I just missed a planning meeting of my AAUP chapter because I got caught up writing testimony opposing the spate of anti-public education bills in my state legislature. (Actually, just three of many horrible bills. And I’ll be submitting my testimony rather than delivering it because there’s a pandemic raging and my state house currently has no rules on mask wearing.) As befits the times and my near constant rage at the abdication of the responsibilities of their offices by government officials from DC to Jefferson City and of their civic responsibilities by neighbors near and far, what I wrote is kind of angry.
I’ve tried to write this next sentence five times and every time devolved into summaries of all of the horrible legislation supported over the years by the legislators who are sponsoring these bills. So I’m just going to share my testimony, say something in closing, and take my dog for a walk before it gets dark. The bills I’m opposing are HB 1474, “The Parents’ Bill of Rights Act of 2022,” HB 1747, which appears not to have the usual misleading name but it’s about making it easier to recall school board members, and HB 1995, “The Parents’ Bill of Rights for Student Well-Being,” which is just confusing.
I am under no illusion that anybody in the state house will read this testimony, and that’s fine because it’s inarticulate and breaks most of the rules of effective testimony. I can only hope that it adds a little height to a tall stack of testimony, though I am afraid that people are too overwhelmed–by the attacks coming from the right on so many fronts and by how hard it is to manage not only to get along from day to day but to manage the rage–to find the time and energy to sit down and write these. But we should all be aware and do what we can. And if the Missouri GOP manages to pass any of this awful legislation rather than just let it fade into memory as part of the ongoing campaign to keep Missouri’s culture war fires burning, then they should at least know how many people they don’t speak for.
One more thing: Today I saw that one of the architects of the manufactured Critical Race Theory kerfuffle, Christopher Rufo, is pivoting from his CRT strategy, which he has openly acknowledged as a strategy like the give-it-all-away Bond villain he is, to “transparency.” He has also decided, as my friend Aaron Hanlon pointed out, to plug into the worst of the right’s conspiracy theories.
Teaching is now “grooming,”and teachers are “predators.”
The cynicism of this tactic is breathtaking, and it couldn’t be more dangerous. The danger, and the danger of the bills above and the rest of them in Missouri and around the country (see Indiana’s, for example), isn’t just to public education. It’s to the idea that the people on the other side, whichever side you’re on, aren’t your enemies but members of your community with whom you disagree, and that we have institutions and mechanisms through which to deal with those disagreements. It’s even dangerous to the idea that if the institutions fail you, you can protest, you can publicly criticize, boycott, make your case heard and your power felt. It’s dangerous to these things to paint the people who disagree with you as enemies, as vile taboo-breaking criminals who should be violently cast out of society, put on lists, exposed and removed. That’s what this “transparency” push is about–make a lot of noise about how you’re shining a light on the horrible things happening in the basement under the pizza place, even if there’s nothing happening and the pizza place doesn’t have a basement. Embolden voters to feel like there’s an evil they must vigilantly guard against and you’ll kill two birds with one stone–your voters will be mobilized, enraged, will storm school board meetings and town halls, and the people who disagree with you will be too terrified to speak up or at least to teach your children that something bad happened in their country, and keeps happening.
It’s getting dark and my dog has been patient, so I’m going to take her and my blood pressure for a walk and take a route where I don’t see my neighborhood’s Gadsden flag. And I’ll try not to see the people I don’t agree with as my enemy or as monsters, no matter how deeply wrong they are and no matter how much of a danger what they’re doing poses to the places I live. They’re not my enemy and they’re not monsters, but the things they are trying to do in our state houses and city halls need to be opposed, loudly, by anybody who can take a deep enough breath, in spite of the rage, to yell. There’s nothing heroic or worthy of praise about trying to not see the people on the other side in as negative a light as they’re being told to see you. It couldn’t be more basic. Don’t tread on each other, the flag could read, and everything might be a little better.