Helplessly Hoping Progressives

The absurdity of progressive politics is now on full display. Let us consider just two of the many inherently contradictory initiatives championed by the Biden-Schumer-Pelosi axis. What these initiatives share is the preposterous notion that a huge centralized bureaucracy is not only capable of achieving progressive’s stated goals, but that the goals are worthy in themselves. Neither is true.

First, there is climate change, or in the overwrought language of progressives, the climate “emergency”. (Pretty much everything that progressives favor is pitched as a way to address some “emergency” that requires governmental action.) President Biden & Co are in the business of restricting, with an eye to eventually eliminating, the use of fossil fuels as an energy source. Some examples: the Biden Administration has expansively interpreted its regulatory authority to restrict fracking; President Biden revoked a key permit for the Keystone pipeline thus shutting down the project; and the Biden Administration has strong-armed the Fed into incorporating climate change risk into its regulatory mandate.

At the same time, as the Wall Street Journal points out, Mr Biden is pleading with OPEC to reach a deal to raise production quotas so that gas prices don’t rise further. So we have the spectacle of the U.S. President promulgating regulations designed to reduce domestic production of fossil fuels while imploring OPEC to produce more. 

But wait—it gets better. Who are the chief beneficiaries of this schizophrenic policy choice? Well, how about Iran, Saudi Arabia and Russia. And to boot it is a slap in the face to our longstanding ally Canada. 

Most astoundingly, the Biden Administration has adopted a policy stance designed to limit domestic production of fossil fuels by restricting permits and raising regulatory costs while at the same time hoping against hope that retail gas prices will stay the same or decline. The self-evident absurdity of this apparently lies beyond the reach of progressives. 

Second, there is  critical race theory (CRT), which has been around for 35 years or so. It was developed in elite American Law schools in the 1980s and 90s, but has just recently become a topic of public controversy.  While much of the discussion has been reduced to dueling bumper sticker slogans, the behavior of the progressive vanguard has been remarkable for its display of cognitive dissonance. 

The progressive obfuscation relies on a pretty familiar tactic. Quite simply it claims that opponents of CRT don’t understand what it is and are cherry picking a few over-the-top incidents to mischaracterize CRT in particular and progressivism in general. Students of the game will instantly recognize this ruse, perfected by Noam Chomsky, as the “Real Socialism has never been tried gambit”. Except that of course it has been tried— many times and the result has always and everywhere been misery for the people who were its supposed beneficiaries.

 So what is Critical Race Theory?  CRT is essentially a warmed over version of the Marxist class war dialectic (circa 1848) that argues that history is a series of clashes between the haves (oppressors) and have-nots (oppressed) that will eventually lead to a workers paradise where all are equal. Just substitute race, class, gender, sexuality for class and voila—we now have CRT. 

Riotously enough, Randi Weingarten (head of the American Federation of Teachers and cheerleader for President Biden and his faux scholar wife Dr. Jill Biden, Ed.D.) insisted the other day that “…Critical Race Theory is not taught in elementary schools or high schools. It’s a method of examination taught in law school and college that helps analyze whether systemic racism exists”. 

The problem is that if Weingarten’s claim were true, then it’s pretty hard to explain why, for instance, the Fairfax County Public School system felt compelled to put the following statement on its website.

“To achieve educational equity, FCPS is analyzing and addressing the beliefs and policies that inform what is taught in schools. The school division is beginning the process by revising the existing Controversial Issues Policy (Policy 3280.3) and developing a new Anti-Racism, Anti-Bias Education Curriculum Policy.”

Especially when the existing policy adopted in 1996 and last reviewed in March 2014, is perfectly reasonable. It specifically states:

III. PHILOSOPHY The preparation for effective citizenship includes the study of issues that are controversial. The study of controversial issues shall create an atmosphere in which knowledge can be freely imparted and the critical thinking of students can be developed through research and classroom discussion, within the guidelines of the Program of Studies. 

IV. PROCEDURES Such studies shall be carried out in an atmosphere of freedom from bias, prejudice, or coercion. 

It is also difficult to explain why Fairfax County paid CRT theorist Ibram Kendi a $20,000 fee for a 1 hour “conversation”. Or why Fairfax County spent $24,000 for books by Kendi promoting critical race theory and “anti-racism”, and making them required reading for K – 12 students. Or why Kendi’s virtual talk came amid Fairfax County’s “Virginia’s Racial Truth and Reconciliation Week” or why such a County sponsored propaganda week was necessary in the first place. 

Deep blue Fairfax County is hardly an outlier; neighboring Loudon County’s school board is in the middle of a dispute over its handling of these issues as well. In fact, these disputes are breaking out all over the country. 

In any event, no sooner had Weingarten spoken to deceptively assure us that CRT was not being taught in the public schools, the National Education Association (NEA) wiped its website clean of the following statements. 

“We oppose attempts to ban critical race theory and/or The 1619 Project.” 

Before it tried—unsuccessfully— to hide the evidence, the NEA also proposed to push a study that “critiques empire, white supremacy, anti-Blackness, anti-Indigeneity, racism, patriarchy, cisheteropatriarchy, capitalism, ableism, anthropocentrism, and other forms of power and oppression at the intersections of our society.”

