Right-wing attacks on public education

Bob Sheak, April 2, 2023

What is the value of public education?

The Center on Education Policy addresses the issue of “Why We Still Need Public Schools” (https://www.cep-dc.org).

The connection between public education and democracy was recognized by Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, and others in the early years of the nation, though the public schools only took hold “because local people rather than politicians demanded them” “In the 1830s, the push for public education gained momentum when reformers like Horace Mann, secretary of the Massachusetts board of education, promoted the notion of the ‘common school.’ Such schools “would be publicly funded and locally governed and would offer a common curriculum to all [white] students” The reformers came to view “universal public education as a solution to a host of social problems. In their view, public schools would transform children into moral, literate, and productive citizens; eliminate poverty and crime; quell class conflict; and unify a population that was becoming more ethnically diverse.”

“By the late 19th century, public elementary schools were available to all children in nearly all parts of the country. And by 1918, all states had compulsory attendance laws requiring all children to attend school at least through the elementary level.” Public high school attendance did not become commonplace until the 20th century.

The education provided by existing schools was “far from equal.” Reformers then turned their attention from “access to equity.” Some schools fell short because of “poor leadership, ineffective teaching, or misplaced priorities. Others involved factors beyond the school, such as inadequate funding, lack of community support, or communities strained by poverty and social dysfunction.” The answer to such problems was and is to “encourage reforms that will help all schools live up to the public as well as the individual educational goals. Public schools must be accountable to citizens, but citizens must also be accountable to public schools. Americans can provide a model for their children of the virtues of a well-educated citizenry by supporting public education, engaging with their local schools and advocating for better and more equitable public education.”

Take the “public” out of public education

In contemporary America, the public missions of schools are being undermined and attacked by right-wing forces that reject or downplay concepts of “the public.” These include the Republican Party, Trump and his base, corporations – especially those that can make a profit out of owning charter schools and selling books and other instructional materials to school systems. They also give substantial effort to electing right-wing candidates to school boards.

In their new book, The Big Myth: How American Business Taught Us to Loathe Government and Love the Free Market, Naomi Oreskes and Erik M. Conway critically analyze the idea of “market fundamentalism,” which insists “there is no ‘common good’ but only “a sum of all the individual private goods. Those who espouse market fundamentalism “reject government’s claims to represent ‘the people,’ arguing “there are only people – individuals – who represent themselves, and they do this most effectively not through their governments, even democratically elected ones, but through free choices in the market.”

From this viewpoint, education is best organized around notions of individual choice, and the preferred choices are said to be in potentially profitable alternatives to the public schools such as in charter schools, many of which are religious and/or profit-oriented, or vouchers, also allegedly giving parents a choice, or giving parents the option to educate their children at home. There is little or no government or professional oversight in these situations regarding who teaches, what is taught, what is accomplished, or in the books and other materials that are required.

Democracy requires an educated citizenry

Henry Giroux reminds us that “As theorists as diverse as John Dewey, Paulo Freire, and Maxine Greene have observed, democracy cannot exist without an educated citizenry. Wendy Brown states rightly that democracy ‘may not demand universal political participation, but it cannot survive the people’s wholesale ignorance of the forces shaping their lives and limning their future’ (https://counterpunch.org/2023/03/27/rethinking-education-as-the-practice-of-freedom).

Randi Weingarten refers to why public schools are more than physical structures (https://commondreams.org/opinion/weingarten-defend-public-education).

“They are the manifestation of our civic values and ideals: The ideal that education is so important for individuals and for society that a free education must be available to all. That all young people should have opportunities to prepare for life, college, career and citizenship. That, in a pluralistic society such as the United States, people with different beliefs and backgrounds must learn to bridge differences. And that, as the founders believed, an educated citizenry is essential to protect our democracy from demagogues.”

Illiberal democracy

The right-wing approach to education does not reject the idea that democracy can be strengthened through education, but they have their own version of democracy. Martin Wolf, associate editor and chief economic commentator at the Financial Times, distinguishes between liberal and illiberal versions of democracy.

“The health of our society depends on a delicate balance  between the economic and the political, the individual and the collective, the national and the global. But that balance is broken…. We are no longer able to combine the operations of the market economy with stable liberal democracy….One symptom of this disappointment is….the possibility of informed and rational debate among citizens, the very foundation of democracy, has evaporated” (p. xix).

“For a liberal democracy to work, then, citizens must be entitled to express their opinions, and as citizens, and fellow citizens must be prepared to tolerate opinions they disagree with and the people who hold them” (p. 5). Furthermore, such opinions should be “informed,” that is rooted in information and evidence that has a verifiable factual basis.

