It does not mean tax dollars going to private and parochial schools. It does not mean our money going to institutions where we get no say in how it’s spent. It does not mean circumventing duly elected school boards. It does not mean the public paying for religious indoctrination or the kind of right wing biased education routinely provided at private schools.
This doesn’t sound like the candidate teachers like me have been backing since before this election cycle began. Frankly, it’s almost what your gubernatorial opponent, MAGA Republican Doug Mastriano, champions.
Mastriano – a Trump insurrectionist – says he wants to use state education funding to give EVERY student a school voucher they can use at almost any school in the Commonwealth – public, private or parochial.
You seem to want vouchers ONLY for students at the most underfunded and struggling schools.
“And I’m for making sure we add scholarships like lifeline scholarships to make sure that that’s additive to their education. That it gives them other opportunities…to be able to help them achieve success”
These so-called Lifeline Scholarships are a Republican lead measure to give direct-to-student tax-funded scholarships that parents and guardians in the state’s most neglected public schools could use for a variety of options including going toward tuition at a different school.
It would affect about 191,000 students in 382 schools, across 76 of the state’s 500 school districts. However, Two-thirds of the cost of the program (63.1%) is born by four districts – Philadelphia (43.9%), Reading (8.9%), Allentown (5.8%) and Pittsburgh (4.5%).
This would create another taxpayer funded system of education. Affected districts would lose so much funding it would ultimately force them to reduce programs, services, and staffing and/or raise property taxes to compensate.
Pennsylvanians can’t afford losing their only chance at self rule because of demoralization and despair at a candidate too weak to support the platform he began this campaign on – championing public education.
I urge you to reconsider this flirtation with Republican values and school vouchers.
I hope you are better than this.
We deserve a governor who is better than this.
Please have the courage to stand by authentic public schools.
In fact, it’s one of the main reasons given for the American colonies fighting a war with Great Britain. No taxation without representation.
And most charter schools are guilty of it.
But not all!
There are charter schools run by elected school boards. They either choose this management system though it is not required by their charter or their charter explicitly requires it – like any other taxpayer funded school.
Does this excuse these charter schools from the same inequities as their more privileged brethren?
And this is an important point.
How does a charter school open in the first place?
Most authentic public schools were started many years ago by the communities where they operate.
Community members got together, agreed they needed a school, elected board members to manage it, collected tax money, etc.
Charter schools are much newer inventions that come about differently.
The operator then goes to the state, community or usually school district where they propose to open the charter (it depends on the state charter law) and puts forward a proposal. Then the state, community or board decides to approve or deny that proposal.
However, nearly every charter school law does not give local communities an unlimited right of refusal. After all, if they did, there would be hardly any charter schools in existence.
Think about it.
When an authentic public school district decides to open a charter school inside its borders, it is agreeing to give a portion of the tax dollars it already receives to the charter school. It is agreeing to run its existing schools on less money so the charter can open up.
Why would any authentic public school do this? Only if it saw a real need for a new school and did not want to open a new school, itself. That’s a pretty rare situation.
However, nearly every charter school law gives very narrow reasons that new charter applications can be refused. So most of the time, the district has no choice but to approve these proposals. And if a district does refuse, the matter often goes to a state charter approval board which almost always reverses the decision. The community says no – state functionaries say yes.
So even when one of these so-called good charter schools managed by an elected school board opens up, it does so by overruling the decisions of the community it serves.
Charter schools create burdens for their communities. They siphon tax dollars from the existent public schools without reducing costs by much at all. So the authentic public school board is forced to make a hard decision – cut services for students and run with their reduced tax revenue or increase taxes to make up the difference.
Charter schools equal higher taxes in districts that can afford it and a reduction in educational quality in those districts that can’t.
This is a situation the community did not ask for. The community did not demand a new charter school. A handful of charter operators did to enroll a handful of students.
And if anyone does find a yellowed document for one of these schools labeled “charter,” best to tear it up. You don’t need it since your charter school has no need of special agreements.
Keep in mind, this is long before we get into the specifics of how charter schools can (and often do) exploit children and communities.
If the very existence of your school is predicated on the existence of a charter agreement, that is inequitable.
It does not need to follow all of the rules that authentic public schools must.
These are rules about being accountable for how you spend tax dollars, having minimum academic standards, hiring qualified staff, etc.
If there really are some rules that charter schools should be freed from obeying, why not just free all taxpayer funded schools from these rules? You don’t need a special agreement. You need to renegotiate the state school code.