In addition, the NEA voted to conduct opposition research on groups that oppose integrating CRT into academic frameworks. 

Needless to say, once parents began to find out about all this, they began to revolt. There are school board fights breaking out in deep blue districts as well as traditionally conservative ones. Perhaps because so many children were subjected to what we euphemistically call “at home learning” via Zoom, parents who had been unaware of what was going on in their children’s schools began to take notice. 

It is unfortunate that in their zeal to stop indoctrination from replacing education, conservative politicians have adopted the same top-down one-size-fits-all approach favored by liberals and progressives. There is a far better solution to the specific problem of indoctrination in the public schools that applies to the disastrous performance of public schools in general. That solution is: competition.

In general, charter schools, school voucher programs, private and parochial schools do a much better job of educating students than do the public schools, especially in less affluent areas. These alternatives are a threat to the ideology factories (AKA monopoly public schools) that are owned and operated by the teachers unions. Instead of trying to legislate curricula, legislators ought to aggressively push to open the field to competition and parental choice. That would solve two problems. 


The Education Scam

The Wall Street Journal has published a story on student test performance in the wake of Covid inspired school shutdowns. According to the story, “American children started school this fall significantly behind expectations in math, and modestly behind in some grades in reading, according to one of the first reports on widely used tests since the coronavirus pandemic shut schools in March.”

It isn’t like student test scores were humming along just fine pre-pandemic. As the Journal reports “On an American test known as the Nation’s Report Card, only 34% of eighth-graders were proficient in math last year, meaning they showed competence in challenging subject matter, and 34% were proficient in reading.”

On the other hand, students in Catholic and other private schools had smaller average declines in math and exceeded expectations in reading. It is worth noting that many Catholic and otherwise private schools have remained open during the pandemic, and with minimal infection rates. 

At the same time Black, Hispanic and low-income household students fell further behind the averages, although the change was not statistically significant  given the already wide gap between those groups and the averages. 

These fall-offs in performance are likely to be devastating, especially in minority and low-income areas that depend on public school systems. Consider: The education process is cumulative. Students are presented with increasingly challenging material, based on previous learning, as they progress through the grades. Which means that failing to learn 3rd grade material makes it increasingly difficult to learn 4th grade material and so on. To say nothing of social development. 

Let’s confront the fact that only one-third of 8th grade students are proficient in reading or math to begin with. Add to that the knock-on effects of school closings (and distance learning) and it becomes obvious that in later years, the impact on students, especially minorities, is likely to be catastrophic. 

So why is it that progressives have been especially adamant about closing down the schools and resorting to distance learning? Let’s think about (1) what the incentive structure of the public school system actually is versus (2) what it should be.

The fact is that the nation’s public primary and secondary schools are run for the benefit of their adult employees. Not surprisingly, all the incentives point in that direction. The incentives ought to be structured to benefit the students. But students are the last concern of the public schools. The evidence for this is straightforward. If the schools were concerned with providing students with a decent education, two-thirds of 8th graders would not be less than proficient in reading and math. And it would be possible to fire incompetent teachers. But it isn’t.

The root of the problem is that the school system is funded by third party payers. That payer is government, mostly local, and those governments are heavily influenced by (the mostly progressive) Teachers Unions. Their mission is to protect the interests of their members. The interests of the students are very far down the list of priorities. 

The public schools system is a monopoly, and like any monopoly it acts ruthlessly to defend its monopoly position. That helps to explain why the Unions have been so intent on closing the schools, with the pandemic being a convenient excuse. This despite virtually no evidence that the pandemic presents more than a vanishingly small risk to either students or teachers. 

Note that the Unions have attempted to get governors to decree that all schools in their respective states close, not just public schools. Since public schools and their teachers are being funded anyway, an order to close all schools would financially squeeze private schools that depend on tuition for survival. That is the point of the exercise—to put competitors out of business. Mercifully, after some initial successes, universal closure orders have been batted down. 

Some, but not all, Catholic and private schools have opened for in-person instruction. Those schools have had minimal levels of Covid infections. Charlie Baker, Governor of Massachusetts pointed out in late October that  open parochial schools in the state with 28,000 students and 4,000 employees have been operating safely in-person since mid August. They have had “only a handful of cases”

You would think that the education establishment would be shamed by all this, but you would be wrong. They continue to press on, spouting all kinds of cant about Social Justice, while crushing opportunity for kids, especially the most vulnerable. And now to make matters worse, among those up for consideration for Education Secretary is none other than Randi Weingarten, President of the American Federation of Teachers. 

The iron-fisted Weingarten, who has been a relentless advocate for the union monopoly she oversees, is a friend of the bureaucratic command-and-control model of governance that has served teachers so well and students so poorly. Then again, it is the model that President elect Biden has always been comfortable with. And like Biden, Weingarten has been caught plagiarizing material, so they also share that in common. 

Progressives routinely pat themselves on the back, claiming to represent the interest of minorities. One of the most important ways that the interests of minorities can be advanced is through educational opportunity—real, not faux educational opportunity. Don’t bet on it though, the command-and-control model looks to be firmly back in the saddle.