Nel's New Day

February 1, 2023

DeSantis Betrays Black History Month

In the area of good news, Australia found its missing radioactive capsule about the size of an aspirin lost from a radiation gauge on a truck along an 870-mile-long highway in the western Outback. The gauge was used in equipment at the Gudai-Darri mine in northwestern Australia. The capsule was reported missing to the government almost a week ago, nine days after its loss when the gauge was unpacked and inspected, and then to the public two days later. Search parties had used portable radiation survey meters detecting radioactivity almost 12 miles away, but authorities were concerned that it had become lodged in a car tire. Within days, new detection devices were added—radiation portal monitors and a gamma-ray spectrometer, attached to moving vehicles and finding the capsule 120 miles from the mine. 

On January 31, the day before Black History Month, the GOP Oversight Committee disbanded the Subcommittee on Civil Rights and Civil Liberties, focusing on issues including voting rights, freedom of assembly, and criminal justice reform policies. No one knows why except the committee chair James Comer (R-KY) said it was efficiency.

On the first day of Black History Month, pressure from DeSantis for education to follow his personal ideology and his MAGA on his way to the presidency forced the College Board to water down its Advanced Placement (AP) African American studies course, cutting curriculum if DeSantis said it had a left-wing bias.  One change was removing names of Black authors found problematic by Florida officials. Florida objected to subject references to LGBTQ+, feminism, reparations, “intersectionality,” and “Black Struggle in the 21st Century.”

In the revised syllabus, the College Board, a nonprofit that oversees the AP program nationwide, removed the names of several Black authors identified as problematic by Florida officials. The sections about the struggle in the 21st century and the Movement for Black Lives were removed, replaced by suggested research project topics that are “not a required part of the course framework that is formally adopted by states.” Intersectionality is mentioned only in sample project topics “for illustrative purposes” as is “the reparations debate.” The new version doesn’t mention the word “queer” although Black lesbians are mentioned. A new section is called Black conservatism.

Last month, DeSantis announced that the new AP course could not be taught in Florida high schools because it violated the governor’s anti-“woke” law, highly restricting any discussions of race in schools. A member of the College Board said that this watering down is the only way to get African American studies into the schools.

In an analysis of the AP course before it was gutted, history scholar Joshua Zeitz determined DeSantis had cherrypicked the curriculum for a distorted view and described it as “history” instead of the interdisciplinary curriculum with college-level matter, typical of these “advance placement” classes. About the 102 topics in four broad units, Zeitz wrote:

“The curriculum makes a lot more sense if you consider its topline objective: arming students with a range of analytical and critical thinking skills. If you believe that the purpose of a quality education is to prepare kids to thrive in the real world, the AP African American Studies is a win. The subject matter is rigorous, and the texts and other source material are challenging. Isn’t that exactly what a twenty-first century education should look like?”

The course explains a particular theme, in this case the African American experience, through multiple academic perspectives including history, literature, music, philosophy, economics and art.  Zeitz’s description of the content—before it was watered down–is enlightening.

DeSantis’ criticism that white students will be made “uncomfortable” by actions of earlier generations “assumes that students are especially brittle and incapable of dealing with the subject matter,” according to Zeitz. The purpose of this curriculum like all AP courses is five skill sets in critical thinking, analysis, and argument vital for college and the 21st century workforce. Its preparation involved over 100 college syllabi from all eight Ivy League universities and 20 state flagship institutions vetted by focus groups and conversations with 132 college faculty members and 28 college and high school students. Once again, however, as in Texas determining the content of textbooks, the AP curriculum is being designed by politicians, not quality educators.

Some teens are learning about the flaws in their education. Catherine Caruso’s article in Teen Vogue describes the results of a report from the Zinn Education Project, relating the lack of education about the Reconstruction era immediately following the Civil War which was dominated by white supremacists trying to suppress the growth of Black influence. She explains that outdated, inadequate, and sometimes racist propaganda in textbooks are initiated by the Dunning School, Columbia University scholars who portrayed the Reconstruction as a massive failure. They pushed the belief of the noble cause in the South, “as if they were fighting for tradition rather than fighting to maintain human bondage,” according to an educator with the Zinn project. The false narrative was continued by the United Daughters of the Confederacy. The DeSantis repression of all education outside the white Western heterosexual history runs parallel to the suppression of education for Blacks during slavery—except now the ideology is for all students.

A February 2022 poll found only 27 percent of people think U.S. history curriculum accurately reflects the Blacks’ role in the nation.

In another of DeSantis achievements that warps education to his own philosophy and woos MAGA supporters, he is converting New College of Florida, a liberal arts school in Sarasota, into a far-right Christian institution through his six appointments to its board. Thanks to the new majority of conservatives from state appointments, its president Patricia Okker was fired at the first meeting of the new board, and DeSantis’ close ally Richard Corcoran was made its new interim president. Despite protests of “separation of church and state,” the Board meeting began with a Christian prayer.

The board did not follow the wish of Christopher Rufo, new board member and creator of the “woke” myth, in abolishing the school’s Office of Outreach and Inclusive Excellence and remove diversity statements and training, but the proposal is scheduled for future policies. “Diversity, equity, and inclusion divide people,” according to Rufo; another new board member, Mark Bauerlein, said that many people see DEI as coercive. The board will also consider “terminating” all employee contracts.  DeSantis wants $15 million for faculty recruitment and scholarships at New College with $10 million recurring funds to build the school in his own image. In 2022, New College was rated #3 in public liberal arts schools in terms of a student’s return on educational investment and median earnings.

On the same day, DeSantis proposed changes to the state’s university system including the removal of funding for all diversity, equity and inclusion programs and start tenure review of professors. Last year, DeSantis and state Republicans put GOP allies in top university posts and limited how race could be taught.

DeSantis hasn’t limited himself to higher education in restricting education. Manatee County School District, with 50,000 students, is one place trying to cope with the state’s “anti-woke” law. Teachers are trying to avoid a third-degree felony by removing all books from the shelves of their classroom libraries until they are vetted by a state-trained media specialist.  

Books aren’t alone in being censored. Shortly before Holocaust Remembrance Day last Friday, a principal told a Bucks County (PA) school librarian to remove posters with a quote by Elie Wiesel, Nobel Peace Prize winner, human rights activist, professor, and Holocaust survivor.

“I swore never to be silent whenever and wherever human beings endure suffering and humiliation. We must always take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented.”

The Central Bucks School District reportedly has ties to an anti-LGBTQ hate group. In January, the board voted 6-3 for Policy 321 blocking teachers from “advocacy activities” and displaying inclusive symbols such as Pride flags in their classrooms. The librarian has worked in the district for 30 years, and his ninth-grade daughter had emailed him the quotation saying that it “reminds me of you.” In this case, an uproar from the community led to the district allowing the posters to be put back up. Last summer, the district had hired a PR firm for $15,000 a month “to repair strained public relations and improve the school district’s image,” largely because of “executive decisions” targeted at the LGBTQ+ students.

A quotation from Isaac Saul’s online newsletter, Tangle:

“They are people in the mold of everyone from Ron DeSantis to Elon Musk who pay a great deal of lip service to free speech, free thought and the open debate of controversial ideas. These same folks often criticize language policing and the overly sensitive left, while insisting that uncomfortable, offensive ideas — and sometimes even misinformation — should all be discussed out in the open in the name of free expression and free thought.”

In 1647, the colonies in the new world charged and hanged the first woman for “witchcraft” perhaps because of flu in the town or her husband wanting a piece of land that she inherited. Over 40 more people faced trial during the next 15 years for their relationship with Satan; nine women and two men were executed. After 376 years, “witches” may be exonerated if Connecticut passes its bill, requested for years; last year Massachusetts cleared the name of one woman convicted of witchcraft in 1692. She wasn’t executed, but her conviction wasn’t overturned for 330 years. Hopefully, these trials don’t return with the new far-right Christian majority on the U.S. Supreme Court.  

September 11, 2022

Book Banning Comes from the Enemy within a Country

Twenty-one years ago today, a foreign enemy attacked the United States, killing over 3,000 people and causing untold more deaths on U.S. soil. Nineteen men, 15 of them from Saudi Arabia, trained to fly highjacked planes into the World Trade Center, the Pentagon, and the U.S. capital—the last one foiled by the bravery of 40 passengers and crew who died when the plane crashed in rural Pennsylvania. Since then, the greatest danger to the U.S. comes from within.

On January 6, 2021, insurrectionists and GOP lawmakers tried to overturn the nation’s legal election for Joe Biden as president, and the Christian nationalists are trying to erase any part of the U.S. culture except for white heterosexual people. A strong movement wants to preserve only this one culture for children and youth through eliminating any other references in curriculum and books available to all young people.

The recent book banning movement began in the schools with the claim that officials are protecting white children from any shame or embarrassment regarding rampant racism. Two years ago, Christofer Rufo, a conservative activist, invented the problem to use as the “perfect weapon” against Democrats. In blocking history and current affairs in education, advocates claimed that the restrictions would end with racism. But the movement expanded to hatred for the LGBTQ community, and all positive references to the queer world had to disappear inside the hallowed halls.

