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Fox News’ Mark Levin Disinformation Campaign: “Marxist Cabal” Takeover of Public Education!

August 3, 2021 Leave a comment

There was a time when I would ignore rants of Fox News talking heads like Mark Levin… but that was before we lived in a world where New Hampshire and other states passed laws forbidding the teaching of “divisive issues” and roughly two-thirds of Republicans and Republican-leaning independents (65%) say they trust Fox News for political and election news. In this case, Mark Levin’s absurd rants about the Marxist takeover of public education require some kind of rebuttal, for if they are allowed to stand without one they will eventually become accepted as “true”. And what are those rants? Try this on:

“Life, Liberty & Levin” host Mark Levin detailed a “plan” for parents to stand up against the institutions “that are undermining our country and destroying the minds of our children” in his opening monologue Sunday.

“Parents are starting to show up in numbers at school board meetings, but they’re abused at these school board meetings, the entrenched unions, the entrenched educational bureaucracy and administrators, the school board members, this cabal, they have no intention of doing what we demand,” he began. “We spend hundreds of billions of dollars a year for these institutions. They call it public education. Yet we have no say on anything that takes place. We don’t even have transparency. While that’s got an end. And I got a plan,” he said.

Wait… what??? The unions, school boards and administrators are a cabal??? I’m not sure what state or school district Mr. Levin is describing with but it certainly isn’t one in the six states or where I lived or worked! The boards and unions and administrators all belong to separate organizations at the state level and each of those organizations have markedly different perspectives on how school districts should be governed.

Mr. Levin, like most Fox news talking heads, conveniently ignores the fact that 30% of the teachers in the US are not in a union and, as noted in earlier posts, it is medical professionals and concerned parents more than unions who are driving decisions on issues like masking, returning to in-person instruction, and social distancing.

And his assertion that the “voters have no say on anything that takes place”? Again, I’m not sure what school district Mr. Levin is describing with but it certainly isn’t one in the five states where I worked! In each and every state in the union the budgets are voted on either by elected officials or, in New England, by the voters. Indeed, in New Hampshire voters vote on whether to fund the financial impacts on negotiated agreements! Voters DO have a say on virtually everything that school districts do… and in most cases the volume of information available exceeds the amount an individual voter can absorb.

And Mr. Levin’s charge of a “lack of transparency” is based on the need for Executive Sessions:

These school board meetings, they have these executive sessions. Why are they having executive sessions? What’s discussed in the executive sessions?

I think if Mr. Levin wanted to know why boards have executive sessions and what is discussed in them he might counsel his viewers to review their state laws and local school board policies. The open meetings laws in the five states where I worked all have strict limits on what can be discussed.

So in the end, Mr. Levin either doesn’t know what he is talking about or knows exactly how schools function and assumes that his viewers are incapable of examining the facts and are willing to believe whatever he tells them. In either case, his diatribes are dangerous and undercut the boards, administrators, and teachers who are striving to provide the best education possible for the children in their schools.

Now for the Hard Part: Charlottesville Contemplating Change in Zoning Laws After Change Statues of Confederate Soldiers

August 2, 2021 Leave a comment

A NYTimes article by Campbell Robertson describes the uphill battle Charlottesville VA is facing in its efforts to change its zoning ordinances, ordinances that created and reinforced housing patterns that result in segregated neighborhoods and segregated schools. The change brings to light an underlying question about change itself: does a community use policy to make changes that result if fairness and equity or does it wait for the hearts of community members to change before changing the policy? 

In Charlottesville, the town leaders recognized the segregation in their community and schools was rooted in zoning laws and in an effort to eliminate systemic racism in their community decided to make wholesale changes to those ordinances. As seems to be the case when elected officials try to remedy systemic racism, the pushback is fierce and vitriolic. The source of the greatest anger, though, is somewhat surprising:

But there has been a particular disquiet, said Lyle Solla-Yates, a member of the planning commission, among a certain part of the population: “smart, educated” white residents who are neither poor nor very wealthy, and who live in charming neighborhoods with a history of discriminating against Black people that they had known nothing about. Now they imagine multi-story apartment buildings going up on their streets.

“There’s fear and anger at being targeted,” he said. “They don’t feel centered in this process. And they are correct.”

It is one thing to put a Black Lives Matter sign on ones lawn. It is quite another thing to imagine that the zoning in your neighborhood might result in blacks living down the street. It is easy to advocate for fair housing in the abstract, but when maps showing doors opening for multi-family housing on your street or in your neighborhood fear can grip people and motivate them to oppose in practice what they support in principle. 

But it isn’t just “smart, educated” white residents who are neither poor nor very wealthy who are suspicious of the government’s motives: 

…Diane Miller, also has reservations. She has not joined in the public debates, which tend to be dominated by the opinions, pro and con, of white professionals and academics. “My opinions don’t mean nothing,” said Ms. Miller, who is Black.

But she remembers, as a young girl, hearing her parents talk about a developer who was buying out all the neighbors, most if not all of them Black. She did not know whether their property was taken by eminent domain; all she remembers is that everyone left reluctantly, including her family, which left behind a house that had belonged to her grandmother.

