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Maurice Cunningham is professor of political science at the University of Massachusetts. He specializes in unmasking Dark Money groups.
Radical Right Ramps Up War on School Boards, Superintendents, Principals, and Teachers
A new professedly “grassroots” group called Parents Defending Education has joined the right wing assault on public education. It combines white supremacy with a vicious plan to launch personal attacks on elected officials, administrators, and teachers. Just another day in corporate education reform.
This group says it is fighting to restore “healthy, non-political education for our kids.” What they mean is anything that critically examines America’s racial history or present. 1619 is out, Trump’s 1776 project to promote “patriotic education” is in. Ibram X. Kendi and anti-racism? Definitely out. Wally and the Beav, in.
Parents Defending Education is a campaign to direct and manage attacks on educators who candidly raise questions of race and the need for work and sacrifice to place America on the road to racial progress. When I first saw Parents DefendingEducation’s website my thoughts immediately turned to an extremist front named Campus Reform. It’s a slime factory funded by Charles Koch and other billionaires that gins up attacks on college professors—especially those who research and write about race. Professor Isaac Kamola of Trinity University has written an essential piece on intimidation campaigns in the Journal of Academic Freedom, Dear University Administrators: to Protect Your Faculty from Right-Wing Attacks, Follow the Money.
Most attacks are leveled against faculty of color, or those whose research and teaching focuses on issues of race. Most start with a handful of organizations explicitly created to monitor and intimidate college faculty (most prominently Campus Reform and the College Fix); from there they travel to sympathetic right-wing websites and news outlets (also created by activist donors committed to undermining public institutions like universities), before arriving at Fox News. Most attacks that gain traction involve college administrations sanctioning faculty and condemning their speech.
University administrators hear from legislators, alumni, local media, parents, etc. The professor attacked gets inundated with hateful email, phone calls, and social media attacks, including physical and death threats. Professors have had to cancel lectures; Trinity College closed down temporarily due to threats.
Campus Reform pays student “investigators” to inform on professors who raise what they see as controversial topics. (In one case I’ve worked on, a video tape was obviously edited. That failed to move administrators).
Parents Defending Education is asking parents to inform on their school boards, administrators and teachers. Here’s a sample from its Expose page:
“These are not easy topics: the indoctrination of children with divisive ideas, the hijacking of our schools, the politicization and corruption of our educational systems. That’s why it is critical to expose what is going on in our classrooms and school systems. There’s a reason people say sunshine is the best disinfectant.”
“At Parents Defending Education, we’re dedicated to investigating and exposing what’s happening inside our schools, and one of the best ways is to follow the money.”
Let me just pause here and issue the “Parents Defending Education Follow the Money Challenge”: who is funding you, Parents for Education?
From the Engage page:
“Why are our schools adopting destructive and radical “woke” curricula
“In order to begin reclaiming your school, you and other like-minded parents should also get organized. There many steps that you can take, from asking a question at school up through launching your own local parent organization. Below are some resources we’ve developed to help you get started — from using social media to expose what your school is doing to pitching stories to the media to asking tough, public questions of school officials. Everything you do helps to create accountability and oversight.”
Here’s a page for you to report an incident to Parents Defending Education. Why, the group might even include you in their litigation campaign!
Yes, you can not only trigger online intimidation and threats of physical harm on school board members, superintendents, principals, and teachers, but litigation too! Here’s a link to a civil rights complaint Parents for Defending Education filed against the superintendent of the Webster Groves School District of Webster Groves, Missouri. The key language from Parents Defending Education’s president Nicole Neily (Sourcewatch reports that “Nicole Neily has worked for many Koch-affiliated groups”):
“Attached to this complaint is supporting evidence in the form of a blog post written by the District’s Superintendent, John Simpson, on June 3, 2020. Simpson’s post asserts that that “inequitable systems and structures” exist “within our school district.” “
“Those inequitable systems and structures disadvantage “Black children,” according to Superintendent Simpson, and “[c]learly” require “much” more work to dismantle.”
And what was the occasion of Superintendent Simpson’s blog post that so enraged Ms. Niely? His heartfelt response to the police killing of George Floyd. I can’t make this up.
School board members, superintendents, principals, teachers, this is coming your way. I can’t predict the entire course of these attacks but I can tell you this: they’ll be well funded, with dark money.
[Full disclosure: as an educator in the UMass system, I am a union member. I write about dark money (and other things)].