Book banning has burst out of schools into public libraries and bookstores. Rabid defenders of a narrow white evangelical Christian society want to blanket the U.S. with its beliefs by eliminating any diverse opinions. Americans have a long history of book banning: people who came to the New World for “religious freedom” attacked Thomas Morton’s New English Canaan in 1634, criticizing Pilgrims for religious zealotry and cruelty toward the natives of their new land.

Obscenity laws failed to gain a stronghold throughout the U.S. in the 19th and early 20th century because courts still believed in the First Amendment so books for youth, both in schools and public libraries, were condemned by censors. The current anti-Black movement in literature came to the forefront in 1941 when Southern segregationists held a “big book burning” for We Sing America by Marion Vera Cuthbert, who had pled for racial equality in her 1936 children’s book. Garth Williams’ The Rabbits Wedding was tossed out of libraries across the nation, including every one in Alabama, because the book for under-five-year-olds showed two adorable bunnies—one white and one Black—marrying in the company of adorable woodland creatures. Williams also illustrated banned books such as Charlotte’s Web, targeted in 2006 for “blasphemous and unnatural” talking animals.  

New York City citizens lambasted Howard Fast’s Citizen Tom Paine, a book admiring the Revolutionary War agitator who disdained Christian theology and George Washington. Censors objected to his membership in the Communist Party although he resigned because of disillusionment about the Soviet Union. Depicting the American Revolution as a class struggle, the book disappeared from libraries and schools. Piri Thomas’ Down These Mean Streets depiction of life in Harlem disappeared in the 1960s and 1970s. Then Mark Twain’s Huckleberry Finn became a common target along with To Kill a Mockingbird, Black like Me, and Manchild in the Promised Land—all books about racism. These and others were hated by the politically right because they were “anti-American, anti-Christian,” anti-Semitic and “just plain filthy.” In 1982, justices determined in Board of Education v. Pico that school boards cannot remove a book because it disagrees with its ideas but ruled that books can be removed based on “educational suitability,” leading to a flood of efforts to remove books—based on their ideas.

Book bannings have been sanctioned in 36 states introducing 137 “educational gag order” bills. The seven states already passing the bills into law is 250 percent higher than in 2021 when the discrimination movement took off. In 15 states, legislatures have enacted restrictions on how race and racism can be taught. Most of these censorship laws are directed at public and higher education, but some states consider bills banning books in public libraries. The movement has even attacked bookstores, but two lawsuits against Barnes & Noble in Virginia were dismissed as unconstitutional.

Book banners follow the pattern of Chinese authority in Hong Kong, taking an open publishing world into suppression at the same time the U.S. moved to its censorship in schools and libraries. This week, book creators, in detention for over a year, were convicted of sedition for three books written for children ages 4 to 7, depicting sheep trying to protect their village from wolves. A dozen sheep tried to escape, a plot that Chinese believe allude to 12 young people from Hong Kong captured by China’s coast guard while fleeing the city on a speedboat. Prosecutors claimed the books are indoctrinating readers with “separatist” ideas. 

According to research, honest discussions about racism can reduce discrimination. In an Austin (TX) charter school, two classes have ethics studies courses in which they talk about police brutality, LGBTQ history, colonialism, Reconstruction and Jim Crow laws, exclusionary immigration, and other forms of prejudice. Students, largely Black and Hispanic, reflect on their own experiences. The school has almost no bullying or fighting. The conclusion follows studies that students are more engaged in school after their classes frankly discussing racism and bigotry, practices that several state laws block. Now a charter school was required by law to remove an anti-racist quote from its website.

In a 2017 study, a San Francisco school district increased high school freshmen attendance, course completion rates, and graduation rates with a class focusing on social justice movements and discrimination in U.S. history. Students were also encouraged “to explore their individual identity, their family history, and their community history” and required to complete a service project. In a comparison of almost 1,500 students at three high schools with similar students lacking the opportunity to participate in a similar class, those who took the course increased their GPAs by 1.4 points.

Dropouts of male Black students in a Oakland school dropped from 8.5 percent to 4.9 percent after taking a class on Black history and culture including ways of challenging negative stereotypes about Black males. The class also provided college and career advising. Tucson’s Mexican American students course boosted test scores and high school graduation rates with inclusion of social justice and patterns of oppression in society. Students who took the class were several percentage points more likely to pass state exams and graduate than those not taking the class.

Not discussing racism in schools doesn’t stop children from an awareness of it. Among children ages 6 to 11, 86 percent report that people int the U.A. are treated unfairly because of race, and almost half of them say racism is on the top of their minds. Legislators enacting right-wing laws restricting education claim they are following the wishes of parents, but 86 percent of parents both want students to learn to love the nation and to learn about “the terrible things that have happened in our nation’s history regarding race so students can learn from them and make the future better.” Parents also don’t want politicians “making decisions about what students learn in the classroom.”

Ignoring racism in schools increases prejudice; teaching about it does the reverse. Successful education about race and racism is academically rigorous, reflects culture competence that take into consideration students’ backgrounds, and promotes students’ critical thinking to ask why things are the way they are and whether/how they should be otherwise.

Students understand the importance of knowledge. Grapevine High School students in a Texas district controlled by the Christian wireless provider Patriot Mobile walked out of school to protest bannings on the fake “critical race theory,” books, and pronoun choice. A student said:

“These rules are taking away our rights to feel safe and to express ourselves and to be honest about who we are.”

Another one said:

“Eventually there will be change, but for now, we just have to do what we can.”

One freshman said:

“Not even a month into the school year, I have to act like I don’t exist.”

One poster read, “Kids shouldn’t feel unsafe because of your politics.”

Removal of many books from public school shelves, especially in Texas, isn’t mandated, but official want to avoid complaints from highly vocal, sometimes violent parents.

Next week is the 40th anniversary of Book Banning Week, celebrating the freedom to read and founded after a surge in challenges to books in schools, libraries, and bookstores. Kim Hyun Sook, co-author with Ryan Estrada of Banned Book Club, talked about their Book Defenders campaign to take action against book bans. She said “book banning was part of a strong effort to control people” in Korea because the government didn’t want people to learn about such issues as politics. Instead, the government “wanted their word to be gospel”; knowledge to make decisions was exclusive to the government. Estrada pointed out that current book bans in the U.S. “are based on identities” with books providing Black and queer characters being challenged “at an alarming rate.”

“When you ban books about people whose lives and history you don’t think are worth discussing, you are telling people like those in the stories that they are unspeakable. When you create barriers between people and their own stories, you are telling those readers that who they are is wrong.”

Book bans occur in almost half the United States and needs to be stopped. Young people and teachers are trying to do that now, and they need help. A beginning is reading banned books.

August 30, 2022

Biden Forgives Some Student Debt, Repubicans Whine

For the past week, the U.S. has focused on two major topics—the documents stolen by Deposed Donald Trump (DDT) and, to a lesser extent, President Joe Biden’s order to lessen the debt from student loans. After GOP lawmakers helped trillions to the wealthy and business through lowered taxes, subsidies, and corruption in COVID loopholes, they are outraged at annually giving a few billion to lower-income people for a new lease on life such as the ability to buy a home instead of paying egregious rent.  

According to Biden’s order, borrowers making less than $125,000 may have federal student loan debt forgiven up to $10,000 and Pell Grant recipients up to $20,000. Neither private loans nor Federal Family Education Loans qualify. Graduate loans qualify for the $10,000 but not the Pell Grant provision. The plan also caps interest rate at 5 percent instead of exorbitant rates of 8 percent and above that could not be refinanced at a lower rate. Continuing borrowers will pay only five percent of their income for undergraduate loans and ten percent for postgraduate loans over 10 or 20 years, depending on the debt.  Income is based on either 2020 or 2021 incomes. The student loan payment pause will also be extended for a final time through December 31, 2022. 

Since the 1990s, the average cost for annual tuition and fees at public four-year colleges increased 158 percent from $4,160 to $10,740 and 96.6 percent at private institutions from $19,360 to $38,070. Nationally, 45 million people owe $1.6 trillion in the federal student loans, and Biden’s plan forgives between 23 percent and 39 percent of them. In June, the Education Department canceled $6 billion for 200,000 borrowers who claimed they were misled and defrauded by colleges. Previously, Biden approved $26 billion in loan forgiveness for about 1.3 million borrowers, including defrauded students and public service employees.


The nine student loan servicers paid a small percentage of the loan balance or a fixed monthly fee by the federal government to manage the loan. Paying off the loan could have a long term positive effect although refinancing providers might have more of a negative result.

False claims of fiscal incompetence and lack of “fairness.” These come from the same people who complain about wealthy people being required to pay their legal income taxes and their paying a much lower percentage of taxes than middle-income families because of the GOP 2017 massive tax cuts. Some of these wealthy beneficiaries pay nothing or have a negative tax with the government paying them.

Recipients lacking good moral character. This quality was never investigated in the Bush recession bailout of banks, insurers, and auto companies. Lawmakers overlook their votes to give billions of dollars to farmers badly hurt by DDT’s trade wars, and congressional members personally benefited financially from laws they voted for, for example the forgivable Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loans to businesses paid by lower-wage blue-collar workers.

  • Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene whined on Newsmax that “it’s completely unfair” for student loans to be forgiven. She had $183,504 in PPP loans forgiven.
  • Rep. Mike Kelly (R-PA) tweeted the forgiveness was poised to benefit “Wall Street advisors” at the cost of “plumbers and carpenters.” He had $987,237 in PPP loans forgiven.
  • Rep. Vern Buchanan (R-FL) called the forgiveness “reckless” and a “unilateral student loan giveaway.” He had over $2.3 million in PPP loans forgiven.
  • Rep. Markwayne Mullin (R-OK) tweeted, “We do not need farmers and ranchers, small business owners, and teachers in Oklahoma paying the debts of Ivy League lawyers and doctors across the U.S.” He had almost $1.5 million in PPP loans forgiven. (And he’s running for U.S. Senate.)
  • Rep. Kevin Hern (R-OK) lied about the “Party of the People” going after “working class Americans” with the IRS and higher taxes and “forced them to pay for other people’s college degrees.” He had over $1 million in PPP loans forgiven.
  • Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-FL) earlier criticized Biden for the money Congress allotted to help Ukraine during the Russian invasion. He had $482,321 in PPP loans forgiven.
  • Rep. Roger Williams (R-TX) sponsored a resolution in 2019 calling “student loan forgiveness” a form of “socialist” proposal and “antithetical to American foundational values of self-responsibility and opportunity.” He had $1,432,400 in PPP loans forgiven.

These handouts total about $8 million dollars, equivalent to 800 “giveaways.”

Rep. Jim Banks (R-IN) worries about recruitment for the military if young people can afford college:

“Student loan forgiveness undermines one of our military’s greatest recruitment tools at a time of dangerously low enlistments.”

In 2019, Frank Muth, general in charge of Army recruitment, bragged about student debt, then averaging $31,000, playing a major role in exceeding the Army’s recruiting goal for the year. This year, the military has its fewest number of recruits since the end of the draft in 1973. A recent Department of Defense youth poll gave top reasons for not joining the military: fear of physical and psychological wounds, fear of sexual assault, and a growing dislike of the military.

Sitting on the Armed Services Committee overseeing the Department of Defense and U.S. military, Banks has received over $400,000 in donations from defense contractors, weapons manufacturers, and other major participants in the military industrial complex. Committee members have received over $3.4 million from defense contractors and weapons manufacturers during the current election cycle.

Loan forgiveness doesn’t benefit everyone, but neither do national parks people don’t visit, cures for diseases most never contract, schools for people who don’t have children enrolled, streets not used by some people who pay for them. Bankruptcy doesn’t forgive debts for everyone. Only taxpayers who own houses and itemize their income taxes get the mortgage interest deduction for tens of billions annually across every taxpayer.  

A leader in inciting anger among his followers, DDT gave his usual arguments about being too expensive, U.S. “in decline,” etc. His classic statement, however, was his resentment toward “bailing out College Administrators who fleeced students”—his own words.  A major “fleecer,” DDT swore he would never settle a lawsuit against Trump University but paid $25 million for fleecing students. Students ran up their credit cards to pay DDT tens of thousands of dollars, hoping to become wealthy from insider information and instead attended workshops in hotels where salesmen pressured them to pay more money for more courses. No secrets, no one-on-one guidance—just fleecing.

The accusation that Biden and the Democrats are “vote buying” by giving people the forgiveness fits giving money to farmers, the wealthy, and big business who then donate money to GOP candidates. Donations are used to run ads to get votes, sometimes in advertising with atrocious lies.

The conservatives highly incensed when Biden called their philosophy “semi-facist” dragged out the old trope that the modest loan forgiveness plan for people making under $125,000 is a “socialist” giveaway to “elites” and “gender studies” majors, that one from Rep. Jim Jordan (R-OH), accused by dozens of university athletic students for ignoring their complaints about a doctor’s sexual assault. As of 2014-2015, fewer than 1,500 people, out of almost two million receiving bachelor’s degrees, graduated with degrees in women’s studies. Biden said that almost 90 percent of people eligible for relief make under $75,000 per year and pointed out that “85 percent of the benefits of Congressional Republicans’ tax cut went to taxpayers earning more than $75,000.”

Sen. Rick Scott (R-FL) ranted about the “socialist handout” and “added burden.” The richest senator with possible assets of $500 million, Scott founded and directed a healthcare company charged with defrauding Medicare. During his tenure, the company agreed to pay $1.7 billion in fines and admitted to multiple felonies for offenses.  

Although opposed to Biden’s plan, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) had a few tweaks to student debt, hoping to sound somewhat compassionate. But he didn’t want to appear “liberal” or “socialist.” Rubio said:

“I owed over a hundred thousand dollars in student loans. The day I got elected to the Senate I had over $100,000 still in student loans that I was able to pay off because I wrote a book and from that money, I was able to pay it. If not I would have never, I would still be paying it okay? So it’s not about, I think the student loan thing in America is a big problem and it’s broken and it needs to be fixed and it needs to be reformed and I have bipartisan ideas.”

A solution to student debt? Just write and sell a book.

Recent polls find that 59 percent or 60 percent of respondents believe the federal government should eliminate all or some student loan debt for all borrowers. Half of those who agreed have never had student debt. Forty-five percent of Republicans support federal assistance with student loans, but the rest of them will likely have a meltdown after the Education Department announcement that it will cancel federal student debt for 79,000 borrowers who attended Westwood College from 2002 and 2015 at a cost of $1.5 billion. The for-profit school and its branches, which closed in 2016, engaged in lies, manipulation, and false promises long after its closure.

Republicans will likely sue to overturn Biden’s order, but he can announce any borrower suffering hardship from the pandemic can apply for relief to get their debts canceled. Filing a lawsuit, however, requires “standing,” proof that loan forgiveness creates concrete harm to plaintiffs and then prove that the order’s cancellation can remedy that harm. Borrowers can only wait and see.    

Satirist Alexandra Petria has a brilliant column about the “unfairness” of student loan forgiveness well worth reading  

January 14, 2022

Fear Blocks Education in U.S.

A few years ago, Republicans tried to smear their opposition by accusing them of “cancel culture.” The concept began as a joke in pop culture six or seven years ago but then became a cultural boycott to show disapproval of someone, for example of Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA) who put her violent and offensive conspiracy theories to work when she was elected to Congress. Republicans used disapproving statements to accuse Democrats of erasing GOP free speech. Then Republicans tried to “cancel”, or change, history that didn’t fit into their conservative ideals.

“Cancel culture” turned out to be too weak to satisfy Republicans so a clever conservative, Christopher Rufo, came up with his own definition of “critical race theory,” that all schools were teaching white kids to feel guilty for racism and hate themselves for prejudice against white people. Rufo started the conspiracy theory as the “perfect weapon” against Democrats.

CRT caught on fire, and parents started verbally and physically attacking school board members, teachers, and principals for teaching any historical information, such as slavery and other racist activities leading to the current systemic racism in the United States. The theory led to people, including school board members, calling for book burning.

States passed laws to ban books in schools beyond those describing racist behavior, moving to banning all books against minorities lawmakers consider undesirable such as LGBTQ people. An example of these lawmakers is Indiana State Sen. Scott Baldwin, co-sponsoring a bill that would require teachers support fascism and Naziism by showing impartiality toward these evils. Baldwin denies being a member of the extremist Oath Keepers whose members were charged this week with seditious conspiracy, but his name is reportedly on their list. Criticism caused the President Pro Tem Rod Bray (R-Martinsville) to announce the bill has been pulled before next week’s vote.

One high school student, Christiane Calixte, disagrees with this “impartiality.” The junior at the Berkeley Carroll School in Brooklyn, wrote this op-ed for the Washington Post

“As a Black high school junior, I have to say: The backlash I’ve seen against the teaching of critical race theory is unbelievable.

“In most schools, as has been well established, critical race theory—an approach to analyzing the intersection of race, history and the law, generally reserved for higher education—isn’t even being taught. And yet, since January 2021, according to Education Week, more than 30 states “have introduced bills or taken other steps that would restrict teaching critical race theory or limit how teachers can discuss racism and sexism” in K-12 schools.“These policies are no joke.

“One Tennessee high school teacher, Matthew Hawn, lost his job after showing his students a four-minute video of a poet performing a piece about White privilege. In Texas, James Whitfield was pushed out of his job as a high school principal after accusations that he was promoting CRT.

“Opponents of CRT claim that this academic lens is divisive, anti-White, and anti-American. Many have claimed that its teachings are a means of forcing a political agenda onto children in lieu of focusing on subjects deemed more educational.

“Don’t be fooled, though. The retaliation against CRT shows that parents have no idea what students are learning—and that their protests are less about education and more about a projection of their own biases and fears.

“As one of the few high school students who have actually been taught CRT, I should know.

“At my school, students are often permitted to participate in short workshops on current controversial topics. The one we did on CRT lasted 75 minutes. For students who wish to deepen their understanding of CRT, a semester-long elective—completely optional—is offered during senior year. Material on CRT is by no means replacing instruction in math, science or other core subjects in our curriculum.

“When we discussed CRT in our short workshop, we were taught the basic premise of critical race theory—that the underlying cause of racism within our country is institutional oppression built into American government and law. This structural racism shows up in systems such as the electoral college, which allowed slaveholding states disproportionate representation, and the prison-industrial complex, which upholds forced labor to this day.

