Monday, April 2, 2012

From MLK's Playbook: Stand Against Anti-Public Educatorism

Pulled from the playbook of the Ku Klux Klan (KKK) and in the spirit of Joe McCarthy, some anonymous bigots disseminated an anti-public education propaganda pamphlet throughout Janesville, Wisconsin a week ago.

This fanatical flyer is layered with hatemongering. According to the pernicious pamphleteers, Rock County public educators are responsible for the “sexualization of minor children, anti-morality and anti-God messaging, false indoctrination, stripping of parents’ rights, and holding children hostage.”   

In addition, the discriminatory document is laced with overtly anti-gay and anti-union messages as well as covertly anti-women messages.  In true KKK-fashion, the flyer’s authors did not sign their names and have not shown their faces. Thankfully, this klan did not burn a cross, but the klueless krew dishonestly and unjustly associated the flyer with local private and Christian schools.

This anti-public education flyer, titled Indoctrination versus Education, also conjures up our state’s most embarrassing history—when Wisconsin’s Republican Senator Joe McCarthy led the national witch-hunt for American communists during the Second Red Scare. A half a century ago, Wisconsinites thought their national disgrace died with McCarthy, but some 21st century "patriots" have apparently summoned the ghost of the paranoid GOPer. In true red-scare fashion, the paranoid patriots cry out to Rock County taxpayers to “Stop the Marxist/Globalist Agenda in Wisconsin’s Schools.” The anticommunist flyer comes complete with a McCarthy-like, “enemies-from-within” blacklist of 29 entitled and traitorous public school administrators and educators—who allegedly bilk local taxpayers with their salaries and benefits.
None of this anti-public educatorism comes as a surprise to me. A review of history shows social and economic unrest often fosters the climate for scapegoating. Cognitive dissonance kicks in for the conflicted. America’s larger socioeconomic ills, the recent free-market induced recession, and the local GM plant closing have sent the paranoid patriots in search of a fall guy for their troubles. With overt racism, sexism, and anti-Semitism off the table—public school educators are apparently the acceptable target of the freaked-out pamphleteers’ vitriol.

Public educators are unapologetically a unique breed of professionals. Our collaborative mindedness, support for our unions, and disinterest in unproven, competitive business measures  contrast with the MBA-thinkers of the private sector. Further conflicting, public educators sometimes openly clash with politicalprenuers in shielding students from the volatility of free-market forces.  Unfortunately, like other scapegoats in history, nonconformist ways make public school teachers promising prey for those hunting for fall guys and gals.

Just this past week, Diane Ravitch brilliantly outlined the national history that has stirred up the state of discrimination crippling public education. Mix in Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker’s dichotomous creation and Rock County’s intolerant subculture and you have the perfect recipe for anti-public educatorism in our community.
Consider how just two decades ago, a KKK rally took place in Janesville. Remember just half a decade ago, attempts were made to shut down the Gay-Straight Alliance’s annual Day of Silence at the local high schools. Recognize that just three years ago, President Obama’s Back-to-School speech led to  “veiled threats”  in our local school district by more unidentified dissenters. Thankfully, most of Janesville rejects this discriminatory subculture, but one only needs to read the Janesville Gazette’s anonymous “sound off” or check out its readers’ online comments below any public education-related article to see the hatemongering simmering beneath.

Some of this recent public school hatemongering could easily be cooled by Gov. Walker. I have called on his office to do so, but have not yet heard back. Certainly, our Governor does not want his office or Wisconsin associated with the bigotry promoted by the anti-public education pamphleteers. However, the paradox is that the anti-public education McCarthyites clearly stand with Walker. They seemingly feel comfortable associating themselves with the Governor. Almost the entire third page of the pamphlet is a promotion of Walker’s ways. It is only right for the Governor to publicly disassociate with the paranoid patriots responsible for this filthy flyer.

The proper playbook for responding to discrimination has already been written by Martin Luther King, Jr. (MLK) and other activists from the civil rights era. Silent disapproval might stall a conflict, but it does not resolve it. MLK appropriately said, “In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.”  Left a void, bigots will fill it. Public education friends must leave no void for the words and actions of anti-public education bigots. Silence in the face of bigotry will surely make public educators this season's sacrificial lamb. 

As a parting thought, I am reminded how Janesville’s 1992 troubles with the KKK were transformed into great things by the thousands who stood against the bigots of the day.  Local civil rights activists, including my sister-in-law, formed a Human Rights Task Force and subsequently a counter demonstration was organized that dwarfed the KKK rally.

The racial tensions ignited by the bigots led to Beloit and Janesville school districts collaborating on tolerance initiatives. Most impressively, city leaders led a fund drive that resulted in over 2,500 donors contributing to the building of a state-of-the-art playground on the very location of the 1992 KKK rally. The anti-racist park is appropriately and symbolically called Peace Park and one of Janesville’s treasures made possible by those who stood against bigotry.
The suffering ends when the resurrection begins. Let’s stand together against anti-public educationism. Let's resurrect something beautiful in its place. Let's build well-funded, quality public school systems treasured by all who stand against bigotry.


  1. Steve,
    I did not know the history behind Peace Park. Thanks for the lesson.

    Your correlation between the anti-public education mindset and McCarthy-ism/later bigots is strangely, and sadly appropriate.

  2. Steve,

    This historical context was very instructive--you should be a History teacher!

  3. Just in time for Holy Week: The Rock County bigots are still, under the cover of darkness, distributing their latest hate mail.

    Their new pamphlet is titled "20 Reasons Why Christian Parents should get their children out of Wisconsin's Government Schools" with much of the same hatemongering as the earlier flyer. The klan highlights their homophobia a bit more with a critique of the "Gay Agenda" being taught in public schools.

    The vitriol in this pamphlet marks the first time I have seen a Biblical quote ("large millstone hung around his neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea" Matthew 18:16) used to threaten public school teachers.