Teachers play a crucial role when they are well trained, certified to determine they have acquired the relevant knowledge, held accountable for keeping up with advances in the methods and content of subject matter, and able to translate their training and knowledge into understandable instructional practices for their students, and do so empathically in classrooms of students from diverse backgrounds.

Teachers don’t do it alone

There are specialized teachers in reading and math who provide extra help to students who need it. There are librarians who make sure the library has age-appropriate books to open up and expand the student’s understanding of the world around them. There are nurses who are there when needed. There are staff in the lunch room, and government subsidized lunch and food programs for lower-income students. These are all public responsibilities that are often absent in alternative schools and in the homes of students. Last but hardly least, schools must be made safe in a societal context in which school shooting occur all too frequently.

Parents have a role

They can volunteer in schools. They can attend teacher-parent conferences or even the public meetings of school boards. They can offer ideas on how to make the schools more effective and can express their approval and/or disapproval with various aspects of their children’s education. But they cannot or should not be able to dictate what is taught or how it is taught. They can also express their views by meeting or contacting school officials, members of the board of educations, and and through voting. If given schools lack the resources to educate children well, then government should provide such resources.

A quick overview

In this post, I identify 8 ways in which right-wing forces are trying to subvert public education. To the extent they are successful, public education, one of the pillars of liberal democracy, will be severely compromised, The right-wing attacks on public education will leave an intellectual vacuum in the society allowing powerful right-wing forces to manipulate public opinion in anti-democratic ways and imbue schools with religious and racial biases that run counter to what is expected of citizens in a liberal democracy.

Multi-faceted attacks on public education

#1 – Expanding parent’s rights

The Republican-controlled U.S. House of Representatives passed legislation on March 24, 2023, named “The Parents Bill of Rights.” Lexi Lonas reports the same day on “5 things to know about the House GOP’s legislation


“The legislation was introduced by Rep. Julia Letlow (R-La.) and approved in a largely party-line vote, as Republicans argue parents deserve more transparency from their schools and more of a say in what their children are taught.” House Democrats opposed the legislation and “dubbed the legislation the ‘Politics Over Parents Act,’ arguing the bill does nothing to increase parental engagement in their children’s education and overburdens schools.” The legislation will not get support in the Democratically-controlled Senate or by President Biden. However, the House bill will be used by the GOP to send the message “that Democrats do not want parents involved in their children’s education.”

Lonas identifies “five things to know about the Parents Bill of Rights, what it does and what it signifies.” One of the goals is to increase transparency in school curriculum and make it more accessible to parents. Specifically, the bill “would obligate schools to share on a publicly available website information about the following: types of books in classrooms and libraries; the curriculum; how a school’s budget is spent; if academic standards change; and other information about a student’s education.” But, Lonas points out, “parents already have the right to review their children’s educational materials and raised concerns about the section requiring all books to be disclosed.” Among other concerns, Democrats fear the legislation “would make banning books easier.” Democratic amendments to prevent politicians from banning books easier were defeated. The Republican legislation also requires parent notification that deal with transgender students and restroom use or sports participation, name changes sought by a student or if they switch locker rooms.

During the debate over the bill, House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.) said this: “Parental empowerment has everything to do with jamming the extreme MAGA Republican ideology down the throats of the children and the parents of the United States of America.”

The Department of Education suggested the House GOP has its attention on the wrong things.

“We’ll remain focused on giving our teachers a raise, investing in community schools that are designed to and have the resources to actually bring parents and the community into school to fully support students, and helping parents take time off to attend school meetings. We encourage House Republicans to step up and do the same, rather than waging another culture war that will only undermine our schools, families, and students,” said a spokesperson for the department.”

Jill Anderson provides some historical background on the issue of “parent rights” in an article published February 17, 2023 for Harvard EdCast (https://gse.harvard.edu/news/23/02/harvard-edcast-parental-rights-or-politics).


#2 – Book bans hit record highs

Julia Conley reports on how “Progressives Slam House Passage of GOP Book Banning Bill That Turns Children Into ‘Pawns’” (https://commondreams.org/news/federal-book-banning-bill).

“Progressive lawmakers and education advocates on Friday condemned federal Republican lawmakers’ foray into the nationwide attack on people of color and the LGBTQ+ community as the GOP-led U.S. House passed the so-called Parents Bill of Rights Act—legislation that critics said is aimed at banning books and further ostracizing marginalized communities, while providing no improvements to children’s safety at school” or in providing additional resources for schools in poor and minority communities.

Conley points out that similar “parents’ rights” legislation has been passed “in at least six states and introduced in at least 26, the Parents Bill of Rights Act (H.R. 5). The legislation typically “claims it will protect public school students by requiring schools to make classroom curricula publicly available and provide parents with a list of reading materials in school libraries.”