Otherwise, this is giving special treatment to some schools rather than others.
That is the point.
Charter schools – ALL CHARTER SCHOOLS – are inequitable by definition and design.
This is fundamentally different from authentic public schools which are funded in the same way but subject to the leadership of an elected board of directors made up of members of the community. At charter schools, decisions can be made entirely by an appointed board who are not beholden to the public but to the organizers and investors who created the charter school in the first place.
To be fair, a charter school cannot exist in a community unless its operators can convince enough parents to enroll their children. However, no one needs to invite the charter school into the community in the first place.
Like with any business, these entrepreneurs can decide to set up shop pretty much anywhere, and though local public schools are tasked with approving or disapproving their request to locate within district boundaries, most state charter school laws provide very few resources to authentic public schools to turn charter schools away. Moreover, when charter applications are denied, the community that turned them away are often overruled by unelected privatization-friendly functionaries in state government.
Think about what a transformation has been thus accomplished.
Stakeholders such as students, families, teachers, and communities become merely economic resources ripe for hegemony – not free people with the right to control their own destinies.
After all, just because a small number of parents have decided to enroll their kids at a charter school, that doesn’t mean the community at large – which is far more numerous and will have to fund this endeavor – supports it. Moreover, the money taxpayers are expected to offload on the charter school come from their existent public schools – and the slight reduction in students does not equal a proportionate reduction in cost. Most expenses are fixed regardless of enrollment. You still have to heat and cool the building, staff the classes, etc. So the community has to decide whether to shortchange the majority of children who continue to be enrolled at the authentic public school or (as often is the case) pay more in taxes to make up the difference.
“Our minds are targets of colonization, the goal being the replacement of any sense of a common good and shared responsibly with the neoliberal axiom that economic self-interest is the only right and natural course of action. You are to think like consumers, not citizens. You are to shop for the best schools for your student, not invest your time and effort in improving them for everyone.”
Others have gone even farther finding racism in the daily administration of charter schools, themselves. After all, many charter schools locate themselves around inner city black communities and therefore exploit the children of color they find there.
Bloggers Russ Walsh and Jonathan Pelto noted how similarly both colonialists and charter school operators often treat the people in the communities where they are located.
Colonialism is often white Europeans acting on brown indigenous people. The colonizers are going to “raise those savages up” or in the words of noted imperialist Rudyard Kipling, ease the “white man’s burden.”
Walsh notes that we see the same apparent motivation among charter school operators with regard to the often black and brown children enrolled in their schools. They use militaristic, highly autocratic systems of discipline to keep these children in-line.
“…while working as the Dean of Students for a charter school in New Orleans, it took me some time to realize that I had been enforcing rules and policies that stymied creativity, culture and student voice…
My daily routine consisted of running around chasing young Black ladies to see if their nails were polished, or if they added a different color streak to their hair, or following young men to make sure that their hair wasn’t styled naturally as students were not able to wear their hair in uncombed afro styles. None of which had anything to do with teaching and learning, but administration was keen on making sure that before Black students entered the classroom that they looked “appropriate” for learning. As if students whose hair was natural or those whose parents could not afford a uniform tie could not achieve like others who possessed these items…
…everything at the school was done in a militaristic/prison fashion. Students had to walk in lines everywhere they went, including to class and the cafeteria. The behavioral norms and expectations called for all students to stand in unison with their hands to their sides, facing forward, silent until given further instruction.”
Students should not be treated like prisoners. Children should not be forced to comply with such harsh rules of conduct. And no one should be compelled to give up their cultural heritage for any reason – but especially because those in charge don’t value them as human beings.
It’s way past time we admit it.
This is colonialism.
Charter schools are colonial enterprises.
We can and should criticize the UK for its history of violence and oppression. We can and should include many US international policies in the same condemnation.
But we mustn’t stop there.
Colonialism is on our streets and in our schools.
We have been colonized by the rich and powerful and our children of color have received the worst of it.
We must end the charter school experiment.
We must end the neighborhood colonialism that too few are willing to call by its rightful name.
-Vasquez Heilig, J., Khalifa, M., & Tillman, L. (2013). Why have NCLB and high-stakes reforms failed?: Reframing the discourse with a post-colonial lens. In K. Lomotey and R. Milner (Eds.), Handbook of Urban Education. New York: Routledge.