“Yes, we discussed White privilege, the fact that because of systems planted hundreds of years ago, “White-identifying people have been given unfair advantages over their non-White counterparts. But this discussion in no way resembled the chaos described by anti-CRT activists who argue that the concept of White privilege will lead to widespread resentment of White people.

“Were we taught that all White people are nothing but racist bigots? No. Were we taught that all White people should feel guilty about events in the past they could not control? No. Were students taught to hate their White friends and teachers?

“Absolutely not.

“CRT does not promote the hatred of White people. Nor does the acknowledgment of White privilege.

All people, regardless of race, can work together to dismantle the systems used to oppress minorities. White people are even encouraged to use their privilege to do so.

“In our discussion, CRT also wasn’t presented as absolute and unchangeable truth. Throughout the lesson, teachers emphasized that all students had the right to agree or disagree with the teachings.Not one of us was crucified for failing to succumb to some “leftist agenda.” My fellow students and I had the opportunity to voice our opinions and explain the reasoning behind them.

“Is this not what learning should look like? Should education not emphasize the critical thinking that students will need to use in future endeavors?

“If the censorship of CRT continues, students across the country will be barred from taking part in similar conversations. Which is exactly what opponents of CRT want.

“Their sentiments are translating to real, sometimes dangerous decision-making. More lawmakers and school officials are hopping on the bandwagon of inhibiting or twisting historical discussions of race, gender and discrimination. In one Texas district, an administrator told teachers, disturbingly, to include books with ‘opposing’ views of the Holocaust to comply with new state legislation mandating that teachers discussing “controversial issues” incorporate “diverse and contending perspectives.”

“CRT isn’t at all what its opponents paint it to be. It’s simply being used as a straw man for those who aim to restrict speech and knowledge—and, in some cases, perpetuate bigoted ideologies.

“The right to discuss and speak up against discrimination has been long fought for. So please, adults, if you’re listening: Don’t reverse centuries of progress in favor of promoting ignorance. If the goal of schools is to create a well-informed populace, then nuanced discussions of historical racism must be held in classrooms. It is the only way young people will learn to think critically about our country’s institutions, and the only way to create an inclusive America for future generations.”

Virginia’s GOP legislators displayed their ignorance for all to see. A bill banning what they called “divisive concepts” of racism and sexism in state schools erroneously listed a debate between Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass about slavery during the presidential campaign. The debate was actually against Stephen Douglas, tied to slavery, not the Black activist Frederick Douglass, once a slave who fought for slavery’s abolition. The bill, sponsored by a freshman Republican, demanded the teaching of “the fundamental moral, political and intellectual foundations of the American experiment in self-government” through “founding documents” which included “the first debate between Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass.”   

By the end of 2021, the conservative use of CRT was moving education back to the nineteenth century. In Texas, state Rep. Matt Krause, aiming for Tarrant County DA, put together a list of 850 books that “might make students feel discomfort, guilt, anguish, or any other form of psychological distress because of their race or sex.” He left out the part about discomfort was only by white students; minorities, including LGBTQ students, were still subjected to books with only white heterosexual people. Then he demanded that all schools search their schools for these books and get rid of them. “Discomfort” includes any books about the history of lynchings and voter suppression. (Cartoon: Headline reads “26 States Ban Teaching about Race.”)

Oklahoma state Sen. Rob Standridge decided to expand Krauses’s campaign with proposed legislation that parents could collect $10,000 if the “offending” book wasn’t removed within 30 days. School libraries in other states such as Kansas, Virginia, Missouri, Utah, and Florida were also forced to moved books fitting their conservative CRT standards.

Journalist Sophie Whitehead wrote, “All book banning revolves around fear of change.” Because of an unflattering view of the Russian Revolution, Doctor Zhivago was banned in Stalin’s USSR. Accused of Mickey Mouse as an “anti-Red rebel,” his comics were banned by East Germany’ communists in East Berlin. In 1633, the Vatican banned a book by astronomer Galileo Galilei which claimed the Earth rotated around the Sun instead of vice-versa. Dennis Aftergut, a former federal prosecutor, wrote, “The aim of education is opening minds through access to ideas.” He cited the ruling of the Supreme Court’s importance of this concept in Island Trees Union Free School District v. Pico by Pico: access to diverse ideas “prepares students for active and effective participation in the pluralistic, often contentious society in which they will soon be adult members.” Aftergut added, “Fear stifles citizenship and the ability to get ahead.” Even a high school junior understands these concepts.

August 22, 2020

Republicans React to the DNC Convention

Filed under: Education — trp2011 @ 12:10 AM
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Since the end of the Democratic presidential convention yesterday, Republicans are performing a postmortem for the four-day event. Dictator Donald Trump (DDT) declared it the “darkest and angriest and gloomiest.”  VP Mike Pence said, “I didn’t watch much of it and, frankly, I couldn’t watch much of it. There was so much negativity, nothing but ad hominem attacks.” (Nothing like judging something you didn’t see.)

Yet other Republicans saw a different convention. In The Bulwark, Charlie Sykes wrote:

“This wasn’t the convention Trump promised us. For weeks, we had been told that this would be the Antifa Convention, headlined by Senile Joe, who couldn’t string together a coherent sentence. We were told that Biden Democrats were virulent Marxists who hated God and America, and wanted to destroy all things good and beautiful.

“The Democrats not only did not screw up their convention: they ended on an impressive note. Contra Trump’s predictions, it was a patriotic celebration of empathy, and decency, wrapped in a devastating indictment.

“[About Hunter Biden’s appearance] It was a signature move for a man who isn’t about to sacrifice his family for his politics. Maybe that’s what made it so jarring for the cynics.”

Kathleen Parker, columnist who sometimes comes up with extremely far-right positions, hit the ball out of the park in her analysis, headlined “The Party of Trump Is Already a Convention of Ghoulish Clowns”:

“It’s hard to imagine a starker contrast than Joe Biden and Donald Trump.

“The Democratic National Convention, as tightly choreographed as a Broadway production, was a four-day anthem to decency, empathy and reason, framed with heartfelt stories and a seriousness of purpose. I can’t recall a more-solemn Barack Obama, who exchanged his hope-and-change template for one of direness and urgency.

“In another role reversal, vice-presidential nominee Kamala D. Harris traded her more-familiar prosecutorial assassin persona for the private face of ‘Momala,’ the brightly smiling daughter of an immigrant mother and stepmom whose daughter testified to her family-focused bona fides. Harris’s dazzling smile betrayed an almost girlish giddiness at what seemed to be her delight in her own presence at this unprecedented intersection of aspiration and history.

“Decency, empathy and reason are, of course, the opposite of what one sees or expects from the incumbent president. Trump’s indecent dog whistles to America’s underbelly, his winks at racists and misogynists (Charlottesville and grab’m); his utter lack of empathy (migrant children torn from their parents and housed in glorified cages); his rejection of reason and science regarding covid-19 (or anything else that runs counter to his singular purpose of self-aggrandizement and the satisfaction of his rapacious narcissism) — all point to a man who never should have become president of the United States in the first place.

“And, yet, he did — and he could win again if Democrats fail to recognize the reasons he won: His supporters didn’t feel that Hillary Clinton or the Democrats had their backs. Trump saw them, heard them and promised to fight for them. It’s as simple as that.

“Biden, to his great credit, extended an olive branch to those who might not vote for him, saying, ‘While I will be a Democratic candidate, I will be an American president.’ Trump has never made any such gesture. He prefers to divide and conquer. When Clinton said that she wished Trump could have been presidential, I thought: I wish he could have been human.

“Republicans now get their turn at the virtual convention, which reportedly will feature more live voices and possibly some semblance of a real crowd. I imagine an array of circus acts involving non-Hollywood performers jumping through hoops of inflammatory rhetoric. You know, regular folks such as the Pillow Man, a.k.a. MyPillow CEO Mike Lindell, who recently surfaced to hawk the potentially toxic coronavirus ‘cure,’ oleandrin. When you no longer trust Anthony S. Fauci, the nation’s most revered infectious-disease expert, who else would you turn to, what with witch doctors in such short supply these days?

“Next, I foresee QAnon candidate Marjorie Taylor Greene, who just won the Republican primary in Georgia’s 14th Congressional District. The fact that QAnon is way off the grid — a conspiracy-theory-generating, anonymous online group that believes Trump is fighting a ‘deep state’ group of Satan worshipers who traffic children for sex — doesn’t bother the president because, as he said: ‘They seem to like me.’ The president also tweeted that Greene is a ‘future Republican Star’ who is ‘strong on everything and never gives up — a real WINNER!’

“Finally, Trump recently reported conferring with God about the economy, mostly telling God what a great job he (Trump) had done, to which God allegedly replied, ‘now we’re going to have you do it again,’ according to Trump’s retelling at a small Minnesota rally last week. I expect a deus ex machina of some sort, perhaps a papier-mâché replica of Trump himself, posing as Zeus hurling thunderbolts across the stage, or, perhaps, Plutus, the Greek god of wealth, tossing gold coins and plastic beads into the roaring crowd.