“The legislation was passed a day after the American Library Association (ALA) released a report showing that a record-breaking 2,571 book titles were the subject of ‘challenges,’ or demands that they be removed from schools or public libraries, in 2022—a 38% increase from the previous year.”

In another article, Julia Conley reports on how “US Librarians Report Book Bans Hit Record High in 2022Common Dreams (https://commondreams.org/news/ala-banned-books).

“Librarians from across the United States released a report showing that pro-censorship groups’ efforts to ban books with LGBTQ+ themes and stories about people of color have driven an unprecedented rise in the number of book challenges, with right-wing organizers pushing library workers to remove works ranging from the dystopian novel The Handmaid’s Tale to children’s books about foods enjoyed in different cultures.”

Book banning is coordinated

“‘Each attempt to ban a book by one of these [pro-censorship] groups represents a direct attack on every person’s constitutionally protected right to freely choose what books to read and what ideas to explore,’ said Deborah Caldwell-Stone, director of the ALA [American Library Association] Office for Intellectual Freedom.

“The Office for Intellectual Freedom said that starting in 2021, a rising number of challenges began targeting large numbers of titles, suggesting they were coordinated efforts from national groups like Moms for Liberty. Previously, the vast majority of book challenges were focused on a single book to which a parent or group of parents objected.

“In 2022, 90% of the books challenged were part of attempts to censor multiple titles, the ALA reported.

“‘A book challenge is a demand to remove a book from a library’s collection so that no one else can read it. Overwhelmingly, we’re seeing these challenges come from organized censorship groups that target local library board meetings to demand removal of a long list of books they share on social media,” said Caldwell-Stone.

“Their aim is to suppress the voices of those traditionally excluded from our nation’s conversations, such as people in the LGBTQIA+ community or people of color.”

So far, the book-banning movement has not much influenced public opinion. Conley writes: “A poll commissioned by the EveryLibrary Institute last year found that 75% of respondents were opposed to efforts to ban books, and across 16 states last fall, a majority of initiatives to pull funding from libraries failed.”

Gov. Ron DeSantis is a leading proponent of book-banning in public schools

Sarah Mervosh delves into what DeSantis is doing in his state of Florida (https://nytimes.com/2023/-3/16/us/florida-textbooks-african-american-history.html). She writes:

“… in Florida, textbooks have become hot politics, part of Gov. Ron DeSantis’s campaign against what he describes as ‘woke indoctrination’ in public schools, particularly when it comes to race and gender. Last year, his administration made a splash when it rejected dozens of math textbooks, citing ‘prohibited topics.’

Now, the state is reviewing curriculum in what is perhaps the most contentious subject in education: social studies.

“In the last few months, as part of the review process, a small army of state experts, teachers, parents and political activists have combed thousands of pages of text — not only evaluating academic content, but also flagging anything that could hint, for instance, at critical race theory.”

DeSantis “signed a law last year known as the Stop W.O.K.E. Act, which prohibits instruction that would compel students to feel responsibility, guilt or anguish for what other members of their race did in the past, among other limits.”

“The state’s guidelines for evaluating textbooks targets ‘critical race theory,’ a graduate-level academic theory that rarely appears in younger grades but has become a catchall to some conservatives; and social emotional learning,’ an approach that tries to help students develop positive mind-sets and that is viewed by the DeSantis administration as extraneous to core academics.”

“The Florida Citizens Alliance, a conservative group, has urged the state to reject 28 of the 38 textbooks that its volunteers reviewed, including more than a dozen by McGraw Hill, a major national publisher.

“The alliance, whose co-founders served on Mr. DeSantis’s education advisory team during his transition to governor, has helped lead a sweeping effort to remove school library books deemed as inappropriate, including many with L.G.B.T.Q. characters. It trained dozens of volunteers to review social studies textbooks.

“In a summary of its findings submitted to the state last month, the group complained that a McGraw Hill fifth-grade textbook, for example, mentioned slavery 189 times within a few chapters alone. Another objection: An eighth-grade book gave outsize attention to the ‘negative side’ of the treatment of Native Americans, while failing to give a fuller account of their own acts of violence, such as the Jamestown Massacre of 1622, in which Powhatan warriors killed more than 300 English colonists.” However, when all is said and done, white settlers and U.S. military forces did almost wipe out the Native American population by the end of the 19th century, and the U.S. does have a long history of slavery and racial violence and discrimination.


