585 Comments

Teacher unions are the principal mechanisms that turn normie suburban centists into right wingers. This has been true for a long time, going all the way back to when I was growing up in the 80s and the unions tried to eliminate gifted programs in favor of having the gifted kids do unpaid tutoring to the not-gifted kids as a "humbling learning experience"

I spent my entire 20s and early 30s as a Republican partly because of the nonsense I witnessed in public schools.

If you think teacher unions are good allies of science and reality - note that most of them opposed vaccine requirements, in the same manner that the cop unions did, until they got a ton of pressure upstream from mayors/governors in blue states. They are literally the left wing version of cop unions, who will justify, in bad faith, nearly anything that their worst performing member does.

Expand full comment

Shamelessly copy-pasting a comment I left back in August on Matt's teacher compensation article:

1. The employer-employee relationship isn't always adversarial, but unions are created to be adversarial. So a unionized industry will almost inevitably have adversarial relations, especially a large unionized industry. It's baked into unions' principal-agent relationship. They are duty-bound to maximize the best interests of their members, just as corporate CEOs are duty-bound to increase shareholder value and lawyers are duty-bound to zealously represent their clients. It's very difficult for them to moderate their advocacy for their principals' interests for the sake of the greater good. It's not impossible, but it isn't how the system is designed to work. Their default setting is to represent their principals' interests to the exclusion of anyone else's.

2. This doesn't mean unions are bad. We have lawyers and business corporations for a reason, and we have unions for a reason too. Sometimes we as a society have to mediate between two competing legitimate points of view, and we decide the best way to ensure a just result is to "arm both sides." It's like checks and balances in government. If both sides fight vigorously, hopefully the outcome will land on the best/most truthful spot in the middle.

3. Because the process is adversarial, it is always in unions' interests to refuse to do whatever management wants their members to do. It is by refusing to do whatever management wants that the union can demand that management pay the union's members to do that thing.

4. That's generally fine in the private sector, but in the public sector there are two complications. First, in the public sector it is management's (i.e. the government's) job to seek the good of society, not to increase shareholder value. That doesn't mean it always does that, of course - not by a long shot. But it is supposed to, and so it often does. Therefore, because it is in unions' interests to refuse to do whatever management prioritizes, it is generally in public employee unions' interests to refuse to make any changes that would benefit society. Second, management also has a principal-agent dynamic, and while its agents (i.e. politicians) do have an incentive to seek the good of society, its principals (i.e. voters) don't always place the *highest* priority on that. So when push comes to shove, you'll often find that management would rather not pay unions extra to agree to stronger accountability for bad apples, but instead would rather lower taxes. In other words, if you "arm both sides" in the public sector hoping they'll eventually land on the most societally beneficial settlement, you may be disappointed.

5. This does not mean that public employee unions are bad. If they didn't exist at all, their members could be exploited. It does mean, however, that you shouldn't be surprised when they oppose changes that would require their members to do good things. That is, in fact, what you should always expect them to do.

Expand full comment

That is an excellent summary, but I’m going to disagree with point 5. Public unions are bad. As a lifelong Chicagoan, public sector unions of every kind, transit, teachers, police, fire run counter to the interests of taxpayers / reformers every single time.

As a Democrat, I was viscerally against Scott Walker’s anti-union push back in the 2000s. In retrospect, it’s unfortunate he didn’t also include the GOP’s police union, because otherwise that would have been Wisconsin’s greatest achievement.

Expand full comment

It is not the job of Teacher's(or other) Unions to benefit taxpayers. That is the job of the school district who negotiates their contract. The job of the union is to serve its members.

Expand full comment

That is correct. And that is exactly the issue. It’s members interests often are out of alignment with the public good.

Expand full comment

It's a great excuse to get mad at Teacher's Unions. Just like it's a great excuse to get mad at your cheese grater for being shitty at opening cans.

Expand full comment

I would indeed get mad at my cheese grater if it regularly lobbied to make it illegal to own a canopener

Expand full comment

That may seem witty to you. In my city, parents have dealt with two lengthy strikes and an extended school shutdown, very much driven by the CTU, even after data on transmission rates in school with preventative measures showed very low risks (not to mention low risks to children, period.)

So I am very much angry at the cheese grater for only wanting to grate cheese under its very specific set of conditions.

Expand full comment

The problem is the unions are helping to elect the politicians that then approve the rate increases.

IE this is corruption at it's finest

Expand full comment

Electing politicians that support your priorities is not in and of itself corruption. Is Republicans electing politicians who cut taxes corruption?

Expand full comment

yes at times there is corruption on the other side as well. I'm very willing to admit that crony capitalism is a problem.

But giving money and helping to elect politicians who then turn around and give you tax payer money so you can give the politicians their cut is IMHO corrupt.

There should be no public unions (I'm totally fine with private ones)

Expand full comment

I don't understand how you think this an argument that would convince anyone. First off, the idea that you think sworn public servants aren't designed to benefit citizens is utterly surreal. Some of them, LEO & firefighters, literally take an oath to do so. If teachers wanted to maximize their earnings or job security they could've become investment bankers or something. They deliberately became public servants to help children & families, so it makes sense that we would hold them to some kind of social benefit standard.

If they're not benefitting society but simply themselves, no problem- we can cancel their union contract, mass fire all of them, and hire new teachers who will.

Try to visualize it this way- I'm a member of the 'taxpayer's union'. It is not the job of the taxpayer's union to benefit teachers. The job of the taxpayer's union is to serve its members. Does that kind of make sense?

Expand full comment

In order for this to be realized, the government/public has to view any gains by the union as negatives that should be fought against because anything that the union gets for free will mean their costs are otherwise higher.

Do we really want this adversarial approach?

Expand full comment

I have argued this before. I think that union negotiations are adversarial by their very nature. The problem is that boards of education are trying save money by offering vast amounts of power to the unions. I think this is dumb. I would even be in favor of legislating that they may not negotiate away their own responsibility.

Expand full comment

I think there is a difference between a private company employees having an adversarial relationship with a companies' management and public sector employees having an adversarial relationship with the public's representation.

Expand full comment
Comment deleted
Expand full comment

What you're missing is what the services are like in places that don't have public employee unions. Like there are several states where teachers unions either don't exist or are completely neutered, and I doubt you'd be any happier with the performance of schools (or transit or whatever) in states like that.

Expand full comment

People who think that red states are much better at the whole 'running schools' thing should check out how great the school system is in Oklahoma, it's a real treat.

Expand full comment
Comment removed
Expand full comment

I mean wealthy areas having good schooling outcomes is basically a given, no matter where you are located.

Expand full comment

I disagree. UPS is unionized and that is good. But if all of a sudden UPS was absorbed by the USPS, I would like the union to survive

Expand full comment

Agreed for most of this, but you missed an important point. The unions are helping to elect the politicians that then give the union members raises, who then donate to the politicians and on and on.

No I don't believe we should have public unions, or if we do. There role should be REALLY limited. Probably just pay and benefits. They shouldn't be serving in a role to protect bad cops, or bad teachers. If we did that it would only be the tax payers getting screwed.

Expand full comment

Something I think that you imply but don't straight up say:

Because unions exist to zealously advocate for their members per se (and that's fine), it's bad for people and political movements to uncritically embrace and boost the positions of unions.

Expand full comment

Sounds fair.

Expand full comment

This is excellent!

Expand full comment

Thanks!

Expand full comment

It's easy to blame unions, but note that public unions really only have the power to 1) force employees to join the union and charge dues, and 2) strike. And in many states, they are legally forbidden to strike. All of the things we complain about are in their contracts, which are agreed to by elected representatives whom we elect. Of course unions advocate for less oversight and higher pay, but they have next to no power to actually impose those things -- the people have that power. They should write better contracts!

Expand full comment

They also have the power to get school board members, state superintendents of education and state legislators elected, through their donations and campaign canvassing troops. Those elected officials, in turn, make decisions that benefit them.

Expand full comment

That sounds like a nice pat answer, but principal-agent problems rule everything around us.

Expand full comment

I think this is going a little too far. Cop unions will justify murdering unarmed civilians. I haven't seen a teacher union do that yet

Expand full comment

What about the damage bad teachers, protected by their union, do to a whole generation of children?

Expand full comment
Comment removed
Expand full comment

Yes. Recent moves in SF to do this here reminded me of it.

Literally, the maximalist position of some of these union leaders is to turn the job into a ghost payroll patronage op.

Expand full comment

So... what governments across the developing world are trying to put a stop to?

Good, I feel much better about saying "public sector unions bad" with no caveats or asterisks now.

Expand full comment
Comment removed
Expand full comment

Looking at how Philadelphia's City Council and San Francisco's School Board run, I'm not sure there's a good answer there.

Expand full comment

Yes. This is absolutely what happens. My 15 year-old is pretty bright. When she finishes her work early, she is expected to help the other kids.

Expand full comment

It’s ironic, that all the replies to this initial reply by me sort of illustrate why swing voters like me would vote Republican because of progressive democratic viewpoints.

I understand all the debate below. But stepping back, is it unreasonable for parents to just want their kids to be taught well. If you are a suburban parent, and your kid is spending a decent amount of time helping other kids instead of learning, no amount of justification is going to make that OK with them.

Their natural instinct is… Put my kid into a different class with students of the same ability so that they can learn at a faster pace.

It is perceived that Democrats are against that, therefore if they feel the governor is going to advocate for something they want… They’re going to switch parties.

Expand full comment

Rory, can you elaborate on what you see as the "progressive" viewpoints in this thread that would make someone (not already decided) choose to vote Republican? Granted, I lean progressive but this feels like you had prejudged.

My view would be that Republican's efforts to "starve the beast" have left schools short staffed and unable to provide both for the average student and for the gifted.

Expand full comment

I am not sure if progressive is the right word.

Parents in general want their kids to succeed. They want what's best for their kids. They don't care about education gaps. They care how their kid is doing. Whether their kids is learning to his or her potential.

Most parents (middle class types) feel that education should be about the base R's. They are willing to accept a certain amount of non basics curriculum, but only if it doesn't hurt their own kid.

