Will Gerard Robinson and Williamson Evers call out President-Elect Donald Trump for naming Steve Bannon, a bigot with a demonstrated record of anti-semitism and racism as his top political adviser? More importantly, will these two men, both longtime players in the school reform movement, resign their spots as heads of Trump’s education transition team? And will school reformers, especially conservative reformers and those inside the Beltway, call out this rank promotion of deviant and immoral thinking?
All three questions matter. Because a movement that proclaims to work to build brighter futures for all children cannot tolerate associations with politicians who think lowly of minority children and the families who love them.
As most Dropout Nation readers already know, the President-Elect, who won his office on a campaign of race-baiting as well as rank demagoguery against both documented and undocumented emigres, named Bannon, his former campaign manager and the former boss of media outlet Breitbart News Network, to serve as his senior counselor and top strategic adviser. Even with current Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Preibus being named chief of staff, Bannon, the architect of Trump’s successful campaign for the presidency, will now be the mastermind of the incoming president’s efforts to craft a governing agenda and run the federal bureaucracy. This includes the U.S. Department of Education, the lynchpin of federal education policy.
Anyone who has spent the past year watching Trump’s demagoguery have a pretty good understanding why Bannon’s role is worrisome. What makes Bannon’s presence even more troublesome is that he has a long and demonstrable record of bigotry.
While running Trump’s campaign, Bannon engaged in covert anti-semitism by with an ad that featured financiers of Jewish background (including Lloyd Blankfein of Goldman Sachs, and Federal Reserve Board Chairman Janet Yellen), as well as alluded to a “global power structure”. He also helped craft a speech Trump gave last October that seemed to have been cribbed from The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, the notoriously anti-Semitic screed that has driven the conspiracy theories (and political actions) of bigots such as Henry Ford and Adolph Hitler for a century.
At Breitbart, Bannon oversaw a news operation that featured stories on “black crime” (essentially arguing that only minorities can engage in criminality), championed states keeping the Stars and Bars as their state flags, and ran anti-Semitic headlines, including one calling Weekly Standard founder Bill Kristol a “Renegade Jew“.
There is no way that Bannon should be anywhere near federal policymaking on any issue, including and especially anything involving American public education. Not only because of his bigotry. As any student of American history knows by now, the federal government has more-often been used as a tool for promoting the racism that is America’s Original Sin (especially in education policy) than for transforming schools and communities for poor and minority children. President Woodrow Wilson demonstrated this during his tenure in the early 20th century, when he worked to remove blacks from important civil service posts in the federal bureaucracy, while Franklin Delano Roosevelt would deny jobs to black workers (at the behest of labor unions) with the passage of the Davis-Bacon Act two decades later.
You can easily imagine Bannon working hand in hand with an incoming Secretary of Education to weaken the civil rights protections that are still left in the weak Every Student Succeeds Act. There is already talk that the Trump Administration will gut the Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights, which has worked vigilantly under the administrations of George W. Bush and Barack Obama to address issues such as overuse of harsh traditional school discipline against Black and American Indian children.
[As you know, more than a few conservative reformers, who opposed Obama’s efforts on school discipline, are happy that this could happen. Which, along with willingness of outfits such as Education Next to publish pieces by disgraced IQ determinists such as Jason Richwine, speaks volumes about them.]
The good news is that civil rights groups such as the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and the Anti-Defamation League have condemned Bannon’s appointment. So have some some Republicans and conservatives, including John Weaver, a former political strategist for Ohio Gov. John Kasich. Meanwhile reporters and pundits such as Charles Pierce of Esquire have rightfully declared that putting Bannon in the White House is the same as hiring David Duke, the notorious former Klu Klux Klansman who has attempted numerous times to win a Louisiana congressional seat. As Pierce rightly argues, no decent or moral person should associate themselves with the Trump Administration while Bannon is in its employ.
But where are the school reformers? Apparently, they are absent in this discussion. Neither conservative reform outfits nor centrist Democrat reform counterparts who work inside the Beltway have issued a press release denouncing Bannon’s appointment. When confronted by your editor about what he would say, Thomas B. Fordham Foundation President Michael Petrilli responded by writing that though he was outraged by Bannon’s appointment, spending more time on any of Trump’s actions would mean not having “time for anything else.” That he could deploy his public relations staff to simply issue a statement of condemnation apparently didn’t occur to him.
But at least Petrilli gave a response condemning Bannon. So did Jonas Chartock, the head of teacher leadership outfit Leading Educators. Other reformers, most-notably Rick Hess, Robinson’s boss at American Enterprise Institute, have kept their mouths shut about Bannon’s appointment. The silence is especially deafening from Robinson and Evers, both of whom lead Trump’s education policy transition panel and are rumored to be under consideration to take the nation’s top education policy job. For both to say nothing is shameful. Especially for Robinson. After all, the wonk and school reform activist has spent much of his career fighting on behalf of poor and minority children, including as Florida’s former education commissioner and Virginia’s secretary of education.
This silence is shameful. Why? Because you can’t build brighter futures for all kids, and then sit silently as an incoming president appoints bigots who will have quantifiable power over how the federal government treats its children and other citizens. Bannon has clearly articulated that he is an adherent of white supremacy, and thus, will work to harm black and other minority children, as well as their families and communities. There’s no way that any reformer, if they truly are one, can stand for his presence.
Just as importantly, by standing silent about Bannon’s appointment, especially as part of a complicit goal of getting support from the Trump Administration for the solutions we want to advance, we are essentially engaging in ends-justify-the-means kind of thinking and action. This will be damaging to the movement in the long run. This is because the ends are corrupted by the means, especially in the form of negative perception of those solutions by the very children and communities for which you proclaim concern. Especially for school choice activists whose work to expand charter schools and vouchers have been denigrated by traditionalists, association with a Trump Administration with an avowed bigot in leadership will damage their laudable efforts.
Reformers, especially conservative reformers, should raise their voices and loudly call out Trump for appointing Bannon and demand the latter’s removal. Rallying other communities around removing Bannon (including calls to members of Congress demanding action) would be helpful, both to getting rid of the anti-Semite as well as reminding people of that reformers stand for doing what’s right for children. They should also call out other Republicans who are standing by this appointment, too. You can’t serve all people, especially children, when you are willing to stand by as a bigot takes a spot in the West Wing.
But that’s not enough. Robinson, Evers and others on Trump’s education transition team should also condemn Bannon’s appointment, and if it isn’t rescinded, immediately resign. They can’t claim to be champions for all children, especially those black and brown, and still serve an administration with an avowed white supremacist, someone whose ideology stands for harming those very youth, within its leadership.
It will be interesting to see how reformers respond in the coming days. Hopefully they will do better than they did two years ago when Todd Rokita, who chairs a key subcommittee of the House Education and the Workforce Committee, engaged in scaremongering against undocumented immigrant children coming from Central America.