#3 – Politicizing what is taught

Kathiann M. Kowalski reports on one such example (https://ohiocapitaljournal.com/2023/03/27/ohio-higher-ed-bill-would-require-instructors-to-teach-both-sides-on-climate-change). The issue is climate change, or the climate crisis, including a provision in an Ohio higher-ed bill [Senate Bill 83] that “would require instructors to teach ‘both sides’ on climate change. This is so despite the fact that there is virtual unanimity among climate scientists that climate change is real and accelerating. There is one side that is based on verifiable evidence while the other side rejects or disregards the evidence. There are not two credible sides, only one.

NASA (National Aeronautics and Space Agency) addresses the question, “Do scientists agree on climate change?” The agency answers as follows.

“Yes, the vast majority of actively publishing climate scientists – 97 percent – agree that humans are causing global warming and climate change. Most of the leading science organizations around the world have issued public statements expressing this, including international and U.S. science academies, the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, and a whole host of reputable scientific bodies around the world. A list of these organizations is provided here.”

Disregarding the science, the Ohio Higher Education Enhancement Act could bar Ohio colleges and universities “from teaching climate science without also including false or misleading counterpoints under a sprawling higher education bill that received its first hearing last week.” On this issue and others (e.g., abortion, immigration, and diversity, equity and inclusion), “public colleges and universities would need to guarantee that faculty and staff will ‘encourage and allow students to reach their own conclusions’ and ‘not seek to inculcate any social, political, or religious point of view.’”

Additionally, “The bill also includes provisions for annual reviews and reports, requirements for ‘intellectual diversity’ in recruiting invited speakers, disciplinary sanctions for interfering with that diversity, a prohibition against faculty strikes, and more.” That is, the legislation gives a privileged place to climate deniers such as apologists from the fossil fuel industry.


#4 – Banning critical race theory

Reshawn Ray and Alexandra Gibbons give us insights on why many states are banning critical race theory (CRT)

Nov 2021 (https://brookings.edu/blog/fixgov/201/07/02/why-are-states-banning-critical-race-theory

Basically, they write, CRT has become a new bogeyman for people unwilling to acknowledge our country’s racist history and how it impacts the present. They elaborate.

“To understand why CRT has become such a flash point in the culture, it is important to understand what it is and what it is not. Opponents fear that CRT admonishes all white people for being oppressors while classifying all Black people as hopelessly oppressed victims. These fears have spurred school boards and state legislatures from Tennessee to Idaho to ban teachings about racism in classrooms. However, there is a fundamental problem: these narratives about CRT are gross exaggerations of the theoretical framework. The broad brush that is being applied to CRT is puzzling to academics, including some of the scholars who coined and advanced the framework.

“CRT does not attribute racism to white people as individuals or even to entire groups of people. Simply put, critical race theory states that U.S. social institutions (e.g., the criminal justice system, education system, labor market, housing market, and healthcare system) are laced with racism embedded in laws, regulations, rules, and procedures that lead to differential outcomes by race. Sociologists and other scholars have long noted that racism can exist without racists. However, many Americans are not able to separate their individual identity as an American from the social institutions that govern us—these people perceive themselves as the system. Consequently, they interpret calling social institutions racist as calling them racist personally. It speaks to how normative racial ideology is to American identity that some people just cannot separate the two. There are also people who may recognize America’s racist past but have bought into the false narrative that the U.S. is now an equitable democracy. They are simply unwilling to remove the blind spot obscuring the fact that America is still not great for everyone.

“Scholars and activists who discuss CRT are not arguing that white people living now are to blame for what people did in the past. They are saying that white people living now have a moral responsibility to do something about how racism still impacts all of our lives today. Policies attempting to suffocate this much-needed national conversation are an obstacle to the pursuit of an equitable democracy.”

Ray and Gibbons “did an assessment of anti-CRT state legislation.” Here’s what they found: “Nine states (Idaho, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Texas, Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina, Arizona, and North Dakota) have passed legislation. Arizona’s legislation was overturned in November by the Arizona Supreme Court.”

“The legislations mostly ban the discussion, training, and/or orientation that the U.S. is inherently racist as well as any discussions about conscious and unconscious bias, privilege, discrimination, and oppression. These parameters also extend beyond race to include gender lectures and discussions.”

“State actors in Montana and South Dakota have denounced teaching concepts associated with CRT. The state school boards in Florida, Georgia, Utah, and Alabama introduced new guidelines barring CRT-related discussions. Local school boards in Georgia, North Carolina, Kentucky, and Virginia also criticized CRT.

“Nearly 20 additional states have introduced or plan to introduce similar legislation.

“The approach of some Republican-led state legislatures is a method for continuing to roll back racial progress regarding everything from voting rights to police reform. This is a horrible idea and does an injustice to our kids. Laws forbidding any teacher or lesson from mentioning race/racism, and even gender/sexism, would put a chilling effect on what educators are willing to discuss in the classroom and provide cover for those who are not comfortable hearing or telling the truth about the history and state of race relations in the United States.”