In general parents believe gaps are bad (which they are), but they have a suspicion that the progressive unspoken view is that progressives would like to reduce education gaps by holding back high achievers.

Evidence: Everyone in this thread feeling I am unreasonable that I would prefer my high achiever to learn more or faster instead of tutoring other kids.

- The move to eliminate tracking in math classes in California (I think its California).

- The move to eliminate magnet schools and or gifted programs.

- The move to get rid of test scores for those schools in NYC.

- The way not having schools in session was justified by the left.

-----------------------------------------------------------------

Now yes. Democrats are generally better with school funding. But As Matt pointed out... Republicans are the party of Parents. Us parents see a lot of waste and mismanagement in schools. The typical middle class parent (remember we are talking swing voters here) goes into their kids school and its pretty nice. Funding isn't as big an issue.

Yes, you right that Republicans in some areas have tried to starve the beast... but that's only because they sort of feel that schools strayed from what they believe the core purpose should be (3 R's).

But in places like Virginia... the parents are generally progressive or at least moderate. However given all the other issues that Matt and I have mentioned... they are willing to vote for a moderate Republicans who hits on the key things they care about.

Did this answer your question?

Expand full comment

I am not sure it answers my question. It does satisfy me. Is it your impression that Republican's were the party of parents prior to this year? That was not my impression but I may well be wrong.

I absolutely _do_ agree that the Democrats seem lost and are bleeding voters right now. That union decisions on covid are black eye as is the handling of CRT. I guess agree that progressive handling of parents concerns may be problematic in general.

Addressing your list from my own perspective rather than plumbing the thread below:

1)I would be shocked if any member of this community didn't think that a kid who was sharp enough to be done with 75% of the time left, oughtn't be moved into a more challenging environment. My thoughts were that the teacher lacks the power to do that and that existing her to assist seemed not unreasonable. If there were advanced classes available and she opposed them, she should be sued and then fired. I am glad you found a suitable environment for her. I hope she excels.

2)I have no idea about tracking in math classes. My dad is a super left wing union organizing S.F. bay HS teacher and he never ceases to be amazed by the idiocy that occurs in some school boards.

3)The move to eliminate magnet schools. This is tough. Obviously with a fixed fiscal pie you have to make difficult choices. The optics are atrocious without them being spun by the opposition. And they are even worse when spun by the opposition.

4)NYC - No idea.

5) Justification of school stoppages - I am guessing we're talking covid. My thinking is that unions back teachers and that there are always a few dumb(or excessively risk averse) teachers (just like every other occupation). If I was running a union I would probably support my teachers and support stoppages just to keep the members from tearing each other to shreds. As a Democrat it seems disastrous and I strongly oppose it. As a parent I would be in school board meetings asking for consequences to be imposed.

Expand full comment

Also... I spoke to my daughter... told her about this argument. She actually said that when she was in Middle School, the teacher would actually have her grade other kids tests, and that helping other kids was at least better than that.

Expand full comment
Comment removed
Expand full comment

I think this is fine if the school *asks* them to do this, and not fine if the schools *makes* them do it (and eliminates other programming so that they no alternative).

Expand full comment

There is a power imbalance. Do you think my daughter at 15 has the choice to say no to a teacher who makes it clear... "go help blah, blah, blah with their homework"

Expand full comment

I think you could have it as a "tutoring club" or something where it's not being assigned to you by your actual teacher.

In my high school there was a program where you could go around to the elementary schools and tutor some kids after school. You didn't get a grade for it and no one felt pressured to do it. I think I only ever went once but nobody cared. You did it to get honor society points or to put it on your college applications.

Expand full comment

This is happening in the middle of class. Multiple classes.

You get time to work on something... random worksheet in whatever subject.

My daughter finishes quickly... hands the paper to teacher, teacher says to go help other kids.

She isn't learning anything more... she already knows whatever it is... she literally just did the assignment.

Basically she is just expected to explain what she already know to other kids.

The way it actually works though, is she is de facto just giving the other kids the answers.

If she wasn't doing this, she would go back to her desk, and read, or do homework in another class, or maybe do future assignments.

This last year she transferred to the South Carolina Governors School for Science and Math... highly selective public boarding school. (Basically a magnet school)

She no longer has to be an unpaid teacher... but this is exactly the sort of advanced gifted program that people are trying to get rid of.

Expand full comment

Hmm. I don't think this is actually a bad thing, IF there is also some venue for enrichment on top of it. It is well-demonstrated that teaching a particular concept gives people a deeper and more intuitive understanding of that concept. Having a gifted student teach other students is not only for the benefit of the other students, and peer teaching is an effective learning tool.

Expand full comment

Expecting free labor is bad.

My daughter would rather spend that time learning more things instead of dumbing down things she already knows.

She does not enjoy it... she does it because she doesn't want the teacher to be be mad at her.

Expand full comment

The entirety of school is based on students doing work for free, including many things they do not want to do, so I'm not sure either of those arguments really make sense here.

The only relevant question is whether teaching the concepts to other students is or is not beneficial to both students. My understanding is the data is favorable on this question, or at least, the official position of education schools is that it is. If it isn't actually beneficial, of course, that would be a good reason to stop doing it, but the fact that your daughter finds it boring does not, in itself, mean that it is a bad idea.

Expand full comment

No. She does not learn from helping other kids do Algebra... she is (or was) already getting A's in Algebra. She is not learning anything new.

She is basically just giving the answers to the other kids. But in a step by step way.

This last year she got accepted to a public boarding school that is highly selective for math and science.

She no longer has to help the other kids, because everyone is advanced.

She loves it way more. Is learning way quicker.

This is exactly the sort of school / program that some districts are trying to eliminate.

Expand full comment

Is this pedagogy beneficial for the brightest students or for median students, is the useful question?

If the latter, which I have some reason to believe, albeit only anecdotally, then this justification falls apart.

If even the brightest still benefit from teaching the material, then fine.

Expand full comment

How many hours a day should kids be asked to do that?

As one strategy among many, it’s probably fine. But if half or more of each class period is devoted to that, don’t you think that’s a little unfair?

Expand full comment

More sides to this than Rory lets on. Free labor is bad, we all agree $15/hour. Learning stuff is good. Should we be paid for it or do it because we like learning. Getting on with other humans is also a useful skill, and we should we only do it if we're paid for it. Quickly gets complicated. I hope his daughter loves schools, learns enough to be the next Einstein and doesn't kick down her dumber classmates.

Expand full comment

She does love school. And skipped 10th grade to be accepted to a public math and science boarding school in which she is loving. She still helps fellow students, and they occasionally help her. That is because they are all on the same relative level.

And my daughter would never ever talk bad about a student who was less academic then her. She is your typical young bright inclusive liberal with a diverse friend group.

Expand full comment

Can we unionize the kids then, since in this context, they are now workers?

Expand full comment

Is your claim that students can never do anything that is beneficial to other students without being compensated? Should smart kids not be allowed to participate in group projects without being compensated?

If the teaching is beneficial to the student who is doing the teaching, then it is a learning strategy, i.e., it is appropriate for school.

Expand full comment

These aren't group projects. She is simply helping the teacher do their job with no added benefit to herself.

She gladly does group projects (where she normally does an outsized share of the work.. .but we have no issue with that).

Expand full comment
Comment removed
Expand full comment

lol, putting that quote in my file of "wpps, said the quiet part out loud".

Expand full comment

After having read this entire sub-thread, I have a comment. I think that this type of thing can benefit her and if it isn't then the failure is in the teacher's ability to properly motivate or instruct her as to how she teaches.

One of my strongest skills is in communicating complex topics to lay audiences. As a young teen I used to try to explain Godel's Incompleteness Theory to random people on the public bus on my way to middle school. I believe that to a significant extent, this skill was honed by growing up with a (high functioning) Down syndrome brother (2 years junior).

Teaching, teaching is valuable. If the teacher is doing it poorly then that is poor teaching on their part. It does not seem to me that it is any kind of injustice perpetrated by the school system. (Assuming that the person being asked to do so is asked after finishing their studies but still on class time)

Expand full comment

Totally disagree. Not every kid wants to become a teacher. It’s fine for those who enjoy it, but not in place of having kids learn themselves.

Expand full comment

Not every kid wants to become a mathematician. We still teach them that. I am not a teacher. I am an engineering manager. Being better able to explain things benefits everyone.

I would even argue that being better able to explain things forces one to more thoroughly understand them.

Expand full comment

I’m a “stats manager” let’s call it, and sure, yeah explaining is a valuable skill. It’s a question of proportion and time allocation. If this is something that happens for an hour or two a week or in a thoughtful way in a specific context, then, yeah, it’s good.

When kids learn for themselves for the first 10-15 minutes of each class then spend the remaining 45 minutes teaching others or sitting around, then that’s a serious problem and a failure of the education system.

Expand full comment

Hey... I actually spoke to my daughter an hour ago... told her about this whole debate.

Apparently in Middle School, the teachers would have her grade other kids tests... she said helping the kids was at least better than that.

I also think everyone misses, that I am talking about where she was 12 and 13 years old. She was 14 during Covid. 15 Now and she is in a math and science magnet school.

Expand full comment

I guess my issue is is that the time she is spending helping the other kids is inefficient.

The teacher is using her to make her job easier. All the talk about it be good for her is basically bullshit.

I know this because during Covid she was able to do self paced classes, and basically did two years in one.

She loved it. She learned Way more than she would of in typical classrooms.

If the school catered to kids like her, the education gas would be even larger than they are now. So they don’t do that. We’re only do it in a limited amount.

Of course they end up with the issues of what to do with these kids. They can just have them sitting around… So they used to make their job easier. They justify it by saying that she is actually learning something. Explaining concepts… Etc.

But I’ll say it again… Whatever benefits she gets from explaining stuff to other kids, pales compared to the marginal cost of not learning new stuff at a pace she is capable of.

Expand full comment

I would absolutely be annoyed(or possibly pissed) if I thought a teacher was using my child to try to make her job easier.

Expand full comment

Yes, the teacher is using her to make her job easier. (I'm a former teacher.) It's part of her job to have something for "early finishers" to do.

Expand full comment

Agree. It's poor teaching.

