Critical attack on GOP racial theory comes straight from Reagan’s school privatization manual

Teachers, argued the Republican governor, “have interpreted academic freedom as their right to teach without political interference”, seeking to advance their “partisan political views.” Affirming shock that “educated youth” were brainwashed into “anti-Americanism,” he demanded action be taken.

It was 1967 and the governor in question was Ronald Reagan. As The New York Times later put it, Reagan’s rhetoric made Richard Nixon look “positively charitable.”

Reagan’s real goal, however, was to cut spending.

As governor of California, he has systematically slashed budget requests from public universities by about 20% and denied professors the salary increases given to all other state employees. To do this, he rallied his base to believe their way of life was under attack. As the Times reported, Reagan’s supporters were “basically honest people” characterized by “a capacity for hatred when the orderly patterns of their lives are disrupted.”

Reagan’s genius was positioned as a champion of the old order in a culture war. As he noted, Californians had “taxed themselves at a higher rate than all other Americans to build a great university.” They believed in the ideal of public higher education. But Reagan convinced Californians that their colleges and universities had been occupied “by a noisy dissident minority.”

Reagan’s austerity budgets left the University of California unable to meet the rising costs of education and construction. In a desperate quest for income, officials conceded Reagan’s demand to start charging tuition fees. In the decades that followed, an increasing share of the cost of public higher education in California was shifted from taxpayers to individual students. It started to look less like a public system and more like a private system.

This crusade against public higher education strangely foreshadowed the wars in school culture today. Where Reagan targeted ethnic studies and tried to stop Communist Party member Angela Davis from teaching philosophy at UCLA, today’s scarecrow is Critical Race Theory or CRT – a legal theory that has become a vague catch-all for grievances the way Reagan armed it so effectively. To date, laws to restrict the way public school teachers talk about race and racism have been proposed in 22 states and enacted in five.

By arguing for laws that are both vague and sweeping, Republicans have resurrected one of Reagan’s favorite political slurs: anti-American.

Public schools, GOP leaders argued, teach children to believe the country is inherently bad. But just as Reagan used his anti-campus campaign to undermine support for public higher education, his followers are motivated by a similar cause. For a Republican party that has become increasingly hostile to public education, the K-12 culture war is also an opportunity to advance the cause of school privatization.

When the senses. Tom Cotton and Mitch McConnell recently unveiled a bill to fund Project 1619, they echoed language almost identical to what Reagan used six decades ago: “Federal funds shouldn’t pay for money. activists pretend to be teachers and indoctrinate our youth ”. proclaimed in a press release.

State lawmakers, meanwhile, have introduced a flurry of bills to cut school funds with programs the GOP deems unacceptable. In Michigan, a proposed measure would cut 5% of funding if school districts teach “anti-American” ideas about race in America, Project 1619 material, or critical race theory. In Tennessee, a new law allows the state chief of education to withhold funds from schools that teach elements of critical race theory.

That such laws will be difficult, if not impossible, to enforce things at all. The real goal is to alienate aggrieved GOP voters from the one public institution they still hold dear. As a nation, we spend approximately half a trillion public dollars each year to educate young Americans. And although our schools are far from equal, they are often the lifeblood of communities – urban and rural, rich and poor, black and white. Every time the privatization of schools has been put to a referendum, Americans have beaten it down because they value the idea of ​​public education – their children’s schools in particular.

The constant drumbeat that public schools indoctrinate children, however, serves as a powerful push for parents to shun them. If their tax dollars are paying for something they oppose, privatization might not be such a bad idea after all. It was Reagan’s decision. Half a century ago, he used a back-breaking culture war to rally disgruntled white middle-class voters to his cause. And with their support, he began to unravel the public nature of California’s higher education system. Within a generation, the idea of ​​a free college was just a memory. Half a century later, it looks like a pipe dream.

Across the country, Republicans are using Reagan’s playbook to deploy a fabricated crisis in schools. As some observers have noted, many of the fiercest opponents of critical race theory cannot cite a single example of its use in schools – they cannot even define what it is. It’s because they don’t really care.

What matters, however, is generating enough ill will to advance the only education policy Ronald Reagan ever cared about: privatization.

Over the past few months, a dozen states have expanded existing voucher programs or created new ones. In places like New Hampshire and West Virginia, new sweeping plans are essentially paying parents to drop out of public schools. It is the most successful assault on public education ever, and it is only just beginning.

In an age when the nation is dividing, a truly public system that serves everyone – not just openly, but equally – is an ideal to uphold. In addition, our schools are perhaps our last and best hope for bringing young people together, through their differences, and teaching them to live together.

It’s not hard to imagine this political moment as an opportunity rather than a crisis – a chance to double our investment in public education. Yet it will force us to go beyond our differences to see what unites us. It requires something that seemed possible only a decade ago: hope.

Jacques Schneider is Assistant Professor of Education at the University of Massachusetts Lowell and the author of “A wolf at the school gate: the dismantling of public education and the future of the school. ” Jennifer C. Berkshire is a freelance journalist and host of the educational policy podcast Have You Heard.




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