An old prairie schoolhouse. Evocative, pondering the kids who were there and how their lives might have turned out (
by Dan Burns
Mar 14, 2023, 12:30 PM

Can right-wingers really “dumb down” a generation of kids?

First of all, no right-wingers attacking public education, from Betsy DeVos on down, see themselves as trying to “dumb down” anyone. Rather, they see themselves and their ideologies as containing all worthy knowledge, and public schools as less and less in tune with that, and that’s why they’re pushing big budget cuts and vouchers and privatization and so forth. That, and of course the possibility of strip-mining education for huge profiteering.

About ninety percent of U.S. kids attend public schools (though it’s unclear to what extent that oft-cited statistic includes charter school kids, as charter proponents insist that they count as “public,” too). Those new voucher programs popping up in some red states, in addition to existing ones, probably won’t change that significantly. That’s because in practice most vouchers end up going to well-to-do parents whose kids are already in private schools.

Most public school parents like their own kids’ schools. That’s the case even though far too many buy the bullshit propaganda, going back to the 1980s at least, about “our failing schools.”

It’s worth noting that attempts to start voucher programs have so far failed in Texas – yes, Texas, – due to legislators’ fear of parental backlash. It being Texas, some of that may be concern over star football players transferring to private schools. But that’s certainly not what it’s mostly about. Even a lot of politically conservative parents do have their limits.

And even moving a bunch of kids to private schools won’t necessarily have the effect conservatives expect. I know Catholic school graduates who as adults are very much “unchurched.” And politically progressive. (I know plenty of very cool and righteous “churched” progressives, as well.)

So, overall, right-wing efforts to undermine, privatize, and take over public education can perhaps be summarized as something like this:

…the maggot gnaws the cabbage, but it dies before it’s done…
War and Peace, Part 12, ch. 12

That said, real damage is happening. City schools are being pummeled by vouchers and charters. It’s going to take more time and effort to reverse that. And regarding my overall conclusion that efforts at a right-wing takeover of education in this country won’t succeed, I never believed that Trump could actually get into the White House, either. Until it happened.

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