For a long while now, we know that Republicans in various Red states have been passing state laws to hide the teaching of black history, slavery and racism. It’s a pretty repugnant, racist and fascist thing to do – trying to wipe out the history of people, especially a minority that’s been abused for 250 years, hoping to paint over it as if it didn’t happen. But the laws have largely been generic. It wasn’t until Wednesday when Florida’s Board of Education (sic) – made up entirely of members handpicked by Gov. Ron DeSantis – approved its new “standards” (sic) with “anti-woke” specifics that the lunacy and hatred and White Supremacy really stand out.
At least we got a new slogan out of it – “Florida: Where Education Goes to Die.”
There are a great many details that can be pointed to, but it’s best to just point to one that leaps out so brightly you don’t need a klieg light. A new teaching “standard” so profoundly low that’s buried underground. And any education “standard” that include such a requirement gives away any right to be accepted as legitimate in any world other than Hell.
It’s that when Florida public schools now teach about slavery, they must include lessons on “how slaves developed skills which, in some instances, could be applied for their personal benefit.”
This is like requiring teaching how beneficial nuclear Armageddon is because people learn skills like self-reliance and how to roast meat by holding it in your radioactive hands.
It’s like teaching the benefit of the Nazi Holocaust for Jews because they learned the joy of train travel and how to live in peace with others in close quarters.
It’s as if you had to teach the benefits of massacring the American Indians by pointing out…no, sorry, I don’t want to give Florida any ideas. Especially since they have history with the Seminole, Osceola, Apalachee Indians and other tribes.
By the way, lest you assume that the Florida Board of Education (sic) means that things like chopping wood, doing laundry and building roads for no play are among those benefits that Black people learned in slavery, I would hedge my bets. This is the Florida Board of Education (sic), after all, so if they can consider that the “benefits” of slavery should be taught, then it’s anyone’s guess what on earth they think are, in fact, “benefits.” For all we know, to the DeSantis-led Florida Board of Education (sic), the “benefits” of slavery for Black people are that they developed their skills of dancing and smiling through adversity, including whipping, being raped and having your families split apart.
There were more “standards” that the DeSantis Board of Education (sic) set which are reprehensible, not just through their racism, but also for how ignorant Florida children will be for not being taught actual history. After all, just because you don’t teach something doesn’t mean it stops existing – and that others aren’t being taught it. Which they are. So, when Florida children grow up and enter the world – either moving out of state, perhaps to get jobs, or remaining in Florida and dealing with others who actually have been educated and moved into the state – they are starting out at a massive disadvantage. A massive disadvantage referred to as being literally ignorant of reality.
And we haven’t even gotten into other of these “standards” (sic) like when teaching slavery and violence throughout history against Black people such as lynchings and the Tulsa Massacre and the Edmund Pettus Bridge “Brutal Sunday” beatings, and Sheriff Clark’s attack dogs in Selma, the assassination of Martin Luther King, Black church bombings and much more over the past 250 years, Florida schools now must have lessons that explain, oh, by the way, there has also been violence perpetrated by African Americans. Because, apparently, in Florida now, it’s all the same and evens things out, and who knows, maybe they even deserved it for the past quarter of a millennia.
No, teaching “how slaves developed skills which, in some instances, could be applied for their personal benefit” is enough, and we’ll leave it at that.
More than enough. This is so sloppy horrible that the Florida school system now sounds like an episode of the TV series, Drunk History. That's the show where the hosts get actually drunk and then try to explain history. Welcome to Florida.
The thing is, too, even putting aside of racist, hate-filled and ignorant this all is – it’s almost mind-numbing that Florida and Red states are doing this and things like this in an election cycle. Because even if it’s “only” in Florida or some Red state (where it seems reasonable to think this will be tried, as well), it shows the national public that This is Who Republicans Are and What They Want for America. Especially if there’s no push-back from other Republicans outraged by this purely racist policy elsewhere. Which there isn’t.
So, during an election cycle, when Republicans control the House of Representatives and many state legislatures, and can show the voting public who they are and what they stand for – they’re passing school “standards” (sic) that requires teaching “how slaves developed skills which, in some instances, could be applied for their personal benefit.” Which everyone outside of Florida actually have long-since learned, been literally taught is insane. And hardly the sort of education most people not virulently racist want for their children. In fact, it’s likely that at least some, if not many of those who are virulently racist still want their children to learn reality.