Expand full comment

Was this written by a teacher? Really eye opening if it was.

Expand full comment

Engineer/Engineering manager but son of 2 teachers (one was treasurer of a large school union)

Expand full comment

When you put it that way, I feel slightly more mixed--society would probably be better overall if more people behaved this way! When I get done shoveling my sidewalk, if my neighbor is running behind (especially if they're old or infirm), of course I'll go help out.

But I can't ask you to commit your kid's well-being in this way. Tragedy of the commons, etc.

Expand full comment

You choose to help your neighbor. My daughter doesn't choose it at all. She is expected too.

If she didn't have to, she would spend her time doing homework in other classes or reading and learning more.

Expand full comment

If it were my daughter, I would discuss with the teacher or maybe the principal first. But, before doing that, I would do my homework. Google "Is it best instructional practice for early finishers to be required to help other students?" I didn't see anything that said it was a good practice. Bring that with you to the principal or teacher.

I suspect the teacher is in need of some professional development on her instructional practices.

Expand full comment

I mean, sure, kids should help other kids. But not as the stated policy, and certainly not as a replacement for a gifted program in order to presumably equalize outcomes.

Expand full comment

Absolutely, on balance it is horrible, horrible policy. Didn't want to imply otherwise.

Expand full comment

A conundrum. What's better for the smart kid, learning more stuff or helping other dumber kids. What's better for society? The smart kids gave us nukes, but also much more productive agriculture. They also taught us how to pump hydrocarbons from earth to make life so much more pleasant, except yikes we're toast because life became so much more pleasant we're micro-waved.

Expand full comment

Former teacher here. A good teacher provides what's called differentiated instruction, where not all students are doing the exact same thing. It's much more labor-intensive (and that's why good teachers should be paid more), requiring more lesson planning, more variation in instructional techniques, and lots of assessment which informs the lesson planning, and on and on.

In such a teacher's classroom, the only time the smart kid finishes before the dumber kids, as you put it, is during testing. Early finishers take out their free choice reading.

Expand full comment
Comment removed
Expand full comment

This last year she applied to the South Carolinas Governors School for Science and Math. It's a public boarding school for 11 and 12 graders. Highly selective. Top school in the state.

She applied as a Freshman because she was basically fed up being held back in normal classes.

Not only was she accepted (skipped a grade)... she is kicking ass and loving it.

No more helping other kids as a requirement. Now its a bunch of advanced kids helping each other actually learn.

Expand full comment

At least presumably as a TA you get a stipend!

Expand full comment

I read it as a TA asked a student(FrigidWind) to do it, not that a teacher asked a TA(FrigidWind) to do it.

Expand full comment

Happening right now, and there is no sense that it’s a problem.

Quite to the contrary, this is what I was told on many school tours when I asked what they do do kids who finish faster or master the material more quickly - they can check their work and if they’re satisfied they can help others, because teaching other kids is a great way to learn. Also my entire public school career.

Expand full comment

Throughout the Trump Administration, there was a constant refrain that he was gaslighting us. I think that it was sometimes true, but a lot of times it was clear that he was just bullshitting and didn't care if anyone believed him. This is a bad thing for the President to do, but at the same time, isn't really what the term "gaslighting" means. I always interpreted gaslighting as referring to a circumstance where you try to convince someone that you are more reliable than their own eyes.

Applying this definition, I have rarely felt as gaslit as I have in the context of the "CRT" debate. As pointed out in this article (and in the regular emails I receive from my kid's schools DEI advisor), it is clear that something is going on in the schools. However, the party line seems to basically be "nothing to see here, definitely no CRT, that's just taught in law schools, if you believe that, you must be racist" followed by DeBlasio banning advanced math, and Nicole Hannah Jones tweeting that if you don't feel shame for all of the awful things the US did decades or centuries before you were born, you're an immature asshole.

Ultimately, I think that systemic racism continue to be a problem in the US and schools in particular and its worth looking into ways to fight this problem. I also think that it is important to teach the bad things the US has done, along with the good. However, when people pretend the idea that CRT (or rather some sort of DEI/anti-racism program which most of the country now associates with CRT) is in schools, rather than defend the particular programs on the merits, I find it frustrating and politically suicidal (see e.g. VA).

I always balked at claims of a "liberal media." I think for most of my life these claims really were just GOP objections to reporting on facts which objectively supported liberal positions. However, over the past few years, and the past year or so in particular, between this, denials that "cancel culture" is a thing, and a few other issues, it increasingly seems like more and more media outlets have switched from Julia Galef's scout mindset to her soldier mindset on a lot of issues, and I've really lost faith in a lot of outlets I used to read. I know that I am now way more skeptical of anything I read in Slate, or Vox or hear on NPR than I ever was before. I really hope that this current bubble pops soon.

Expand full comment

I did read a number of real, early-ish, CRT papers during an abortive attempt to major in sociology a couple decades ago. It was a confusing and demoralizing experience - they were simultaneously vague, densely referential, and over-elaborated in a way that made it frustratingly impossible to extract any underlying explanatory idea or concrete implication. Lots of "lenses" and "constructs." Later, more worldly and cynical, I recognized the writing style as "theory paper grist for the tenure mill," in which the trick is to appear erudite and topical without saying anything clear enough to be provably wrong. So yeah, that stuff obviously isn't taught in high schools. (And shouldn't be taught anywhere!)

But come on, Democrats and media members! You know perfectly well the types of school activities parents are complaining about when they complain about CRT. If you think those activities are defensible (many are!), then defend them. Performatively failing to understand the complaint, on the grounds that people picked an imperfect term to use when complaining, is totally unconvincing. And it looks elitist and rude - just seizing an opportunity to suggest that you know what CRT means and the complainers don't.

Expand full comment

"You know perfectly well the types of school activities parents are complaining about when they complain about CRT. "

What are they? I hear parents complain about CRT, but then when we walk the list of things that are happening in the school they don't have issue with any one of them. But still have issue with CRT in the school.

Expand full comment

See "Questionable DEI initiatives" subheading in the article we're all commenting on. "Questionable DEI initiatives" is a much better bucket term than "CRT" - broad enough to encompass both curricular and administrative interventions - but that's why Matt makes the big bucks as a writer I suppose.

Expand full comment

The problem is that what Matt writes about is NOT what most parents are complaining about. Or maybe more accurately, that's what they say they are complaining about, but none of it is actually happening at their school. I'm sure there are schools where it is happening. Just like I'm sure there are still schools that say states rights had nothing to do with slavery. But they are lightning rods, not anything near the common case.

If the issue is "Courageous Conversation" training -- then I think we can get most people onboard with dismantling that. If the issue is reading Beloved or about Ruby Bridges or the impact of the FHA on POC in urban housing then I think we have an issue.

That said, I agree -- questionable DEI initiatives is a way better term and something I think myself and other progressives could get behind.

Expand full comment

"but none of it is actually happening at their school"

You mean except for things like the 1619 project who's primary narrative is that the purpose of America is racism?

https://dc.medill.northwestern.edu/blog/2020/07/21/the-1619-project-curriculum-taught-in-over-4500-schools-frederick-county-public-schools-has-the-option/#sthash.9lpfavcR.dpbs

Or anti Asian attempts to transform the gifted schools in New York or Virginia?

Or all the schools that suddenly have departments of equity and inclusion???

Expand full comment

"You mean except for things like the 1619 project who's primary narrative is that the purpose of America is racism?"

This is a great example, one of the most outspoken critics of it, Wilentz, said this, "Far from an attempt to discredit the 1619 Project, our letter is intended to help it.” Are there factual mistakes in it, almost certainly, but even amongst historians that take issue with it, they tend to agree with the general direction. I take much less seriously those people that try to take down the 1619 project as a whole.

Here's an article from the National Review about how the perception of what happened in Virginia is wrong: https://www.nationalreview.com/corner/no-virginia-did-not-eliminate-accelerated-math-courses-because-equity/

Again, I note that this is from the National Review, not some crazy left wing journal like the NY Times. ;-)

And even in the case of NYC, I'd grant those parents the right to complain -- again, for most parents no such thing is happening.

Lastly, what is the problem with having DEI programs at schools? Is it so bad to have DEI at our schools now?

Expand full comment

I missed the part in your link that said racism was the purpose of America.

Expand full comment

I think there is a fair case to be made that "CRT" is not exactly the right terminology, and is in fact being used by right-wingers to conflate a bunch of things so that normie parents and far-right racists feel OK about joining forces since they think they're fighting a common enemy.

However, it would be a more intellectually honest *and* politically effective response to disaggregate the various trends that "CRT" might refer to, concede that some of them are bad, and throw those overboard. Instead, progressives are trying to skate by with their own conflation because they want to keep the bad stuff in place without having to defend it on its merits. So they limit their response to "that stuff isn't CRT" (technically defensible, but misleading and ultimately counterproductive).

Expand full comment

I agree that what most people mean when they say "CRT" isn't what was originally meant by CRT, and that the Right (and Ruffo in particular) intentionally conflated a bunch of things. However, I'm not sure that is really a fight worth having.

Essentially all of the efforts to explain this have come across as a disingenuous attempt to score rhetorical points while avoiding defending the merits of the attack. It's like when Conservatives object to "assault weapons" bans on the grounds that an AR-15 isn't technically an assault weapon. I'm not sure that either argument is convincing anyone other than a judge at a debate competition, and probably does more to undercut than advance the persuasive portions of your argument.

Expand full comment

Whenever I hear political arguments like that, they remind me of this random Kumail Nanjiani joke at 3:00-4:30 of this NPR show which somehow stuck in my head all these years even though it's just OK: https://maximumfun.org/episodes/bullseye-with-jesse-thorn/kumail-nanjiani-kent-haines-sound-young-america/

Expand full comment

You aren't being gaslit, but you are being played -- but it is by the right. And very cleverly. You are right, there is something going on in some schools. But the vast majority of it is fairly innocuous -- although as Matt points out, its not clear how helpful it is. But what the right is doing is trying to conflate a bunch of things to DEI. And you have to fight back about that. Once you cede ground on the terms of the debate, you've largely already lost. If you let me define your party as the party of Hitler, everything else is uphill for you.

