Jennifer Berkshire: How Progressives Won the School Culture War—in New Hampshire!
In New Hampshire, Libertarians expected to further their assault on public education in the last school board elections. Instead, out of 30 pro-public education candidates, 29 won their race–often with huge turnouts and commanding margins. Jennifer Berkshire, went to talk to the folks involved and explains for The Nation how and why it happened.
It wasn’t supposed to turn out this way. For months now, Republican Party leaders have trumpeted their intention to run hard on parent grievances en route to routing the Democrats in the midterms. According to this narrative—partially based on the 2021 elections in Virginia, then endlessly echoed by Democratic pundits—parents frustrated over school shutdowns, Covid restrictions, and the focus on race and social justice in schools are the new swing voters, poised to flee the Democratic Party.
But in New Hampshire, where bitter debates over school masks and “critical race theory” (CRT) have dominated local politics for more than a year, the season of parent rage ended in a stunning sweep of school board elections last week by progressive public school advocates. “It was a complete repudiation of the GOP’s attempt to drive a wedge between parents and schools,” says Zandra Rice Hawkins, executive director of Granite State Progress. Of 30 candidates designated by the group as “pro–public education,” 29 won their races—many in traditionally “red” regions of New Hampshire. Across the state, culture warriors and advocates of school privatization lost to candidates who pledged to protect and support public education.
Instead of resonating with voters, the right’s efforts to weaponize cultural grievances appears to have alienated them. With the GOP poised to make the education culture wars a central focus of its midterm appeal, New Hampshire offers some clear lessons for Democrats.