I started writing this post last week when professional and amateur pundits were tossing election hot takes into the air like handfuls of confetti. The first paragraph of my draft was a sample of the theories about the VA and NJ results I was hearing at the time:
It’s Manchinema’s fault for dragging out BBB negotiations. People, especially parents, are just angry about the pandemic and lashing out at the party in power. The House progressive caucus is to blame for holding the infrastructure bill hostage to BBB.* It’s because white people suck.** Republicans are successfully breaking up with Trump. It’s VA Dems’ fault for running a retread candidate. Biden went too far left. Fleece vests are magical. Maybe Biden didn’t go far left enough.
Then I offered my take:
I’m not sure there is an explanation nor necessarily convinced one is needed. But the angry parents theory makes the most sense to me. Not the kooks who are riled up about the imaginary scourge of CRT; parents who have been frustrated and angry about how schools handled instruction during the pandemic.
I’d intended to cite some articles that explored that theory, but I’m glad I got sidetracked by other matters because Michelle Goldberg*** of the NYT wrote a column that summarizes the issue well.
Christopher Rufo, the conservative crank who manufactured the CRT panic, contacted Goldberg to crow about his accomplishment. But Goldberg says Democrats need to take a larger threat to public schools seriously, i.e., a loss of faith in people who aren’t racist cranks:
The school choice movement is old — it’s often dated back to a 1955 essay by Milton Friedman. But Covid has created fertile ground for a renewed push.
As many have pointed out, the reason education was such an incendiary issue in the Virginia governor’s race likely had less to do with critical race theory than with parent fury over the drawn-out nightmare of online school. Because America’s response to Covid was so politically polarized, school shutdowns were longest in blue states, and Virginia’s was especially severe; only six states had fewer in-person days last year.
The column goes on to note that enrollment in public schools is down, and there are shortages of teachers, administrators, workers and school bus drivers. There are worker shortages across the board, but who can blame public school employees for heading to the exits? They’ve gotten the short end of the stick for decades, and now they’re caught up in an unprecedented public health crisis AND in some cases being targeted by screaming mobs ginned up by people like Rufo.
The COVID crisis has been nightmarish for parents, students and schools. Learning loss is a real thing. Parents, especially mothers, have suffered professionally because of school instability. It’s repulsive that Republican opportunists are rushing to kick over our public education system as it’s struggling to pick itself up and deal with a second year of a nonstop shit storm, but this is who they are. They’ve always hated public education, and now they smell blood. Goldberg’s column ends with a warning:
Rufo readily admits that school closures prepared the ground for the drive against critical race theory. “You have a multiracial group of parents that felt like the public school bureaucracies were putting their children through a policy regime of chaos, with Covid and shutdowns, and then pumping them full of left-wing racialist ideologies,” he said. He’s right about the first part, even if the second is a fantasy.
Now Democrats have a choice. They can repair the public schools, or watch people like Rufo destroy them.
I think she’s right. But it’s not a doom and gloom thing, or it least it doesn’t have to be. Public schools received a massive infusion of federal aid thanks to the Biden administration and Democratic Congress, and that’s an opportunity to, well, build back better. The recent approval of vaccines for kids is also a huge opportunity to turn a corner.
It will take action on a local level to fix public schools. But the good news is people want them fixed and have a vested interest in their success. Republicans are trying to destroy public schools, but that’s not what most people want. So there’s still time to stop them. Open thread.
*This take is particularly dumb, IMO, because the House progressives have been team players throughout the debate over the two bills, and the president specifically endorsed the tandem bill strategy months ago.
**Lots do, but waiting for them to stop sucking isn’t a strategy.
***I glom onto someone else’s Times subscription for work-related reasons, but Goldberg is so good she almost balances the combined awfulness of Dowd, Stephens and Brooks. (Of course, no one could balance the combined awfulness of the NYT political team, not even if every author [living or dead] who ever contributed to the planetary literary canon were included.)