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She was in her 90s and had been unwell since before COVID. But she was also our matriarch, the point around which so much of our interrelations orbited and met.
After the funeral, I found myself at my uncle’s house somehow tasked with watching over several young cousins who had had just about enough of sitting around quietly in itchy suits and dresses.
To get a moment to myself, I set them a task: go downstairs among the assorted relatives and ask them to tell you a story about Ce Ce. Best story wins.
They went off like an explosion. And when they came back, they each had a touching tale about Ce Ce.
One was about how she defended a niece who wanted to marry someone of another faith. Another story was a fond recollection of the sweet and sour spaghetti sauce she used to make, the recipe of which is lost forever.
I was even surprised to hear some stories I had never known like that after my grandfather died, a semi-famous painter had asked Ce Ce on a date!
When my little cousins’ recitations were done, they were united in one thing – wanting to know who won.
I stumbled. I stammered.
I really had no way of judging such a thing.
They had all brought back such wonderful stories. Who won? We were ALL enriched by hearing them.
And the results of these tests are used to make high stakes decisions about which classes the students can enroll in, which enrichments, field trips or remediation they require, and even how much funding will be given or withheld from the schools and districts where they attend.
Before COVID, students increasingly were taking higher-level courses, and their Grade Point Averages (GPAs) were steadily rising — from an average of 2.68 in 1990 to 2.94 in 2000, 3.0 in 2009, and 3.11 in 2019.
This is true of students from all backgrounds, but disparities still existed. On average, white and Asian students had higher GPAs than Black and Hispanic students. Though girls, overall, had higher GPAs than boys.
However, on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), given to a sample of students across the country, test scores during the same period did not show a similar increase. Math and reading scores in 2019 were slightly lower than in 2009 and unchanged from 2005. Science scores haven’t budged since 2009.
It doesn’t take much to show why classroom grades are better at assessing student learning. Compare them with standardized test scores.
Students earn grades based on a wide range of assessments, activities, and behaviors – quizzes, class participation, oral and written reports, group assignments, homework, and in-class work.
Standardized tests, on the other hand, are not assigned on such a multifaceted range of factors. Instead, they are designed to obtain a measure of student proficiency on a specified set of knowledge and skills within limited academic areas, such as mathematics or reading.
Classroom grades are tapestries sown from many patches showing a year’s worth of progress. Standardized tests are at best snapshots of a moment in time.
So the biggest difference isn’t a matter of validity, it is pragmatism. Test scores can be used to rate students from all over the country or the world. They can be used to sort kids into a hierarchy of best to worst. Though why anyone would want to do that is beyond me. The purpose of education is not like the National Football League (NFL). It’s to encourage learning, not competition based on a simulation of learning.
And there is evidence that classroom grades are more valid than standardized test scores.
However, classroom grades do have predictive value – especially when compared to standardized tests. Students with high grades in high school but middling test scores do better in college than students with higher test scores and lower grades.
Why? Because grades are based on something other than the ability to take one test. They demonstrate a daily commitment to work hard. They are based on 180 days (in Pennsylvania) of classroom endeavors, whereas standardized tests are based on the labor of an afternoon or a few days.
Classroom grades would not have such consistent predictive value if they were nothing but the result of grade inflation or lenient teachers.
In fact, of the two assessments – classroom grades and standardized tests – one is far more essential to the daily learning of students than the other.
We could abolish all standardized testing without any damage to student learning. In fact, the vacuum created by the loss of these high stakes tests would probably result in much less teaching to the test. Days, weeks, months of additional class time would suddenly appear and much more learning would probably take place.
Academic decisions about which classes students can enroll in or what remediation is necessary could just as easily be made based on classroom grades and teacher observations. And funding decisions for schools and districts could be made based on need and equity – not the political football of standardized testing.
However, getting rid of classroom grades would be much more disruptive. Parents and students would have few measures by which to determine if students had learned the material. Teachers would have fewer tools to encourage children to complete assignments. And if only test scores remained, the curriculum would narrow to a degree unheard of – constant, daily test prep with no engagement to ones life, critical thinking or creativity.
To be fair, there are mastery-based learning programs that try to do without grades, but they are much more experimental and require a complete shift in how we view learning. This is a more holistic system that requires students to demonstrate learning at one level before moving ahead to the next. However, it is incredibly labor intensive for teachers and often relies heavily on edtech solutions to make it viable.
