Monday, November 8, 2021

Anti-Racism and Democracy in Our Schools

 It’s generally conceded that Terry McAuliffe’s statement “I don’t think parents should be telling schools what they should teach” was a big blunder that contributed to his defeat last week.  The context was a debate with his Republican opponent, Glenn Youngkin, who had used his party’s playbook on Critical Race Theory and the “leftist” takeover of education.  Not surprisingly, Youngkin hammered McAuliffe with this quote in TV and web ads.

So what should McAuliffe have said instead?  Imagine a response like this: “My opponent wants our schools to take wide detours around any mention of racism in history, politics or economics.  He says this is how parents can take back control of their kids’ education.  I say exactly the opposite.  Everything we’ve seen—opinion polls, demonstrations, and local school board conversations—tells us that Virginia’s parents want to improve education on all fronts, including better informed treatment of racial inequality and ways we can end it.  They don’t want any particular ideology, but they do want schools that address racism honestly and reflect our shared desire to rise above it.”

You can change the words to your own liking, but the key point is that it is possible to be for both anti-racism and democracy in education.

So why wasn’t this the message in Virginia or in the United States overall?  One reason might be the technocratic biases of the administrative class that has predominant power within the Democratic Party.  They are for a properly managed education system insulated from the whims of the common folk who can only gum it up.  Their knee jerk reaction to a Republican call for parents to rebel against progressive directions in education is to reject parental involvement in general.

Another reason, with historical roots in the first, is that the current dogma in anti-racism is that white supremacy is in America’s “DNA” (a biologically dubious metaphor), and that all whites, knowingly or not, are implicit racists whose biggest contribution to the cause would be to step aside and keep their mouths shut.  If that’s what you think, the idea that a democratic upswell of parents, many or most white, could be a force for progress against racism is a dangerous illusion.

Is it no longer possible to even imagine a conjoining of popular power and opposition to bigotry?  If not, we’re doomed.

3 comments: said...

In Virginia, where the education issue became so important in the gubernatorial election, there have been three different issues that have been pushed by people showing up at school board meetings, and in some cases threatening the lives of school board members, or if not outright doing that then disrupting meetings in some cases to the point of them shutting down. Two of these issues apparently have a majority support at least in VA, but one does not.

The one that does not is opposition to mask mandates in schools. A majority support those, but the vociferously disruptive minority has opposed them, and this was in fact the first issue that brought these people out to engage in their acivities.

The one that has gotten the most attention in the media has been CRT, which, of course, has involved a lot of misinformation on the part of the public, as well as some sizable doses of racism. Supposedly over 60% of the population claims to oppose "teaching CRT" in public schools.

But the other one where a majority support the protestors, which has gotten much less attention in the national media but was very important in the VA gov race, has been transphobia, both over who gets to participate in althletics as well as the notorious bathroom issue. What really riled this one up was this ridiculous case in Northern Virginia of a skirt-wearing high school boy who sexually assaulted two different girls in two different high schools in the girls bathrooms. He was convicted within the two week period of short term memory just before the election, and this got a lot of attention in the local media and really riled people up. But I suspect this one may not be quite so hot elsewhere later.

Peter Dorman said...

Barkley, I know you live in VA and had a ringside seat, but what do you think of the piece in Politico ( (too lazy to make it an HTML tag)
where Youngkin's strategists describe how they framed the campaign? For instance, they say, "You had two choices. Glenn and our message was that we believe parents should be involved and have a say — and not just on school safety, but on standards, not just on one specific issue. Terry and Democrats had framed it so that teachers unions and political agendas would have a bigger role in your child's education than you do. And that's a powerful message, and it's very different and deeper than just a CRT message."

Of course, they define parental control at the individual level, which is why a potentially democratic influence, the involvement of teachers unions, is treated as a bogeyman. But this distorted sense of parental control was unopposed because the Democrats did not campaign for a different approach in which parental control was an aspect of democratic control.

When you and I were younger, "democracy" was a galvanizing word on the left. After all, we even had Students for a Democratic Society. Right wingers would drone on about how this was a republic, not a democracy. But that was then. Today, isn't the center-left openly hostile to democracy, especially at the local level? This doesn't mean accepting the reactionary policies of any given locality, but fighting for progressive goals achieved through democratic means. There are many reasons why this swath of the left soured on popular power, but one is the fatalism that whites are all hopelessly mired in racism and can't be trusted to use political power fairly. said...


Of course McAuliffe massively messed up with that sentence. I am not sure what he should have said, but clearly not that.

I note that what has been largely ignored by most of the media, although WaPo had a story on it today reporting on a school board member in Loudoun County resigning due to harassment has been all these threats against the lives of school board members all over the country. There is all this nonsense about "free speech for parents," but these disruptions and threats have led to people harassing board members at their homes and their families, with this happening to the board member who resigned in Loudoun. This stuff has gone on where I am in, surrounding Rockingham County where it got so bad the totally GOP-controlled school board did not hold meetings for two months because it was so bad. It has in fact gotten to violence in some places, but, hey, this is all about mothers who care about their children!!!