Author: suem

Where was Gov. Abbott when Holocaust denial became an issue in Carroll ISD?

Gov. Greg Abbott obviously believes the horrible historical truth about the Holocaust. Only a few months ago, he signed a new law creating the Texas Holocaust, Genocide and Antisemitism Advisory Commission, charged with producing studies of antisemitism in Texas and working with schools to fight against it. And last year, he delivered remarks in Austin to help commemorate International Holocaust Remembrance Day.

But Abbott was silent last week when a school administrator in Carroll ISD, overreacting to the new, so-called “critical race theory” law that Abbott promoted and signed, told teachers to put books with “opposing” views of the Holocaust – books by Holocaust deniers, in other words — in their classroom libraries.

The governor may have been surprised, but he shouldn’t have been. This result, although extreme, is what you can expect when a governor and his legislative allies enact a law deliberately designed to whitewash or soft-pedal the teaching of historical truths that make some people uncomfortable.

The new law was specifically targeted at the teaching of racism, part of a national right-wing crusade trumpeted by Abbott’s hero, Donald Trump, to feed more red meat to an under-informed, mis-informed, fearful and prejudicial political base.

But it is only a matter of steps – or an under-educated generation or two — from deemphasizing racism in our history and culture to forgetting about slavery or denying the Holocaust and the other well-documented Nazi atrocities of World War II. Carroll was just the beginning. There will be other school administrators and teachers (for fear of losing their jobs) who will overreact or misinterpret this law and start shortchanging their students. It is inevitable, and many of those incidents will go unnoticed.

Regardless of personal politics, the governor of Texas is supposed to be a moral leader for all his constituents, and Abbott, by neglecting to issue a strong public repudiation of the Carroll administrator’s reaction to his bad law, missed an opportunity to fulfill that responsibility.

But Abbott’s focus right now is not on most of his constituents nor on the quality of public education. It is on his party’s primary, in which he is being challenged for reelection by two right-wing fringe candidates. That primary is drawing closer, and it will attract some voters the governor doesn’t want to offend – such as Holocaust deniers and others who may be wondering what all the fuss was about.

Clay Robison

Vulnerable children are left to suffer following political act of bullying

Many political campaign practices have routinely become mean, but former state Sen. Don Huffines of Dallas, who is challenging Gov. Greg Abbott in next year’s Republican primary, may have stooped to a new low, bordering on cruelty, when he attacked the important, sometimes life-saving services the state has provided LGBTQ youth in foster care.

In response, Abbott practiced his normal brand of political cowardice.

According to a story in the Houston Chronicle (linked below), Huffines in late August took to Twitter to accuse the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services of “promoting transgender sexual policies to Texas youth.”

Huffines attacked the agency for including a section on its website that included a link to a suicide prevention hotline and other resources “dedicated to helping empower and celebrate” young LGBTQ people.

“These are not Texas values, these are not Republican Party values, but these are obviously Greg Abbott’s values,” Huffines said in a video circulated among his Twitter followers.

Within hours, the webpage was gone, Chronicle reporter Jasper Scherer wrote. And so was the entire website for the Texas Youth Connection, a division of Family and Protective services that helps young people find various resources, such as education and housing. Huffines took credit.

The agency still hasn’t fully explained why the page was taken down, but staff communications obtained by the Chronicle under an open records request indicated it was a reaction to Huffines’ attack.

Abbott, who appoints the agency’s commissioner and nine-member council, has not commented on the incident.

Ricardo Martinez, chief executive of Equality Texas, an LGBTQ advocacy group, said LGBTQ children are disproportionately represented in foster care and “face staggering discrimination and abuse.” He also noted a survey that found that LGBTQ youth who reported having been in foster care were almost three times more likely to also report that they had attempted suicide within the past year, compared to LGBTQ children who had never been in foster care.

“The state is responsible for these kids’ lives, yet it intentionally removed a way for them to find help when they need it most,” he added.

Huffines is a bully, and Abbott can be easily bullied – if he thinks it will help him win reelection. That is not leadership. It is another form of pandering to intolerance, one of Abbott’s specialties.

Meanwhile, some very vulnerable kids are left to suffer.

Prompted by Abbott primary challenger, Texas agency removed webpage with suicide hotline, other resources for LGBTQ youth

Clay Robison

Civics education hasn’t failed us; well-educated politicians have

Some prominent people continue to blame an alleged failure of civics education in our schools for the partisan gridlock and turmoil that is increasingly paralyzing our federal government and spreading to many states, including Texas, as well.