I’m not saying this is an impossible system or even taking a stance on its value. But a large scale shift away from classroom grades would be chaotic, confusing and probably a failure without serious support, scaffolding and parental, teacher and student buy-in.
At the end of the day, classroom grades are the best tool we have to determine whether learning has taken place and to what degree. We should do everything we can to change the way policymakers prefer the standardized approach to the personalized one.
‘It would be nice if all of the data which sociologists require could be enumerated because then we could run them through IBM machines and draw charts as the economists do. However, not everything that can be counted counts, and not everything that counts can be counted.”
Thus, the urge to quantify student learning seems predicated on the popular maxim: If you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it.
The secretary lead me to a closet full of brand new Swingline staplers.
I thanked her, took one back to my room and started stapling.
Three staples in, it was irreparably jammed.
When I returned home that evening and complained to my family about the woes of the day, my sweet 13-year-old daughter offered me a stapler we had around the house.
When I brought it to school, it worked like a dream.
It wasn’t some top of the line model. It was another basic Swingline stapler. It was slightly less boxy and more modern than the kind I got from the office. But it worked. That’s the important difference.
So why did the office have a closet full of faulty staplers?
Some states even require the MAP as part of their standardized testing machinery. However, in the Commonwealth, the MAP is used as a pre-test or practice assessment by districts that elect to pay for it.
My building – the middle school – used a variety of different assessments throughout the years for this purpose – IXL, CDT, etc.
My district had used the MAP consistently for years at the elementary schools, so someone in administration thought it made sense to bring it to the middle school now and eventually institute it in the high school, as well.
Do we really need an assessment BEFORE the state mandated assessments?
Classroom teachers give enough assignments and tests of their own to know where their students are academically throughout the year. We grade them after all. What do you think that’s based on – guessing?
But certain administrators just love these pre-tests. They love looking at spreadsheets of student data and comparing one grading period to another. They think if the numbers go higher, it will be proof they’re good principals and functionaries.
It’s pathetic to be honest. What a waste of taxpayer dollars that could be used for actual learning! What a waste of class time that could be used for actual teaching!
And what a negative impact these assessment actually have on students and their learning!
For instance, at the MAP training, teachers were told the assessment’s job was to show how our students were doing in Reading, Math and Science compared with an average test taker.
How is constantly comparing them to a norm going to help them improve?
If I went on a diet and stepped on the scale, learning that my weight loss wasn’t as high as an average dieter would not help me stay away from sweets. If anything, it would inspire me to go on a binge in the snack drawer.
Having trusted teachers sooth community worry with corporate propaganda would be a big win for the testing company.
However, I’ll give the trainer one thing – she understood that the MAP assessment scores would not be useful unless students could be encouraged to take the test seriously. Nobody tries their best at something they think is unimportant.
Her solution was two-fold. First, NWEA has produced several propaganda videos to show students why the test is important.
Teachers are supposed to monitor all this on a screen and intervene when it occurs. We’re supposed to counsel kids not to just guess and then allow them back on the test. If the algorithm still thinks students are guessing, we’re supposed to suspend their test and make them take it all over again.
Teachers throughout the state have to take on-line classes every year about what we are and are not allowed to do during the PSSA test. Stopping students who seem to be guessing, is not allowed. I’m not even allowed to point out if a student skipped a question on the test!
I certainly can’t scrap a PSSA test that I think a student didn’t give his best effort on and make him do it again!
So how exactly is this MAP test a practice for the real thing!?
Even under the best of circumstances, it’s an artificial environment where scores are massaged to give an unrealistic picture of how students will do on the PSSA.
Of course, administration at my school has one more trick up its sleeve to get students to take the MAP test seriously.
Honestly, I don’t know how we’d cram all the desks in the room. I can barely fit 15 in there now.
Where would we put the books, computers and cabinets? The students, alone, would be wall-to-wall.
Just imagine that many middle school kids stuffed into the room arguing about who’s touching who and which classmate stole their pencil or book. Not to mention the children striving to get my attention to solve disputes, get help with classwork, ask permission to use the bathroom – and a thousand other issues!
For example, there’s no way we could afford a school nurse at each building like we have today. We’d be lucky to have one nurse for all four buildings in the district – elementary schools, middle schools and the high school. If a student feels sick, there’s not much I could do except send the child to the office to try to call home and get a parent or guardian to pick the kid up early. And if the parents can’t make it, just let the kid put his or her head down?
