January 15, 2023

Nora De La Cour: Ron DeSantis’s Crusade Against “Wokeness” in Public Schools Isn’t Popular

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Writing for The Jacobin, Nora de la Cour explains that Ron DeSantis may not be the anti-woke juggernaut that some make him out to be.

Conservative talk show host Hugh Hewitt predicted a Republican earthquake in local school board elections.

To be sure, right-wing culture warriors did secure some meaningful school board wins, but Hewitt’s earthquake forecast proved wildly inaccurate. And this phenomenon was not confined to school board elections. Voters turned down local and statewide politicians who spouted transphobic conspiracy theories — like Moms for Liberty–backed Texas House candidate Michelle Evans, who claimed that schools are lowering tables for students who identify as dogs, or New Hampshire candidate for US Senate, Don Bolduc, who repeatedly suggested that schools are making kitty litter available to kids who identify as cats. Republican gubernatorial candidates who leaned into gender panic and Critical Race Theory obsession lost in Maine, Michigan, Kansas, Arizona, and Wisconsin — where county-level data showed how Republican Tim Michels’s extremist talking points repelled suburban voters.

Meanwhile, conservative West Virginians voted down a constitutional amendment that would have given the Republican-controlled state legislature more power to enact antidemocratic school choice policies. And in Massachusetts, New Mexico, Colorado, and California, voters supported ballot measures that increase public school funding.

All of this makes sense and was, dare we say, totally predictable. Which seems more probable: that secret majorities of Americans are terrified that students are eating from dog bowls and learning race-conscious math, or that not-so-secret majorities want high-quality, well-funded, fully-staffed schools for their kids and grandkids? Confirming the latter, a December poll from the National Education Association showed that in races where culture war topics became prominent, this emphasis tended to hurt the culture warrior candidates. And despite millions in related ad spending, “parental control” issues and voucher access were not ranked as important by most survey participants, including most parents. The poll also showed that Americans of both parties continue to view public schools favorably and that 71 percent of parents have positive opinions of public school teachers. Even self-identified conservative Republicans were five points more likely to see themselves as being in alignment with teachers than in opposition to them. Where education factored highly for voters, they reported being concerned about school shootings, inadequate K-12 funding, the threat of book and topic bans, and the need for “complete, honest” depictions of US history.

The bottom line: Democrats should expand on the model offered by people like Wisconsin governor Tony Evers, who called out Tim Michels’s plan to defund schools in the name of parents’ rights, or Michigan state senator Mallory McMorrow whose viral clapback to “grooming” accusations last spring noted that this discourse distracts from chronic disinvestment in public goods. They want you to fixate on pronouns, a pro-education campaign might point out, so you won’t notice that school buildings are crumbling.

There are reasons that DeSantis was a big winner in Florida, but they aren’t necessarily related to anti-woke public school attacks. 

Read the full piece here. 

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