Here you have it, friends. In his latest blog post, the pseudo-intellectual-in-chief of the control-or-destroy-public-schools movement states his strategy. I was going to say “explicitly” but of course it’s veiled in a fabric of faux-learned (Look, people! I know that Aristotle used a Greek word!) feints and fabrications, powered by appeals to the basest racial and sexual bigotries. All very impressive, perhaps, to people who think “conservative” means never budging from what you always felt, from what you sponged up from your cultural environment before you went to college (or didn’t) and learned to think critically (or didn’t), and to people who think the task is not to eradicate malignant biases but to dress them as high ideals, to smear the lipstick of tin-horn sophistry on the pig of prejudice.
“If you don’t like what they’re teaching in your school, if you don’t want critical race theory, if you don’t want gender ideology, if you don’t want COVID masking insanity, we’re going to offer everyone the possibility of school choice. We’re going to let you take your money to any institution and find a place that reflects your values as parents, as a family, as a community.”
CRT and queers! People embodying racial, cultural, or sexual difference: shut ’em up, get ’em out, or take the money and get yourself (your kids) out. That’s all he’s got. He dresses it up. But that’s essentially all he’s got. That third option—take the money that supports public education and use it to support alternatives that will promote their own political ideology and enrich their entrepreneurial pals—that’s the ticket these days for people like Rufo. (Read A Wolf at the Schoolhouse Door and Schoolhouse Burning: careful authors have been exposing this racket for a number of years now.) But they disguise it with shrieks of “CRT!” and “Litter boxes in the bathrooms!” And they call these hateful lies “the moral high ground.”
And they have duped many good people. This is why, for example, in Caledonia in July 2022, we had to listen to Bob Thelen standing up in a school board meeting to read a summary of Chris Thelen’s incompetent review of the new social studies curriculum, aimed at propagating one central, bald-faced, and easily debunked lie: that the textbooks are “full of CRT.” They failed to find even one phrase of critical race theory in those books! But the point was never to examine the books objectively; it was to repeat the drumbeat of Christopher Rufo and the other apostles of the national know-nothing movement. They were simply too obtuse as readers to notice that here in Caledonia our truly conservative educators had chosen a curriculum that scrupulously avoids any trace of the theoretical construct that they were determined to denounce. (For the details, see https://verbasparsa.org/2022/08/08/crt-in-the-textbooks-not/.)
Rufo wants to win the “language war,” and to do that, he and his ilk had to start one and spread it, which they have done quite effectively. My Caledonia friends, we don’t need or want his or anyone else’s stinking war. We don’t want the constant drumbeat of anyone’s political agenda. We don’t want any “take-the-high-ground” (war language again!) posturing. We don’t want time wasted in our school board meetings by the same people standing up repeatedly, meeting after meeting, to poison our discourse with lies bought for cheap from hucksters like Rufo—or for that matter critiques of such lies, though if such nonsense is spouted, some of us will feel obliged to stand up and expose it as such. We just want our administrators and our school board members to get on with the business of discerning the needs of our students and finding the best ways to meet them.
There are hopeful signs. Since I mentioned Bob Thelen’s performance last year, let me mention his better performance at last month’s school board meeting. You can find him in the video and watch it if you want. What I got from his three-minute speech is this: He questions the wisdom of using a 30-year bond to purchase assets that will depreciate to zero before the thirty years are up. This is prima facie a valid concern to raise. I commend him for both the content and the manner of his remarks. I could not tell from his remarks whether he is planning to vote for or against the new bond issue. He said that if it passes he will congratulate those who advocated for it, but he expects that some will vote against it for the reason he named. Well, done, Bob.
In response, it could be pointed out that the central, dire need addressed in the new bond issue is the new Dutton Elementary School, which will certainly be a more-than-30-year asset. For that reason alone, I will vote for the bond issue, and I hope that Bob and everyone else in this district will do so as well. I attended the meetings in which the hard decisions were made about how to address the circumstances that made it impossible for the last bond issue to cover all it was supposed to cover, and I believe our school board, faced with only unattractive options, made the best available choice. We should all support that choice.
But my point in mentioning Bob’s March 2023 comments, connecting them with Christopher Rufo’s agitation agenda, and contrasting them with his July 2022 comments, is this: See? We can do better! Bob can do better. You and I can do better. We can, and must, watch closely and raise honest questions about all kinds of budgetary and administrative decisions that come before our school board. These are difficult, complex issues, issues in which the whole population of the district has a stake and should have a voice. We have a superintendent and administrators who are quite open to public questions and comments, we have school board members who are emphatically welcoming of public input. Everyone who wants to help keep our Caledonia schools excellent and make them even stronger is urgently invited to come and listen, and if you have an insight or question that has not occurred to the leaders, write it to them, or phone them and tell them, or even perhaps consider standing up in a school board meeting to speak to them and the public there.
Let’s not sit at home watching, listening to, and reading instigators of dissension and then come and waste everyone’s time and poison our discourse by spewing their venom. Look at local realities. Listen well to others. Ponder your own deepest moral, spiritual, and intellectual values and virtues. And then share what you have to offer. Argue your point to persuade others to change their minds. If someone else has a better argument, change your mind. And accept disagreement as normal. But don’t accept the importation of Rufo-style culture-wars sophistry into our meetings as normal.