If you want to know, up close and personal, the banality of evil, attend a school board meeting. With critical race theory and forced vaccination and masking all the rage, I did just that last night.
This board meeting wasn’t my first. When I was a kid, my dad ran for school board and won after a terrible teacher (a feel-good hippie) allowed one of my classmates to steal my work all year and put his name on it. Said teacher taught us second-graders macramé and little else. My family had moved from a high-performing school district to this less-than-stellar place. For about three years, I learned nothing new. My parents were incensed. So my dad ran for board treasurer, got elected, and promptly pissed everyone off. He cared about data and bottom lines, and when the district wanted a fancy new school, he pointed out the declining census and vetoed it. There is no political hate like local political hate, and my dad got plenty of it. He was vindicated when the population later declined and half the school was empty, but memories are short and gratitude for frugal public servants is difficult to come by.
Which brings me to the meeting last night in my current suburban Houston school district. I won’t name it here because what happened during the meeting is a microcosm of board meetings everywhere. There were the obligatory opening remarks, awards for staff, and minutes. Then there was an hour and half of public comment and the meeting was off to the races.
There were four categories of comments:
2) COVID masking/vaccines
3) Angry alphabet people
4) Personal vendettas
Parents allege that CRT, under some other name, is being taught in the district. Evidently, though this information is sketchy, teachers have already been given training. The district is currently slow-walking records requests. The CRT parents quoted Martin Luther King Jr. and some of the older community members who remembered when integration happened were horrified about the teaching. The most poignant speaker was the mom of a mixed-race child. She begged the school district not to teach this divisive curriculum under any name. The district was cleverly using CRT tenets and calling them something else.
The speakers were impassioned but, from my perspective, naive. I’ve had a couple kids go through the system, and the indoctrination is sometimes overt, as when one computer science teacher actively made fun of anyone who stupidly believed in God. But sometimes it’s subtle. The summer reading list my kids received, for example, is a heaping pile of politicized ideology. Classics? Nope. This has gotten worse over the years. CRT won’t be called CRT in the schools. There will be vague mushy terms for the same idea: that America is systemically racist and that some people are born bad. Parents should be confronting the teachers personally until laws can be made challenging junk curricula. Unfortunately, the damage is often done by the time parents find out about it. Expect teachers and districts to get sneakier.
A rumor had circulated in the district that the system was going to require unvaccinated children to mask and learn in separate (but equal!) rooms. These parents came fired up. Some were off-their-rocker conspiracy theorists. A couple, though, and especially one doctor, went meticulously through the data in the short time they had.
To a person, the school board members were terrified of COVID and the Delta variant. Later in the meeting, they asked the guy tasked with the district’s response about what could be done to mitigate the spread. The school district had a year of data and summer school data showing how safe in-person school was, and the leaders were still afraid. They have been receiving panicked calls from parents. My thought after observing this is that the less COVID-concerned parents need to be as active in reassuring the elected officials and supplying them with data to counteract the lizard-brain terror gripping so many.
Evidently, a school board member had said something on social media that offended the LGBTQ+ folks. The talking points included this: If the district really cared for all children, they’d put up a booth at the upcoming Pride festival/parade. There was lots of talk about the misery these children face. Some of the speakers also wanted the school board to kick off the offensive member who said these things.
A couple thoughts: There seems to be a notion that the high school years aren’t miserable and difficult for nearly everyone. In addition, an elected official is not suddenly unelected once he or she says something someone doesn’t like. Banning people from the public square has done a number on people’s expectations. They now think they can ban someone from public office, but the world isn’t Twitter and Facebook. Yet. Most days.
A high achieving middle-schooler got booted from first chair violin for the final concert so that another, less deserving kid got the spotlight. The charge against the teacher? Racism. The father of the accused teacher tearfully defended his daughter. The teacher has refused to meet with the parents of said kid. The father of the kid and then the kid himself spoke out against the teacher and racism.
All people in this situation are wrong. The teacher, a newbie, was likely unfair. She compounded the issue by refusing to meet with the kid’s parents. The parents shouldn’t be poisoning their child with the racism narrative. Life is unfair, pretty much on the daily. The kid should be told that life is unfair and to suck it up. There will be blind auditions someday, and then he’ll get a fair shot. Otherwise, music life is unfair life. Knowing the teacher at the next school the student will attend, I wanted to say to them, “Buckle up, folks, it’s about to get worse.” Alas, everyone is a victim now.
After the district’s citizens had lobbed their accusations, lamented their lot, appealed to authority, and stated their cases, most of the local citizens left during the break. I, on the other hand, stayed. The real issue was coming, and it was a doozy.
The teacher representative proudly smiled. She had good news to report. The good news? The district’s students’ standardized test scores had slipped but not as much as the state. PowerPoint slide after PowerPoint slide went by with the grim data. The school board members took this information in in stony silence.
This school district offered optional in-person classes from September of last year. The online classes were less ideal but not terrible. Some districts didn’t start back up until January. Those scores were abominable. Many school districts across the nation were out of school the entire year. Some plan restrictions for the 2021–22 school year. How will the students catch up?
Those who have argued that this generation is irreparably harmed seemed overly dramatic to me. After seeing just one year of data, I’m not sure I believe that now. I seriously wonder if what has been lost can be made up. Math, in particular, is cumulative, and the math scores were particularly bad. Losing that much ground is not easily remedied.
In this district, the teacher brought up a positive by pointing out that the district had only lost a tiny percent of its students. Some districts didn’t know where 40 percent of their students were anymore. There was no way to help kids who couldn’t even be found.
In the next breath, the school board discussed what to do about potential COVID outbreaks. Because Gov. Abbott banned mask requirements for public buildings, the school district couldn’t force masking. There was no plan, contrary to parent fears, of separating unvaccinated students. But the school board members had followed CDC guidelines in the past, and even though the current CDC guidelines are politicized, teacher union–influenced, and unscientific, the district would follow them if they could.
Not one healthy child in all of America has died of COVID. Masks in schools don’t prevent infection. Masks don’t keep teachers safer. But thousands, maybe millions of children, are being left behind educationally. And this younger generation is infected with something far more damaging than COVID: fear. Human beings are generally not very good at assessing risks. One example of that is the fear of flying versus driving. Driving is infinitely more dangerous, but flying inspires more fear.
Americans are afraid of the wrong things right now. They should be terrified by what is being done to the minds of their children. America is churning out fearful, victim-bully dummies. After the 2021 school year, the test scores are telling the story. Schools, if they’re teaching at all, are leaving behind the basics of reading, writing, and arithmetic and focusing instead on politically tinged minutiae. The meta-message is that perfect safety is possible and that any discomfort is unfair and should be combated.
CRT and COVID have galvanized parents and citizens. Local school board meetings are not the placid, boringly evil local bureaucratic exercises they have been. This is all to the good and will hopefully continue. School boards need to know that they’ll be held accountable for the education of children. In their quest to have absolute safety, they’ve been derelict in their core duty. While they consider closing down schools again, they need to be reminded of their purpose.
Attend a school board meeting. It’s especially important that informed people who don’t have children in the system attend and speak for those who can’t. Parents with kids in schools rightfully understand that what is said can, and sometimes will, be held against their child. It puts parents in a difficult situation: those with the most knowledge of what’s happening in the classrooms cannot speak about it lest their children be penalized. So attend school board meetings. Get to know these elected officials. Talk to them. Give them educational material to combat nonsense. Promise them your vote when they do something sensible and courageous.
While not all politics are local, local politics afford citizens an outsized ability to influence things if they just care enough to do so.