What if the issue’s more psychological? There might be a school counselor somewhere in the district so a student can talk out an issue he or she is having – perhaps conflict resolution with a former friend, discuss peer pressure to try drugs or maybe deal with suicidal thoughts. But there’s probably a long waiting list to see this mythical counselor. Hopefully, the problem is not too urgent.
I feel especially bad for the special education students. Aides would be almost non-existent so many kids with special needs would have to struggle through issues with which we’d normally help them. All the individual Education Plans (IEPs) would have to be rewritten to take this new normal into account.
Even lunch would be disrupted. After all, there would be fewer cafeteria workers so it would be harder just to cook a hot meal and make sure it gets onto a tray in time for students to eat it.
There’s no doubt about it.
My classroom would be very different if Mastriano wins the gubernatorial election in November.
At my district of Steel Valley in Munhall on the western side of the Commonwealth, the situation probably would be much like I described.
I can’t imagine how any teacher could adequately tend to double the students, but I might not have to imagine it.
I’d probably be laid off.
More than half of Steel Valley’s staff would be out of a job – 92 of our current 172 school nurses, counselors, aides, cafeteria workers and teachers would be looking for work.
And that’s just where I’m employed.
Things would be even worse for my daughter where she attends McKeesport Area School District.
According to PSEA estimates, the nearby McKeesport district would lose 281 of 521 staff – a 54% reduction. Classes would go from an average of 17 students to an average of 46. That’s an increase of 29 students per class!
How can she learn in that kind of environment!? She isn’t in college yet. She isn’t in some University of Pittsburgh survey class that meets in an auditorium. She’s in middle school!
But it would be pretty similar at public schools, charter schools, career and technical centers and intermediate units across the state.
From one side of the Commonwealth to the other, we’d go from 239,902 staff to 121,198. Class size would go from an average of 16 students per class to 33. That’s an increase of 17 students per class or 109%.
Like so many wannabe big time policymakers, he is very light on the details of how we would educate the state’s 1.7 million students. This whole proposal was just something he blurted out during a March 2022 WRTA radio interview.
It’s his plan to completely eliminate local school property taxes. Funding would be provided directly to parents via “Education Opportunity Accounts,” and families could then decide whether they want a public, private, charter or home school option.
To go from a statewide average funding level of $19,000 a student to $9,000 a student requires a cut of $17.6 billion, or 53%.
But if the remainder isn’t being paid by property taxes, that’s a roughly $15.3 billion a year expenditure by the state that used to be paid by local property taxes. Where is he getting that money from? And if the state can afford to pay that much, why not just pay the full $19,000 per student and make none of these unnecessary cuts? Or why not just pay half and reduce property taxes by that much? Mastriano is not exactly forthcoming on any of this.
PSEA admits that to come up with its own estimates of the damage the organization filled in a few details. The union assumes the state would fully fund the $9,000-per-student voucher and leave other local non-property taxes and federal revenues untouched.
That might not happen. We could be looking at an even more draconian situation.
The biggest question the PSEA is sidestepping is the impact of allowing taxpayer dollars to fund so many different types of schooling.
Even under Mastriano’s plan, nontraditional educational providers like charter schools would suffer because like traditional public schools they would be receiving less funding from the state than they do now. And parents using their vouchers to pay for private schools for their children would still have to make up a pretty big gap between the amount of the voucher and the cost of private school tuition.
The books are riddled with counter factual claims and political bias in every subject imaginable such as abortion, gay rights and the Endangered Species Act, which one labels a “radical social agenda.” They disparage religions other than Protestant Christianity and cultures other than those descended from White Europeans.
If someone wants to pay for such an education out of their own pocket, that’s one thing. But to ask taxpayers to fund such propaganda is something else entirely!
Thankfully, Pennsylvania voters don’t have to accept this. Not yet anyway.
There are still more than three months before the election. Voters can choose the Democratic gubernatorial candidate Josh Shapiro. He has promised to INCREASE education funding and not just blow up the whole system.
To see an interactive map of how Mastriano’s education cuts would affect your school district, click here.
For now this is only a bad dream. We still have time to wake up and vote accordingly.
Students should not have to submerge themselves in a sea of classmates and hope the teacher will have time to educate them.
What do QAnon conspiracy theorists and school privatization promoters have in common?
The two groups do everything they can to disassociate with each other in public.
But examine their ideas and you’ll see a lot of family resemblances.
For example, take Great Replacement Theory and School Choice.