“Ultimately, we cannot employ colorblind ideology in a society that is far from colorblind. Everyone sees it, whether they acknowledge it consciously or not. systemic racism can explain racial disparities in police killings, COVID-19, and the devaluing of homes in Black neighborhoods. If we love America, we should want it to be the best it can be. Rather than run from the issue of racism in America, we should confront it head on. Our kids and country will be better for it.”


#5 – Diverting public funds away from public schools

David Dewitt reports in the Ohio Capital Journal on how “Ohio cheats taxpayers and public schools by funneling money to unaccountable private interests” (https://ohiocapitaljournal.com/2023/02/02/ohio-cheats-public-schools-and-taxpayers-by-funneling-to-private-schools-without-accountability).

“Many Ohioans pay taxes for schools but don’t have school-age children. Their taxes are meant to fund quality public schools because having educated citizens is a public good. Sending their money to unaccountable for-profit, private, and religious schools is a terrible abuse.

“Compelling taxpayers to support private interests at the expense of public ones is not only unethical, but unconstitutional when those private interests intertwine with religion. American taxpayers should never be forced to fund the efforts of religious institutions of any kind. Not one red cent.

The very first clause in the First Amendment of our Bill of Rights is couched firmly in that defining principle. The entire basis for making “no law respecting an establishment of religion” the first clause was “Father of the Constitution” James Madison’s takedown of anti-Constitution Patrick Henry’s proposal to send taxpayer money to support religious institutions.

Nevertheless, Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine has put forward a budget proposal to expand school voucher subsidies that would send money to private, for-profit, and religious ventures. Prominent Ohio Republican Statehouse leaders appear to be on board.”

In an article published in the Columbus Dispatch on March 22, 2023, Maureen Reedy, a retired teacher after 30 years of teaching and former “Ohio Teacher of the Year, also takes issue with the Ohio school voucher program and argues it is “a runaway train that makes us all losers”

(https://dispatch.com/story/opinion/vouchers-what-is-senate-bill-11-what-it-will-do-to-public-schools-edchoice/69964355007). She writes,

“Instead of pushing current legislation like Senate Bill 11 that could take one billion dollars from public schools to fund private and religious school vouchers, Ohio’s lawmakers need to uphold Ohio’s constitutional promise to keep public tax dollars out of private schools.” She makes the following points for her position.

#1 – “Most of us attended neighborhood public schools, which continue to be the schools of choice for our children and grandchildren. Our public schools are community hubs that educate over 90% (1.7 million) of Ohio’s children; students come together from all backgrounds to learn and build understanding and acceptance of others.”

#2 – “Public education in Ohio is a 172-year-old promise, created on the constitutional belief that public schools are the fundamental foundation for the public good; a necessary tool to build an educated democracy and sustainable futures for our children in these challenging times.”

#3 – “School vouchers violate the Ohio Constitution. That is why over 210 public school districts have filed the ‘Vouchers Hurt Ohio’ lawsuit challenging EdChoice Vouchers for their unconstitutional use of state school funds for private school tuition.

#4 – Ohio’s constitution has some of the strongest language in the country specifying that state funds are for public (common) schools only.

“The General Assembly … will secure a thorough and efficient system of common schools throughout the state; but no religious or other sect, or sects, shall ever have any exclusive right to, or control of, any part of the school funds of this state,” Article VI, Section 2 of the Ohio Constitution reads.

#5 – “Ohio’s first attempt at school vouchers began as a temporary pilot in 2006, and is now a refund and rebate school privatization program that reimburses families who never intended to send their children to public schools.”

#6 – “When we let vouchers siphon funds from our public schools, our kids do not have the resources they need to succeed, and that hurts us all. EdChoice Vouchers for private schools means more school levies and higher property taxes. State funding for private schools is not only unconstitutional, it is unsustainable for Ohio taxpayers.”

#7 – “Overall, Ohio’s public schools continue to outperform private voucher schools.”

#8 – “Public schools mirror the rising challenges of society today. Teachers are not just teaching, but also taking care of rising numbers of children in crises with mental and physical health challenges, which prevent them from learning. Instead of divesting in public education, Ohio needs to re-invest in our public schools.

Let’s face it. The only way to stop this runaway school voucher train is through a lawsuit.

The defunding efforts are not limited to Ohio. Randi Weingarten gives additional examples in an article referred to earlier; published on March 28, 2023 (https://commondreams.org/opinion/weingarten-defend-public-education).

