomatic handgun is accused of killing four students and injuring six others and a teacher.

As shown in our 2021 book, “The Violence Project: How to Stop a Mass Shooting Epidemic,” school mass shooters tend to be current or former students of the school. They are almost always in crisis of some sort before their attack, as indicated by a noticeable change in behavior from usual. They often are inspired by other school shooters, and they also tend to leak their plans for violence in advance to their peers.

And school shooters usually get their guns from family and friends who failed to store them safely and securely.

News reports suggest a lot of this holds true for the Oxford High School shooter. For instance, the suspect’s father allegedly purchased the handgun used in the shooting just four days prior. The shooter reportedly exhibited “concerning” behavior at school and posted pictures of the gun alongside threats of violence on social media.

The question now is how to translate these findings into policy and practice in order to prevent the next school shooting.

Trouble from the start

The data we use to track school shootings is a comprehensive database that includes information on “each and every instance a gun is brandished, is fired, or a bullet hits school property for any reason, regardless of the number of victims, time of day, or day of week” going back to 1970.

Working with its co-creator, David Riedman, we uncovered a record 151 school shooting threats in the “back-to-school” month of September 2021, up from a three-year average of 29. Actual school shootings also more than doubled during September 2021 compared with the same month in previous years.

There were 55 school shootings in September 2021, up from 24 in September 2020 and 14 in September 2019. But the school carnage began well before the 2021 school year got underway for most students, as evidenced in the Aug. 13 fatal shooting of 13-year-old Bennie Hargrove at Washington Middle School in Albuquerque, New Mexico.

These trends are part of an overall rise in shootings and murders in 2020 and 2021, tied in part to record gun sales. More guns in more hands increases the likelihood that a firearm will find its way into a school.

Local responses

Schools are struggling to respond to the overwhelming number of shootings and shooting threats. There have been a staggering 30 shootings just at high school football games so far this year.

A “State of Emergency” meeting was held after nine teens were shot in two separate shootings in Aurora, Colorado, in November 2021. Public schools in the area are prohibiting students from leaving for lunch in an effort to keep them safe.

One school in Phoenix, Arizona, banned backpacks and food deliveries after a student was shot in the bathroom on Nov. 29. The Newburgh Enlarged City School District in New York State offered remote learning following two separate shooting incidents near its schools on Nov. 22. Schools across the country are increasing safety measures, canceling classes, even using police escorts for students coming onto campus.

These localized responses stand in stark contrast to the national legislative action taken in Finland, Germany and other countries when they experienced deadly school shootings.

Response in the UK

Twenty-five years ago, in March 1996, a gunman walked into Scotland’s Dunblane Primary School and opened fire, killing 16 children and a teacher. A successful campaign for gun regulation followed, laws were changed, handguns were banned and the United Kingdom hasn’t had a school shooting since.

Yet in America, active shooter drills to rehearse for a real shooting incident and armed guards to respond to them are the best children can hope for. There is a US$3 billion “homeroom security” industry, and some parents send their children to school wearing bulletproof backpacks.

Searching for solutions

In a study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association in November 2021, we searched public records on 170 mass shooters who killed four or more people from 1966 to 2019 for any communication of intent to do harm. That includes posting a threat on social media or telegraphing future violence to a loved one in person. We found that 79 mass shooters – nearly half of them – leaked their plans in advance. Communication was most common among school shooters and younger shooters. The fact it was most strongly associated with suicidal tendencies or attempts, as well as prior mental health counseling, suggests it may best be characterized as a cry for help.

Threats of violence circulated on campus before the Oxford High School shooting, with some students staying home out of an abundance of caution. There will be questions now about whether threats were disclosed to authorities and handled appropriately, in ways consistent with best practices on threat assessment or what we like to call “crisis response” systems. Our research is clear that all threats must be investigated and treated seriously as an opportunity for real intervention.

There are further implications from our research. If school shooters are nearly always students of the school, educators and others who work with them need training to identify a student in crisis and how to report something they see or hear indicative of violent intent.

Schools also need counselors, social workers and other resources so they can respond appropriately and holistically to students in crisis. This means not unduly punishing students with expulsion or criminal charges – things that could escalate the crisis or any grievance with the institution.

And for parents of school-age children, safe gun storage at home is paramount.

School shootings are not inevitable. They’re preventable. But practitioners and policymakers must act quickly because each school shooting feeds the cycle for the next one, causing harm far beyond that which is measured in lives lost. We believe the steps outlined above can help address that harm, promoting school security while safeguarding student well-being.

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James Densley, Professor of Criminal Justice, Metropolitan State University and Jillian Peterson, Professor of Criminal Justice, Hamline University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Why the GOP's attempts to ban 'critical race theory' unintentionally do the opposite

by Jonathan Feingold, Boston University

Since the final months of the Trump administration, the Republican Party has waged a sustained assault on critical race theory. Otherwise known as “CRT,” this academic framework offers tools to illuminate the relationship among race, racism and the law. Through calculated caricature and distortion, right-wing think tanks and media have weaponized CRT to manufacture a culture war that recasts antiracism as the new racism.