“And, of course, members of The Family will make appearances, though I don’t expect video reels of grandchildren testifying to Trump’s warmth or his empathy. Think of those moments as product placements. Trump clearly believes he is creating America’s Next Top Political Dynasty (either as a reality show or just plain reality) and the convention may give us a clue about whether that idea is still stuck in development or moving closer to production.

“It’s a terrible time to be a conservative, in other words. You hate the Democratic platform, but you can’t abide the president. Which party keeps the best company? Biden with his protesters and climate-change dreamers? Or Trump, who embraces QAnon, white supremacists and skinheads?

“Unless Trump pulls a covid-19 vaccine from his sleeve Thursday, I’m placing my bets on the goodness of the American people. My wager is that most would prefer a guy from Scranton, Pa., whose moral compass has been forged through suffering and humility, to a quack from Queens, whose moral compass is a wheel of fortune, where the needle always lands on Me.”

And a few one-liners from the DNC convention:

“We are the only major industrial economy to have its unemployment rate triple.”—Bill Clinton [Actually, it quadrupled.]

“My dad was a healthy 65-year-old. His only pre-existing condition was trusting Donald Trump, and for that he paid with his life.”—Kristin Urquiza, who lost her father to COVID-19 because he followed DDT by not wearing a mask in his home state of Arizona

“I know a predator when I see one.”—Kamala Harris covertly referring to the man in the Oval Office after she talked about fighting “for children and survivors of sexual assault”

“Nero fiddled while Rome burned. Trump golfs.”—Bernie Sanders, describing an incompetent authoritarian

“If we all vote, there’s nothing Facebook, Fox News and Vladimir Putin can do to stop us.”—Julia Louis-Dreyfus

“Donald Trump is the wrong president for our country. He has had more than enough time to prove that he can do the job, but he is clearly in over his head. He cannot meet this moment. He simply cannot be who we need him to be for us. It is what it is.”—Michelle Obama

“Do not let them take away your power. Don’t let them take away your democracy.”—Barack Obama

On August 21, the Saturday before the RNC convention when DDT will try to convince people of his successes, COVID-19 has infected 5,796,727 people in the U.S. (50,455 in the last 24 hours) and killed 179,200 with another 1,170 in the last day in its usual 1,000 plus deaths—one-third of the people killed on 9/11. At this time, projections indicate 310,000 deaths by the end of the years–one-hundred times the number of people killed on 9/11.

July 29, 2020

Reopening Schools? Think Twice

Every week, my local newspaper publishes News on the Views, responses to a concern regarding an issue in the community. Today, the topic was reopening schools. Although some of the responses expressed general problems with reopening schools during the pandemic, others wrote that children would not be in danger because of the myth that children have complete immunity—a myth communicated to millions in the United States by conservative media.

One indication children are at risk from COVID-19 infection comes from the plethora of closing summer camps, both sleep-away and day-only, because both youth and their counselors test positive for the coronavirus. Children may not commonly suffer from the more serious symptoms, but no one knows the long-term effects and the extent of infecting others. And as more children contact the virus, the more children have severe symptoms. Lara Shekerdemian, chief of critical care at Texas children’s Hospital in Houston, reports that “in the last three or four weeks our numbers have gone up significantly. The vast majority do really well. There is a proportion who do become sicker than that. Some require life support in the ICU, so there is a whole spectrum.” She also said asymptomatic children have “the biggest danger [because] we don’t know the transmission rate.”

Florida, a state with surging COVID-19 infections, is requiring schools to reopen. The number of children ages 17 and under who test positive for the virus rose from 23,170 on July 16 to 31,150 on July 24—an increase of 34 percent in eight days. At the same time, hospitalizations for children jumped from 246 to 303, a 23 percent increase. Yet children are ordered to return to school in two weeks.

Israel opened schools in May with classes up to 40 as well as no masking or social distancing rules. COVID-19 outbreaks infected 1,335 students and 691 staff in two months; since May, these outbreaks caused Israel to close 125 schools and 258 kindergartens.

Doubting people who talk about reopening schools cite a low death rate among children as a reason for sending them back to school. They ignore potential long-term effects: neurological problems, heart damage, muscle problems, kidney injury, limited lung capacity, blood clots—the list seems endless. No one knows how long these health issues will last or if hey will ever go away.

Teachers are also at risk from returning to school. According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, one in 4 teachers in the U.S.—almost 1.5 million people—are at increased risk for serious illness by becoming infected. They might be able to protect themselves with social distancing, but working in crowded schools with children crowding around will make this procedure difficult. Because of staff at schools, even more people will be at risk, and 3.3 million adults 65 or older live with school-age children.

From Leana S. Wen comes this perspective of how reopening schools could look:  

“The novel coronavirus is spreading uncontrolled in more than 20 states.  Let’s say that the prevalence of the virus in a community is 1 in 100. A school with 1,000 students could have 10 people walk in on day one who are unknowingly infecting others.

“Many who favor on-time reopening cite a recent large study from South Korea that found that children younger than 10 are half as likely to spread the coronavirus as adults. But half of a lot of transmission is still a lot. And the same study found that kids older than 10 transmit the virus at the same rate as adults. If one person spreads it to two or three others who then spread it to contacts at school and at home, there will almost certainly be outbreaks within a matter of weeks.

“How would these outbreaks be detected? Asymptomatic cases wouldn’t be — a concern because   40 percent of people with covid-19 don’t have symptoms. Yet, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), asymptomatic people are 75 percent as infectious as those with symptoms.

“Let’s say that a student does show symptoms — perhaps he develops a fever while at school. The right protocol is to promptly isolate and test him. If he tests positive, everyone he has recently had close contact with should quarantine and get tested, too.

“The problem is multifaceted: Given the backlog of testing, results could take 14 days. Should his entire class stay home for two weeks while awaiting this one student’s test result? Symptoms for covid-19 include cough, diarrhea, headaches, runny nose and sore throat. If any of these symptoms prompts testing and quarantining, multiple classes could be out simultaneously while awaiting test results.

“This prompts additional questions: Will kids truly quarantine at home, especially if this scenario were to recur again and again? Would their siblings also need to stay home? What about their parents — how can they return to work with this much uncertainty? If parents are also asked to quarantine, will some break protocol because they need to earn a living?

“At some point, school administrators may decide that there isn’t enough testing to go around. Children don’t get that sick even if they’re infected, the reasoning would go, so we can’t close down for every sniffle. This thinking, combined with limited contact-tracing capabilities, could mean that outbreaks aren’t detected until numerous adults — teachers, cafeteria workers, janitorial staff, and parents and other relatives of pupils — fall ill.

“I’m worried about schools taking shortcuts in an effort to reopen quickly. Reducing classroom capacity, limiting student mobility and wearing masks can substantially reduce risk. Yet President Trump has bemoaned how the CDC guidelines are “very tough,” and Vice President Pence has said that the guidelines should not prevent schools from reopening. Never mind the backward logic here (the problem is not the guidelines themselves but the inability to meet them). The issue is whether school administrators will buckle to political pressure and neglect critical safety measures, just as many governors did in cutting corners to reopen their states.

“Steps can be taken now to avoid this dystopian scenario. States where infections are escalating need to revert to an earlier phase and close bars, restaurants and other indoor gathering spots. As for schools, they should begin instruction virtually and hold off on in-person plans until October; it will take at least three to four weeks for the new restrictions to have an effect and a few more weeks to ensure that the trend holds.

“States with fewer infections may be able to proceed with in-person instruction if they implement proper safeguards. Many districts have thoughtful plans to bring back younger students and children with special needs first, while providing full online instruction. What about those unable to take online classes from home or who depend on schools for food and other social needs?   Setting up “safe centers for online learning” in schools and other empty community spaces, as some have proposed, could be useful.

“Nationally, it is beyond time to have a testing strategy that ensures that rapid tests are widespread and accessible. The CDC must also provide far more explicit guidance, including exact criteria that communities need to meet to be considered low-risk: such as test positivity of less than 5 percent, 80 percent of tests returned within 48 hours and a 14-day decline in number of cases. And Congress needs to pass an emergency education package that gives local jurisdictions funding to upgrade buildings, buy personal protective equipment and make other necessary changes.

“All of these steps are hard. They require strong leadership and substantial resources. But if we don’t take these actions and schools reopen prematurely, we will effectively have an uncontrolled experiment with students and teachers as the guinea pigs. Banks and airlines have been bailed out. Surely, we can dedicate the necessary resources to help our schools, too.”

David Von Drehle wrote:

“The United States had a chance to get covid-19 under control. Other countries are doing it. But with transmission unfettered and the traditional start of school drawing near, it looks as if we’ve blown the opportunity and failed our kids. Their anger and depression will be justified if their classrooms are empty again this fall. I only hope they learn a lesson from our failure.”

The U.S. now has a total of 4,568,037 cases, 66,921 in the past 24 hours. Adding to the 153,840 deaths from COVID-19 are the 1,485 from the past 24 hours, almost double that of several days ago. While Dictator Donald Trump (DDT) is declaring martial law and pushing fake fixes for COVID-19, his lack of leadership is killing people.