Curious, what is the DEI advisor sending home that is deeply objectionable? Almost everything I've received for my child makes a lot of sense and shows the values that I'd expect -- be respectful, be open minded, we value diversity/outreach, everyone is important, etc... I certainly haven't seen the types of thing on Fox News where they say that White people are the problem. Haven't seen that, have you?

Expand full comment

"be respectful, be open minded, we value diversity/outreach, everyone is important, etc"

This message wouldn't happen without a DEI advisor? The principle and the teachers can't be trusted to deliver on those counts? Can children only pick up these kinds of values from school? What metrics is your school using to measure whether the advisor is successful?

Expand full comment

"This message wouldn't happen without a DEI advisor? The principle and the teachers can't be trusted to deliver on those counts?"

No, they wouldn't. Teachers and principles are already asked to do a lot. And frankly struggle to deliver on other parts of their core job, much less pick this up as well.

"Can children only pick up these kinds of values from school?"

I'd hope not. But from the feedback I hear from the kids, for many these are very new concepts.

"What metrics is your school using to measure whether the advisor is successful?"

I'd say there is a lack of good metrics, and this is something they're working on. But I've heard ideas discussed -- nothing that's rocket science, but things like diversity in afterschool activities, student surveys on various aspects of schooling, %age of students in different groups that do re-tests (these are optional tests you can take to redo tests you performed below your desired result), etc...

Expand full comment

An employee with a good salary who's job will be to... make sure after-school activities are diverse?

Improve test results by ethnicity or merely report on the results by ethnicity? The former seems a very hard lift for a single staff member. The latter seems like something existing staff could easily handle.

Expand full comment

I think you read that wrong. It's an employee's job to figure out how to measure and improve DEI. I gave some examples on metrics.

Expand full comment

The DEI officer / advisor's job will be to figure out how to measure DEI and then make plans for how to improve DEI?

Expand full comment

Regarding innocuous DEI content. During my PhD, the university spent a fair amount of money on administrators for (among other things) DEI stuff, but nothing for raises for PhD students, even though rents considerably increased in the meantime. I strongly believe that PhD salaries aren't that great and that it's hard to finish a PhD without parental financial assistance (particularly in hot real estate markets), so seeing the university allocate its resources like that has made me hate (among other things) the DEI initials regardless of actual content.

To the best of my knowledge, American universities are more willing to make us anxious about making the ends meet and then hire an administrator to mentally counsel us, than actually help us make ends meet. My experience in Europe on this issue is considerably different, but there's no DEI there.

Expand full comment

My school district is going to raise taxes the maximum amount allowed, under state law, for each of the next 5 years to cover a structural budget gap. Meanwhile our newly elected school board is planning on hiring a DEI advisor and staff.

Expand full comment

You should ask the board to show the proof of eficacy for this DEI program.

Expand full comment

Much of it is innocuous or good, but that's not true across the board and Yglasias and others have pointed out examples of that.

In particular, I think that the move away from advanced classes (as was happening in NYC and other places) and standardized testing in the name of equity are bad ideas. I think that the push away from the SATs is the sort of thing that is dressed up as anti-racism but will actually hurt poor and minority kids as admissions become based upon squishier standards that are easier for more affluent (usually white) parents to game.

Additionally, while I think it is good to teach about the ways the the US has been and continues to be flawed (although I remember already being taught this sort of thing when I was in school 20 years ago), I don't like the idea of trying to make kids feel guilt or shame for things that they are not responsible for. Whether or the extent to which this is happening is harder to nail down that the advanced placement/standardized test issue I discussed above. A lot of it depends on how particular lessons are taught, which almost certainly differs on a school-to-school or even teacher-to-teacher basis. But, while a lot of people deny that this is going on, a lot of those same people will then argue how it would be a good thing if it was going on (See, e.g. Nicole Hannah Jones' tweets over the weekend).

As for my local school, I haven't seen anything particularly objectionable, but I bring it up as an example of how things are clearly changing. The DEI advisor is a new position, hired last year.

Ultimately, I don't think that this push is necessarily a bad thing, but when you see an increase in anti-racist/DEI/"CRT" initiatives in schools, and one side says they are bad while the other side denies that anything is happening, I tend to get suspicious of the side telling me to ignore what I'm seeing with my own eyes. In particular, when they say "don't worry, the programs we deny are going on definitely aren't teaching your kid to feel bad because they are white," I'm disinclined to take them at their word.

Expand full comment

The push away from advanced classes in NYC is a bad thing. Although even the National Review had a story that some of these stories may be overblown, e.g., https://www.nationalreview.com/corner/no-virginia-did-not-eliminate-accelerated-math-courses-because-equity/

The SAT thing is more interesting. Matt has made good points that automation (taking humans out of the equation) will often reduce bias. I'm not sure though that the SAT test as constructed is the right way to do it. I'm OK if we want to take a step back and be more thoughtful about it. I'm also OK to see if having test-optional impacts results, negatively or positively.

And do you see people denying DEI initiatives? Here in Seattle it's very well known. It's on the schools website. But we aren't doing CRT. We aren't teaching kids to feel bad, white or black. I find it hard to believe that your school is denying DEI initiatives either, as they hired someone to focus on it.

Again, I think conservatives have done a great job at conflating DEI with anti-whiteness. And again, I find it almost Orwellian that they've managed to create the narrative that society is anti-white, and if you try to say there are anti-black aspects to society that you are pushing an anti-white narrative.

Expand full comment
Comment deleted
Expand full comment

Since the history of public schools in the United States at least. I can't speak for other countries.

Expand full comment

I'm a parent and, indeed, I'm really angry about school closures and not particularly happy about ongoing measures around this. I supported school closures initially when we didn't know much about this virus, but as we learned more about how it, including how it generally isn't serious for children, I thought continuing to stay closed was crazy.

There's been more a lot of talk in liberal circles about the importance of child care, including Pre-K, in recent years, both for children's development and for mothers' ability to work. But when there was an opportunity for progressives to say, hey, as a society we've made a commitment that kids are in school during the day, instead the DC public school system decides it's perfectly ok for most children to not have in-person school for 18 months. High-profile public officials with kids in private school were another awful part of this. Basically, if cities were trying to find a better way to say "fuck you, parents, we owe you nothing, you can't depend on us", with a side of "those of us making these choices don't personally depend on public institutions", I don't think they could have.

Anyway, I'm fairly annoyed about all of this, and I'm jealous that Virginia has an actual two-party system where they get to punish someone.

Expand full comment
author

I think the linkage to the pre-K debate is smart. A question everyone has about setting up a new program is “will this actually be good, or is it going to be a waste of everyone’s money?”

Democrats refusing to insist that schools have to function for the sake of their customers casts into doubt whether they have what it takes to set up quality public services.

Expand full comment

It’s too bad that the main alternative is usually some flavor of “there should not be quality public services.”

Expand full comment

This is the part that slays me.

I find so much of what Matt lays out above convincing. Just like I've found the famous quote from FDR convincing "It is impossible to bargain collectively with the government". It's why one of my most conservative policy positions is to be pretty anti-public sector union in general (two asides, I'm much more inclined to see private sector unions favorably; I think Amazon workers are basically the perfect constituency of workers to be unionized for a variety of reasons. Second, it's amazing to be me, but depressingly not surprising to me, that conservative logic against of public sector unions basically never extends to police unions).

Having said all that, all I have to do is look back and see Betsy DeVos as Education Secretary and it stops me in my tracks. As far as I can tell, DeVos' (and due to her financial largesse, a significant portion of conservative thinking on education more generally) grand plan for education is essentially to re-create Saudi Arabia; elite schooling for the 1% and religious indoctrination for the masses. Given the alternative put on offer, it ends up pushing me to defend the status quo when I see what's the alternative.

Further, I again agree with Matt that the left underestimates how much some truly nutty ideas regarding education have permeated educational circles (I'm with him that the idea that testing is by definition racist because it reveals unequal outcomes, is especially terrible). But he's giving, waaaaay too much credit to these anti-CRT forces. Given that the main person pushing this stuff is a former employee of the Discovery Institute, I really don't think Matt's giving enough thought that to the fact that huge number of parents aren't fighting Kendism, it's that huge numbers of parents don't want their kids learning anything negative about American History full stop.

It's like no one seems to remember the lessons of the Tea Party. I read article after article back then noting how this was some true "libertarian" moment, that the public has finally seen the dangers of too much spending and deficits and this is the chance to implement Milton Friedman's vision for America. And this view of Tea Party persisted in spite of poll after poll showing most people who considered themselves Tea Partiers were not motivated by some sort of Libertarian vision of government. Instead, what it really showed is how many members of the pundit class were themselves had slight right of center policy views. So what happens? Tea Parties become a core part of Trump's base. Just wish we could remember this recent history a little bit when evaluating this anti-CRT moment.

Expand full comment

"it's that huge numbers of parents don't want their kids learning anything negative about American History full stop."

I see this claim tossed around all the time, but I'm not really sure where it comes from. Polling shows virtually nobody wants to not teach difficult subjects, but the conservative, anti-CRT forces don't want schools to focus MORE on racial issues than they currently do. I have yet to see anyone claim "don't teach about slavery or the treatment of native americans". So the claim seems to rely on this false notion that schools have not been teaching those things, but I don't see any evidence of that either. Schools already teach that slavery is an awful blight on American history, that Jim Crow was a horrific thing, etc. So the debate is then how much to focus on it, and conservatives say schools are already doing it enough, NOT that they shouldn't do it at all. I'm in DC, and the notion that the push back against CRT in Northern Virginia (some of the best schools in the country) was from parents who wanted those schools to not teach about slavery at all strikes me as ludicrous, as does some insinuated claim that these great public schools in NoVa are currently not teaching the truth about slavery and America's racial history and are instead ignoring entirely our difficult collective past. Those schools are teaching those topics already, and none of the anti-CRT stuff I've seen in this area is in any way advocating for eliminating those aspects of the curriculum.