There’s a song in the musical South Pacific called “You’ve Got to Be Taught,” about how children are not naturally racist but need to be taught to be. It’s fascinating to see the state of Florida try a revolutionary new tactic to reach the same goal, but not even teach them.
On Monday, Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker gave the commencement address at Northwestern University (of which he himself is a graduate of the NU law school). It’s a wonderful speech, that uses as its theme the life lessons you could get from the TV sitcom, The Office. It turns out that he and his speechwriter were big fans of the show. (Further, there was a fun twist to it all. More on that later.)
The speech is very entertaining and often quite funny, but thoughtful, as well.
One of his references to The Office came when discussing having to deal with the pandemic in 2020, which he said gave him “a greater appreciation for just how much you don’t know.” He added that “I knew that my job was to minimize the damage this deadly disease was doing, but no one could guide me toward the absolute best way to do that. As Michael Scott said, ‘I knew exactly what to do. But in a much more real sense, I had no idea what to do.’”
I particularly liked when Gov. Pritzker discussed dealing with idiots, which he told the graduating students everyone will have to do as they go through life. And also got a political dig in, as well --
“I wish there was a foolproof way to spot idiots,” he said, “but counterintuitively, some idiots are very smart. They can dazzle you with words and misdirection. They can get promoted above you at work. They can even get elected president.
“If you want to be successful in this world, you have to develop your own idiot detection system,” Pritzker continued. He said that he considers “empathy and compassion” as part of his “idiot detection system” — as well as judging people on the basis whether they have or haven’t seen the original Star Wars movies.
And being a parent with two college-aged children, he spoke a bit on the subject.
“If you think your parents are crazy, it’s important that you understand you made us this way,” he said to laughs. “We are experts in worrying about you. And this affliction just gets worse with time and distance.”
Also on being a parent, he said “Like most of the parents here, having children turned me from a fun, cool, spontaneous person who could stay up past midnight to a functional madman who answers the phone, ‘Yello’ and won’t let anyone in my house touch the thermostat,”
But there’s something else notable about this The Office-themed speech, good as it was. And that's where the "twist" comes in.
It’s that one of the graduating students there at the ceremony was the daughter of -- Steve Carell. And being her father, he was (unbeknown to Gov. Pritzker) there in the audience!
And yes, afterwards, Carell went over to the governor and introduced himself.
Here’s the 20-minute speech.
Last year, I posted a couple of articles I’d written on the Huffington Post over a decade ago, both about what I called the Republican Party’s War on Education” which I said had been going on for over 60 years. (Now, 70 years.) And no, that's not hyperbole, as the 2011 articles explained in detail. And I noted last year how fresh the decades-old articles still read, with extreme-right attacks on doctors and science over things like Climate Change, vaccines, pandemics, and far-right violence and outrage at school board meetings over curriculums teaching that there was actually racism in America, and to ban books and GOP-backed state laws to ban book and sue schools for teaching things that make children uncomfortable. and more. (A Fun Fact I mentioned was that Math, history, English, and science tend to make most students uncomfortable. Recess is one of the few things at school that does not. Even lunch makes some kids uncomfortable at school when cliques form.)
And it’s all the more fresh, I should add, given what we see done in just the past year with even stricter laws regulating education in Florida and a teacher being fired for showing a Disney movie, and a county in Texas threatening to close the public library if certain books weren’t allowed by the court to be banned, and more.
But this has always been my own “War” theory – backed by evidence – although I know others have talked about this overall reality, as well.
So, it was so great to see someone highly visible on the far right to acknowledge it too, in his own way. And bluntly.
That would be Fox “News” host Jesse Watters who said the following on the air about a week ago for millions to see. And all the better, not only did he demean education as a principle, but slammed education as being problematic for the Republican Party! No, really. Honest. Initially, I was just going to quote him, but then I realized there was a good chance people wouldn’t believe me. Or think I was quoting satire from The Onion. But no, here he is --
"The more education you have, the more likely you are to vote for a Democrat..."
Only to the GOP is "the more education you have" a bad thing. Yes, I understand why, but still how bizarre.