May 18, 2020

A Tale of Two Commencement Speakers

Ben Sasse, former president of Midland University (population 1,385) and current U.S. senator from Nebraska, showed what the Republican considers humor in his commencement speech to Fremont (NE) seniors. 

“Ninety-five percent of all gainfully employed psychologists—and I’m serious there are dozens of them that are gainfully employed— their job is really just to help people forget high school and the other five percent they just research hamsters who get lost in mazes, which come to think of it is a lot like high school and that’s why we want to forget it … If you’re headed to college, do not—do not—major in psychology. That part’s not a joke.”

Sasse said that at future reunions graduates would remember their senior year as “that time when China started a big global pandemic that created the worst public health crisis in over a century and brought the economy to its knees and we had to stay home and everybody was hoarding toilet paper.” A 1990 graduate of Fremont High School, he said the students were not “missing out on that much” by not having a graduation ceremony because “nobody remembers” their high school graduation. Later, he attacked China again.

“We’re going to have to have a serious reckoning with the thugs in China who let this mess spiral out of control by lying about it.”

A school board member Michael Petersen for the town of 26,500 asked Sasse to apologize and posted a statement to the students on Facebook.

“You deserved better than the graduation remarks from Senator Ben Sasse. The racism, implying that our graduates are fat and lazy, disparaging teachers, and attacking the mental health profession are despicable.”

In other statements, Sasse, up for re-election in less than six months, said, “Everybody named Jeremy is the worst,” and “back in the day when we were a lot fitter than you people are, we used to have to climb ropes all the way up to the ceiling of the gym all the time.” Nebraska will probably re-elect him. Sasse’s spokesman said that people should be able to take a joke.

Sasse has perceived himself as a potential presidential candidate and, Charles Pierce points out, “declared himself the avatar of homespun heartland values and virtues.” In his book Them, he claims that “we rally against common enemies so we can feel part of a team.” (Sort of like his attacks on China acquired from far-right conspiracy theories?)

The little-known senator from Nebraska is now much better known after his speech went viral on the internet. The Omaha World-Herald described Sasse as “unshaven” and “wearing a loosened red tie and white shirt.” (See for yourself in the photo.) Other responses:  

“Is this satire?” – Daily Beast columnist Matt Lewis.

“Who is this actor SNL got to play Sasse? He looks JUST like him.” – Daily Beast columnist Noah Schachtman

“If you’ve ever been to an open mic standup comedy show where there’s one guy who’s so bad the whole room goes completely silent and starts scanning for exits because the vicarious embarrassment is too much—and you want to re-live that—there’s Ben Sasse to oblige.” – former New York Observer editor Elizabeth Spiers

“Yiiiiiiiiiiiiiikes.” –  historian Kevin Kruse.

“Who hurt Ben Sasse in high school?” – Sarah Longwell, Bulwark publisher

Ben Sasse bombs with bigoted Dad jokes in open-mic-night graduation address – Stephen Robinson on

The taped commencement speech from Nebraska’s “senior senator,” approved by a school administrator, will not soon be forgotten by the graduating class. 

Another political figure made two virtual commencement speeches last week, their messages infuriating Dictator Donald Trump (DDT) although his name was not mentioned. Former President Obama addressed graduating seniors first at historically black colleges and universities and then all graduating high school seniors nationwide on major television networks. President Obama said:

“More than anything, this pandemic has fully, finally torn back the curtain on the idea that so many of the folks in charge know what they’re doing. A lot of them aren’t even pretending to be in charge….

“Do what you think is right. Doing what feels good, what’s convenient, what’s easy—that’s how little kids think. Unfortunately, a lot of so-called grown-ups, including some with fancy titles and important jobs, still think that way—which is why things are so screwed up.”

The commencement speech called for “honesty, hard work, responsibility, fairness, generosity, respect for others,” emphasizing community instead of the Ayn Rand individualism:

“[I]t doesn’t matter how much money you make if everyone around you is hungry and sick…. [O]ur society and democracy only works when we think not just about ourselves, but about each other….

“Stand up for one another’s rights. Leave behind all the old ways of thinking that divide us—sexism, racial prejudice, status, greed—and set the world on a different path.”

Thin-skinned DDT took umbrage and told reporters, “Look, he was an incompetent president, that’s all I can say. Grossly incompetent.” DDT still hasn’t recovered from a leaked speech last week when President Obama told 3,000 former staffers the White House approach toward COVID-19 has been “an absolute chaotic disaster.”

Jennifer Rubin, a GOP columnist, has a theory about DDT’s reasons for attacking President Obama—and it’s not as a shiny object to distract people from almost 100,000 people dying from COVID-19 after DDT dragged his heels in managing the virus.

“First, Trump has been in a juvenile competition with his predecessor since the day he took office. Trump insisted the economy was stronger under him than under Obama. (That was false then and is now, well, self-evidently ludicrous.) Trump tore up the Iran deal and backed out of the Paris accords in part because Obama was associated with them. As it becomes patently obvious that Trump’s presidency will go down as one of the worst in history and that his achievements are minuscule compared with Obama’s, Trump becomes even more frantic to position himself as a superior president. It is the sort of thing a narcissist crumbling under the pressure of his own humiliation would do.

“However, when one looks more carefully, a more specific different reason emerges for Trump’s new round of Obama-bashing. Trump seeks to make Obama out to be a criminal or unfit. It goes back to the original sin of Trump’s political career—birtherism—and to his campaign, which channeled cultural and racial animosity among whites against elites, nonwhites and immigrants.

“Trump’s effort to delegitimize the only African American U.S. president and to convince his followers that they are victims has been central to his political identity and to the bond with his cult. In times of political peril, as he was in the 2018 midterms when he invoked a “caravan” of migrants to stir his base, Trump always returns to white grievance. Just as birtherism made no sense but became a totem of the MAGA crowd, “Obamagate” now provides the same function of unifying, energizing and enraging Trump’s camp.

“When Trump is staring at international humiliation and political defeat, he first went to the well of anti-Asian xenophobia (e.g. imploring an Asian America reporter to ask China her question). When that fails to hit the mark, he goes back to his touchstone: racism directed against African Americans. He remains convinced that if he just gets his rabid base sufficiently engaged, he can pull out another improbable win. And prepare yourself: Should Biden select an African American vice president (as I think he should), the grotesque racism that will ooze from the right will make birtherism seem innocuous.”

As Rubin wrote, “The conspiracy cupboard is bare.”

David Smith, Washington bureau chief for the Guardian, told CNN’s Don Lemon that DDT’s obsession on President Obama is fixated on envy, vengeance, and racism. About the “clash of opposites” between DDT and the former president, who has re-entered the fray of politics, Smith wrote:

“One a mixed-race cerebral lawyer who has been married to the same woman for nearly three decades and publishes annual lists of his favorite books; the other a white billionaire and reality TV star who wed three times and measures success in TV ratings. Where one is renowned for elegant turns of phrase and shedding tears after mass shootings, the other serves up jumbled word salads and schoolboy spelling errors and has struggled to show empathy for the coronavirus dead.”

Matthew Miller, a former director of the DOJ office of public affairs, said about DDT’s animosity toward President Obama:

“Most of all, it’s driven by the fact that Obama has the thing that Trump has always craved but never achieved, and that’s respect. I’ve always thought that the respect that Barack Obama gets from people in this country and around the world is something that just eats Trump alive inside.”

DDT needs to work hard to regain his base. He has been dependent on older voters, but COVID-19 is hurting him. First, that base started to die, and then they turned on him because he said he preferred they continue to die so that the stock market goes up and he gets re-elected. In 2016, DDT won voters over 45 years old, but he lost support with them. In the 45-64 category, he dropped from four percent majority to a loss of 1.4 percent to Joe Biden, totalling 5.4 percent. In the over-65 age group, he went from 13.3 percent majority in 2016 to a loss of one percent to Biden, a total of 14.3 points.

Two speeches—one calling graduates to rally around hate and the other to build community and democracy.

May 9, 2018

Take a Journey with ‘George

I love to read. Not just politics and other news that inundates my blog but also books. Each year, I read about 200 books for adults—mostly mysteries—and hundreds more books for youth, many of which I review for a local organization. My main requirement for a quality book is that the language has a cadence like music, that it sings. Although I lack that skill in writing, I greatly appreciate it in others.

Recently I talked with an author who had received editing notes on her most recent book from a first-time editor. The extensive notes provided hundreds of suggestions for improving the book, a few of them quite helpful in identifying inconsistencies, repetitions, and awkward writing.  Keeping track of these problems in a book of 80,000 words can be hard. An author grows very close to the writing and can overlook some of these problems; therefore a fresh reading is invaluable.

Other editing recommendations for this specific book, however, suggested eliminating much of the novel’s narrative, including conversations, descriptions, and events that break the linear nature of the plot. The editor also urged that the author rewrite the protagonist’s personality, making her more authoritarian to fit the editor’s image of realism. After long consideration, the book’s author chose to keep the approach that corresponds with how she perceived the personality and actions of her protagonist.

