Attacking Teachers and Banning Books is the Point — Part III: What’s Happening Now
Trump Fascists’ Direct Attacks on Our Schools
Now the increasingly fascist Trump/Republican Party is moving past the covert attacks and political and media attacks of previous decades. Those just softened us up — making the public more doubtful of public education and open to reform while running our public schools into the ground and burning out educators until they might be too tired to resist. Now they are shifting to a full-frontal attack that is intended to fully seize control of our public schools and deliver it to the hands of Republicans if and when they manage to take over all three branches of our government. They are so close they can taste it. Soon they will have within their reach what the John Birch society and their anti-New Deal founders have salivated over for decades. They will have a fully private, fully profitable, and privately-controlled school system. And it will be unequal, which is what the southern dominionist evangelicals want. Of course there will still be high-quality educations — for those who can afford them. There will be endless clones of charter schools that provide free babysitting, canned curriculum, religious indoctrination, and training in becoming compliant workers for the rest.
That is what the current attacks on school boards, teachers, curricula, and public schools are all about.
COVID-19 brought a perfect opportunity for disaster capitalism. It did more than those who have been attacking public education could have dreamed. Suddenly, schools were forced to shut down. Even though that had always been the school “reformers’” goal, they were able to weaponize the school closures and attack schools and teachers for — you guessed it — not doing their jobs. They got a public who was dependent on the huge publicly-funded subsidy of free babysitting to blame the teachers and schools when that subsidy was taken away. Then they realized that their workers can’t work without the free babysitting schools provide and blamed schools for “destroying the economy.” Schools became a convenient scapegoat and battleground for a multitude of COVID-19-related problems.
Trump Republicans made every aspect of COVID-19 political and put schools on the front lines. They opposed any emergency funding to help schools reopen, but then demanded that schools reopen anyway — leaving teachers to buy their own disinfectant supplies, make shields out of clear shower curtains and PVC pipe, or by issuing them one disposable mask and telling them to figure out how to make it work. They attacked all CDC guidelines and masking mandates — while insisting that teachers risk their lives so their children could be babysat/go back to school. Then they attacked teachers for being “ineffective” when COVID outbreaks forced teachers to “pivot” back and forth between online, hybrid, and in-class instruction. For disaster capitalists, COVID provided the perfect vehicle to disrupt schools and further demoralize teachers, many of whom became completely burned out and quit.
In fact, wearing teachers down and getting them to quit was one of the goals. If Trump Republicans can get teachers to peacefully step out of the way, without the ugliness and political inconvenience of mass firings, they can install their own partisan ideologues. Or at the very least, cash-strapped schools with staffing shortages will be forced to hire young, inexperienced, and untrained teachers who will be more malleable and more receptive to just teaching whatever canned curricula their states hand them.
Building on the partisan divisions they had already created over vaccinations and masks, they began targeting mom’s groups on facebook and other social media to recruit them to groups that disseminated misinformation and propaganda. From there, they created a whole controversy around a “Critical Race Theory,” (CRT) an obscure academic theory taught in some college classes but that does not exist in our K-12 schools. As was the case during school desegregation in the 60’s, the CRT “controversy” capitalized on conservative white people’s perceived threats about race, this time spreading misinformation over a vast media network that the non-existent CRT was causing white children to learn that they were inferior and to feel bad about themselves.
Even though the entire furor over CRT was overhyped and even though most parents support having their students learn about ALL of history, including slavery and race relations, it gave the people who wanted to segregate schools a new angle to attack from. Moreover, Republicans were able to leverage their decades of experience with starting culture wars over fake issues in order to sow division to use the CRT “controversy” to take up all the air in the room and to dominate news and politics, thus detracting from the more urgent issues that are pressing schools and educators from all sides as they try to re-open schools even as the Delta Variant continues to take peoples’ (and children’s) lives. Republicans know that whoever controls the controversy controls the narrative. Once they control the narrative, the “truth” is whatever they make it.
CRT is another dog whistle, capitalizing on some white people’s anxieties about sending their children to schools that are already reflecting the U.S.’ trend toward becoming majority minority. Its “parent organizations” such as “Moms for Liberty” are funded by the same dark money sources that have been funding attacks on schools since the New Deal and the 1960’s school desegregation mandates. These are the same groups which have been bankrolling the School Choice and School Voucher movements, including the Koch Brothers and multiple prominent funders of conservative causes. As with earlier “school choice” attempts to re-segregate schools and earlier culture war “controversies” that Republicans created, the CRT “controversy” is just the latest way to attack and delegitimize public schools and to discredit educators.
Their desired end goal is to defund education, remove public schools altogether and to take full control of our educational system.
Now they have mobilized the Brownshirts that they had already learned how to activate in response to threats of the “antifa” during the summer of 2020. They are using them to mount a full-frontal attack on our public schools and on educators.