Now, the level of focus to be put on those topics is literally the debate, obviously, with progressives saying it needs to be taught much more. But the way that people attack the opponents of the progressive education policy seems to be to essentially create these strawmen where everyone who opposes pouring more and more time and resources into America's horrific racial past is really just opposed to teaching ANYTHING bad about America, and I have yet to see much evidence to support that claim. Pretending that's what is going on seems to be exactly the mistake that democrats are making, whereby they just demonize anyone with a concern as being a racist that wants to ignore history and by doing so avoids having to actually address the concerns of parents.

Expand full comment

I think you identify a problem with so many divisive culture issues today. And what 'progressives' continually do is get taken in by conservative rep-branding of their issues. The reason why conservatives get away with claiming that CRT infects public schools is because the left doesn't differentiate between teaching history and teaching CRT. McAuliffe could have said the public schools teach American history, including slavery and Jim Crow as they should but denounce any program that claims all white people are complicit in white supremacy is divisive and destruction.

Liberal wishy-washyness cant hold a candle to conservative declaratory statements and ability to simplify their rhetoric.

Expand full comment

Agree in part, but I think you're overlooking how disingenuously our own side is behaving in this debate. The reason why McAuliffe doesn't say that is because progressive institutions and policy makers DO try and incorporate those kinds of lessons into schools. I have seen reports of elementary schools teaching students that the white kids are privileged and hold power over the students of color, literally instilling the notion that the white kids are complicit in perpetuating racial power structures that have to be dismantled. Sure, you can argue that this doesn't actually fall within the academic discipline of CRT that is taught at graduate level universities across the country, but that's refuting the concerns by arguing semantics as opposed to recognizing that the pushback is fueled by precisely those concerns and that THAT is the kind of thing that is animating these parents.

Frankly, I see lots of progressive "declaratory statements and ability to simplify their rhetoric" as being a huge part of the problem here. This issue is a legitimate one that isn't just being fueled by a bunch of dummies listening to conservative talk radio who don't understand how stupid these complaints are. I know plenty of left leaning, extremely well educated parents who are incredibly troubled by the things that left leaning policy makers are pushing in this realm, and the solution to that is not to pretend like the real issue is just progressives continually getting taken in by conservative rep-branding.

Expand full comment

"Schools already teach that slavery is an awful blight on American history, that Jim Crow was a horrific thing, etc. So the debate is then how much to focus on it, and conservatives say schools are already doing it enough, NOT that they shouldn't do it at all."

As Matt points out the conservatives are objecting to teaching about Ruby Bridges. From a modern historical perspective this is an important event. From a civics perspective, far more important than 90% of what my son is taught in history class today.

I agree, no one really says to not talk about slavery (although I'm sure you can find people that say this -- you can always find someone). But as US citizens we need to take into context that the most important issue of our era is identity, and I don't think we can afford to have schools try to brush under the rug how we got here.

Expand full comment

"But as US citizens we need to take into context that the most important issue of our era is identity"

Progressives will lose elections so long as this is true.

Expand full comment

I think if you take as given that the "anti CRT" crowd is acting in bad faith and wants some terrible right-wing stuff as education policy, the question then becomes "what is the most effective way to defeat them?" I would say the most effective way to defeat them is to disaggregate all the stuff they're trying to lump together under the "CRT" envelope, identify the handful of things that are actually bad, and throw them overboard so they don't sink the ship. The current strategy (pretend the bad stuff doesn't exist and accuse anyone with concerns about it of being racist and allying with neo-Confederaes) is not working.

Expand full comment

I think this is exactly what is happening. The vast majority of what we're focusing on in most DEI programs are the "good parts". But DEI now equals all the bad too. The conservatives have basically won. They've made being white the victim in oddly a way that POC never have been able to.

Expand full comment

You think progressives have conceded that the "bad parts" are bad and have thrown them overboard? I beg to differ.

Expand full comment

I think an interesting synthesis of elements of your post would involve these two things:

"it's that huge numbers of parents don't want their kids learning anything negative about American History full stop"

"I think Amazon workers are basically the perfect constituency of workers to be unionized for a variety of reasons"

I think the largest constituency of parents is most concerned that schools do what is necessary to keep their children from having to work in an Amazon warehouse. That is, most parents want schools to prepare their students to get into college and to more generally pursue some kind of professional career rather than a skilled trade or manual labor career.

So, some appreciation of literature, history, the arts, and broad knowledge of basic science and math are tolerated because colleges in the US are almost entirely on a classic liberal arts education model - even your math students take English classes. But anything beyond that is unnecessary. What matters most to these parents is whatever they judge to be important for the pathway into a white-collar job. When they perceive schools to be wasting their kids' time on unnecessary things or, as MY notes, less-than-stellar online education, they get frustrated. This makes the average parent a great right-wing ally during elections in which trans-panic and anti-CRT activism dominate the conversation. (It's also why they're great left-wing allies when different sets of issues are dominant eg "red for ed".) It's not that most parents are purposefully being racists in order to suppress the educational opportunities of black children or whitewash America's sordid racial history. It's that they are tired of seeing their kids' potential future education and job prospects pushed to the side in favor of these noisy fights. Does this mean that issues important to minority parents are themselves sidelined? Probably! Is that racist? I guess that depends on whose definition you're using.

One of the more durable findings in polls of parents' perceptions of schools is that they often say schools are bad in general but that their particular school is good. Parents want to feel like they have a say in what happens in school but, even more than that, they want to feel like they don't need to have much of a say in what happens in school because the schools are doing their jobs well.

My guess is that most parents in VA who crossed the lines from Biden to Youngkin felt like they were tired of feeling like their schools waste their kids' time. "Skylar needs to get into UVA and all the district wants to talk about is DEI?!"

Expand full comment

I'm actually kind of sympathetic to the idea that too much of our education model; both K-12 and worse college, is built around a version of the world that existed in 1900 and needs overhaul. Hence curriculums built around "well rounded" individuals. For example an "easy" fix would be to allow 18 year olds to go directly into MBA or Med programs without spending thousands on undergraduate courses. This is how many European systems work and I don't really see the downside.

But I'll go back to my point that I think too many of you are giving short shrift to the fact that a lot of these anti-CRT protests are driven by some pretty ugly motivations. I know it's been pointed out in a variety of places that "Dunning school" history and general whitewashing of history is not nearly as widespread as it once was. Even in the "deep south" history classes and social studies classes do dive into slavery and some of the more ugly aspects of our history. Having said, that as MY is fond of saying (Correctly), the median voter is white and over 50. There are enormous numbers of people in this country who learned the Civil War as the "War Between the States" and who's lessons about slavery were that yeah it was probably wrong, but most slaves were treated well and liked their masters and see how "out of control" they became once free. It's another case where we have to keep in mind the average voter is wildly different then the average poster on "Slow Boring"

Also, I'll repeat, Chris Rufo worked at the Discovery Institute. It was not long ago that the Discovery Institute's claim to fame was trying to get creationism taught in schools and try to have Darwinism discredited. Remember "teach the controversy"? Remember "intelligent design". This stuff was huge when GWB was President. It's a huge data point to me as to the true motivations of this movement.

Expand full comment

"grand plan for education is essentially to re-create Saudi Arabia; elite schooling for the 1% and religious indoctrination for the masses. "

citation please.

Mostly what I see the right push is school choice. So that kids of all socio economic levels can go to a quality school. And that the parents are in control.

Expand full comment

The bargain should have been "cool, we fund full pre-K, but the local teacher union doesn't get to participate".

Expand full comment
founding

Teachers were in a quandary: They view themselves as white-collar, highly educated professionals. They could see all their fellow professionals working from home, zooming into meetings and, in many cases, enjoying their newfound flexibility.

The data showed teaching remotely, zooming into classes, was bad for kids. But going into the classroom would make teachers more like blue collar workers -- factory jobs, plumbers, cashiers, cooks -- who continued going to work to keep society functioning. And teachers, with their college education and "masters of education" requirements just couldn't face being treated like blue collar workers. I am convinced this impulse drove the intransigence of their unions to opening schools and going back to work.

Expand full comment

The last year has convinced me that teachers' unions need an axe to the neck in exactly the same manner as police unions do.

Formerly I was willing to grant some forbearance towards institutions whose job is not to defend members who play Judge Dredd and cut out the judge and jury.

But after the last year... no. Break them all and move onto reforms like those enacted in DC, of all places.

Expand full comment

Wow! I think this view is absurd. School teachers taught from home so they wouldn’ t get sick and die! Hospitals - children’s hospitals are full of kids with Covid. Some are dying! A big part of the reason remote learning didn’t work was because a third or more of the kids either didn’t show up, didn’t turn in homework and were not monitored by parents. Of course many parents couldn’t stay home but to suggest that teachers stayed home to boost their ego is insulting not only to teachers but to parents. Teachers didn’t close the schools. Governors did that,

Expand full comment
founding

I think your risk/reward meter is wrong. For those under 18 years old, COVID is less deadly than the flu, heart disease or drowning.

See reporting from VOX: https://www.vox.com/22699019/covid-19-children-kids-risk-hospitalization-death

Expand full comment

Back in the summer of 2020, there was a study that looked at sweden, which kept primary schools in person. They found that teachers were not at any higher risk of covid compared to other non-healthcare workers. There were no child covid deaths and the number of kids in the ICU was less than 10. If I remember correctly all but 1 had a high risk condition like cancer, so it was possible to identify kids who were most at risk of serious outcomes. Delta has not changed this. The interesting thing is that rates of MIs-c are now going down in kids. Nobody knows why. Teachers who contract the virus at school are most likely to get it from other adults. And there are precautions that are easy to take to minimize adult-to-adult transmission

Expand full comment

I don’t know about comparing the Sweden test with a way more diverse America so I will concede that point. What I most objected to was the idea that teachers didn’t want to return to school because of their ego. I realize my experience (my husband is a school teacher) is anecdotal but I do know that was not the case with any teacher that I know. Little kids also have a hard time wearing the mask properly all day long. Over the years my husband has picked up colds and flu from his students at least once or twice a year. It just happens. Ask any teacher. Of course much of this has changed as of now. But this article was critical of the mandates to close the schools. Closing them did no favors for the kids for sure and it was also very difficult for the teachers trying to immediately teach a completely new way of teaching.

