My View: Slouching Toward Bedlam?

By David M. Greenwald
Executive Editor

This week, Governor Newsom wrote a letter to the Temecula school board inquiring as to why the board rejected the Social Studies Alive program—but perhaps more importantly, why the school board president referred to gay rights leader Harvey Milk as “a pedophile.”

According to the Press Enterprise, the school board president fired back “that he was not referring to Milk’s sexuality, but to reports that Milk had a relationship with a teenager.”

“I’ll ask you one simple question, governor,” Joseph Komrosky said. “Do you approve of a 33-year-old person, regardless of their gender identity or sexual preference, having a sexual relationship with any 16-year-old, regardless of their gender identity or sexual preference?”

(It’s probably important to note that the definition of pedophile is not a relationship with someone underaged, but rather someone prepubescent.)

The broader picture, however, is that, increasingly, cultural wars are coming to previously quiet school board meetings.

Locally the issue has been over trans rights and education.

In a recent email, local activist Beth Bourne noted DJUSD policies “on confidentiality when a child comes out as ‘transgender’ at school.”

She wrote, “Only parents, the ones who love their child more than any other person on earth, are kept in the dark as school staff and teachers manipulate and impact our children’s psychological and emotional health. Why? We require a permission slip from mom or dad for a child to take a Tylenol at school, to arrive 15 minutes late, to attend a field trip, etc. but not to identify as a sex different than their biological reality?”

When pointed out that the district lacks discretion on this issue, the school district is following state law, AB 1266.

She agreed, “I agree there is no local discretion but that’s why it’s even more important the school district is transparent with how gender ideology is promoted in schools, k-12.”

The local issue is part of a broader trend.

A recent article in the Orange County Register noted the increasing trend in Southern California, and referenced two studies out of UCLA—one from November and a follow up in March.

In November, UCLA’s Institute for Democracy, Education and Access published a report, “Educating for a Diverse Democracy: The Chilling Role of Political Conflict in Blue, Purple, and Red Communities.”

The study was co-authored by UCLA professor of education John Rogers and UC Riverside professor of education policy and politics Joseph Kahne, and was based on a survey of 682 U.S. public high school principals and follow-up interviews with 32 of them in the summer of 2022.

According to the principals surveyed by the UCLA authors, “45% of them reported that conflict during the 2021-22 school year was higher than it was before the pandemic.”

The triggering event was masking and vaccinations, but has since spread to issues like Critical Race Theory and now Transgender issues.

The study found:

  • 50% of principals reported attempts to limit or challenge teaching about race and racism during the 2021-22 school year;
  • 48% of principals reported attempts to limit or challenge the teaching of LGBTQ+ student rights during the 2021-22 school year;
  • 33% of principals reported attempts to limit or challenge student access to books in the school library during the 2021-22 school year.

The Orange County Register article noted, “Some of the backlash is due to anxieties stirred up during the pandemic, but the cultural issues around LGBT issues and race are also a response to changing societal standards in recent decades.”

The lead author, John Rogers, explained to the paper, “There are plenty of folks who find these changes frightening and who are pushing back, often in hateful ways.”

He added, “Unfortunately, those dynamics lead to heightened dynamics in public schools. And that’s problematic because public schools are ideally places where diverse people are coming together to find ways to work together and find common ground and create community.”

In March, UCLA followed that up with “Educating for a Diverse Democracy in California: The Growing Challenges of Political Conflict and Hostile Behavior,” based on interviews with 150 California high school principals.

The results were similar.

What was interesting, however: “Results were most pronounced in communities with a mix of politically liberal and conservative residents, as measured by how many voted for former President Donald Trump. “

Again, 93% of principals reported the level of the “political division and incivility” had increased since the pandemic’s start in 2020.

“Teachers are getting threatening emails, school board members are getting threatening emails,” Kahne said. “School board meetings are being turned into circuses.”

The Register noted, “Critical race theory is a decades-old academic framework used in law schools and graduate schools that argues racism is embedded in government and business systems, rather than just being the result of individual people’s attitudes. Today, it’s often used as shorthand by conservatives for any discussion of race or racism in America that can be seen as criticizing traditional institutions or the country as a whole.”

“Cultural controversies used to be mostly about sex education and evolution,” Marcia Godwin, a professor surveyed, said. “The curricular battles are now disproportionately on critical race theory and LGBTQ+ concerns.”

