Month: <span>December 2016</span>

Ideologues promote ideology, not education or public service


As a general rule of prudence, it is better to try to avoid a disaster than have to clean up after one.

In theory, that may be what the Texas Association of Business (TAB) thinks it is doing now by drumming up opposition to Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick’s discriminatory bathroom bill. That’s the proposed law to make Patrick the bathroom monitor for 5.2 million school kids and countless other Texans under the hokey guise of “protecting” society.

In reality, there already is a disaster and TAB helped create it by supporting Patrick for lieutenant governor two years ago. Even as a state senator, Patrick was bad news for education, health care and a host of other important state services, but his influence was limited. Now, as the state’s No. 2 officeholder, Patrick is a disaster threatening to spread.

His bill to require the Big Brother of state government to dictate bathroom use is designed to appeal to Patrick’s right-wing political base by humiliating transgender kids. TAB fears such an obvious discriminatory law would cost Texas companies billions of dollars in lost business, as a similar law has done in North Carolina.

Reasonable people don’t want that to happen, but it is interesting to watch the business leaders scramble now after empowering Patrick in the 2014 election. They should have known then that he was first and foremost an ideologue dedicated to self-promotion, not real public service, but they promoted him as a champion of the Texas economy and education.

TAB said Patrick had “tirelessly led efforts to improve public education.” Baloney.

As a senator, Patrick voted to slash $5.4 billion from public schools, and he continues to lead efforts to undermine them with privatization gimmicks, including private school vouchers, which TAB encourages.

Tax cuts, not schools, were Patrick’s and TAB’s top priority during the 2015 session, and TAB was rewarded for endorsing Patrick with a 25 percent reduction in the state franchise tax.

You can argue, of course, that TAB leaders supported Patrick’s 2014 election bid because they were betting on the frontrunner, not because they agreed with all of his policies. To be sure, TAB leaders have opposed earlier discrimination efforts against gays and transgender people and opposed some of Patrick’s anti-immigration proposals, including the lieutenant governor’s effort to repeal in-state college tuition for some immigrant students. All of those measures were viewed as bad for Texas business.

Now, the business group’s leadership is distressed – and justifiably so — over the potential economic losses from Patrick’s bathroom bill. But tax cuts weren’t the only thing the business leaders signed up for when they signed up with Patrick. Patrick is an ideologue, and this is what ideologues do.






Trying to predict Congress’ mood on school vouchers


With most headlines out of Washington, D.C., these days ranging from absurd to gloomy to scary, an education headline from The San Diego Union-Tribune was remarkably upbeat.

“Why Trump education nominee’s agenda is dead on arrival,” it declared, atop an editorial predicting that the ambitious private school voucher program to be touted by Trump and his choice for Education Secretary, anti-public education billionaire Betsy DeVos, will be rejected by Congress.

The newspaper speculates that after the disastrous experience with the unpopular No Child Left Behind Act, which Congress overwhelmingly dumped in a bipartisan vote late last year, a congressional majority will be in no mood to reinsert itself so heavily into state educational policy again, at least not now.

In repealing No Child Left Behind, the newspaper wrote: “Republicans embraced the argument that federal micomanagement infringed on states’ rights. Democrats embraced the argument that No Child Left Behind’s obsessive focus on testing actually hurt schools.”

The editorial notes that Trump and DeVos want to create a $130 billion program, to be funded mostly by the states, to provide $12,000 vouchers to allow low-income children to attend private or religious schools.

“This would massively defund public school systems in states with considerable poverty, be they blue (California, New York), red (Texas) or purple (Florida),” the newspaper writes. “This isn’t going to happen.”

That prediction may or may not be overly optimistic. But even if Trump’s federal voucher program never gets off the ground in Washington, educators and parents in Texas still will be confronted with Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick’s obsession with vouchers.

Patrick has announced vouchers again will be one of his priorities for the upcoming legislative session, and public education advocates – including TSTA — are preparing for a tough, but winnable, battle.



A cowardly attack on academic freedom


You may never have heard of Charlie Kirk, but he is a rising star of conservative politics in America who is still in his early 20s. On his Twitter page, he calls himself a “proud capitalist, best selling author, Eagle Scout, blessed.”

He also is a political coward promoting cowardice among his generation.

Kirk is the founder and executive director of Turning Point USA, a conservative, non-profit organization seeking to educate college students about the “importance of fiscal responsibility, free markets, and limited government.”

There certainly is nothing wrong with that. Free and open political discourse is part of what the First Amendment is all about, a First Amendment that, so far at least, hasn’t even been trumped by the new president-elect. (Keep your fingers crossed, though.)

But Kirk also is using his organization to promote a form of modern-day McCarthyism designed to scare many students and their parents away from college courses taught by professors who are deemed “too liberal” to be exposed to young, impressionable minds.

Turning Point USA has created a website, Professor Watchlist, to name professors or college instructors throughout the country who “advance a radical agenda in lecture halls.” Kirk wrote in a blog post that “it’s no secret that some of America’s college professors are totally out of line” and should be exposed.

So far, about 200 professors and instructors have been listed, accused of promoting “leftist propaganda in the classroom,” on the basis of unverified, published material gleaned from various sources by Kirk and his colleagues, the self-styled arbiters of academic and political acceptability.

Finding the Second Amendment more important than the First, they even included on the watchlist one University of Texas at Austin professor for the alleged transgression of leading a petition drive to bar students from carrying concealed guns into classrooms. The watchlist falsely accuses the professor of violating the law. She didn’t. The extent of the campus carry law was still being debated when the petition drive was being conducted.

This, of course, is an attack on academic freedom. It also is a reminder of the Joe McCarthy era, when the demagogic late senator from Wisconsin claimed he saw a communist behind every tree and ruined the careers and lives of many writers and other prominent Americans whom he had blacklisted.

Perhaps more than anything else, though, this watchlist is an act of political cowardice. Kirk and his colleagues would love to keep their peers in a conservative echo chamber rather than let them be exposed to a variety of political viewpoints. Why?

Maybe they find it easier to discourage political debate than engage in it. Maybe they find it easier to stifle opposing viewpoints than defend their own.