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How School Privatization Was Hatched By Racist 1950s Southern Segregationists

"A wildly racist, pro-segregation school privatization "nuclear option" of the 1950s that was designed to protect Georgia's racially segregated schools has recrudesced, to be recycled and repackaged - with the help of Michelle Rhee and her supporters (such as New York mayor Michael Bloomberg) - as a panacea for all that's said to be ailing America's schools." As I explore in a new Talk To Action report, embattled school privatization advocate Michelle Rhee, head of StudentsFirst and subject of the hagiographic documentary "Waiting For Superman", claims that "education is the civil rights issue of our time" -- But privatization schemes promoted by StudentsFirst and its Tea Party-aligned 2012 "Educator of the Year" were originally conceived by racist white Southern politicians as a plan to thwart the desegregation of racially separate schools mandated by the 1954 Brown v. Board of Education Supreme Court Decision. The neo-voucher school privatization schemes now running in almost 1/4 of the states in the Union and which are lustily backed by Rhee's StudentsFirst organization are horrible for so many reasons, it's hard to know where to begin. First, as an article in the October 2013 issue of Rolling Stone The Hidden War Against Gay Teens examines, the neo-voucher programs now operating in twelve U.S. states that divert private and corporate taxpayer dollars away from state coffers to instead pay for students to attend private schools (many of which are religious schools) are now supporting a new form of segregationism that targets LGBTI students. As Rolling Stone's Alex Morris crisply explains,
"Georgia, along with 11 other states (Arizona, Pennsylvania, Florida, Rhode Island, Iowa, Indiana, Oklahoma, Virginia, New Hampshire, Louisiana and, most recently, Alabama), has adopted laws – sometimes referred to as "neovouchers" – to grant dollar-for-dollar tax credits to people who donate money to provide children with scholarships to private schools. In theory, such a plan has the potential to help a lot of students, but in practice, especially in deeply religious places like Georgia, it has also meant that millions of dollars have been redirected from public funds to privately run Student Scholarship Organizations, which can then funnel the money to schools with strict anti-gay policies. Because the money goes straight to the SSO and never actually enters the public coffers, it's free and clear of being considered a "public fund" – allowing church and state to technically be kept separate. All of which may sound fishy, but consider this: It's fully legal because the laws make it so. And, as the school-choice movement gains ground, it's certain that other states will soon pass similar legislation."
Alex Morris' October 2012 Rolling Stone article also documents viciously anti-gay content taught by these neo-voucher funded Christian fundamentalist schools:
"The Accelerated Christian Education's 11th-grade science materials include a section on "Man's Corruptions," in which students are taught, "In Old Testament times, God commanded that homosexuals be put to death. Since God never commanded death for normal or acceptable actions, it is unreasonable to say that homosexuality is normal." A biology textbook published by the Bob Jones University Press begins a section on homosexuality by quoting Romans and goes on to say that "God calls homosexuality a sin and condemns those who engage in it." Such textbooks, and others with a similar stance on homosexuality, are part of the core curriculum in Georgia's Christian schools."
But that's only the first level of awfulness inherent to StudentsFirst's mendacious public relations-driven school privatization beatification efforts, which elide the stark reality of what StudentsFirst is really up to. As I detail in my Talk To Action report, the neo-voucher schemes Michelle Rhee backs were originally conceived as a cynical dodge by which Southern pro-segregation states such as Georgia could avoid implementing the court-mandated school desegregation required by the 1954 Brown v. Board of Education Supreme Court decision, which judged racially segregated schools to be unconstitutional. I was personally stunned to uncover this troubled lineage, earlier this year, when I stumbled across a mention in White Flight - Atlanta And The Making Of Modern Conservatism, by Kevin M. Kruse (2005, Princeton University Press). On page 132, Kevin Kruse describes,
"At the heart of their plan to defend schools segregation, for instance, stood a revolutionary scheme called the "private-school plan." In 1953, a full year before Brown, Governor Talmadge advanced a constitutional amendment giving the general assembly the power to privatize the state's entire system of public education. In the event of a court-ordered desegregation, school buildings would be closed, and students would instead receive grants to attend private, segregated schools. "We can maintain separate schools regardless of the U.S. Supreme Court", Talmadge promised, "by reverting to a private system, subsidizing the child rather than the political subdivision."
Indeed, as I show in my report, there's even video available from the period, of a televised appearance by Georgia governor Herman Talmadge, staunch defender of segregation, describing the plan to privatize Georgia's public school through a voucher program. In short, a racist, pro-segregation school privatization "nuclear option" of the 1950s has recrudesced, to be recycled and repackaged, with the help of Michelle Rhee and her supporters (such as New York mayor Michael Bloomberg), as a panacea for all that's said to be ailing America's schools. As I write in my report,
"This is mind boggling, because the mechanism Talmadge envisioned, to protect Georgia's racist regime of segregated schools, is exactly the mechanism now used to channel taxpayer dollars to private schools in twelve states across the union."