As I talked with the author, I began to think about her process in evaluating the editor’s recommendations for improving her book in the light of readers’ expectations and their relationships to books. Reading a book is like taking a road trip, I decided. One way might be to thoroughly study a map before departure, use a GPS in the car, and stay on interstate highways, stopping only for necessary stops such as meals. Totally in control of the passengers, the driver would keep to the speed limit and obey all other traffic laws. This would be one way to approach writing a novel. An alternative to writing fiction could be an expedition on back roads with side trips while different sights call for exploration. During the trek, the reader open to unexpected experiences could revel in a variety of perspectives.

Now when I pick up a book, whether fiction or nonfiction, I immediately contemplate that I don’t know what to expect. Each book is a different adventure with varying subjects, styles, and approaches. One example of that concept has recently been highlighted by the controversy in Oregon about a choice of a book for the state’s “Battle of the Books,” a reading program in which students volunteer to join teams, read the books, and compete in a gameshow-style tournament with questions about the books’ content. Each year, titles for the program are selected by professionals and vetted with public comment. Students are not required to participate in the program or read every book if they choose to compete. Yet one book chosen for the upcoming year has caused two Oregon school districts, Cascade and Hermiston, to refuse participation in the program, and Tigard-Tualatin School District considered requiring permission slips to take part in the program until parents objected.

The book causing some districts to reject the entire program is Alex Gino’s George. Kalpana Krishnamurthy, the national field and policy director at Forward Together, explains why she supports the book’s presence in the “Battle of the Books.”

My 10-year-old son and I love books. We can spend hours reading a new book—or re-reading one of our favorites again and again. We both get so engrossed in our book that we can’t even hear when people say our name or talk to us.

When I first heard about the Battle of the Books, I was jealous. Where was this kind of thing when I was a kid? I would’ve ruled at this sport.

For those that don’t know, the Battle of the Books is a reading event that grew out of a Chicago radio show in the 1940s and is now in school districts and libraries all over the country. Once a year, kids in grades three through five, six through eight and students in high school read selected books for their age range. Kids form teams and meet to battle in a game-show format, answering trivia questions about books on the Battle of the Books list.

The trivia questions are mind-bendingly detailed. As in, “In which book, did a character sneeze during the talent show?” And they have to be able to name the book and author. Yikes. I can’t even remember what I read this morning in the newspaper, let alone that level of detail.

Getting my son to read has never been a problem. But getting him to read new things—new genres, nonfiction, books that feature girl lead characters? That’s a problem. Left to his own devices, he would read adventure, spy stories, manga and anything by Rick Riordan.

But as part of his Battle of the Books team this year, he’s read almost all of the books on the list. My son never would have picked up Esperanza Rising and read about a girl and her mom who leave Mexico and go to work in a southern California agricultural labor camp before the Great Depression. He wouldn’t have read Dash and dove into Mitsi’s world, a Japanese American internment camp where she is separated from her home, classmates and her beloved dog. He wouldn’t have dug into the eruption of Mt. St. Helen’s or Helen Keller’s life.

As a young boy, I want him to see the world through these characters’ eyes. They have something to teach him about their experiences in the world. Even if it’s a fictional one.

That’s why the controversy around George, a book selected for the 2018-2019 Oregon Battle of the Books, is frustrating. George, written by transgender author Alex Gino, centers on a story about a transgender fourth-grader who increasingly learns to be herself, the reaction of the people in her life and the struggle to live her truth.

In the past few days, the Hermiston and Cascade School Districts both announced that they will not participate in the program because they felt the book wasn’t suitable for elementary students. In fact, George went through the entire selection process, which included time for public feedback. It met a rigorous selection criteria and was chosen by a committee of educators and librarians.

As any parent who is raising a child that has complicated identities will tell you, what our kids read and watch matters. We all want our children to see themselves reflected in popular culture. But the truth is, if you have biracial kids, a black nerd, gay or lesbian kids, or a kid with cerebral palsy—there just aren’t that many books out there that show your kid’s experience. And even fewer books are written by authors who share those same complex identities. Parents raising trans kids know that it matters to have a main character who is struggling to put into words the person they hold inside, who is navigating friendships and bullying. It shows trans kids they are not alone.

But it’s not just parents raising trans kids who ought to be dismayed. As someone raising a child who doesn’t identify as transgender, this is an opportunity for my child to be immersed in the struggle and experience of a trans kid. It is a chance for him to put aside what he thinks or knows is true — and see the truth of someone else.

That’s called empathy. And it’s one of the most important lesson that any book teaches us.

Basic Rights Oregon has started a petition to show support for George and for trans inclusion in our schools across Oregon. If the selection of George can stir up this much controversy in our state, we must all pay attention to our schools and make sure that adult fears and transphobia don’t get in the way of kids learning and inclusion.

Several of the posted comments about Krishnamurthy’s op-ed in the Oregonian criticized the mother for pushing her agenda for social justice on her son (their opinion)—just as the commenters pushed their personal agenda of exclusion. They might be surprised that the Oregon Health Education Standards for grades K-12 designated Grades 3-5 for teaching students about gender identity and expression.

Books are journeys. As a former librarian and avid reader, I encourage everyone to take trips into the minds of others. As Krishnamurthy wrote, “That’s called empathy.”

March 10, 2017

Trump’s Vouchers Will Kill Education

Dictator Donald Trump (DDT) visited a Catholic school in Florida last Friday before his anti-Obama tweet storm. The mission of Orlando’s St. Andrew Catholic School is “developing the students’ spirituality and creativity in order to be disciples of Christ in the 21st century.”With him were his son-in-law Jared Kushner and Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos, who is close to former Florida governor Jeb Bush. While governor of the state, he instigated the tax credit program requiring taxpayers to provide money to religious schools.

For some people like DeVos and DDT, Florida represents the poster child of charter/private schools with vouchers/tax credits (aka public money taken away from public schools). DDT used Denisha Merriweather at his address to Congress ten days ago to prove that people need tax credits to attend private religious schools. Vouchers are state-issued coupons used for students to attend religious schools, difficult in some states that prohibit taxes going to religious schools. Tax credits provide a loophole to these laws because they are given to people and corporations who get this money for donations while they give scholarships to students. The system can be so lucrative for these donors that they sometime make money. That’s why DeVos and DDT like the tax credit system.

Merriweather attended the Esprit de Corps Center for Learning, established in 2001 and “birthed from the mind of God in the heart of Dr. Jeannette C. Holmes-Vann, the Pastor and Founder of Hope Chapel Ministries, Inc.” Its A Beka curriculum, frequently used in Christian schools, teaches the Bible as literal history. Among other misconceptions, the curriculum teachers about the inferiority of Africa and its people, justifying Southern slavery. Before attending the Christian school, Merriweather barely attended any public schools because her mother was constantly moving from place to place. Her attendance at the private school began when she started living with her grandmother.

An investigation of Florida private schools, however, found the program to be a “cottage industry of fraud and chaos.” Schools don’t require accreditation, oversight, transparency, or even curriculum. The only data that schools must make public is attendance. Some school staffers have been convicted of drug dealing, kidnapping, and burglary. In one “business management” class, students took to the streets and shook cans for coins. In 38 schools suspected of fraud, 25 of the allegations were substantiated, and at least one school used corporal punishment. Students with disabilities can participate in the Florida private school program only if they sign away their rights under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA).

Florida is not unique in its massive deficiencies in private education. Other states also force students with disabilities to waive their rights before attending these schools, and schools in other states don’t even accept students with learning disabilities. In addition, school districts in other states that use vouchers are among the lowest performing in the nation, and the concept frequently fails at the ballot box. According to a report from the Economic Policy Institute, the risks to school systems with voucher programs “outweigh insignificant gains in test scores and limited gains in graduation rates.” The answer to better education is not private schools but supporting and strengthening neighborhood public schools.

A 2015 study showed that tens of thousands of Indiana voucher students transferring to private schools under Mike Pence suffered significant losses in mathematics achievement and no improvement in reading.

Another voucher study by the conservative choice-supporting Thomas B. Fordham Institute and financed by the pro-voucher Walton Family Foundation, studied Ohio’s large voucher program. Researchers found that “students who use vouchers to attend private schools have fared worse academically compared to their closely matched peers attending public schools.”

The Louisiana program used a lottery system to admit students to private schools, and students at the 50th percentile in math in public schools dropped to the 26th percentile in the first year of transfer to private schools. These students also suffered negative results in reading also showed negative results, according to Professor Martin West at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, that were “as large as any I’ve seen in the literature” throughout the history of U.S. education research.

Milwaukee (WI) has been totally a “choice” school district for 20 years, and over one-fourth of students in that city attend private schools with vouchers. In that city, blacks comprise about two-thirds of the student body. The eighth-graders score lower in math than those in 12 other urban areas except Detroit, which also has a high level of school choice. In reading, Milwaukee eighth-graders are worse than even the ones in Detroit.

Because of DeVos’ push to privatize all schools in her state, Michigan has more low-performing charter schools than any other state: 38 percent of them are in the bottom of achieving schools. Michigan students have continually made the least improvement nationally of scores since 2003 and are in the bottom ten in proficiency growth in the four measures of National Assessment of Education Progress (NAEP) tests: mathematics, reading, writing, and science.State law has no way of improving or shutting down failing charters. Almost anyone can open a charter school if they have the money, and it’s almost never held accountable. In DeVos’ Michigan, students “have no fundamental right to literacy,” according to Gov. Rick Snyder’s lawyers. Seven Detroit students are suing on the basis that schools should deliver “access to literacy, and 47 percent of Detroiters were illiterate in a report five years ago.

