Thursday, October 02, 2014

Previously on This American Life

Alice Mercer points a school reform angle on last weekend's This American Life, which reminds me that I've had the September 12 episode, A Not-So-Simple Majority, sitting in a tab waiting for a post for three weeks.

It is the story of the takeover of the East Ramapo, NY school board by a conservative religious faction with a strong dislike for taxation and sending their kids to the secular public schools.

Apparently since the faction is made up of Jews, and this is near New York City, this is news. In most of the country (geographically), the faction is evangelical Christian Republicans, and it is a dog bites man story. Unless I missed it while going about my business and listening to the radio, this rather significant connection to flyover America and the platform of one of our two political parties was not made.

What is most striking emotionally though, is the way the scenes at school board meetings in East Ramapo reflect the scenes in urban districts across the country -- board members without children in the schools mutely sitting through angry public comment from predominantly minority parents, before gutting programs and closing schools to be handed off to political allies. If school reformers wanted to get a peek at how others see them, they might listen to this piece. Their playbook is more similar to the religious orthodox than they might like to admit.

Finally, in the end, special ed is a central issue. It is always a central issue in American public education, like property values, but often lies just over the horizon of the debate.

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