Expand full comment

I think the crux of the problem was that teachers were given inaccurate information. It was pretty clear early on that young kids were low risk for serious complications and were not very good at transmitting the virus, but our public health institutions downplayed it. Similarly, the European CDC was very clear that masks were likely to have a small effect on transmission while out CDC portrayed them as highly effective and necessary in almost all conditions. Taken together, that created an impression that schools were unsafe because little kids aren’t able to consistently wear masks.

There was also a tendency to downplay the large differences in case fatality rates by age. It is reasonable for a 60 year old teacher to think her risk of serious disease or death is substantially higher than someone who is 30, but her risk is far lower than that of someone in their 90’s. And a 40 year old with asthma and diabetes is still at much lower risk than someone in their 90’s.

Anyway, I think a lot of this had to do with people getting inaccurate or incomplete information and their reactions were rational in response to the inaccurate information they were given. I don’t know how to fix this because a lot of the kids in peril/potential superspreaders came from respected sources like the NYT and NPR.

Expand full comment

That, or maybe they just didn't want to be exposed to a potentially deadly infectious disease...

Expand full comment

If you're arguing that teachers were behaving irrationally and their refusal to go back to in person learning was driven by irrational fear, then maybe you can make that argument in good faith. But teachers were given early access to vaccination in many places, the data was demonstrating that in person teaching was not a significant concern for nearly a year before schools opened widely across this country, a huge percentage of teachers are younger and therefore not at high risk for infection (most teachers aren't in their 70s), and yet teachers still refused to go back to work.

I actually talked with two friends of mine who are teachers, both of whom went back to the classroom as soon as schools allowed them to. They both rolled their eyes and had nothing but derision for the vast majority of their colleagues who refused to do so. They discussed how many of their colleagues were clearly motivated more by their own subjective preferences than they were by risks of covid, and that it clearly didn't matter to them that outcomes for students were being hurt by their choices. Rather, they preferred to work at home in their pajamas, and they didn't feel like going back to in person learning.

Honestly, democrats valorization of teachers reminds of conservatives with the military, where they act as if every one who has ever served is literally Captain America throwing themselves on the grenade of tyranny to save America from communist takeover. Some military members do heroic things. Some signed up in the hopes of saving the world. Many signed up because they had nowhere else to go and wanted to get a good paycheck and maybe free college. Many teachers are wonderful people, but lets not pretend like they're immune from the very human drive to be lazy and take the easy way out of many circumstances.

Expand full comment

For anyone who is curious, here's a link to the National Center for Education Statistics report on teachers age: https://nces.ed.gov/surveys/sass/tables/sass1112_2013314_t1s_002.asp

Average is 42 years. No state has an average age of more than 46 years. Less than a third of teachers are over the age of 50. So between age, protective measures like masking and social distancing, the overwhelming empirical evidence that schools aren't huge vectors of transmission, etc. etc. etc., I'd say that anyone who actually looks at the data on risk can't come away with anything other than the belief that teachers were actively harming students in order to protect themselves from something that presented an incredibly low risk of harm. It would have been much more defensible for unions to insist that exceptions be permitted for teachers who were ACTUALLY at a high risk (eg- the superminority of teachers were over the age of 50) while insisting that everyone else return to work as soon as possible.

Expand full comment

I don’t know about other states but in Washington state the Governor ordered all schools closed. They didn’t reopen until the Governor told them to reopen. I don’t know about the average teacher but all of my teacher friends hated having the schools closed.

Expand full comment

The Covid vaccine was not available to much of anyone until December 20201/January 2021, so the period of time you're talking about is basically January 2021-May 2021 when school was out for the summer. There could be an argument that teachers should have come back during that five-month stretch but this being the real world and nothing being clean there were logistical hurdles to getting everyone fully vaccinated and school re-openings aren't a simple on/off switch that can be flipped the second it seems like everyone is vaccinated. It isn't that hard to see why simply waiting until the next school year when they could have all their ducks in a row was the path of least resistance.

Expand full comment

The evidence was overwhelmingly clear that vaccination was not necessary to protect teachers. This is because the risk of transmission in a classroom environment has always been very low, and that was true long before vaccines were widely available. Just look at school districts around the country and world that opened up in the fall of 2020 and you'll see virtually no evidence of outbreaks or disease transmission amongst teachers or the student body. There were ways to bring students back safely in the fall of 2020, and prolonging remote learning for another school year after that evidence was clear did tremendous harm to students for virtually no safety benefits.

Expand full comment

"Just look at school districts around the country and world that opened up in the fall of 2020 and you'll see virtually no evidence of outbreaks or disease transmission amongst teachers or the student body. "

Uh, no, there have in fact been plenty of horror stories about school workers dying and schools needing to re-close after re-opening because of outbreaks. Just google "school outbreak" and you will see plenty of these stories.

Expand full comment

Neither did anyone else, but they did their parts. Or are you suggesting that people working at meatpacking plants and grocery stores didn’t care about being exposed?

Expand full comment
Comment deleted
Expand full comment

It's even simpler than that. Unions are most responsive to their more senior (older) members. You can argue until you're blue in the face about the social benefits to kids outweighing the risks to the teachers, but these folks would be the losers in such a policy. They are the relevant veto point.

Of course, you could've found ways to make schools safer, teaching outside, aggressive testing, limited online teaching for instructors and students who were uncomfortable. Unfortunately, everything got reduced down to tribalism before that could happen.

Expand full comment

The whole "fuck you, parents, we owe you nothing" attitude is what I think has been most shocking about the past year and a half, and I say that as someone who isn't a parent. I've been amazed at how democratic politicians and teachers unions have responded to any parental concerns with a gigantic middle finger and accusations of racism, insensitivity, or just a general claim that complaining parents want to literally kill teachers and other people. It's been mind boggling, especially when those same people could have responded with compassion and empathy while ending up in the same place. It would have been much more productive to say that they understand where parents are coming from, that parents are part of the community, that schools are supposed to be places to bring communities together, and that they hear and understand the parents concerns. Saying all of that isn't hard, and would have meant that at least some parents might have felt like the schools and dems actually cared about them and their concerns rather than hearing the whole "fuck you, you don't matter and we're going to do whatever we want to your kids" message that was actually being broadcast loud and clear to anyone who was paying any attention.

Expand full comment

What a disaster. This seems like the sort of thing that impacts how people vote for years. Maybe a lifetime.

Expand full comment

> including how it generally isn't serious for children

Good thing literally nobody but children can be found within a school operating at full capacity! Yup, it's a 100% children zone, there are no other conceivable concerns about reopening schools other than the stochastic health outcomes of children in aggregate.

Expand full comment

When I've said something like "almost 1,500 police officers are shot each year, let's make sure we take that into account when talking about police violence" the response I get most frequently is "they are paid to take that risk".

If we believe education is important and teachers are essential workers than perhaps the small bit of elevated risk teachers would take from being in classrooms is not asking too much. After all we asked grocery store clerks, nurses, dry cleaners, waiters/waitresses, line cooks, etc... to interact with the public for most of the pandemic. The impression school closings left me with is that teacher's unions think their jobs are less important than the above.

Expand full comment

The response you should get is that "it's almost 1,500 over the 6 year period from 2014 through 2019, so it's an average of 250 each year". (see, e.g. Gun victimization in the line of duty, Criminology & Public Policy, 20 July 2020)

Expand full comment

You're right I missed that when I googled for the number, because I believe that's the source I had used and I should have divided by 6. My mistake.

But looking at it more closely, it doesn't purport to be a complete record of officers shot, but merely a sample.

The FBI data isn't complete either, covering only about 67% of the US population, and presumably a similar % of officers.

https://ucr.fbi.gov/leoka/2019/topic-pages/officers-assaulted

But they recorded over 56,000 total assaults (1 in 10 officers) with 30.7 % sustaining injuries. 3.8% (2,180) of the assaults were with firearms although only 5.6% (122) of those caused an injury. A further 1.9% of the assault were with knives or cutting weapons and 15.8% with "other dangerous weapons"

Now that the data picture is corrected - we can most likely agree that the main point still stands. Officers accept a non-trivial risk of injury while providing essential services.

Expand full comment

I mean, it's hardly a "small bit" of risk; when I was a kid, half of my teachers over 4 years of high school were over the age of 50. Several of them had died before I'd finished four years of college.

Expand full comment

I don't understand your point. As rosaz said below - unions could have advocated for more remote learning from their oldest or least healthiest members while not pushing for it for the youngest and healthiest.

Also - where is the data showing it's a foregone conclusion that "teacher goes to school, teacher gets covid"? That's clearly not how it works. Masks, social distancing, ventilation; all these things lower the risk of transmission significantly.

Meanwhile, in my extremely liberal neighborhood, the children still had to be somewhere, and few parents kept them locked inside their houses all day. They were going over friends houses and socializing and likely infecting their parents to some degree. The "real" lockdown lasted about a month, after that it was show. But schools were closed

Expand full comment

> Masks, social distancing, ventilation; all these things lower the risk of transmission significantly.

Agreed, but most schools did nothing at all to enforce mask use, ventilate classrooms, and had hilarious "by the numbers" requirements for distancing. A lot of schools developed "reopening plans", then didn't do any part of the re-opening plan at all except re-opening, and I think it's not unreasonable for teachers to be like "lol, no."

Expand full comment

That would make your experience unbelievably non-representative of the age of teachers in either the country as a whole or in any particular state: https://nces.ed.gov/surveys/sass/tables/sass1112_2013314_t1s_002.asp

Expand full comment

Do you think other developed countries have been sending their teachers to murder camps by having in-person schooling for most of the last 18 months?

Expand full comment

No, I think they had lower rates of COVID-19 than we did, and school facilities that weren't built in the 50's to be fallout shelters (that is, with a deliberately low outside air turnover rate.)

Expand full comment

You have international statistics on the build-year and airflow of school facilities available to you?

Expand full comment

My kids go to private school. In last year's school year (2020-2021), the school was closed for 2.5 months. The public schools were closed the entire year.