But wait! - there's more: In its short existence, StudentsFirst has twice opted, in its choice for its first two nominated "educators of the year", to pick virulently anti-gay Southern state legislators tied to the Tea Party wing of the Republican Party that just shut down the Federal government. In 2013, as I detail, StudentsFirsts' 2013 "educator of the year" John Ragan, a Tennessee state representative, was outed by LGBT rights groups for his role in sponsoring antigay state legislation that would have, as I wrote, "not only blocked discussion of homosexuality in Tennessee schools but also required school officials to tell parents about students who are gay or who simply were suspected of being gay." But StudentsFirst's 2012 pick for "educator of the year", former Georgia state senator "Chip" Rogers, who has so far escaped critical scrutiny, is if anything even more problematic than Ragan. As I reveal, Rogers,
has arguably played a more substantive role in battling LGBTI rights [than Ragan] - by helping expand (see page 10, linked PDF) Georgia's tax credit program that, as reported by the New York Times on January 20, 2013 - channels millions of state tax dollars to virulently anti-gay Georgia private religious schools that use creationist educational curricula filled with inaccuracies, historical revisionism, heavy political slant, denigration of non-Protestant fundamentalist religious beliefs, and bizarre pseudo-scientific claims."
As I detail, StudentFirst's "educator of the year" Rogers' political career came to an untimely end following a scandal which ensued after Senator Rogers presided over an October 2012 Georgia Republican caucus session during which a Georgia Tea Party member gave a four-hour presentation claiming, among other things, that the Obama Administration was using Cold War-era mind-control techniques as part of a United Nations conspiracy to impose a totalitarian one-world government. I chose not to focus, in my report, specifically on the question of what actually gets taught in neo-voucher funded schools - but the grim reality is that these StudentsFirst-backed neo-voucher schemes are financing fundamentalist schools which teach from fundamentalist textbooks packed with factual errors, heavy partisan political slant, and even wild-eyed fabrications - for instance, until a widely noted 2012 controversy (which I helped originally provoke) a science module in one popular curriculum, Accelerated Christian Education, taught that the Loch Ness Monster is real, has been tracked by submarine, and disproves evolution. But that's perhaps most central to what's corrupt, shameful and indeed bizarre about StudentsFirst's claim to be improving education in America -- looking past the heavy PR glitz to actual outcomes, the result of privatization schemes backed by StudentsFirst's Michelle Rhee, and her supporters such as newly-elected Democratic U.S. Senator Cory Booker, we can see a grim degradation in educational quality, for the simple, shocking reason that most neo-voucher-funded schools are unregulated and, until recently, American secular society has been almost wholly unaware of what's in curricula they teach from. The ACE fundamentalist school curriculum, which has been extensively and devastatingly analyzed by U.K. critic Jonny Scaramanga (himself a self-described former victim of the ACE's dubious pedagogy) is led by the more popular A Beka Book and Bob Jones University Press textbooks commonly used in fundamentalist Christian schools now funded by neo-voucher privatization schemes backed by StudentsFirst. And as I helped chronicle in a 2011 235-minute video documentary that I co-produced with researcher Rachel Tabachnick, which examined school privatization effort in Pennsylvania, A Beka Book and Bob Jones University Press texts,
"teach that dinosaurs lived on earth with humans; deny global warming; promote hostility toward other religions and other sectors of Christianity (particularly Roman Catholicism); provide a biased and often factually incorrect version of history; and teach extreme laissez-faire economics, claimed to be biblically-based."
For a 5-minute video excerpt from "School Choice: Taxpayer-Funded Creationism, Bigotry, and Bias" that shows the actual content of A Beka and Bob Jones University Press textbooks, see this video. An August 2012 Mother Jones story, 14 Wacky "Facts" Kids Will Learn in Louisiana's Voucher Schools, snappily repackaged (albeit with a few factual errors) content featured in the video. As the 5-minute video shows, the following claims can be found in A Beka Book and Bob Jones University Press textbooks:
"- Only ten percent of Africans can read or write, because Christian mission schools have been shut down by communists. - "the [Ku Klux] Klan in some areas of the country tried to be a means of reform, fighting the decline in morality and using the symbol of the cross... In some communities it achieved a certain respectability as it worked with politicians." - "God used the 'Trail of Tears' to bring many Indians to Christ." - It "cannot be shown scientifically that that man-made pollutants will one day drastically reduce the depth of the atmosphere's ozone layer." - "God has provided certain 'checks and balances' in creation to prevent many of the global upsets that have been predicted by environmentalists." - the Great Depression was exaggerated by propagandists, including John Steinbeck, to advance a socialist agenda. - "Unions have always been plagued by socialists and anarchists who use laborers to destroy the free-enterprise system that hardworking Americans have created." - Bill Clinton's 1992 presidential win was due to an imaginary economic crisis created by the media. - "The greatest struggle of all time, the Battle of Armageddon, will occur in the Middle East when Christ returns to set up his kingdom on earth." " For more, see Rachel Tabachnick's Vouchers/Tax Credits Funding Creationism, Revisionist History, Hostility Toward Other Religions
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