September 7, 2022

Jeff Bryant: Advice from Netroots Nation

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Netroots Nation is an annual gathering of progressives. Like many such events it marked a return to a live in-person version this year, gathering in Pittsburgh. A wide variety of topics were covered, and among them were issues of public education.

Jeff Bryant, chief correspondent for Our Schools, a project of the Independent Media Institute, was there., and reported on several panels for The Progressive

Randi Weingarten delivered the final keynote, and while addressing the issues of book banning, offered an angle on the bannings that isn’t always brought up.

She also explained what is behind the right wing’s efforts to ban certain books in schools. Calling out rightwing efforts to ban books such as “Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl and books about Ruby Bridges,” she declared, “Why? Because [these books] create community. They create empathy … [and] they say to other children that this is what happens in another religion or another race when kids are oppressed, and let’s unify and fight that oppression together.”

Eleonore Wesserle described how to fight back in school board elections and ascribed other motives to right wing forces, as reported by Bryant.

She described how progressive candidates in school board elections in Minnesota effectively used a “freedom to learn” message to defeat rightwing candidates peddling a false narrative about schools indoctrinating children under the catchall umbrella of “critical race theory.”

“[Republicans] attack public schools because they want to make sure the next generation isn’t actually as educated as they could be and isn’t able to pursue their dreams,” she said. “They started with race-baiting, then gender-baiting and attacking trans kids.”

Another panel that included Jennifer Berkshire, Diallo Brooks and Susan Nogan looked at some of the problems of Democrat opposition to GOP education proposals.

The panelists pointed out that most of the education positions being pushed by Republicans, including privatization schemes and attacks on teachers and specific student populations, are widely unpopular and, when enacted, tend to alienate voters. Yet Democrats often fail to respond to the right’s agenda or even articulate a progressive vision for education.

A frequent mistake Democrats make, according to the panelists, is to talk about education either as a commodity that benefits only the parents of children attending public schools or as solely being about a narrowly defined concept of workforce preparation. Panelists recommended that Democratic candidates should instead focus on how society at large benefits from a well-educated population.

Democratic candidates should understand that Republicans have put schools at the center of the party’s culture war because they know their race- and gender-baiting will undermine faith in public schools and boost the rightwing agenda to shift money away from public institutions toward private enterprises.

There’s a great deal to process from the gathering this year, and Bryant has captured many of the highlights. Read the entire piece here. 

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