Ms. Miller distrusts any top-down plans to address racial inequities; after all, those inequities came from the top in the first place.

“They took everything that Black people own, everything,” said Ms. Miller, now 65. “Ain’t no trust there.”

The optimal answer to integration, so far, has been gentrification where young, affluent and open-minded first time homeowners voluntarily move into urban neighborhoods where structurally sound houses fell into disrepair as a result of them being subdivided into apartments by greedy landlords attempting to maximize profits. Once these urban homesteaders establish a beachhead, closed storefronts become coffee shops and investors begin to see opportunities to build higher end dwellings and wealthier individuals begin to spend tens of thousands of dollars renovating houses or tearing them down to build urban version of McMansions. But, as many Charlottesville residents realize, gentrification ultimately has a dark side: 

In a sign of just how much the political ground has shifted in recent years, the chief argument of the plan’s opponents is that it would actually be bad for the poor, a giveaway to greedy developers. Some have compared the plan to the razing of Black neighborhoods in decades past, and comment threads on the Nextdoor app have crackled with debates about whether the proposal would simply yield a city full of high-end apartments and whether genuinely “horrible injustices” from the past would really be rectified by “destroying neighborhoods in the present.”

These arguments against gentrification have a subtle thread of racism, but are rooted more in the fear that the value of their homes will depreciate should “greedy developers” move in to the marketplace. 

Will policy change result in a change of heart? One community activist, Carmelita Wood believes so: 

But while history runs deep and its tragedies are irreversible, Ms. Wood suggested that it was not too late to start doing the right thing. She is now the president of the neighborhood association in Fifeville, a part of town that is majority Black, but by a steadily dwindling margin. In letters and op-eds, she has made the case that the vision in the proposed land use map, of neighborhoods around the city opening up to all kinds of different people, was a good first step.

“I think it will work,” Ms. Wood said. “I think it’ll work because folks will finally see that if we speak up, then maybe they will listen to us.”

Ms. Wood is placing her faith in democracy… and I hope that faith is rewarded. For if we cannot use the tools of democracy to overcome the policies that result in segregating, then our animal instincts will lead us down the road to totalitarianism. 

Lest We Forget: Populist Conservative Conspiracists Have a History of Pushing Back Against Communitarian Organizations Like (Ahem) the Girl Scouts!

July 30, 2021 Leave a comment

JSTOR writer Ashawta Jackson offered a timely reminder that the anti-intellectualism of populist conservative conspiracists have a long history of pushing back against organizations that espouse communitarian values like the Girl Scouts of America. Really! 

Despite their image as a wholesome organization, over the years the Girl Scouts of the USA have seen more than their share of controversy. In the twenty-first century, critics have accused the group of being too liberal, based on its support of sex education, the optional mention of “God” in its Girl Scout Promise, and its acceptance of trans girls as troop members.

But as much as these seem like modern objections, the organization has always had its share of detractors, scholar Susan H. Swetnam points out. In the 1950s, the Girl Scouts were the target of conservative organizations that saw the group as deeply un-American. “Cold War paranoia might have destroyed the movement,” Swetnam writes.

I need to be reminded from time to time that know-nothing anti-Communists were as big a threat to democracy as the current Trump wing of the the GOP is today. Joseph McCarthy, a GOP Senator, capitalized on anti-communist sentiment to fabricate charges against individuals and organizations who failed to pass HIS muster as being sufficiently partiotic… and at one point the Girl Scouts were in the cross hairs of his acolytes. And like the “patriotism” of today, McCarthy’s followers saw any form of racial harmony as a threat to the nation:

In 1953, the California right-wing group America Plus railed against the Scouts’ celebration of International Thinking Day, “a long-time celebration of Scouting around the world,” Swetnam notes, instead of George Washington’s birthday. A 1954 article by Robert LeFevre, a right-wing radio host and writer, called “Even the Girl Scouts,” denounced the group’s association with the League of Women Voters, which he considered leftist; its support of public housing; and its racial integration. The article, Swetnam writes, “went the 1950s version of viral, re-printed and adapted in newspapers from coast to coast.”

I trust that the irony of the combination of opposition to “International Thinking Day” and the League of Women Voters is not lost on readers… and appreciate that Ms. Jackson did not place the juxtaposition in bold print. 

But here is what I find chilling: the Girl Scouts literally rewrote their handbook AND rewrote history in response to this outrageous allegation:

In response, Girl Scout leadership issued public statements and reached out to some famous friends, notably Eleanor Roosevelt, to champion its message. The organization also changed some of its policies in response to the criticism, including edits to its official handbook and the renaming of some badges. Patriotism, although in the guide all along, was placed front and center, with “Star Spangled Banner” verses “inserted prominently on previously blank front pages of the book.” Finally, mentions of any communist state, no matter how minor, were removed, including a sentence that credited China with bringing tea to the world (China was replaced with India in editing).

Here’s hoping the efforts to inject honesty into US History succeed today… and students know that China is the source of tea and maybe NOT the source of Covid. 

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