She is the president of the 1.7 million-member American Federation of Teachers, AFL-CIO, which represents teachers; paraprofessionals and school-related personnel; higher education faculty and staff; nurses and other healthcare professionals; local, state and federal government employees; and early childhood educators.

“This year alone, 29 state legislatures are considering bills to either create or expand existing voucher programs.[i] This is on top of the 72 voucher and tax credit programs in 33 states already subsidizing private and home schooling, costing billions every year.[ii] Voucher programs are proliferating even though research shows that, on average, vouchers negatively affect achievement—the declines are worse than pandemic learning loss. In fact, vouchers have caused “some of the largest academic drops ever measured in the research record.”

“Proponents of vouchers used to argue that they were a way for low-income and minority families to transfer out of low-performing schools. No longer. Today most vouchers go to families who already send their kids to private schools. And private schools are not required to follow most federal civil rights laws protecting students, so they can—and many do—discriminate, especially against LGBTQ students and students with special needs.

“The universal voucher program signed by Florida Gov. DeSantis yesterday will divert $4 billion from the state’s public schools. Florida ranks 44th in the nation in per pupil spending, and 48th in average teacher salaries. DeSantis is sending taxpayers’ dollars in the wrong direction.”


#6 – Pushing child labor

In an article published by Truthout on March 23, 2023, Tyler Walicek reports on how “Child Labor Is on the Rise as Republicans See an Answer to Labor Shortages” (https://truthout.org/articles/child-labor-is-on-the-rise-as-republicans-see-an-answer-to-labor-shortages). He writes: “Anti-immigrant policies and spiraling rates of poverty are driving thousands of children into the U.S. labor market.” It is not well publicized. Why? “Because the practice has long been obscured from view, recent exposures of its real scope have elicited public surprise. In the past year, journalistic and governmental investigations of Southern manufacturers turned up systematic violations, while in February, The New York Times published a powerful exposé that highlighted migrant children who’d been steered into grueling work in manufacturing and agriculture. Still, these were mere glimpses. In the last fiscal year alone, the Department of Labor discovered 835 companies illegally employing more than 3,800 minors.”

“Those figures are startling enough,” Walicek notes, “but the actual extent of legal U.S. child labor is truly vast. At present, enormous numbers of minors, many of them migrant children, are legally employed on U.S. farms, thanks to an underage-labor exemption unique to agriculture. With little regulation or oversight, for many, conditions there can be just as hazardous as in illegal employment — and estimates of the full count of U.S. child farm laborers run into the hundreds of thousands.”

“On one side of this equation lies families’ desperate poverty and inequality, worsened by inhumane immigration policies; on the other, the corporate drive to profit at any cost. To make matters worse, Republican lawmakers in multiple states are making concerted efforts to repeal child labor protections — serving, as they reliably do, the interests of business at the expense of the people. One would be hard-pressed to find a more contemptible indictment of the profit incentive under our current regime than the widespread immiseration of our society’s youngest and most vulnerable.”

The editorial board of the New York Times has written about the problem of child labor (https://nytimes.com/2023/03/24/opinion/editorials/arkansas-child-labor.html). They give the following examples to reflect this concern. “

“In February, the Department of Labor announced that it had discovered 102 teenagers working in hazardous conditions for a company that cleans meatpacking equipment at factories around the country, a violation of federal standards. The minors, ages 13 to 17, were working with dangerous chemicals and cleaning brisket saws and head splitters; three of them suffered injuries, including one with caustic burns.

“Ten of those children worked in Arkansas, including six at a factory owned by the state’s second-largest private employer, Tyson Foods. Rather than taking immediate action to tighten standards and prevent further exploitation of children, Arkansas went the opposite direction. Earlier this month, Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders, a Republican, signed legislation that would actually make it easier for companies to put children to work. The bill eliminated a requirement that children under 16 get a state work permit before being employed, a process that required them to verify their age and get the permission of a parent or guardian.”

“Echoing that philosophy, bills are moving through at least nine other state legislatures that would expand work hours for children, lift restrictions on hazardous occupations, allow them to work in locations that serve alcohol, or lower the state minimum wage for minors. The Labor Department says there has been a 69 percent increase since 2018 in the illegal employment of children.

“The response in these states is not to protect those children from exploitation, but instead to make it legal. Voters in these states may support deregulation, but they may not know that businesses can use these bills to work children harder, cut their wages and put them in danger. There is time for them to persuade lawmakers to say no to these abuses.”

Lawmakers in these states have been vigorously lobbied by industry groups who like the flexibility of teenage employees and say that more children are needed in the work force to make up for labor shortages. One of the principal lobbying organizations pushing these bills in several states is the National Federation of Independent Business, a conservative group that supports Republican candidates and has long opposed most forms of regulation, as well as the Affordable Care Act. It has issued news releases praising lawmakers for passing bills that let businesses hire more minors for longer hours, and taking credit for supporting these efforts.”