None of the teachers at my kids' school died. I don't think we saw any case where they plausibly got covid from the workplace (though the school was circumspect about details of that kind of reporting for privacy reasons). It was doable.

Expand full comment

My kids' charter school did a mix. Ignoring the 2019-2020 school year, they closed for the first 9 weeks of 2020-2021, then they started openings for those kids that seemed to be falling behind / whose parents really needed it. We held off on taking advantage of that until we were vaccinated because we had a just-flexible-enough schedule to prop up their education at home and not feel like they fell behind, but if I were required to go TO a workplace to work / had a less flexible job I would absolutely have taken advantage of their early return-to-school and I absolutely understood why any other parent would.

There have been very few covid cases.

Expand full comment

Of course the teachers and other school staff matter. But grocery store workers matter too, and some of them died from work-caught infections. Many of those lives could have been saved if they had, say, just handed us bags of random food in the parking lot rather than letting customers into shops, having 'food shoppers' deliver individually selected grocery lists. But that would be miserable for everyone else, so they didn't.

If we had acknowledged early on that school closures had a large negative impact on students, we could have an intelligent conversation about trade-offs and been more creative with solutions. (Offering medical leave to our more vulnerable teachers and having less vulnerable ones teaching doubled-up classes in the gym?) But when the teacher unions insisted remote was about the best interests of the kids (when it clearly wasn't) that shut most of the other options down.

Expand full comment

As someone who has mostly done curbside pickup for groceries during the pandemic, I can say that, no, those grocery workers (and the people they spread the virus to) shouldn't have had to die either.

Expand full comment

If some grocery store workers had to die, I guess it follows that some teachers should be thrown into the volcano, too. Only fair, right?

Do you suppose the average teacher is older than the average person working for minimum wage at the grocery store?

Expand full comment

I wasn't suggesting anyone be thrown into a volcano; I was saying we should have acknowledged that remote school wasn't the best choice for the people the schools are there to serve - children - and go from there about how to balance the trade-offs.

A quick Google tells me that the average grocery workers is "40+" and that the average teacher is around 41 (it varies a bit by state but not by much). So, no, I don't suppose that.

Expand full comment

Do you think personally shopping for food in a grocery store is more important to society than children's education?

Fwiw, I have some very progressive, very liberal friends in CA who are teachers. They felt as you do about being asked to go back in the classroom. But they continued to order takeout food and order online from Amazon. It struck me as quite hypocritical.

Expand full comment

I mean I know that I can go about three weeks without eating before I die, but probably won't die after any amount of being deprived of calculus.

> It struck me as quite hypocritical.

Because you can't evaluate the differential risk between sitting in an unventilated room for 8 hours with 30 students, vs dropping a paper bag off at someone's door?

Expand full comment

How do you think the food gets made?

I'll spell it out - in usually very tiny, poorly ventilated kitchens, by cooks. The cooks don't typically work solo. Comparing occupations, line cooks had some of the highest rates of covid deaths.

I'm pretty sure if safety of others was your highest concern, and you thought through how food was prepared, takeout would look a bit like throwing line cooks into a volcano.

Expand full comment

"the differential risk between sitting in an unventilated room for 8 hours with 30 students"

Thankfully, none of us have to actually calculate that risk. Experts in the field conducted numerous studies to precisely determine it. It was clear over a year ago that the risk was very low. Yet for some reason you are still accusing anyone who has actually paid attention to this data as apparently wanting to actively kill teachers. It's a mind boggling position to take given the state of the available evidence and how easily accessible that evidence has been for all of us for at least a year.

You're fighting a battle about risk assumptions that was lost a long time ago.

Expand full comment

I imagine you have no problem telling police to “get back to work, or be fired” when they pull a slowdown.

I have no problem telling teachers the exact same thing.

And make no mistake, given all we know about transmission in children, teachers are safer than grocery workers by far.

Expand full comment

> And make no mistake, given all we know about transmission in children, teachers are safer than grocery workers by far.

Because teachers are children?

Expand full comment

Wigan beat me to it, but apparently the "Follow the Science" folks are, collectively, now badly in need of a basic scientific primer.

Let's review the concept of herd immunity: if I create, though convalescent or vaccine-provided immunity, an environment in which the R0 of a given disease is less than one, then even people who are unable to become immune to it are safe. Generally, they're vastly safer than even those with convalescent immunity are in an environment where R0 is greater than one, even though they themselves have no immune response.

Now, given what we know about transmission in children, especially younger ones, they are far less likely to contract COVID, vastly less likely to become symptomatic, and, in both cases, hugely less likely to spread it.

There's a large body of research showing that the average elementary school and middle school classroom has an R0 of less than one, precisely because its population is made up of 20-30 kids who are *less vulnerable than vaccinated adults*, and 1 adult.

So yes, teachers are vastly safer than grocery store workers exposed to a rotating cast of random adults for prolonged periods throughout the day, because they are benefitting from a limited, localized form of herd immunity.

But you knew that already, you're just playing Woke Ken.

One Ken was enough, dammit.

Expand full comment

Grocery workers are in proximity to other adults all day. Teachers are in proximity to children. Children transmit the virus at much lower rates than do adults.

Sure there are teacher meetings and other teacher to adult interactions, but perhaps those could have been zoomed while teaching happened in person.

Expand full comment

The adults have had access to vaccines for ten months.

Expand full comment

Seeing teacher's unions lead the charge *against* vaccine mandates has dramatically revised my priors.

Expand full comment

That second one is in line with what I saw - the teachers locally were holding out for being vaccinated before returning to in-person, during the period when they weren't on the priority list.

Expand full comment

I'm just pointing out the hypocrisy. If vaccines were a requirement to return to classrooms and that seemed sensible ... then the unions should be out in front leading the vaccine mandates. At least in Chicago ... they aren't.

Expand full comment

Does that matter? The most bitter fights I saw about this were August-October 2020, months before the vaccines were approved, much less available.

Expand full comment

Yes, context matters.

Expand full comment

Which is why most schools are open now...

Expand full comment

In DC - and I'm speaking to that because it's what I know the most about, but I'm sure we're not unique - public schools largely remained closed for the remainder of the 20-21 school year, even though vaccinations had been available for teachers for much of the second half of the year. Many students got no in-person instruction, and basically no students (outside of charters) were getting full-time, in-person instruction with their actual teachers that year. (As opposed to, learning via ipad from inside a classroom.)

During the summer, there were not widespread attempts at remediation, and when there was in-person summer school, they were still acting as if vaccines weren't available, in terms of their test-and-close regimes. It wasn't until the fall of this year that there started being anything approaching normality in terms of public schools. And that was because the mayor made it extremely clear that schools must reopen. The teacher's union initially opposed vaccine mandates for their members and told its members not to answer questions from DCPS about whether they were vaccinated. And they're still complaining about the reopening: https://wtop.com/dc/2021/10/washington-teachers-union-passes-no-confidence-resolution-over-dc-school-reopening/

So, I would say, this is not an issue that was fixed with the availability of vaccines.

Expand full comment

Yes, the problem is that it’s most and not all.

Expand full comment

Nearly 70% of teachers in public schools are under the age of 50. Less than 20% are over the age of 55, with vanishingly small numbers being 65 or older. The risk of covid increases exponentially with age. The VAST majority of teachers were always at low risk of serious complications. Combine that with the fact that they were frequently given priority access to vaccines and that the data was overwhelmingly clear a year ago that schools weren't spreading covid to an appreciable extent, and the claims that shutdowns were a necessary action are easily proven false.

Honestly, c'mon people, we make fun of conservatives for being driven more by ideology than data or empirical evidence. I understood these arguments in the summer of 2020, and maybe even a little bit into the fall, but the fact that progressives still cling to positions that were debunked at least a year ago is embarrassing. We need to be more willing to accept that our understandable concerns were overblown in some contexts, and that our estimates of risk were (thankfully) in some situations inaccurate. To continue to stick to these positions requires ignoring all available evidence on both a) the risk of harm from covid for teachers, and b) the risk of harm to students from keeping them home. It turns out B was the much bigger harm, and we need to account for that and adapt our policy positions.

Expand full comment

Private schools went back and those teachers didn’t die in large numbers, thank God.

Expand full comment

Here, a lot of people seem to think that school reopenings weren't a cause of new COVID infections but the science is very clear that it was:

https://www.pnas.org/content/118/42/e2103420118

Expand full comment

You may want to work on your study analysis skills. That paper makes clear a number of things, one of which is that opening schools can be done safely if protocols are put in place and mask mandates applied. It discusses how transmissions are observed most frequently amongst individuals that are not abiding by restrictions. It's also an observational study that examines correlations between school openings and community transmission that itself recognizes that one of its limitations is that it can't account for broader changes in surrounding communities, meaning that there can be a correlation between when schools open and when other restrictions are lifted such that it's hard to disaggregate the data. But even if that weren't the case, you're pointing to one study, which is just not how scientific understanding is reached. Here's the CDC's explainer on school transmission, with it's 98 citations included: https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/science/science-briefs/transmission_k_12_schools.html

Enjoy.

Expand full comment

> That paper makes clear a number of things, one of which is that opening schools can be done safely if protocols are put in place and mask mandates applied.

Sure. But again, a lot of teachers were put in the position of being asked to return to schools that planned to put safety protocols in place, mandate masks, ventilate classrooms, etc... then assumed just writing down the plan was sufficient justification for setting a re-opening date, then re-opening on that date without enacting any part of the mitigation plan.

Not to mention the schools that were outright barred from mandating masks by the governors of their states.

Teachers actually were not saying it was impossible to re-open schools safely, only that their schools were being re-opened without regards to their safety. Because they were.

As far as cherry-picking goes, here's your CDC link:

"A study comparing COVID-19 hospitalizations between counties with in-person learning and those without in-person learning found no effect of in-person school reopening on COVID-19 hospitalization rates when baseline county hospitalization rates were low or moderate."

"A study." Ok, I guess cherry-picking is OK when the CDC does it, and "one study" actually is how scientific understanding is reached (if one study can't address a pretty simple question, it's not a very good study.)