Great Replacement Theory is the idea that people of color are replacing white people both numerically and politically. Adherents claim Democrats are overrunning native-born white people with brown skinned immigrants in order to wrest political power. The claims have no basis in fact, but that doesn’t stop the narrative from gaining traction in the darkest corners of the Internet and right wing circles.
It is a favorite of far right pundits, immigration catastrophists and mass shooters. In fact, several white men have used it as justification for mass murder.
School choice, on the other hand, seems to be something much less extreme.
At least you don’t have to be a card carrying member of the lunatic fringe to espouse its supposed virtues.
It’s the idea that kids should be segregated into different school systems based on parental choice. This means that parallel systems will compete for students in a Darwinian marketplace where some will get better resources than others with profit being the prime motivator for school operators most of whom are private corporations. In practice, this usually means that the worst racial and economic segregation is justified and even preferable so long as consumers think doing so will get them some kind of advantage.
It’s quite a popular idea among certain market first ideologues. This includes both Democrats and Republicans, investment bankers, and even some social justice advocates.
“You can’t just replace the electorate because you didn’t like the last election outcomes. That would be the definition of undermining democracy, changing the voters… The great replacement. It’s not a conspiracy theory. It’s their electoral strategy.”
And when it comes to school choice, he goes even further. Not only has he promoted it on Fox News, he is co-founder and editor-in-chief of The Daily Caller, a media source that constantly promotes school privatization and other corporate education reform strategies – school vouchers, charter schools, etc.
So what do the two concepts have in common?
In short: racism and white supremacy.
Great Replacement Theory is a kind of grievance politics complaining about the steady loss of white privilege.
School choice is an attempt to recapture or maintain white privilege at the educational level and by extension into the adult economic and political world.
Great Replacement Theory has its roots in French nationalism books dating back to the early 1900s, according to the Anti-Defamation League (ADL).
Chief among these is French Author, Jean Raspail, whose 1973 novel, The Camp of the Saints, told a fictional tale of migrants banding together to take over France. However, the concept’s more contemporary use is attributed to Renaud Camus, a French writer who wrote “Le Grand Remplacement” (“The Great Replacement”) in 2011.
White supremacists blame Jewish people for nonwhite immigration to the U.S., and the concept is closely associated with antisemitism, according to the ADL.
Belk said white nationalists are worried that, “whites will no longer be a majority of the general population, but a plurality, and see that as a threat to their own well-being and the well-being of the nation.”
What makes individual extremists and white nationalist groups so dangerous, according to Belk, are the lengths they are willing to go to in order protect their position in society:
“They are willing to use any means that are available to preserve and defend their position in society … it’s almost like a sort of holy war, a conflict, where they see themselves as taking the action directly to the offending culture and people by eliminating them.”
By contrast, school choice is a quieter ideology, but based on similar foundations.
And we see the same in charter schools and private schools accepting taxpayer funded vouchers today. The prime motivation behind sending children to these schools is often “white flight”. White parents use these options to flee schools with higher percentages of non-white students. And choice options tend to lure the more motivated and compliant students away from public schools.
We see the same effect with school vouchers. A 2018 study of Washington, D.C.’s voucher program found that 70% of voucher students were enrolled in heavily segregated schools with 90% or more minority students, and 58% were enrolled in all-minority schools.
So both concepts – Great Replacement Theory and school choice – center around increasing white supremacy.
Both seek to shore up white political and economic power regardless of white people’s numeric majority. In fact, as white people become less of the majority – not through any importing of people of color from other nations but as a natural consequence of birth rates – they seek to disempower people of color.
One of the many ironies about the situation is how the idea has been pulled almost directly from George Orwell’s dystopian novel, “1984.”
Orwell coined the term “thoughtcrime” to describe a person’s politically unorthodox thoughts – anything that runs counter to the party line. In criminalizing thought and even tasking the Thinkpol (i.e. thought police) with monitoring things people say, write or how they act, Orwell could be describing MFL.
In the fictional country of Oceania, the party controls all speech, actions and thoughts of citizens. This is pretty much what MFL is trying to do here.
It’s a strange way to love “liberty.”
These right-wingers actively harass people on the left for their politics, but cry foul when anyone dares to call them out on theirs.
The Florida-based organization claims to be just “moms on a mission to stoke the fires of liberty.” Yet it’s infamous for encouraging a “mass exodus from the public school system” while disrupting that same system at every turn.
