America's School Board Hearings are Getting Scary, but it's not the First TimeBreaking News
tags: far right, education history, School Boards, Local Politics
School boards are super local, highly accessible public entities on which citizens can focus their rage and frustration. Fed up with the coronavirus pandemic disrupting normal life? What easier target than the low-level officials struggling to keep area schools on track? It can be tough for an individual or a small band of people to command the attention of a member of Congress or a state lawmaker. But school board members are right there in the community — with meetings open to all! — just waiting to be screamed at. Think of it as open-mic night for the disgruntled.
For the average citizen, punishing or even replacing a school board member seems a much more manageable proposition than ousting a mayor or governor. Small surprise that, over the decades, conservative movements and groups — who tend to have a better grasp of the power of local politics than their liberal counterparts — have spearheaded large-scale pressure campaigns and board takeovers. The conservative strategist Ralph Reed, the former executive director of the Christian Coalition, once said he would “exchange the presidency for 2,000 school seats.”
Pretty much every era has its defining school battles. Last decade, the Tea Party organized pressure campaigns on boards and fielded candidates, with an eye toward starving education systems it considered bloated and focused on the wrong missions.
During the Clinton presidency, the Christian Coalition led a nationwide push to stock school boards with social conservatives as part of its broader effort to build a grass-roots army. The group even conducted training seminars for candidates.
During the 1960s and 70s, sex education was a major flash point. The civil rights era brought bloodshed over school desegregation along with the rise of all-white academies. In the 1920s, the Ku Klux Klan, as part of its nativist agenda, pushed school boards to jettison textbooks that spoke “slightly of the founders.” And at any given moment, someone somewhere is apoplectic over a textbook or novel that is part of the local school curriculum.
National political players are quick to latch on to issues that resonate. Remember when President Ronald Reagan was pushing for a school-prayer amendment? Republicans today, including many denizens of Trumpworld, are working overtime to keep their base spun up over critical race theory.
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