This campaign employs a well-worn script designed to sow racial division, galvanize voters and shield economic elites – and the systems they enable – from meaningful critique.

This campaign appears to be working. Anti-CRT messaging has emerged as a signature – and potent – GOP political talking point. Iowa Sen. Joni Ernst, for example, repeated a common refrain when she asserted the falsehood that “critical race theory teaches people to judge others based on race, gender, or sexual identity, rather than the content of their character.” More recently in Virginia, Gov.-elect Glenn Youngkin closed his campaign with a pledge to “ban critical race theory on Day One.”

Pundits may have overstated CRT’s impact in Virginia and beyond. But Youngkin’s success cemented CRT as a favorite foil in the Republican playbook.

On the legislative front, between January and September 2021, Republicans invoked similar anti-CRT rhetoric to justify 54 bills across 24 states. At least 11 are now law.

The mainstream media keeps characterizing these laws as “CRT bans.” This framing is understandable and inviting. But often it distorts reality by mischaracterizing the laws themselves. Most of these bills – if you take seriously their actual text – call for more CRT, not less.

Banned concepts

Consider a bill recently passed by Wisconsin’s Republican-dominated Assembly. The bill, which tracks legislation across the country, prohibits teachers from “teach[ing]” a series of banned “concepts.” This includes a ban against teaching that “[o]ne race or sex is inherently superior to another race or sex.”

Now imagine a 10th grade social studies class begins a unit on corporate America. The teacher opens with basic facts about Fortune 500 CEOs: 92.6% are white, 1% are Black, 3.4% are Latinx and 2.4% are Asian. These disparities exist against a backdrop in which roughly 60% of the U.S. population is white, 14.2% is Black, 18.7% is Latinx and 7.2% is Asian.

The teacher shares two additional facts. White men – roughly 35% of the population – hold 85.8% of CEO posts. Of the 83 women who have become CEOs since 2000, 72 were white, thereby comprising 86% of all female CEOs this century.

The statistics invite an inescapable question: Why do such glaring disparities exist?

One answer assumes today’s CEOs are the product of fair and unbiased systems that reward talent and hard work. This response implies that white men, relative to everyone else, and white women, relative to women of color, are simply more talented and harder workers.

In effect, this story suggests that white men are inherently superior – the precise message that Wisconsin’s bill prohibits.

Explaining advantage

A different answer might explore whether the systems that produce CEOs are, in fact, fair and unbiased.

This is where CRT enters. Roughly 40 years ago, a group of legal scholars confronted a similar question: Why do profound racial disparities persist even when the law prohibits racial discrimination?

Four decades later, these scholars – who would name their project critical race theory – have offered varying answers. These answers, many grounded in seminal work from professor Derrick Bell, have exposed the myriad ways that race and sex remain powerful determinants in America – even when laws prohibit race or sex discrimination.

The teacher in our example could bring this robust literature into her classroom. Doing so would comply with the Wisconsin bill and, importantly, enrich her students’ learning. She could, for example, assign writings from acclaimed critical race theorist Cheryl Harris, who exposed the often-invisible benefits whiteness can confer, even to poor white people.

Our teacher could then draw on professor Kimberlé Crenshaw, a CRT co-founder, whose pathbreaking work urges us to explore how racism interacts with sexism, classism and homophobia – among other dimensions of identity.

She could also turn to legal scholar Jerry Kang, who has outlined why implicit biases often lead individuals and institutions to discriminate – even when we hold earnest egalitarian commitments.

Though the specifics differ, the above scholars – and the collective CRT canon – offer a consistent insight: CEO white/male overrepresentation cannot be explained by some “inherent superiority” enjoyed by whites and men. Rather, contemporary disparities result, in large part, from race and gender – and often class – advantages and disadvantages embedded within the systems through which CEOs must pass.

CRT’s political reality

For educators like me who have witnessed the benefits of a CRT-rich curriculum, it’s welcome news that anti-CRT lawmakers are proposing and passing pro-CRT laws – even if unintentional and counterintuitive.

But in reality, these laws are unlikely to yield more CRT in classrooms – regardless of their actual language.

The GOP’s anti-CRT crusade, as with related campaigns targeting trans youth and mask mandates, has never been about facts – let alone concern for legal text. This is about power, and “anti-CRT” laws empower private and public actors to target teachers who engage in even basic conversations about race and racism.

A recent report from the free-speech advocacy group PEN America captures this dynamic. After reviewing all 54 bills, PEN concluded: “These bills appear designed to chill academic and educational discussions and impose government dictates on teaching and learning. In short: They are educational gag orders.”

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PEN further explained that even when bills do not become law, they “send a potent message that educators are being watched and that ideological redlines exist.”

In today’s toxic political climate, this translates to less CRT in the classroom, even when the law – and sound teaching – demands more.The Conversation

Jonathan Feingold, Associate Professor of Law, Boston University

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