The latest to raise the issue is Robert Gates, the former defense secretary, CIA director and president of Texas A&M University. In a recent virtual conference and a follow-up interview with Politico, Gates suggested that if students learn more about how our system of government was designed to work, maybe they, as voters, will be less partisan and elected officials will rediscover the necessity of compromise.

“It seems to me that unless people understand how our system of government works – and the role of the Congress, and the role of the president – we can go astray,” Gates said.

The main problem, however, is not in our educational system. The biggest danger to our democracy right now is being orchestrated by well-educated politicians who know very well how our system of government is supposed to work but are undermining it by convincing misinformed and ill-informed voters that they can’t trust our elections. Faith in elections is the backbone of our democracy, but to them, the health of our democracy is less important than their own ideological or partisan advantage and their own political careers.

After Donald Trump started the big lie that Joe Biden had “stolen” last year’s election, Trump’s enablers – including some Texans in high office – immediately started helping him give credence to the lie in the minds of his angry followers.

Only hours after the deadly Capitol riot, 17 of the 25 Texas Republicans in Congress voted against certifying the election results that legitimately put Biden in the White House. U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz tried to delay the certification by calling for an “emergency audit” of elections results from Arizona and Pennsylvania. All these votes and delaying actions served to entrench Trump’s lie even deeper, feeding the conspiracy theorists and right-wing commentators, even after numerous judges and Trump’s own attorney general had attested to the validity of the election.

Cruz, incidentally, graduated cum laude from Princeton with a bachelor’s degree in public policy and graduated magna cum laude from Harvard Law School. He has had plenty of instruction in U.S. civics.

Perpetuating Trump’s lie even more, another well-educated Texan, Gov. Greg Abbott, recently signed a so-called “election integrity” law that was designed to make it more difficult for many of his political opponents to vote. And redistricting maps being advanced by Abbott’s well-educated allies in the Legislature will deprive millions of Texans of color of the level of political influence to which they are entitled because of their population growth as counted in the recent federal census.

This will undermine democracy even more, and it has nothing to do with how many civics classes anyone took in school.

Robert Gates: How civics education became a national security issue

Clay Robison

Virtual charters are getting a windfall, students are getting shortchanged

Virtual charter schools claim to specialize in education, but mostly they specialize in making profits with our tax dollars, and the pandemic is proving to be a windfall for them. Or, as one virtual charter executive put it, a “lasting tail wind.”

Contributing to that tail wind is the state of Texas, which has expanded its investment in virtual education through the Legislature’s recent enactment of SB15, which will allow school districts to receive state funding for virtual instruction for as much as 10 percent of their enrollments this year. The new law has some other restrictions, but – if the Legislature renews it in 2023 — it also will open the door to a broader expansion of virtual instruction after the pandemic subsides.

A recent report by the University of Colorado’s National Education Policy Center found that 63 percent of virtual for-profit schools – most of which are charters – were rated unacceptable by their states based on the most recent data available. They typically lagged behind other schools on such critical measures as student academic outcomes and graduation rates. And they had high student turnover.

But those failures haven’t dimmed the corporate enthusiasm for the tax cash cow, and that enthusiasm only increased after the pandemic struck in the spring of 2020.

“We believe the effects of COVID-19 will be a lasting tail wind to online education and especially to K-12’s business model,” one virtual company’s chief financial officer said in a call with investors at the outset of the pandemic, according to report by the Washington Post and the Hechinger Report.

The COVID resurgence has added to the virtual industry’s optimism. “A lot of the states that have spikes in delta variant, places like Texas, we just see sort of unprecedented demand,” another industry executive told investors in August.

For-profit virtual schools are spending millions of dollars marketing themselves to parents and seeing many more millions on tax dollars in return. Parents, concerned about their children’s safety while the pandemic remains dangerous, are signing their children up for virtual classes. Many, however, end up being disappointed and shortchanged. And their kids’ educations suffer because of minimal online instruction, under-staffing and other cost-cutting steps that emphasize profit over academic results.

Students learn best with in-person instruction. But while expanding online learning, Texas – namely Gov. Greg Abbott – has made in-person learning more dangerous for students and educators alike. Despite the advice of health experts and pleas of many local school officials, the governor has refused to rescind his order banning mask mandates in schools, even though some districts are defying him.

The more dangerous Texas schools remain, the more profits virtual schools will make.

Despite mediocre records, for-profit online charter schools are selling parents on staying virtual https://www.washingtonpost.com/education/online-learning-for-profit-schools/2021/09/23/8e4ecff2-1be3-11ec-8380-5fbadbc43ef8_story.html

Clay Robison