Mask Protests at School Board Meetings Are Part of Larger Assault on Public Education

All three of my children went to an elementary school named after Horace Mann, the father of American public education. He knew quite well its value to a democratic republic. “Education is a capital to the poor man,” he said, “and an interest to the rich man.” In other words, it would be the way for the poor to rise to possess what the rich had by birth. My father spent 35 years in public education. (Yes, he sent me to parochial schools, but that was his Catholic thing. All three of my children went through the public schools.) When he came back from World War II, he told his sister that he wanted to work with kids because of what he’d seen through the binoculars in the North Atlantic and off the beachheads of Okinawa and Guam. Free public education for us all has been a way for Americans to escape a lot of things.

And because of that, it always has been a favorite target of the oligarchs and the privileged. Those attacks always are well-camouflaged; many of them are usually disguised as efforts to help “the children.” Many of those are launched in profound bad faith by wealthy people who don’t know enough about actual education to throw to a cat. Too many Democrats and putative liberals have tried to co-opt the softer edges of the offensive, often with the best intentions. But at the moment, a new assault has begun on many fronts, and seeing it as one action is the only way some of those fronts make sense. It is another of the brushfire wars we mentioned on Tuesday. And it’s leaving casualties.

We have Tea Party-ish astroturfed maniacs showing up at school-board meetings and raising insane hell. If you want to see the toll that takes, watch this video from Jennifer Jenkins, a school board member from Brevard County who has been threatened and harassed at work and at home by these people. From NBC News:

“I don’t reject people coming here and speaking their voice,” Jenkins, a supporter of masks in schools, said. “… I reject them following my car around. I reject them saying that they’re coming for me, that I need to beg for mercy.

“I reject that when they are using their First Amendment rights on public property, they’re also going behind my home and brandishing their weapons to my neighbors.”

And this is about mask mandates in the public schools. Except it really isn’t, anymore than all the bushwah about Critical Race Theory is really about a technique of legal analysis. (A lot of the latter is about racist attempts to whitewash American history, but that isn’t all of the reason, either.) These are all part of a multi-pronged, well-funded, coordinated attack on American public education. And in Georgia, another front just opened up, this time in the theater of public higher education. From Inside Higher Ed:

The proposed revisions, which would apply to every public four-year college in Georgia, were introduced just hours before the board’s September meeting, with the note that they’ll be considered for approval at the board’s Oct.12-13 meeting. Faculty members were taken off guard. While the university system has been rethinking post-tenure faculty review, which tenured professors currently complete every five years, the scope and severity of the board’s proposals go beyond what many had expected. Some of the changes aren’t about post-tenure review at all.

To many professors, the most alarming proposal is that a faculty member may not only be separated from the university for clear cause, but also reasons “other than for cause,” pursuant to other board policies. “Such other policies shall not be governed by or subject to the following policies on Grounds for Removal and Procedures for Dismissal,” the proposed change also says.

Yet another set of changes says that even as the board has delegated authority for tenure decisions to institution presidents, the board may claim this authority from any institution judged to be “insufficiently rigorous in its enacted of faculty review processes.” That’s until “institutional processes have been remediated.”

Need I mention that the Board of Regents, in whom these tenure “revisions” will invest great power, is largely a political institution? If not me, then maybe Peter Lindsey, who is a professor at Georgia State, can explain it better. From the Atlanta Journal-Constitution:

A quick glance at the current Board of Regents, the 19 individuals appointed by the governor to set the policies for those 26 campuses…They run a massive system of higher education, and yet none of them (let me repeat that, none of them) has any experience working in higher education.

The Board of Regents passed the new tenure regulations on Wednesday.

It is not about masks, or Critical Race Theory, or the 1619 Project. It is about a thoroughgoing assault on one of the last remaining redoubts of our political commonwealth, and to make that redoubt subordinate to political appointees of either the governors elected through voter suppression, and/or the state legislatures gerrymandered from hell to breakfast. And to the extent that it is not seen—or fought—as such, the assault will continue to succeed.

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