On Meet the Press Daily last week, Chuck Todd featured a small item about the 23 Democrats not planning on running for re-reelection to congress next year. Todd guessed such a high number expressed a lack of confidence in next year’s midterms, and his guest, University of Virginia Center for Politics Director Larry Sabato, agreed. “This is just another indicator that Democrats will probably have a bad year in 2022,” said Sabato, adding, “They only have a majority of five. It’s pretty tough to see how they hold on.”
On the full Meet the Press Sunday, Todd in an ostensibly unrelated segment interviewed 1619 Project author and New York Times writer Nikole Hannah-Jones about Republican efforts in some states to ban teaching of her work. He detoured to ask about the Virginia governor’s race, which seemingly was decided on the question, “How influential should parents be about curriculum?” Given that Democrats lost Virginia after candidate Terry McAuliffe said, “I don’t think parents should be telling schools what to teach,” Todd asked her, “How do we do this?”
Hannah-Jones’s first answer was to chide Todd for not remembering that Virginia was lost not because of whatever unimportant thing he’d just said, but because of a “right-wing propaganda campaign that told white parents to fight against their children being indoctrinated.” This was standard pundit fare that for the millionth time showed a national media figure ignoring, say, the objections of Asian immigrant parents to Virginia policies, but whatever: her next response was more notable. “I don’t really understand this idea that parents should decide what’s being taught,” Hannah-Jones said. “I’m not a professional educator. I don’t have a degree in social studies or science.”
I’m against bills like the proposed Oklahoma measure that would ban the teaching of Jones’s work at all state-sponsored educational institutions. I think bans are counter-productive and politically a terrible move by Republicans, who undercut their own arguments against authoritarianism and in favor of “local control” with such sweeping statewide measures. Still, it was pretty rich hearing the author of The 1619 Project say she lacked the expertise to teach, given that a) many historians agree with her there, yet b) she’s been advocating for schools to teach her dubious work to students all over the country.
Even odder were her next comments, regarding McAuliffe’s infamous line about parents. About this, Hannah-Jones said:
We send our kids to school because we went our kids to be taught by people with expertise in the subject area… When the governor, or the candidate, said he didn’t think parents should be deciding what’s being taught in school, he was panned for that, but that’s just a fact.
In the wake of McAuliffe’s loss, the “I don’t think parents should be telling schools what to teach” line was universally tabbed a “gaffe” by media. I described it in the recent “Loudoun County: A Culture War in Four Acts” series in TK as the political equivalent of using a toe to shoot your face off with a shotgun, but this was actually behind the news cycle. Yahoo! said the “gaffe precipitated the Democrat’s slide in the polls,” while the Daily Beast’s blunter headline was, “Terry McAuliffe’s White-Guy Confidence Just Fucked the Dems.”
However, much like the Hillary Clinton quote about “deplorables,” conventional wisdom after the “gaffe” soon hardened around the idea that what McAuliffe said wasn’t wrong at all. In fact, people like Hannah-Jones are now doubling down and applying to education the same formula that Democrats brought with disastrous results to a whole range of other issues in the Trump years, telling voters that they should get over themselves and learn to defer to “experts” and “expertise.”
This was a bad enough error in 2016 when neither Democrats nor traditional Republicans realized how furious the public was with “experts” on Wall Street who designed horrifically unequal bailouts, or “experts” on trade who promised technical retraining that never arrived to make up for NAFTA job josses, or Pentagon “experts” who promised we’d find WMDs in Iraq and be greeted as liberators there, and so on, and so on. Ignoring that drumbeat, and advising Hillary Clinton to run on her 25 years of “experience” as the ultimate Washington insider, won the Democratic Party leaders four years of Donald Trump.
It was at least understandable how national pols could once believe the public valued their “professional” governance on foreign policy, trade, the economy, etc. Many of these matters probably shouldn’t be left to amateurs (although as has been revealed over and over of late, the lofty reputations of experts often turn out to be based mainly upon their fluidity with gibberish occupational jargon), and disaster probably would ensue if your average neophyte was suddenly asked to revamp, say, the laws governing securities clearing.
But parenting? For good reason, there’s no parent anywhere who believes that any “expert” knows what’s better for their kids than they do. Parents of course will rush to seek out a medical expert when a child is sick, or has a learning disability, or is depressed, or mired in a hundred other dilemmas. Even through these inevitable terrifying crises of child rearing, however, all parents are alike in being animated by the absolute certainty — and they’re virtually always right in this — that no one loves their children more than they do, or worries about them more, or agonizes even a fraction as much over how best to shepherd them to adulthood happy and in one piece.
Implying the opposite is a political error of almost mathematically inexpressible enormity. This is being done as part of a poisonous rhetorical two-step. First, Democrats across the country have instituted radical policy changes, mainly in an effort to address socioeconomic and racial disparities. These included eliminating standardized testing to the University of California system, doing away with gifted programs (and rejecting the concept of gifted children in general), replacing courses like calculus with data science or statistics to make advancement easier, and pushing a series of near-parodical ideas with the aid of hundreds of millions of dollars from groups like the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation that include things like denouncing emphasis on “getting the right answer” or “independent practice over teamwork” as white supremacy.
When criticism ensued, pundits first denied as myth all rumors of radical change, then denounced complaining parents as belligerent racists unfit to decide what should be taught to their children, all while reaffirming the justice of leaving such matters to the education “experts” who’d spent the last decade-plus doing things like legislating grades out of existence. This “parents should leave ruining education to us” approach cost McAuliffe Virginia, because it dovetailed with what parents had long been seeing and hearing on the ground.
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