And to be clear, this isn’t something new in the Republican Party. This has been going on since 1952. That’s when Republicans big criticism of Democratic presidential nominee Adlai Stevenson was that he was “an egghead.” Meaning smart. Educated. A bad thing. And still bad when he was still smart and ran again against Dwight Eisenhower in 1956.
And then in 1960, President Kennedy was slammed for having a “Harvard Mafia.” Y’know, advisors who were…well, smart. So smart that they were dangerous. And you can't trust those smart people who go to good colleges.
When Richard Nixon was elected president in 1968, he hated those smart people who go to colleges so much that students made his Enemies List. And later his "get tough" policies on student dissent (including wanting the Secret Service to beat up protestors) resulted in Republican governor Jim Rhodes sending armed troops sent the campus of Kent State University -- and four "enemy" undergraduates were killed.
In 1988, George Bush claimed to be "the Education President" -- yet on an campaign stop in Los Angeles told a rally of service employees that not everyone had to go to college. A valid sentiment, certainly, but for a candidate supposedly promoting himself as “the Education President,” it leaked his true feelings.
And in 2000, George W. Bush failed to fund his "No Child Left Behind" education program.
And it’s continued on and on to the present day in the GOP, attacking education, scientists, doctors, school boards, books.
But at least we now have Jesse Watters and Fox “News” making it clear to their viewers who might otherwise if I said it or some Democratic politician said it --
"The more education you have, the more likely you are to vote for a Democrat..."
And said as if having more education is a bad thing.
Making this all the more pointed is that in 2012, a Farleigh-Dickinson study showed that people who watch Fox “News" know less than people who don't even watch any news at all. As a result, many of the base have been pushed to embrace ignorance.
By the way, if you would like to read the two original articles, you can find them here.
Every Child Left Behind
March 29, 2011
The War on Education
December 1, 2011
Having a 70 year War on Education explains a lot. Starting with raising to near-God-like status a Donald Trump who during his time in office had over 30,000 documented lies. And explains his advisor Kellyanne Conway insisting there are “alternative facts.” And explains why today the Republican base follows the word of an anonymous Q who they quite-literally have no idea who he or she is.
All that comes – and only comes -- with a political party that has been demeaning education for 70 years. And, conversely, since it is the result of trashing education, pushing ignorance.
And hey, don't blame me for saying it. There's Jesse Watters saying it live on Fox "News."
I had planned to write about something else today, but just as I started to double-check something, I came across another story I’d missed from a few days ago that I love too much. And that took precedence.
Actually, it’s sort of an infuriating story, too. The foundation behind it all. But what transpired is superb.
The background is that the Arkansas state Senate was holding a hearing on amendments to the education bill from Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders. A group of Little Rock Central High School students showed up at the to speak against the bill, which among other things would implement school vouchers that opponents believe open the door wide for segregation.
(I should note that Arkansas student complaint about the bill was not limited to this hearing, but there was a big walkout at the same Little Rock high school last Friday.)
However, whenever each student tried to speak at the hearing, the Republican committee chair State Sen. Jane English would shut them down, explaining that they were addressing the bill, but that had already had two hearings, so they would told that the only thing they could discuss were the amendments.
“I’m sorry, you just don’t get to talk on the bill," Sen. English told one of the students. "If you want to talk on this amendment, specifically things that are in this amendment, you’re free to do that, but you cannot speak on the bill.” It was a refrain she kept repeating to student after student.
The students hadn’t been able to attend those two earlier hearings on the overall bill because they were held (okay, make a wild guess – and yes, you’re right) during school hours. And because the bill had already passed both state house, the only comments allowed were on the amendments.
It was an infuriating, thoughtless action by English. But being high school students, used to finding ways to sneak around stupid rules by adults, they eventually figured out a way to get their points in. It was seriously impressive, and in some cases, brilliant. And all the more so when you realize that how these high school students dealt with the road blocks put up to block them was not something planned, but that they improvised and came up with on the spur of the moment.
One student, Ethan Walker, understanding that he was only allowed to talk about the amendments, not the horrible bill, said, ““I’d like to speak on the amendments, and how they do not go far enough to tear down and decimate this bill.” As Sen. English kept interrupting him, he added that, “These petty little wording rearrangements don’t do anything to address how bad this bill actually is."
Other students did much of the same. But it was sophomore Rhone Kuta who took high school cleverness to another level, almost Shakespearean – finding a way to get past Sen. English continuing to interrupted him. What he did was find a specific line on one of the pages, and as Sen. English kept interrupting him.