“The real target of these rollbacks is not after-school jobs at the corner hardware store; they will have a much bigger effect on a labor force that includes many unaccompanied migrant children who work long hours to make or package products sold by big companies like General Mills, J. Crew, Target, Whole Foods and PepsiCo. As a recent New York Times investigation documented, children are being widely employed across the country in exhausting and often dangerous jobs working for some of the biggest names in American retailing and manufacturing. (Several of those companies later told The Times that they would investigate any illegal practices and try to end them.)”

One of the worst bills, introduced by Republicans in Iowa, would allow 14-year-olds to work in industrial freezers, meat coolers and industrial laundries, and 15-year-olds to lift heavy items onto shelves. It is backed by, among others, the independent business federation, the Iowa Grocery Industry Association, and Americans for Prosperity, a conservative advocacy group backed by Charles Koch, the industrialist who supported many national efforts to deregulate businesses.”


#7 – Promoting guns in the schools

BBC reports that there had been 131 mass shootings in 2023 through much of April (https://bbc.com/news/world-us-canada-41488081).

Paul LeBlanc, CNN, delves into the problem (https://cnn.com/2023/03/06/politics/america-mass-shootings-2023-gun-violence/index.html).

“America reached the grim number by the first week of March – record time, according to data from the Gun Violence Archive, which, like CNN, defines a mass shooting as one in which at least four people are shot, excluding the shooter.”

“Americans are tired of fearing if they or their families will be the next victims of a mass shooting. Our children are tired of being told to ‘run, hide, and fight,’” said Kris Brown, president of Brady: United Against Gun Violence, an organization seeking to mitigate gun violence in the US.”

In 2022, modest bipartisan gun safety law was passed by the U.S. Congress and signed by President Biden. “Last year’s bipartisan gun safety bill – which garnered the support of 14 Republicans in the House and 15 in the Senate – represented the most significant new federal legislation to address gun violence since the expired 10-year assault weapons ban of 1994. But it failed to ban any weapons and fell far short of what Biden and his party had advocated for – and what polls show Americans want to see,” that is, bans on the sale of assault weapons and high-capacity magazines.

“Most of the public (66%) favored stricter gun laws, a July 2022 CNN poll found, with more than 4 in 10 saying that recently enacted gun legislation didn’t go far enough to change things.

“But many Republicans, who now control the US House, have cited a mental health crisis in the US as the reason for America’s gun violence problem, showing little interest in the government trying to regulate access to guns.”

“Mental health challenges grew throughout the pandemic and violence increased, but an analysis from researchers at Johns Hopkins University found that guns made those incidences significantly more deadly. Between 2019 and 2021, all of the increase in suicides and most of the increase in homicides was from gun-related incidences. The gun suicide rate increased 10% while the non-gun suicide rate decreased.”

Meanwhile, the U.S. is awash in guns.

“There are about 120 guns for every 100 Americans, according to the Switzerland-based Small Arms Survey. No other nation has more civilian guns than people. And about 44% of US adults live in a household with a gun, and about one-third own one personally, according to a November 2020 Gallup survey.”

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So, it is “unsurprising that the US has more deaths from gun violence than any other developed country per capita. The rate in the US is eight times greater than in Canada, which has the seventh highest rate of gun ownership in the world; 22 times higher than in the European Union and 23 times greater than in Australia, according to Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation data from 2019.”


#8 – Hungry children don’t typically learn as well

Jake Johnson reports on March 20, 2023 with an analysis that warns about the ‘Punitive’ Republican Attacks on SNAP [that] Could Take Food Aid From 10 Million+ (https://commondreams.org/news/republican-attacks-snap-10-million).

Republicans in the U.S. Congress are doing this, despite the fact, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP), the food subsidy program is

successful at reducing poverty and food insecurity and should be both protected this year from cuts and be strengthened.”

The CBPP analysis released “estimates that more than 10 million people across the United States—including 4 million children—would be at risk of losing food benefits if the GOP’s proposed attacks on federal nutrition assistance become law.”

The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP) analysis focuses specifically on legislation introduced last week by Rep. Dusty Johnson (R-S.D.), who wants certain recipients of Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits to face even more strict work requirements than they do under current law.

“Adults aged 18 through 49 without children in their homes can receive benefits for only three months out of every three years, unless they can document they are working or participate in a qualifying work program at least 20 hours a week or prove they are unable to work,” note CBPP’s Katie Bergh and Dottie Rosenbaum.

“If passed, Johnson’s bill would raise the age ceiling for the strict work requirements from 49 to 65, a move that Bergh and Rosenbaum argue would endanger food benefits for both the adults specifically targeted by the law and those in their households.