One of my concerns has been the students are getting caught in the middle.

This is a point that teacher and DTA President Victor Lagunes made last week, “Our students, families and staff, our schools have not had the positivity that we would hope, and instead some having been met with intimidation, being othered and feelings of insecurity when we should be feeling quite the opposite. Pride.”

The Register quoting Kahne noted, “It would be imaginable you could have lots of fights at school boards but in the classroom nothing changes… (But) what was happening in school board meetings was having a big effect on what teachers do and what students are learning.”

Is that really what we want?

“In areas where there was a good deal of community conflict — efforts to attack or restrict LGBT rights, efforts to attack or restrict teaching of race or inequality — it was likely that schools were less likely to have professional development on things like teaching professional issues,” Rogers said.

“A large number of teachers and administrators are saying, ‘Why are we in this job?’ At a time when we have a huge teacher shortage, we’re driving teachers from the classroom, and young people are going to pay the cost,” Kahne said.

“Once it seems like this is a topic that you’re allowed to speak out on, and you’re not violating social norms in challenging their fellow students, some students are going to feel free to do so,” Rogers said. “And that undermines the feeling of safety and community that’s so vital for students to learn.”

But California students tend to be more tolerant of LGBTQ classmates and issues than many of the adults attacking their school boards, the paper noted.

“Even in areas that are quite conservative and in areas that have had quite a bit of pushback … principals are saying that it’s becoming more and more common for students to be out, for trans students to be out,” Rogers said. “In general, there’s a movement to more acceptance and more openness in the schools even as there’s a movement toward more hate playing out outside of the schools.”

This seems to be the reality where we are headed, even in relatively progressive areas like Davis—protests and pushback seem to be occurring.

But it might only get worse.

There were reports this week of violence outside of a Glendale Unified School District board meeting.

That precipitated the governor to issue a response.

“I spoke with Superintendent Ekchian and I want to thank her and the Glendale Unified School Board for standing tall against this organized campaign of hate,” Governor Newsom said.

“In California, we celebrate the beauty of pluralism — how our diverse communities, heritages, and identities belong and, together, make us whole. Glendale represents the best of this commitment, but the hate we saw on full display last night does not,” he continued.

The governor noted, “What should have been a routine vote — simply recognizing Pride Month for the fourth year in a row — turned to violence. The words of the resolution did not change from years past, but what has changed is a wave of division and demonization sweeping our nation. With hate on the rise nationally, we must rise together in California to affirm what both Pride Month and Immigrant Heritage Month represent — that in the Golden State, no matter who you are or what diverse community you are from, you belong.”

That’s where things are headed.

About The Author

David Greenwald is the founder, editor, and executive director of the Davis Vanguard. He founded the Vanguard in 2006. David Greenwald moved to Davis in 1996 to attend Graduate School at UC Davis in Political Science. He lives in South Davis with his wife Cecilia Escamilla Greenwald and three children.

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  1. Keith Olsen

    There were reports this week of violence outside of a Glendale Unified School District board meeting.

    There were more than reports, Antifa was present to stoke violence and clashed with parents.

  2. Don Shor

    Beth Bourne has advocated, in writing, for criminalization of gender affirming medical care for trans adolescents, regardless of their parents, doctors, and counselors views. She does not favor parental choice. Her position would forcibly de-transition trans youth. That is not a reasonable policy position.

    It is irresponsible for the Vanguard to print any of her comments without explaining the radical anti-trans positions that she has advocated in writing.

    As to Keith’s  “Antifa” comment:

    In Glendale, local journalists and advocates said that multiple rightwing activists who have a history of violence – and who live elsewhere in California – were present at the local school board protest, including several people who were alleged to have participated in the 6 January 2021 insurrection at the US capitol, as well as in previous pro-Trump, anti-trans and anti-mask demonstrations.

    One local journalist posted photographs of stickers left at the Glendale protest site with the logo and name of the Proud Boys, a violent far-right group whose leaders were recently convicted of sedition for their role in the 6 January attack. Canada and New Zealand have previously designed the Proud Boys as a terrorist organization.

    “Both sides took to social media to rally their supporters to convene at GUSD headquarters ahead of the last board meeting of the school year,” police said.

    While most protesters were peaceful, police said a small group of individuals engaged in “behavior deemed unsafe and a risk to public safety.”