Expand full comment

Lol, the CDC discussion is literally titled "Science Brief: Transmission of SARS-CoV-2 in K-12 Schools and Early Care and Education Programs – Updated"- it's detailed and cites to 98 studies, yet you responded to my linking to it within roughly ten minutes of me posting it. Why am I not surprised that you wouldn't bother to read it as opposed to skimming it to craft a rebuttal response as quickly as possible?

" "one study" actually is how scientific understanding is reached"

The degree of scientific illiteracy on display in that comment is absolutely mind boggling. One individual study is never how scientific understanding is REACHED. A study is a piece of a puzzle. Science, ESPECIALLY in these arenas where causality is so hard to tease out because of the dearth of RCTs and the necessary reliance on observational studies, is furthered when lots of data and evidence comes in. Frequently that data will contradict other data, meaning any one study will be entirely unable to completely address a given subject, so instead you take lots of studies, lots of data, and then see if they're pointing in one direction that means you can infer that is more likely to be the truth on a given topic. There's a reason why every single published paper has incredibly detailed "Limitations" sections- because the authors themselves recognize that drawing wide ranging and definitive conclusions from their one paper is a fools errand. Holding up your one paper and shouting about how it proves something is naive and foolhardy.

"(if one study can't address a pretty simple question, it's not a very good study.)"

Define "simple". Sure, if I want to find out what color is my niece's favorite today, I can conduct a study that will likely provide a pretty good approximation of the truth. Do you honestly think the spread of a virus during a global pandemic amongst diverse and varied communities within a single county, let alone a state, let alone the country, is a "simple question" that can be answered simply? The fact you even typed that out is astounding to me.

Good lord man, you're not interested in actually engaging in a discussion and expanding your understanding. You're clearly just here to argue with people on the internet and entrench yourself into your own viewpoints. Good luck with all that *shrug*

Expand full comment

Ehh, you’re talking to someone who threw out a paper from in the first three months of pandemic data that basically says “children might have been in the transmission path for cases in 20% of the households we observed,” and called if evidence for the contention that kids transmit to adults easily.

He’s here to win arguments, not to think.

Expand full comment

So presenting a complete scientific study is "cherry-picking", but arguing from a web page's title is not?

You're not being serious right now. You're ignoring that the CDC literally, openly bases its conclusion school-related hospitalization rates on what it literally describes as "A study." A study. One study. The exact thing you accused me of!

Expand full comment

The DEI movement seem to be largely in epistemic closure and suffering the same failures of other movements in this situation. Once you start to regularly dismiss people, or even data, that disagree with you as invalid, it's game over. You lose the ability to learn from and adapt to reality. You also become prey for exploitation by grifters and reputation launderers.

It doesn't mean it can't accumulate power, but in terms of delivering positive outcomes, its prospects seem bleak.

Expand full comment

I think this is entirely correct, except that it almost certainly does mean "it can't accumulate power."

The GOP will happily pre-empt local governments that might still be dominated by Wokeists from doing anything they want, and they can't win at the state level, let alone Federal.

Of course, those preemptions will also cover things like "let's liberalize zoning laws", "let's procure EVs for government fleets", "let's end natural gas hook-ups in new construction".

Expand full comment

I'm not sure you're correct about the state level. I'm pretty sure there are some states where people of that ideological persuasion (whatever one wishes to call them) can obtain sufficient power to impose their agendas on public education systems, at least for awhile.

Expand full comment

Perhaps. I'm struggling to identify any other than Massachusetts, Washington, New York, and California, though.

As we're seeing, even NJ isn't really blue enough, such that the mere association of that camp with Murphy helped to almost cost him the election. In VA, the Democrats' deflections on the topic did cost them the election.

If New Jersey isn't blue enough to hand control to the wokeists, then that rules out basically everything right of New York.

And even in the few big states that are that blue, the local big tent Democratic parties are likely to primary or recall such a governor with great success after they get started down that path.

Which, I suppose, is where your last sentence comes in.

Expand full comment

Over here in Oregon, the Portland metro area is so far to the left of the rest of the state that they've almost reach Hawaii. The synopsis of the Multnomah County website begins: "Multnomah County is committed to building equity and justice in our community by transforming systems, affecting policies, meeting the needs of overlooked..."

Combined with a couple of other liberal counties like Lane and, increasingly, Deschutes, they outnumber the rest of the state to the point that the GOP only really exists at the local level. And, as a result, they have become completely unmoored from reality, basically one big backlash to the even scarier, leftier caricature of the Dems that they are reacting to.

Voters are increasingly asked to chose between woke left-wing lunatics and dangerous right-wing lunatics. So the wokes get a lot of the normie liberal votes from around the state who are really just voting against the doomsday prepper with a face tattoo that says State of Jefferson. The Dems seem to take from that the lesson that they're winning by turning out the progressive base and they rightly see how crazy the GOP is here, so they march ever lefter and I wind up voting for a vegan yogi with who hands out copies of How to be an Anti-Racist door to door. That is why we still have an f-ing *outdoor* mask mandate statewide despite the fact that I need binoculars to make out my neighbors' Trump flags.

I don't know about New Jersey, but I lived in Massachusetts for a few years and, while it is very "blue" politically, your median Bostonian would run away screaming from the Oregon Country Fair. Plus the Massachusetts GOP isn't insane, so you are actually presented with a viable alternative if you don't like when the Dems are offering.

Expand full comment

David R.just now

The West Coast state GOP organizations seem to have reacted to their rapid degradation from "natural party of government" to "borderline lunatic fringe" by embracing the "lunatic fringe" and doing its best to get rid of the "borderline".

AZ and NV seem to be headed the same way as CA, OR, WA, and CO.

It would be entertaining to watch them do the same in the East, but it seems unlikely. Especially after VA, when the state GOP rigged a convention to push through someone other than a rabid Trumpist, and won because of it.

Expand full comment

The GOP in Virginia did something completely sane out of self-interest, which is something that I think the Oregon Dems are still perfectly capable of. They had to bypass their own primary voters to nominate a rational candidate, but that wouldn't work here because the GOP brand is so damaged the nominee would still lose to anyone with a D by their name.

Oregon has always been full of political weirdos, but the GOP base was blue-collar workers, mainly in the timber industry. When that went away the base of the party wound up in hollowed-out backwaters (like the one Nicholas Kristof—who is trying to run for governor—always writes about). Once the Bay Area transplants moved on from Seattle to Portland, it was a short walk to the state GOP becoming a party of protest candidates.

I know little of Virginia politics, but I think a prerequisite of the dynamics at play in Oregon is to have a solid base of lefties in the first place. And something tells me that the concentration of smelly hippies is much lower in Richmond than Portland. But it does become self-reinforcing; once one party moves past dissembling and pandering and just loses its grip on reality, the other one can pursue whatever boutique politics the primary electorate is in to.

The funny thing about Arizona is that the GOP there seems to be radicalizing all by itself—but historically I think they are more similar to Virginia in that it was a red state not that long ago. So maybe they'll have to start disintermediating their primary voters to win statewide too.

Expand full comment

I'd think Hawaii, Oregon, and Connecticut might also fall into that category, but even limiting it to Massachusetts, Washington, New York, and California is still something around 70 million people. My last sentence is referring to the likelihood that it would take a couple electoral cycles for moderation/backlash (depending on how you want to frame it) to get going.

Expand full comment

Well, if R C is to be believed, Oregon is basically there already, but it took the state GOP going insane to open the door to it. Which narrows this down to CA, OR, and maybe WA. CO in a decade or two.

It's not happening in MA, RI, or CT, probably not in NY either.

Expand full comment

Great post. What is particularly worrying is the absolute refusal among progressive elites to even consider the possibility that they need to think about these issues - both about their substantive merits, and about their impact on election outcomes.

An illustration of this mindset was the line: "CRT is a graduate school framework that is not taught in Virginia K-12 schools."

Really? What parent who is upset about the issues that Matt lists will be persuaded by that?

Expand full comment

As the putative "smart party," the Democrats responding, "You're an idiot; we don't teach actual CRT because that's a law school program" is one of the dumbest things out there. A smart party would think, when people are outraged by "CRT in schools" what is their anger really about and how do we try to address it?

It's dumb, though in a different way, like saying that "defund the police" isn't *really* about closing down police departments, but blah blah blah. Or saying, "Republicans will call any Democrat a socialist, so why not just nominate a socialist?"

Public messaging is hard enough when you don't shoot yourself in both feet.

Expand full comment

Especially when they're shooting themselves in the foot after putting their foot in their mouth.

Expand full comment

To quote Kendi on being willing to reassess the efficacy of messaging: "What if we measure the radicalism of speech by how radically it transforms open-minded people.... What if we measure the conservativism of speech by how intensely it keeps people the same.... At a time when I thought I was the most radical, I was the most conservative" [because he turned his audience off by the way he spoke to them].

One of the frustrating things about reading Kendi is how often he sets out principles that seem right and necessary, even obvious, to ending racism -- treating people as individuals, not conflating the individual with the group, etc.-- but then when it comes time to make a policy recommendation he doesn't follow his own principles to their logical conclusion. Instead he reverts to a kind of crude racial essentialism that takes racial classifications as prior to everything else about society.

He's admirable open about thinking out loud and changing his mind as he works through things, so I'll be interested to see where his thinking lands in another ten years or so. But for now, Democratic politicians should stay away from him with a ten foot pole.

Expand full comment

I agree with this and also have a very “Ah great!” “What? Dude really?!” Relationship with Kendi.

On this particular point I wonder if he is actually on the cusp of putting forth a new way that we value our society away from the smartest and most skilled entirely.

There’s an aspect of me that wonders if we’ve actually maxed out what we can do with available education. And that it might be time to entertain radically different ideas about what we should do to achieve more humans feeling worth and dignity.

Expand full comment

I couldn’t agree more, I think Kendi makes some truly thought-provoking observations about society then mixes in some weird, hypocritical race essentialism and comes to some bizarre conclusions. For example, his “what if there are other forms of intelligence beyond what can be measured on a IQ test?” is undeniably true! But to extend that to say “standardized tests are racist” is to buy in to the idea that the standardized tests were ever a measure of human worth and dignity.

Expand full comment