Viewpoint: Schools, libraries are battlefields in culture wars

Viewpoint: Schools, libraries are battlefields in culture wars
Karen Rubin, Columnist

Why now?

West Village Councilman Erik Bottcher, speaking at Reachout America this month, questioned why a drag storybook hour at a library should bring out violent protest in New York City, no less, and why, after a decade of progress, has there been this violent backlash against LGBT rights?

“I felt shock and outrage this would happen for something as innocuous as standing up for a reading in library,” the openly gay councilman said. “This is only an example of what’s happening around the country and what has happened to marginalized groups throughout history of mankind: Whenever there is a troubled time, there are people who will point to a group as scapegoat.”

Troubled time? In comparison to what? America in 2023 is hardly Germany in the 1920s, or even America after the 2008 Bush-Cheney Great Recession or Trump’s Covid Recession.

I would submit that the “trouble” is almost deliberately stoked. It is a calculated choice (by Republicans) not to solve the climate crisis, border crisis, gun crisis, healthcare insecurity, to hold the economy hostage to threats of credit default and government shutdown and to exacerbate global conflicts by wishy-washy support for allies from Ukraine to Israel to NATO.

“The GOP figured out they can’t win on healthcare, the economy, housing, senior issues, so let’s find scapegoat – the transgender community, gin up fear about trans people, scare people where they get scared the most – their kids. ‘These people are coming for your kids.’ They trot out tropes that have worked so well for tens of thousands of years – that people like me are predators. It’s powerful, effective with ignorant people. The internet has supercharged this – an idea travels so much farther, faster, more powerfully.”

Libraries and classrooms are the battlefields in the culture wars, the  low hanging fruit of weaponry. It’s so easy to engender horror and hate if you are being warned your children are being “indoctrinated” and “groomed” by pedophiles and Communists.

More significantly, though, schools and libraries are the enemy in the culture wars because it is where young people have been raised with acceptance of diversity, equity and inclusion. They show empathy for the plight of others who are disadvantaged, who are subject to barriers which keep them from achieving their potential.

Indeed, Diversity, Equity and Inclusion is part of public school curriculum that emerged out of the 1960s civil rights movement. It is why going back to Reagan, there have been nonstop attacks on public education – not to mention that a majority of teachers tend to belong to unions and vote Democrat. The shorthand basis for attacks on public schools has been over school prayer and “school choice” to allow public money – and students – to go to parochial schools. It is why the rightwing don’t want children to learn about the systemic barriers that perpetuate inequality in a country that represents as a Land of Opportunity for anyone willing to work hard.

People who have empathy also tend to advocate for things like universal healthcare, gender parity, access to higher education, raising the minimum wage, cracking down on environmental pollution and climate crisis, gun violence prevention, taxing the rich, voting rights, women’s reproductive rights, and to believe in “community” – everything that Republicans, to their core, oppose.

ProPublica, the investigative journalism public interest site, reported how a DEI director for a Georgia school district was hounded out of the job even before she started by angry white parents, Yale Lecturer Jennifer Berkshire told NPR’s On the Media.

Public education founded on DEI threatens capitalists – who want cheap labor, low taxes and no pesky regulations over health, environment or safety –  and theocrats who want a flock blindly obey whatever whoever asks from the pulpit, whether it is “give me $10” or “vote for …” “vaccines are bad,” “clean energy is bad,” or “guns are good” who have a “common cause” compact.

The attack on public education is not new.

“Public education is ‘socialism’ to some – the notion of creating an educated electorate, the common good,” said Berkshire. Regulations against child labor and mandates to send children to school “mucked up the natural order” of inequality that benefited industry groups like the National Association of Manufacturers, depriving them of a cheap supply of labor of “kids meant to work in factories and mines.” (Now places like Arkansas are repealing regulations on child labor, while moving toward using taxpayer money to affluent families to use for tuition for private and public schools.) (

“For people who have been opposed for public education dating back decades, the fallout from the pandemic and culture wars have created an opening to push through policies aimed at dismantling public schools, though unpopular with the public. But as long as the focus is on book banning, trans athletes, bathrooms, pronouns, the fact people are losing institution, a pillar of democracy, remains out of view,” said Berkshire.

Indeed, the latest assault against public education was triggered after the George Floyd protests for criminal justice, and the 1619 Project on race published by The New York Times. Then-president Trump was so incensed, he charged that “schools are teaching kids to hate this country,” formed the 1776 Commission to promote “patriotic education” and gave a $188,000 grant (from Covid relief funds) to develop a pro-American curriculum.

“America is at a turning point. Dangerous left-wing ideologies are taking hold thanks to a decades-long campaign by progressives to attack the Constitution and undermine liberty and patriotism,” said Bill Gray, vice president, National Donor Outreach, for Hillsdale College.

Prager University, a conservative nonprofit, has run with that and created a curriculum that Florida has now adopted and is pushing nationwide.

“PragerU is trying to help America’s students — but the left (which has hijacked and controlled the education system, including teachers unions) is doing everything in its power to label us as ‘far right,’ deplatform us, and keep PragerU out of schools,” the website said.

But at the Moms for Liberty Summit, PragerU founder Dennis Prager admitted, “We bring doctrines to children. That’s a very fair statement. But what is the bad of our indoctrination?” the Miami Herald reported.

As the song from Rogers and Hammerstein’s “South Pacific” goes, “You have to be taught… To hate all the people your relatives hate.” And as Stephen Sondheim wrote, “Children will listen.”


No posts to display


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here