There are reasons that school boards have long been the flashpoints of community conflict. First and foremost, is the fact that they are the most local form of participatory democracy. A close second is the fact that nothing engages us like our children’s betterment and welfare, two things our public schools are charged with.
You’ll find examples of conflict throughout our history, including the most famous one: Brown vs. Board of Education of Topeka in the early ’50s, where the Supreme Court ruled unanimously that racial segregation is unconstitutional.
Another, in 2005, was Selman vs. Cobb County. It was a separation of church and state case. Cobb schools, lobbied heavily by religious fundamentalists, had put anti-evolution stickers on biology textbooks. The stickers read: “Evolution is a theory, not a fact, concerning the origin of living things.” The court ruled that the board in Georgia’s second largest school district had to remove said stickers.
What had been a big heated argument then cooled considerably: when cooler heads prevail, so does justice.
Today there is a spate of conflict nationwide. The current controversies are over mask and vaccine mandates, and programs like No Place for Hate, and Critical Race Theory (which I hasten to remind everyone isn’t a grade school, middle school, high school, or even college curriculum anywhere; it is a graduate level study of racism and its impact on society). Mostly, CRT it is a very effective fundraising tool. Fearmongering never loses its charm.
This moment is different in that it is an extension of the right-wing assault on public education that began on conservative talk radio in the ’90s with the dog-whistle, implicitly derogatory phrase, “the government schools,” because, they figure, who doesn’t hate the government? It was and remains a thinly veiled attempt to defund our schools. A particularly vile talk-host, Neal Boortz, beat that drum for years. (My wife had the misfortune of working with this cretin for a decade at Cox Media. He was afraid of her, so maybe he wasn’t as dumb as I thought he was at the time.)
This time, coast-to-coast and border-to-border, school boards are under assault by a highly organized movement. Public comments in school board meetings appear to be local, but this is no grassroots movement. It’s Astroturf, and there is a playbook that offers talking points and action items. Whether its adherents know it or not, Citizens for Renewing America is the quasi-religious organization behind the movement.
I became aware of their cookie-cutter approach when a friend in tiny Marshall, North Carolina, mentioned that her school board was being attacked by people who, in the wake of various efforts to address institutional racism, spewed inaccurate and hateful rhetoric in the guise of loving Christian dialogue. What astonished was the fact that the language they used was identical to the language I see on local Facebook group pages, and have heard at our recent local school board meetings.
Give them credit for understand that all politics is local, and focusing their energies, no matter how deceptive, on local electeds.
Instead of encouraging critical thinking, which one would hope schools everywhere teach, and which, it needs to be said, is not Critical Race Theory, these folks seem to want to narrow academic curricula to exclude certain historical and current events.
One person on Facebook (posting under an assumed name), suggested violence against one of our trustees. Really makes you want to contribute to the community by running for office, doesn’t it?
Teaching every student the same curriculum has given Americans a unified understanding of ourselves and the world, but a major aspect of the effort to defund public schools is to redirect our tax dollars so people can spend them on private and charter schools that teach what they want taught.
Local trustee, Esther Valdez-Clayton is in the San Diego Union-Tribune supporting Larry Elder for Governor, and specifically his desire to drain the public schools of funding in this way. A view that makes one wonder why she’d want to be on the public school board in the first place.
Thank right-wing media which continues to inflame a minority that fears replacement as the demographics of the U.S. change. Old story: conflict = eyeballs = revenue.
We are seeing stirrings of the new silent majority in Coronado. Based on the last school board meeting they vastly outnumber a very vocal minority, and are no longer in a mood to remain silent. They want the threats and the name-calling to stop.
We stand taller and stronger when we are united, but we are surely on the road to disunity. As always, it begins in the public schools. To be clear, they can be improved, and we should be pulling together to make that happen—not pulling apart to ensure that it doesn’t.
©2021 Jon Sinton