Bad news is coming for some of the members and candidates of local school boards: You’re poised to lose the election in about two weeks.
We all need to get ready for it.
Recent dust-ups at Cherry Creek School Board meetings over make-believe controversies like mask-mandates and critical race theory have made for the most acrimonious local election I’ve seen in going on four decades of having to watch this stuff.
It was destined to come to this. Starting back with Newt Gingrich’s “Contract With America” and the notoriously juvenile exploits of the Tea Party, politics from top to bottom has become increasingly pithy, calculating and cynical.
The reign of former Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell became the American political pinnacle of hypocrisy and Machiavellian menacing. That was, until Donald Trump dragged a level of deceit and corruption onto the political stage unparalleled in the country.
Over the years, and especially the last few years, this toxic political amalgam has percolated down through congressional races, legislative races and into city councils and school boards across the country.
In Cherry Creek, genuine people with at least a good helping of integrity are swept up in some kind of freaky kabuki show to appeal to noisy political bases. School board candidates Jenn Gibbons and Bill Leach are genuinely concerned and motivated parents who want to see changes made in the school district. These jobs don’t pay a dime, and the school board is hardly a stepping stone to a seat in Congress. They both clearly want to further empower local charter schools, and they’ve both made it perfectly clear they’re willing to at least wade through useless arguments about critical race theory and mask mandates.
In their remarks at campaign forums, to Sentinel reporters, and even in their own websites, both candidates use almost the same language that their opponents do.
“I am concerned about what has been happening in our District with Board Leadership and think that we need a stronger voice that better represents kids and the community,” Gibbons says on her website. She talks about greater “transparency.”
What she doesn’t directly talk about is a push to let some parents, who believe like she does, have a greater say in the district that affects all children. The Heritage Heights Academy charter school she helped start is a haven for parents of the far-right persuasion. It was admittedly fashioned after Liberty Common charter school in Fort Collins, run by former Congressman Bob Schaffer. Schaffer is a far-right Republican who believes right-wing trickle-down economics education-indoctrination solves everything. “The American Founders…wrote of the necessity for people to assume the “Station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God entitle them,” Schaffer says in his get-acquainted letter with Liberty Common parents.
I guarantee you most Cherry Creek teachers also cover philosophies of some great libertarian thinkers, but they don’t tell students which one is right or wrong. Charter schools like Heritage Heights employ “Core Knowledge” curriculum, which sounds like a good idea until you look under the hood. It’s not good for everyone.
It’s a trademarked “curriculum” employed by private and charter schools across the country, including Heritage Heights and Liberty Commons. Inventor Ed Hirsch says the curriculum focuses on teaching children, “the right kind of nationalism.”
It doesn’t take much to figure out what that is.
Does all this make Gibbons or Leach nefarious characters? No. They earnestly believe all kids would be better students and better people in systems like Liberty Common or Heritage Heights charter schools. But they should be forthright and direct about that, rather than couch it in terms of wanting to give parents more choice.
What they want is to give parents their choices, just like their opponents do.
One of those opponents, Kelly Bates, running for re-election, created a firestorm of controversy when asked if the all-female school board lacked diversity without a man on the board.
“We do not need a white man sitting on our board,” she said.
Immediately, her right-wing opponents accused her of being a racist. Bates is white.
What Bates said was flip and trite, but she clearly was trying to insist that white men have and continue to have a clear voice in the district.
And she’s right. She’s no racist, and making her appear one for her ham-handed retort only pushes the election further from the issues that really matter, such as truly underrepresented minority voices in the classrooms, in the administration and on the school board.
All this comes from the politicization of schools. It comes from the ridiculous idea that teachers can or want to mold your kids into becoming doltish communists or drooling Trumpers.
I’ve known and talked with hundreds of teachers. Trust me that they just want your kids to come to school, behave half-way decently, learn how to use a comma and learn to think analytically for themselves. OK, the comma part is actually my priority.
Nobody wants to turn your kid into anything more than someone who does their homework.
And if Gibbons or Leach win a seat on the board? They’ll learn just how transparent school board meetings and district operations really are if they try to muscle their two votes among five into turning the entire district into something Bob Schaffer would be proud of.
All this is an interesting debate, but it’s what should be the focus of the arguments about what candidates want for the school district, not the distractions and diversions we’re seeing.
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