As the race to be the Republican Party’s nominee for U.S. President in 2024 heats up, it’s already become ugly.
Former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has been ginning up his 2024 Presidential campaign with a scurrilous attack on none other than Randi Weingarten and America’s public school teachers. Two weeks ago, Pompeo announced: “I get asked, ‘Who’s the most dangerous person in the world? Is it Chairman Kim, is it Xi Jinping?’ The most dangerous person in the world is Randi Weingarten. It’s not a close call. If you ask, ‘Who’s the most likely to take this republic down?’ It would be the teacher’s unions, and the filth that they’re teaching our kids, and the fact that they don’t know math and reading or writing.”
Pompeo doesn’t seem to have noticed what happened in Tennessee with the Hillsdale College plan to open 50 charter schools across the state. A sizeable backlash ensued after Hillsdale’s President Larry Arnn was caught on a hidden-camera video telling an audience that anybody can be a teacher and that public school teachers are “educated in the dumbest parts of the dumbest colleges in the country.” After Arnn attacked teachers, a number of school districts across Tennessee quickly terminated negotiations for starting up any Hillsdale charter schools.
Last week, in a NY Post opinion piece, Pompeo clarified his shameless, ad hominum attack on America’s more than 3 million public school teachers by presenting his own culture war spin on the public schools’ failure to indoctrinate our children with a curriculum of American exceptionalism combined with the promotion of educational competition via school privatization: “Critical race theory and the 1619 Project derive from Marxist precepts; they do not reflect the greatness and the power of the American experiment… America’s founding was a watershed in world history. Our nation is exceptional. China, Russia and Iran destroy human initiative; America allows it to flourish… Public schools must be required to compete for students with charter, private, and religious schools, in addition to homeschooling, for competition improves performance.”
Ah — Pompeo’s attack on teachers is merely his spectacularly ugly take on the platform another prospective 2024 Presidential candidate—Ron DeSantis—has already been implementing. Most public education policy is established under the 50 state constitutions, and Ron DeSantis, as Governor of Florida, is better positioned than a former Secretary of State to have already put in place a program that undermines his state’s public schools. After he was re-elected on November 8, DeSantis bragged: “Florida is “where woke goes to die.” Here are a few things Ron DeSantis has accomplished:
- Florida’s “Don’t Say Gay” and Parents’ Bill of Rights Bill — On July 1, the Washington Post‘s Valerie Strauss reported: “Florida’s Parental Rights in Education Law, popularly known by critics as the ‘don’t say gay’ bill, went into effect on Friday, restricting what teachers can say about gender and sexual orientation… The law, signed March 28 by Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R), is the first of its kind in the country… The law also legally empowers parents to sue school districts as a way to advance their ‘parental rights.’”
- A Book Ban — Salon‘s Kathryn Joyce reported: “This March, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis signed into law a policy… that bans schools from using any books that are ‘pornographic’ or age ‘inappropriate,’ and allows parents broad access to review and challenge all books and materials used for instruction or in school libraries….”
- Florida State Public School Funding Dollars Flooding Out of Public Schools into Florida’s Huge and Growing Voucher Programs — In a collaborative report released in September, the national Education Law Center and the Florida Policy Center document that over a billion dollars is currently flowing out of Florida’s public school funding budget into vouchers. And even more shocking, when students take a voucher the state sucks money right out of the already established school district budget: “School districts have no control over the number of students who apply for vouchers, which makes budgeting difficult.”
Now weeks after the November election, another of DeSantis’s strategies is falling into place. Some of the conservative school board candidates Governor DeSantis endorsed have been making deep changes in the school districts for which they are responsible. Last week, Politico‘s Andrew Atterbury reported: “Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis put his weight behind dozens of conservative school board candidates across Florida during the midterms. Now they’re in office—and are purging some educational leaders who enforced Covid-19 mandates. New board members in two GOP-leaning counties essentially sacked their school superintendents over the span of one week… And while not tied to the 2022 election, the school board in Broward County earlier this month fired its superintendent through an effort led by five members appointed by DeSantis. All combined, school boards with ties to DeSantis pushed out three superintendents in November alone….”
The Washington Post’s Laura Meckler adds: “School board races in Florida are nominally nonpartisan, but DeSantis jumped into the fray and endorsed 30 candidates whom he said would carry conservative values into local districts. Moms for Liberty, a conservative parent group with similar goals, made an overlapping set of endorsements as well. In response, Florida Democrats and teachers unions endorsed some candidates on the other side, turning school board races in some communities into de facto partisan political contests. DeSantis’s picks ran on the mantle of parents’ rights, which typically translates to fewer accommodations for transgender students, less conversation about race and racism in the classroom and heightened scrutiny of books with sexual or other controversial themes.”
Politicians pandering to the hard right by blaming schoolteachers for America’s challenges are the same Republicans who appeal to racism, xenophobia, anti-semitism, and homophobia.
In the NY Post last Friday, Randi Weingarten responded to Mike Pompeo’s attack on America’s teachers: “It’s tough to stand out in the GOP presidential scrum, but my 1.7 million members and I had a good eye roll last week when Mike Pompeo decided that calling me ‘the most dangerous person in the world’ was his surest path to the White House… His spite might be childish and petty, but what’s truly outrageous (is)… calling what educators do ‘filth’ and ‘propaganda.’ Our teachers give their all for their students, showing up every day for their kids, partnering with parents and helping the next generation fulfill their dreams… We agree with Pompeo that literacy is crucial—that’s why this year alone we (the American Federation of Teachers) have given out 1 million books to promote the joy of reading, instead of banning them, as his MAGA pals want to do. And in McDowell County, W. Va., one of the poorest counties in the nation, we launched a public-private partnership that has boosted high-school graduation rates, raised academic proficiency and helped stem the teacher shortage by building houses for teachers… If (Pompeo) wants to engage in a real discussion about how best to strengthen public education or the importance of treating educators with respect, I invite him to join me in a visit to one of America’s 100,000 public schools to learn a thing or two.”
Mike Pompeo might learn a lot by visiting the public schools he disdains. The late Mike Rose, a beloved educator and education writer, published his very best book, Possible Lives, about what he learned by visiting public school classrooms across the United States. Toward the end of that wonderful book, Rose writes: “The teachers we spent time with were knowledgeable. They knew subject matter or languages or technologies, which they acquired in a variety of ways: from formal schooling to curriculum-development projects to individual practice and study. In most cases, this acquisition of knowledge was ongoing, developing; they were still learning and their pursuits were a source of excitement and renewal… As one teaches, one’s knowledge plays out in social space, and this is one of the things that makes teaching such a complex activity… The teachers we observed operate with a knowledge of individual students’ lives, of local history and economy, and of social-cultural traditions and practices… At heart, the teachers in Possible Lives were able to affirm in a deep and comprehensive way the capability of the students in their classrooms… Such affirmation of intellectual and civic potential, particularly within populations that have been historically devalued in our society, gives to these teachers’ work a dimension of advocacy, a moral and political purpose.” (Possible Lives, pp. 418-423