"Where it deletes ‘and’ and substitutes ‘or,'” sophomore Kuta said about the amendment, “the reasons I believe this amendment is bad is, this should actually say we are deleting the voucher program on section 63 because the voucher program absolutely reallocates resources from the working class Americans and Arkansans and reallocates it to the upper class.”
As he went on, Kuta continued to use language in the amendment to criticize the overall bill, in particular one part on the ban teaching anti-racism content.
Eventually, chair English cut off Kuta, said his two-minutes were up and had him leave. But other students picked up on what he had done and, as Sen. English kept trying to interrupt, called instead for even greater amendments
Senior Gryffyn May, for example, used the same tactic and said, “The amendment that says page 90, line 3, delete ‘and’ and substitute ‘or,’ is insufficient because there’s nothing that amends the clause that is talking about having school choice policies that will make it so that students who are minority groups will be left in public schools while privileged students go to private schools.”
In the end, the power of the committee won out, and the bill and amendments have officially passed. And Gov. Huckabee Sanders signed it yesterday. But I particularly like the words of one of the adults who showed up to speak. That was Little Rock School Board member Ali Noland. She told Sen. English that trying to silence the students backfired.
“By talking to them and cutting them off in this way, believe me, you are giving them much more of a platform than you would have if you had just listened to their criticism of the amendment in the first place," Noland said. "They showed up after school on their own time to tell you these amendments do not satisfy their concerns.”
In most states, educators and politicians like to say that "Children are our future." That doesn't appear as much a case in Arkansas. But then, this is the state where one of the first acts Gov. Huckabee Sanders did when sworn in was to eliminate the use of the word "LatinX" from state documents. So, in the end, this "education" bill and treatment of children isn't all that surprising.
I did find a tweet that has a two-minute video with brief excerpts of the students trying to speak at the hearing, along with Board of Education member Noland, but unfortunately I can't embed it -- however, you can watch it here.
When I saw Kevin McCarthy present the Republican’s new so-called “Parents’ Rights” bill proposal – that’s largely founded on the principle that angry parents who explode at schoolboard meetings are the ones who really need protection, not the members of the schoolboard who are being attacked – I had an immediate reaction to something I’ve been posting on social media. And I was so happy to see Alex Wagner open her show on MSNBC yesterday with a similar comment.
It's how the bitter irony of all this is seemingly lost on Republicans.
The “outrage” by these angry parents and voiced by Republican officials is that parents know more about what’s best for their children when it comes to educating them than the government does. Putting aside that the schoolboard members are elected, so if you don’t like them, you can vote them out and that they are professionally-trained educators and parents are not, what leaps out is that the Parents’ Rights bill is very specifically the government getting involved with what and how schools can operate and teach.
But far more to the point, the extreme right seems to be adoring the actions by Ron DeSantis in Florida when it comes to schooling, and all of that is as government-involved in educating children as could possibly be. Creating laws about what books can be in school libraries, creating laws about what can be taught at schools that don’t make children uncomfortable, creating laws about what A.P. classes can be taught at schools, creating laws that allow the government to appoint directors of state colleges. It’s almost like you couldn’t get the government more involved with Florida schools if you tried. And the extreme right is in heaven, the extreme right is looking at Ron DeSantis as the possible man to lead their party.
Right now, I get the sense that dictionaries all over the country are fighting among themselves to determine whether “hypocrisy” or “irony” should be the first word used to describe all this.
What I liked, too, in Alex Wagner’s discussion on the subject is that she asked her guest, Jelani Cobb, dean of the Columbia School of Journalism, if he thought that we had passed the point of calling things like DeSantis’s effort to control education merely “culture war” and instead saying that it was now fascism. And Cobb agree, yes, that it was.
For a long while now, I’ve been referring to it as fascism. (And explained at great length why it was.) And it’s been infuriating when I see the media and analysts calling it the more polite term of “authoritarianism.” We have no problem reporting on Republicans calling Democrats “socialists” for the past 70 years, but – “fascists” for today’s fascist Republicans? Heavens no, they’re authoritarians. It’s culture war.
So – good for Alex Wagner and Jelani Cobb. Yes, we’ve passed the point (long ago) where this can now be called fascism.