“Adults between the ages of 18 and 65 and without disabilities would be subject to the work requirements and benefit time limits “unless they have a child under age 7 in their home,” CBPP points out.

“Research has demonstrated repeatedly that work requirements do virtually nothing to boost employment, undercutting the GOP’s stated rationale for attempting to expand them year after year.

“A total of more than 10 million people, about 1 in 4 SNAP participants, including about 4 million children, live in households that would be at risk of losing food assistance under the Johnson bill, based on our preliminary estimates,” Bergh and

Rosenbaum write.

“People who would face the loss of benefits, according to CBPP, include “some 3 million adults up to age 65, primarily parents or grandparents, who live in households with school-age children.” Those millions of children “would see their household’s food assistance fall if their parents or other adults in the family aren’t able to meet” the Johnson measure’s work requirements, the analysis notes.”

“Additionally, the Johnson bill—which currently has 24 Republican co-sponsors—would potentially strip food benefits from ‘about 2 million older adults aged 50 to 64 who do not have children in their homes” as well as adults who happen to live in areas with higher levels of unemployment, making it more difficult to find and hold a job.’”

Facing criticism for failing to keep pandemic-related SNAP expansions alive, Democrats in the House and Senate have pledged to oppose any food assistance cuts going forward.

“The SNAP program provides food assistance for more than 41 million Americans, including children, seniors, veterans, and people with disabilities,” said Stabenow.


Concluding thoughts

The attacks on the public schools are part of a larger attack on liberal democracy. In the final analysis, they want to shrink the availability of public schools at all levels. They do not want an educated citizenry, but rather a citizenry that is ideologically pacified, goes along with racist and gender-discriminating curricula, and favors a right-wing evangelical ethic.

Many teachers are responding by leaving the profession. Anna Merod reports in a Feb. 1, 2023 article that 63% of educators now consider leaving the profession

(https://K12Dive.com/news/educators-consider-leaving-profession/641739). Matt Barnum reports that “teacher turnover hits new highs across the U.S.


Many other teachers and their supporters are fighting for better benefits and schools and going on strike to achieve such goals. Jack Schneider, an award-winning education scholar, and Jennifer Berkshire, a freelance journalist and host of an education podcast, include a chapter on the war on teachers’ unions in their book titled A Wolf at the Schoolhouse Door. They analyze the increase in teachers’ strikes that began in West Virginia in February of 2018, when “twenty-thousand teachers’ walked out en masse in a one-day work stoppage” that “soon spread to all fifty-five counties…and from there to Oklahoma, Kentucky, and Arizona” (p. 44). “By the end of 2019, some 645,000 teachers had participated in some kind of labor action.” (p. 44). Since, then teachers in West Virginia walked out again – this time over school privatization.” (p. 45). By this time, teachers were “the most unionized profession in America” (p. 50). They have struck against government funding for non-public schools, for  protection against arbitrary firings, for higher wages, for lower class sizes.

Jessica Corbett reports on a recent strike victory by teachers in Los Angeles (https://commondreams.org/news/los-angeles-school-strike-agreement). Union negotiators for SEIU Local 99 “struck a historic deal [on March 21,2023] with the second-largest district in the United States on Friday after a three-day strike.”

Much of the public support the teachers. For example, Sharon Zhang reports that  “nearly 8 in 10 Voters Support Sen. Bernie Sanders Bill to Raise Minimum Teacher Pay to $60k” (https://truthout.org/articles/nearly-8-in-10-voters-support-sanders-bill-to-raise-minimum-teacher-pay-to-60k).

And some states are extending school nutrition programs. Kenny Stancil reports on March 18, 2023, that Minnesota became the 4th state to provide free school meals to all Kids (https://commondreams.org/news/minnesota-universal-free-school-meals). 

“During Friday’s signing ceremony, Lt. Gov. Peggy Flanagan (DFL) said, ‘To our decision-makers who believe they have never met someone who is experiencing or has experienced hunger: Hi, my name is Peggy Flanagan, and I was 1 in 6 of those Minnesota children who experienced hunger.’

“‘By providing free breakfast and lunch to all of our students, we are removing barriers and removing stigma from the lunch room,’ said Flanagan. “We are helping family pocketbooks, especially for those 1 in 4 who don’t qualify for financial assistance with school meals. We are leading with our values that no child should go hungry for any reason, period.’

“‘This is an investment in the well-being of our children, as well as an investment in their academic success,’ Flanagan added, calling the ‘generation-changing bill ‘the most important thing’ she’s ever worked on in her life.”

The attacks on public education are doing harm, but they are being contested.

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