People argue that the voucher program is cheaper. Yet it could raise costs by 25 percent of more because of the additional students, record keeping, transportation, information to parents, and dispute adjudication. Expanding the charter schools in Michigan has also been disastrous for school budgets. Once school districts are in dire consequences, the state can take control of the school district under the emergency management law. Once the state takes over, emergency managers close schools, lay off staff, cut salaries, outsource services, and even transfer the entire district to private for-profit charter management companies. Detroit has the second highest percentage of students attending charter schools; only New Orleans has a higher number in private schools.

This article explains how Betsy DeVos took over Michigan—and how she can take over the United States.

Rural communities, the places where DDT got a large number of his votes, would suffer disproportionately from vouchers because of sparse population and small districts lacking enough schools for a viable voucher program. Such a shift would destabilize not only the schools but also the communities that use schools as a nucleus. Of the 13,000 school districts across the nation, almost 9,000 have four or fewer schools where voucher proposals could largely destroy the public system, and another 2,200 districts with five to eight schools risk harm in serving its millions of students. That’s almost 90 percent of the districts that can fail because of DDT’s and DeVos’ voucher system.

Not all voucher programs are disasters. Findings indicated that well-regulated Massachusetts charter schools have a positive impact on test scores. But both DeVos and DDT are allergic to regulations. The best charters tend to be nonprofit public schools that accept all students are accountable to public authorities.

The only argument supporting the voucher system is ideology. People say they want individual choice even if the choice has a worse outcome. As with many conservatives, data makes no difference; it’s belief that matters. DeVos believes that any non-government school is better than any public school no matter the success rate of either one.

Watch DDT invest in for-profit charter school companies. Oh, that’s right! You can’t because he won’t reveal his tax returns.

March 9, 2017

Betsy Devos: Huge Danger to the Nation

Billionaire activist Betsy DeVos and her family have given over $4 million to Republicans who have now confirmed her for Secretary of Education. Of that sum, $250,000 went directly to members of the education committee, $950,000 were given to 21 senators who voted to confirm her, and another $2.25 million was sent last fall to the Senate Leadership Fund, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s (R-KY) super PAC. The National Republican Senatorial Committee got another $900,000. Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL), who promised to keep a rein on DDT, took $98,000 from DeVos and paid her back with his vote.   She followed the same process in Michigan, paying state Republicans $1.45 million in seven weeks after they passed the no-accountability charter school law. DeVos has said that she no longer takes offense at the accusations of buying politicians because “we do expect something in return.”

Before the confirmation of Betsy DeVos for Secretary of Education, I posted about how she would be a disaster for education in the nation. Her blunders during the first few weeks on the job show that she is worse than many people may have predicted. In summary, she is a billionaire who wants all children to be force-fed her brand of Christianity in charter schools that massively profit already wealthy people—like her.

Her gaffes began on her first day as head of the education department when she tweeted, “Day 1 on the job is done, but we’re only getting started. Now where do I find the pencils? :)” Most schools in the United States are so poor that teachers have to buy their own pencils.

Devos’ actions thus far:

  • insulted teachers at a middle school for not helping students succeed
  • supports the idea of her department being erased
  • says that critics want “to make my life a living hell”
  • misspelled W.E.B. Du Bois in a tweet for Black History Month—and then had to fix the tweeted apology that stated “our deepest apologizes”
  • ignored the first Twitter chat that she held for teachers
  • asked teachers to make up for children’s troubles at home such as absent fathers
  • made U.S. marshals protect her and ran away because protesters blocked her entrance to a DC school
  • accused protesters of “keeping kids in and new thinking out,” “how hostile some people are to change and to new ideas”
  • sold out transgender students to allow AG Jeff Sessions to discriminate against them in using facilities corresponding to their gender identity
  • and, surprise, gave her top priority as “school choice” that destroys public schools

DeVos’ responses to the hearings were so bad that her  confirmation required Mike Pence to be the first vice president in history to break a 50-50 tie to confirm a Cabinet nominee.

Her job may not last long. A House bill, HR 899, dissolves the Department of Education and another, HR 610, provides educational vouchers and repeals the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965, including nutritional standards for school meals. The only responsibility left to the department—if it continues to exist—would be to award block grants to states with the $20 billion for vouchers that DDT wants. There may not be enough support to shut down the Education Department, but Dictator Donald Trump (DDT) wants $20 billion for vouchers, most of the department’s budget for local communities largely used for low-income students, students with disabilities, English language learners, and other vulnerable children.  

After trying to compliment teachers at Washington’s Jefferson Academy by calling them “wonderful,” she told them that they were “not going to bring success to an individual child” because they were in “receive mode, waiting to be told what they have to do.”

DeVos tried to help DDT woo blacks for the 2020 election in her statement:

“Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) … are the real pioneers when it comes to school choice.  They are living proof that when more options are provided to students, they are afforded greater access and greater quality. Their success has shown that more options help students flourish.”

Her revisionist history purports that the Jim Crow education system of legal segregation gave black students “more options” as if they had the option of attending all white schools before the Supreme Court ruling that began to eliminate permissible racial discrimination. The New York Times’ Farhad Manjoo’s analogy:

“To paint historically black colleges as pioneers of ‘school choice’ is like saying the Montgomery bus boycott was a transportation startup.”

There was much controversy about the perch of Kellyanne Conway, DDT’s counselor, during the meeting with HBCU leaders. Some photographs show her taking a photo, but her real insult was that she couldn’t even get the name for the group correct when she talked to Lou Dobbs on his TV program. In addition, the photo op, proposed at the last minute to show DDT’s comfort with blacks, left those attending with little time to communicate with the man in the White House about the current state of these institutions. DDT plans to fund only the private sector instead of directly supporting HBCUs and requested that the White House Initiative on HBCUs be removed from the Department of Education.

In reality, DeVos has little power because Congress weakened the power of the executive department two years ago. Congress will be the one to create a voucher system and remove more standards for education in the nation. But she can create trouble by taking no action in other areas that creates more difficulty—for example, not investigating, complaints in the area of sexual assaults and reverse rules requiring colleges to use a lower standard of proof in determining sexual assault. DeVos might also ignore part of Title IX, reversing the progress of female athletes in schools. One way is to divert funds to the Office of Civil Rights which leaves the Department of Education unable to address IX complaints even if DeVos chooses to do so. The percentage of female high school athletes has gone from seven percent to 42 percent since the law was implemented. Title IX isn’t just about sports and transgender issues: it protects “pregnant and parenting students, women in STEM programs, and victims of sexual harassment and sexual violence,” according to Neena Chaudhry, Director of Education and Senior Counsel at the National Women’s Law Center.

DDT will definitely “relax” the past crackdown on for-profit colleges, including a new regulation relieving students of loans if they prove their college defrauded them. Under DDT, Trump University might not have had to pay $25 million. An indicator is the way that stocks have shot up—DeVry over 40 percent, Stayer’s 35 percent, and Grand Canyon Education over 28 percent. The GOP will also try to disappear the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau that tries to protect consumers from predatory for-profit colleges.

About Betsy DeVos, education historian and researcher Diane Ravitch wrote:

“She was never a student, a parent, an educator, or school board member of public schools. It is her life’s work to tear down public education. She does not respect the line of separation between church and state. She supports for-profit charter schools…. She is ignorant of federal law, federal programs and federal policy. When asked at her Senate hearing about the Individuals with Disabilities in Education Act, she did not know it was a federal law. She had given no thought to lessening the burden of debt that college students bear, which now exceeds $1 trillion. At a time when the federal role in aiding students with the high cost of college needs to be redesigned, she knows nothing about it.

“… DeVos has financial conflicts of interest which she refuses to divest. She told the Senate committee that she had no role in her mother’s foundation, which has funneled millions of dollars to anti-LGBT organizations, but her name appears on 17 years of the foundation’s audited tax returns. She told the committee that online charter corporations produce stellar results, but researchers demonstrated with facts that she was wrong.

“Choice policies in Michigan have caused the test scores in that state to decline. Detroit, overrun with charters and choice, is a chaotic mess….

“She personifies the privatization movement. She is the leader of the Billionaire Girls Club, spreading her millions across the land to reward and enrich allies in Congress, on state and local school boards, and in any setting where she could tout school choice as a magical remedy for poor performance. Charters and vouchers, whether for-profit or nonprofit, is her sole idea. She has singlehandedly stripped bare the ‘reform’ movement, showing it to be not a civil rights movement but a privatization movement funded by billionaires and religious zealots.”

Sen. Tom Cotton (R-AR) told his protesting constituents at a town hall meeting that they cared so much about Betsy DeVos that she probably had too much power. Our conservative representatives don’t want people to care about what happens in the government.

In a country that almost never recognizes the name of the Secretary of Education, almost half of the people have an opinion—and two thirds of them have an unfavorable opinion of Betsy DeVos. Her lack of approval at 31 percent is worse than that for Jeff Sessions (23 percent) and Mike Pence (28 percent).

The greatest danger that DeVos might do to education in the United States is the proposed voucher program—the subject for the next blog post.

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