Taking a page from the Stalinist, Maoist, and Nazi playbooks, Trump Republicans are demanding that public libraries and school libraries purge all “offensive” content. Not coincidentally, most of the books they want purged depict People of Color, people on the LGBTQIAA spectrum, members of other marginalized groups, and dissenting political viewpoints. Some are even demanding that these books be burned. Harkening back to earlier conservative demands to teach “both sides” of “controversies” they invented, some Trump Republicans are demanding that if teachers teach about any potentially offensive historical content, they have to teach “opposing perspectives” — even if they are teaching about the Holocaust. They even want to restrict and regulate teachers’ classroom libraries — which teachers usually purchased on their own when school systems and taxpayers refused to fund books for classrooms. For conservatives, it wasn’t enough to make teachers buy and bring supplies for students, they now want to scrutinize and attack what teachers DONATED.
Already, Trump Conservatives are starting to market curricula and books that conform to their religious and ideological agendas. Taking control of the entire curriculum is the real goal for both private profiteers and evangelicals.
As with previous fascist movements, Trump Republicans are using threats of violence to intimidate anyone who would oppose them, to assert control of democratic processes, and to clear the way to install their own (often poorly-qualified) partisan loyalists. Armed vigilantes who are often aligned with extremist groups are overrunning school board meetings, and are harassing and physically threatening school board members. As school board members opt to protect their own and their families’ health, they are quitting, which leaves the door open for future far-right candidates to run and impose their own political agendas on our schools.
The threats, intimidation, and attacks are not limited to more public figures such as school board members, or even administrators. They are often directly aimed at teachers. Direct attacks on teachers and efforts to purge any teachers with “undesirable” backgrounds or ideas are a cornerstone of all previous fascist movements. Trump Republicans physically assaulting teachers for enforcing their schools mask mandates. Worse, they are deliberately circulating propaganda stoking fears that “Marxist Teachers are Targeting Your Kids.” Republican elected officials are using “indoctrination of children at school” as talking points.
Anti-teacher rhetoric is spreading on multiple forums and is drowning out teachers’ voices when they attempt to defend themselves online. They are already removing Teachers and administrators from their jobs for teaching “offensive” content. Following the fascist pattern of deputizing citizens to report fellow citizens, and following on the heels of Texas’ Abortion law, which pays bounties to anyone who assists a woman with an abortion, Moms for Liberty and the State of New Hampshire have put a bounty on teachers’ heads by offering a reward to any parents or citizens who report a teacher who is ostensibly teaching anything anyone considers to be offensive.
In case people think that these kinds of attacks won’t affect most teachers who keep their heads down, I’m already seeing evidence that the very fact that someone currently teaches or ever has taught can be grounds enough for some conservatives to accuse them of “indoctrinating” students. Here is an exchange I had on Twitter earlier this week. Mind you, I have not taught K-12 students since 2004, and I am not teaching at all this term.
Remember that many of the same people who are getting brainwashed to view teachers as the enemy supported the coup attempt last January 6. They have been openly threatening civil war, and are now asking “When do we get to use the guns?” I’m sure that at one time in Germany or China, it seemed unlikely that teachers would be publicly humiliated and then rounded up and sent off to camps. I’m not saying it’s necessarily going to happen here, but I’m saying that this is how it starts.
In a twist of irony that is also reminiscent of previous fascist movements, the people attacking public education have co-opted the rhetoric about fighting “Nazi” and “Marxist” oppression. They frame themselves as “patriots,” fighting against a deep-state plot by teachers and publicly-elected school boards to indoctrinate their children, seize their guns, take over the government with “illegitimate” elections, strip away their freedoms, and run the economy into the ground. In a classic case of the kind of narcissistic projection popularized by Donald Trump, they are accusing everyone else of doing the exact things they are doing. But any fasicst dictator knows that they can get their followers to fight for them in the streets if they can convince them that they are “patriots” who are fighting for their own freedom and to protect themselves and their loved ones from oppression. As we’re seeing once again, often the first citizens framed as “oppressors” are a country’s teachers.
So what’s the endgame? The attacks on schools and on teachers are part of the fascist playbook. Most fascist governments start with attacks on teachers and use that as justification to take over the schools and curriculum. They know that is one of the best ways to consolidate control AND to win the hearts and minds of the next generation of their workers, soldiers, and supporters.
Why are we seeing this now? I can’t help but wonder whether the current attacks are an attempt to set the stage for a full Trump Republican fascist take-over of schools and curricula as soon as they win back power. We already know they have shifted their focus to “winning” the 2024 election by hook or by crook. Therefore it’s not surprising that they’re priming our school system for a take-over. If and when they seize control of our government, they will already have armies of brownshirt vigilantes and “concerned” Karen parents to back up their proposal to privatize and/or “reform” the schools, including installing curricula and teachers who conform to and promote their ideologies. They will already have partisan loyalists lining up to take over school boards and ensure that their districts promote Trump Republican viewpoints and carry out their party’s dictates. They will already have citizens deputized to turn in any teachers who do not conform and parrot their views and who refuse to follow all their mandates. They will already have armies of Brownshirt vigilantes ready to intimidate anyone who poses any resistance — and to back it up with force if necessary. As they plan their next coup (learning from the mistakes of the January 6 attempt), they are making sure that the school system — and the next generation of youth — is ready to fall under their control.
I hope I am wrong on this one. On the other hand, we can’t afford to ignore all the signs.
Just to be clear, if teachers really were able to “indoctrinate” our students, we would indoctrinate them to read the course syllabus, pay attention in class, and do their homework.