And, again, here in detail is why.
By the way, stick with this video. It's an official music video, and so you likely think you know where it's going with this 1970 song, but I suspect it will surprise you.
I’ve been pondering a thought lately and am surprised a bit that I haven’t heard it referenced by others on the news. Perhaps it has, and I just haven’t heard it – but I’ve heard the general story covered a lot.
The thought first came to mind when hearing about Gov. Ron DeSantis blocking the teaching of African-American studies for AP programs in Florida high schools. The story itself is pretty repugnant – it’s one of those incomprehensible stories that I can’t grasp not only that it’s being done, but why on earth you would want to? And by “want to” I mean on so many different levels. Why would any politician – even the most virulent racist, which for the sake of argument is a level that Ron DeSantis hasn’t reached yet, because he still has a few rungs to go – push this? Not teaching the history of a group of Americans. I can understand a virulent racist wanting to appeal to his virulent racist base, but even in the GOP and even in Florida that’s only a subset of the party, and risks offending the rest of the voting populace. Yet even if a politician is okay with that, most virulent racists tend not to want to be branded that way.
“I’m not a racist, I support all people,” tends to be the response. “I just think it’s unfair we try to help minorities as if they can’t help themselves. In fact, it’s the liberals and socialists who are the real racists because they believe that minorities need the assistance of and are unable to succeed without it.”
But even more, when someone clearly has their hopes on running a national campaign and becoming President of the United States, it’s an almost inexplicable strategy to be branded as The Candidate Who Wants to Outlaw Teaching the History of Black People. (In fairness, I’ve heard some analysts point out that while Ron DeSantis is hugely popular in Florida and polls well in the Republican Party, there is nothing that shows he would run well as a national candidate outside the state.)
Of course, the world is full of subjects that are incomprehensible to me, and there’s also some comfort in not being able to understand virulently racist thinking.
Clearly, though, this virulently racist and all-out fascist brand is what Ron DeSantis is going for. Not just with a law prohibiting the teaching AP African American Studies, but also state laws that ban books and ban teaching subjects that make students “uncomfortable” – never mind that most things taught in school, including or perhaps even especially math, make students uncomfortable. It’s even at the point where teachers in Florida can now be convicted of a felony and face up to five years in prison for recommending the “wrong” book. In fact, according to CNN, school officials in at least two Florida counties told teachers they should “box up their personal classroom libraries, cover them up or enter the books into the district’s cataloging system in order to check their approval and keep them on shelves.”
I know that most Republicans get offended when their party is called fascist today. But if they took the time to look up laws about banning books, banning school subjects on minorities, and putting teachers in prison, they’d see that these are the poster children of fascism, If only that was what offended them. Perhaps the books that would explain this are banned in Florida. The only thing missing in Florida are the bonfires of banned library books. So far.
(Another thing I don’t comprehend – why would anyone want to be a teacher in Florida, knowing that you’re at risk of going to prison if you teach something “wrong” or recommend the “wrong” book??? Even if you’re a virulent racist and like the bans, knowing that you can be convicted of a felony if you teach something “wrong” would seem to be a hindrance in pursuing the field.)
All of which lead to my imponderable thought –
The big push among Republicans these days when it comes to education is how “Parents know what’s best for their children than government,” and so we’ve seen near-riots by extreme right activists at school board meetings across the country. (Never mind that not all parents know what’s best for their children, which is a big reason by we have child abuse laws, child work laws, and child welfare organizations. Not to mention doctors who know what’s best for children more than parents.)
So, with that in mind among the extreme right – that they truly believe parents know better than the government what’s best for their children -- why are Republicans in Florida so supportive of the government there passing laws about what children can be taught and passing laws about what children can read?? By all rights, they should be red-hot outraged. Instead, they embrace it with the loving bear hug and wet-lip kiss for a long-missed relative.
I am not going to try to figure out this conundrum. Because the answer is probably closer to the lines of – It’s not a conundrum. It has nothing to do with thinking parents know what’s better for their children than the government. It’s just that they’re racist, fascist and so conversative that they just don’t want things they personally hate being taught or even existing.
But it’s still a good question to ask them, so that they can try to answer it out loud themselves.
Robert J. Elisberg is a political commentator, screenwriter, novelist, tech writer and also some other things that I just tend to keep forgetting.
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