    While the gathering was initially peaceful, factions on both sides of the emotional issue eventually grew confrontational, leading to fights and fists being thrown, ultimately prompting the arrests of at least three people.

    1. Richard_McCann

      I know Beth Bourne and her former husband (father of her children). I engaged in an email exchange with her recently after favorably noting a letter I wrote on transgender athletes competing in women’s sports (I see this as a conflict between transgender and women’s rights that both sides of the debate are glossing over.) I repeatedly pointed out to her the factual errors she was making to come to the conclusions she was making. Knowing her for quite a while, I’ve been surprised by her vehemence on this issue. I understand where she’s coming from due to her personal experience, but as I suggested to her, she’s been looking to the wrong culprit (which I won’t go into here.) I also have some experience with high school students who have different gender identifications and I’m not seeing this brain washing that she’s claiming is taking place. I’m not sure why the group is taking on pride events and recognition because gender transition is but a small aspect of that movement.

      1. Kendra Smith

        The group is taking on the Pride events because they are a far right wing extremist neofascist organization that is bound and determined to carry out their culture war on the backs of the most vulnerable in this country, and to impose their will on other parents, families, and children and adolescents.

        These “concerned parents” absolutely have the right to focus on their own children, but the minute they start trying to impose their will on others and unilaterally make choices for others, that is when it starts getting problematic. And authoritarian. And let’s call it what it is so we capture the actual threat that organizations like Moms for Liberty (great Orwellian name there) pose.

        And once again, I don’t know how many times I have to shout it from the rooftops: I expect better in such an uber-educated city. I expect this proportion of PhD holders to be educated enough in world history and politics to be able to spot creeping neofascism when they see it.

        Instead, many are caving to it. And it is beyond disappointing and disturbing.

        They started going after schools for masking, then progressed to agitating over social-emotional learning training in the schools, then started in on the anti trans garbage, and now have progressed into an outright attack on LGBTQ+ people’s rights to enjoy full representation in society in *all* spheres (just like cishet people enjoy and expect).

        They are now coming after library books in the public library. Do you think they’re going to stop at that?

        No. They want the much more extreme “solutions” that Don gestures to above (from their own mouths).

        Moms for Liberty and other extremist far right wing organizations that seek to impose their will on the rest of us have *zero* place in a diverse, pluralistic democracy. People are right to continue standing up to them.

        I urge everyone to read up on the “paradox of tolerance.” Good and decent human beings should not tolerate and make nice with the views of the Moms for Liberty, or with any similar neofascist organization in operation and trying to shred our social contract currently.

    2. Kendra Smith

      Once more, for those who can’t hear it from the back:

      There is no “liberal” or “antifa” violence issue in this country. What exists in that quarter is so miniscule as to be completely insignificant.

      What has been demonstrated with evidence beyond all reasonable doubt is that there has been and is currently a *right wing* domestic violence problem in this country and has been going back to at least the 90s with things like the OK City bombing.

      The FBI and DHS have noted for several years now that right wing domestic terror is one of the number one threats to this country.

      And yet people like Keith will keep banging on “antifa” as if they are a real cohesive organization or a real threat.

      People who are against “antifa” are, IMHO, on the wrong side of history. We fought an entire world war over this stuff, and right wing groups like Moms for Liberty are now engaging in eliminationist rhetoric in regard to trans people, clearly putting them in fascist territory and on the wrong side of history.

  3. Walter Shwe

    Arizona Attorney General Kris Mayes tells U.S. Supreme Court to shove it!

    After the court announced its decision in the Colorado case, Mayes issued a statement that read in part, “Today, a woefully misguided majority of the United States Supreme Court has decided that businesses open to the public may, in certain circumstances, discriminate against LGBTQ+ Americans.
    “While my office is still reviewing the decision to determine its effects, I agree with Justice Sotomayor — the idea that the Constitution gives businesses the right to discriminate is ‘profoundly wrong.’ ”
    Mayes is referring to a dissenting opinion by Justice Sonia Sotomayor, who wrote in part, “Today, the Court, for the first time in its history, grants a business open to the public a constitutional right to refuse to serve members of a protected class.”
    She added, “By issuing this new license to discriminate … the immediate, symbolic effect of the decision is to mark gays and lesbians for second-class status.”
    Not in Arizona, according to Mayes.

    Liberal love, not conservative hate.

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