There have always been a few petty people in nearly every community willing to scroll through teachers feeds looking for trouble. Frankly, it’s why new educators are warned to keep their personal lives off the Internet or to keep their information private.
The only difference now is how concentrated these spying efforts may become.
We’re not talking about just the local crank looking for photos of teachers drinking or engaged in the crime of living an adult life.
We’re talking about well-funded ideologues out to destroy the public school system, one teacher at a time.
They have the money to go through your Web footprint with a fine toothed comb.
So what should teachers do about it?
As a public school teacher, myself, the way I see it, there are two things we can do:
1) Lock down or disengage from social media
2) Keep doing what you’re doing
Your response will depend on your own situation.
If you live in a so-called Right to Work state or where worker protections are few and far between, you should probably get a tight grip on your online presence.
Make sure your personal Facebook account and any groups you belong to are private and secure. Ensure that anyone invited into these groups is verified through either questions or personal invitation. Check that everyone has agreed not to screen shot any discussions happening – and even then be careful what you post because nothing is ever 100% secure.
Use a privacy audit to make sure you don’t have something embarrassing out there. This guide from Violet Blue is a good starting place to ensure your private information is not easily findable online.
On the other hand, if you live in a state with strong union protections, you have a reliable union at your school, etc., then you have less to worry about.
In that time, there have been a lot of folks mad at me for what I write. I sometimes get hate mail (usually email) calling me everything you can think of and more you can’t. And when some of these folks find out where I work, they sometimes call up to complain and demand I be let go with haste!
Nothing has come of it.
That doesn’t mean it couldn’t happen tomorrow. But I refuse to live in fear.
I am who I am.
I shout it to the world.
And if someone wants to fire me for it, then fine.
There are lots of things I could be doing other than this.
I just didn’t feel right singing things like “Round yon virgin mother and child” and “Christ the savior is born.”
So when we practiced that song, I’d stop singing.
I’d enthusiastically belt out all the other tunes, but I just stood there when it was time for Silent Night.
I didn’t think it would make a difference. There were hundreds of others kids. No one would notice me.
But the choral teacher did.
She pulled me out of line and demanded to know why I wasn’t singing. I told her I was Jewish and didn’t want to sing that song.
She chided me for making everyone else look bad and told me to just move my mouth during the song so it looked like I was singing.
I didn’t want to do that. I didn’t want people to even THINK I was singing things I didn’t believe.
It’s not that I really accepted Santa and his reindeer, either, but this was somehow different. I didn’t want my parents to go to the concert and see me participating in this farce. I didn’t want to be forced to go onstage and before everyone profess the opposite of all I had been taught – to declare myself other than what I really was.
But the other kids were right there listening to this whole conversation and giggling. It was yet another way I was being marked as an outsider, as different – so I gave in and did what she demanded.
In retrospect, I now know I could have complained to my parents and gone to the principal and we could have even taken the matter to court like the aforementioned coach.
However, when you’re a little kid in elementary school you usually just listen to what the adults tell you to do. At least I did.
It took me decades to get over it. Really.
Whenever that song would come on the radio or I’d hear it in a department store, I’d get all tense and upset. Like something had been stolen from me.
So it was with some trepidation many years later that I attended my daughter’s first winter concert when she was in elementary school.
It was with some relief that I noticed no holiday songs like Silent Night. They were all pretty secular and even multicultural.
And my daughter goes to the same district I went to as a child.
When we discuss things – as you must in Language Arts – I encourage students to agree OR disagree with me or anyone else. Either option is okay so long as they try to explain why they think the way they do.
We may not have dark money and Christian Nationalists behind us, but until we have a rational Supreme Court to overturn this decision or a Congress with enough guts to codify freedom from religion into law, teachers still have some modicum of power.
We should use it to protect our children.
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Obviously that right has limits – for example if you intend to use your body to hurt or kill someone else.
But we’ve already established that a fetus – a glob of cells – cannot be assumed to be someone else.
Doing otherwise would be absurd.
So someone has beliefs about what’s happening inside your body. So what?
Imagine if some cult thought your kidneys have souls and must be kept inside you at all costs. Should they be able to pass a law forbidding you from removing one if it gets infected? If you want to donate it to save another person’s life?
This shows that most people professing this belief in the personhood of something inside your body is pure balderdash.
It’s not about that mass growing inside a woman. It’s about the woman, herself – controlling her actions, making her bend to your will, making it harder for her to exercise her autonomy and benefit from her own economic power.