I remember how private schools were imagined, established, financed and operated to prevent all children from being educated together. I remember how the supporters of those private schools complained that their hard-earned tax dollars were spent to maintain public schools that did not reflect their segregationist values.
And I know that public dollars were “diverted” to build and operate racially segregated schools for white children in Florida, Arkansas and elsewhere.
Hence, I know that the current assertions about “school choice,” “education reform” and “universal vouchers” are merely old trash in new packages. As I sometimes remarked to lawyers who made outlandish arguments when I was an active judge, “I wear a t-shirt, but it does not read ‘Boo-Boo the Fool.’”
Here is why the “school choice” scheme advanced by Governor Sarah Huckabee Sanders deserves a “Boo-Boo the Fool” denunciation. In Arkansas, and elsewhere throughout the United States, there is a transportation network of roads, streets and highways. This network is supported by public revenue based on taxes on motor fuel and vehicles.
The public transportation network operates for all travelers, regardless of political and religious ideology, economic status, immigration status, racial and ethnic background and other social constructs. It is not based on individual choice.
The public transportation network of roads, highways and bridges is based on a need we recognize that is common in every society. All persons need a safe, accessible and reliable ground transportation system and the government has an obligation to provide it.
No serious person accepts the idea that individuals have a right to take funds dedicated to the free public ground transportation system so they can build their own roads, streets and highways. Despite whatever preferences we may have about how to get from one place to another, no law anywhere in the United States permits people to take public funds dedicated to build and maintain free public roads, streets, highways and bridges and use those funds to build private roads, streets, highways and bridges.
That has nothing to do with individual preference for a different transportation system, or a different route. It has everything to do with a common need for safe, accessible and reliable public ground transportation.
Wal-Mart has its own trucks and distribution needs. But Wal-Mart doesn’t have the right to take public transportation funds to build its own transportation network. Delta Airlines has its own aircraft fleet and destination selections. But Delta doesn’t have the right to take public aviation funds to build its own aviation network.
Hence, the so-called “school choice” movement deserves to be denounced as a “Boo-Boo the Fool” assertion. If parents want to educate their children at home or in private schools, be they sectarian or secular, they may do so.
If parents want their children to be ignorant about the rich cultural diversity of our society, and about the mistakes and wrongs we have committed against indigenous and other people of color, they can set up their own schools with their own money to do so.
But no parent—in Arkansas or elsewhere in the United States—has the right to demand a subsidy from the U.S. public education system so they can secede from it.
No parent has the right to demand that society finance academic fraud. No parent has the right to demand that we dismantle an educational system based on pedagogy because they do not like their children knowing science, history and about the experiences of other people in our society. No parent has the right to demand that all of us subsidize their decision to secede with their children from democracy!
That’s Boo-Boo the Fool talk based on Confederate States of America thinking. The “school choice” scheme is a 21st-century version of the Civil War where every parent who secedes from the public education system opens fire—Fort Sumter-like—to raid the system of free, reliable public education for all children and any child.
Every voucher demand is a Confederate States of America raid on public education. Every lie that public schools and teachers are “indoctrinating” children is a Confederate States of America raid on the truth about history, science, sociology and economics.
Every scheme to prohibit public schools from teaching about the history of bigotry, discrimination and hate in this society is a 21st-century attempt to transform public schools into the Woodrow Wilson White House where D.W. Griffith’s “Birth of a Nation” was shown to validate bigotry, ignorance and distrust against marginalized people.
These Confederate States of America and “Lost Cause” Boo-Boo the Fool schemes are a callous and calculated attack against democracy. Instead of a pluralistic society, Governor Sanders wants a fascist apartheid society based on a Euro-Christian ideology that, as Miguel A. De La Torre accurately states in his latest book, Resisting Apartheid America, “fosters, supports, and celebrates ignorance… to numb the public—like opioids—from the challenges of fact-finding and truth-telling… Political authoritarianism begins with a lie.”
There is nothing “new” or “innovative” about lying and promoting ignorance to fool the public into accepting authoritarianism. There is nothing “new” or “innovative” about using bigotry, ignorance, religious nationalism and discrimination against marginalized people to trick people to accept fascism. There is nothing “new” or “innovative” about censorship concerning what we can read, learn and explore together.
There is nothing new about using the government to shut down freedom to learn together, work together, play together and live together.
That is not “reform” or “progress.” That is retrenchment.
It is a return to Jim Crow apartheid. That is fascism.
That is why we must be united and denounce politicians and profiteers who assert, on one hand, that all children are entitled to free public education, yet support a private voucher scheme that raids the fund for free public education. With one voice, we must say that they are not patriots.
With one voice, we must say that politicians, profiteers and preachers who want to prevent public schools from teaching facts about science, history and social studies are not public minded or public spirited.
With one voice, we must declare that they are neo-fascist raiders who are shamelessly pimping all children to advance an authoritarian, roguish and treasonous anti-public education agenda aimed at destroying democracy.
Hence, it is our responsibility as moral leaders to say so. It is our responsibility as people of conscience to call their so-called “school choice” agenda what it is: a neo-Confederate States of America scheme to de-fund, re-segregate and privatize education in the United States to advance Euro-Christian authoritarianism and fascism.
Bear in mind that our national system of free public education is a post-Civil War development. It is our duty, as people of moral and social clarity and integrity, to cut through the hogwash that politicians, profiteers and Euro-Christian evangelical people are spouting about “school choice” and denounce this scheme for open war on free, accessible public education for all children.
So, I refuse to have kumbaya meetings with proponents of what is falsely titled “school choice.” Instead, I exhort, urge, beseech, implore and plead with you to be united and bold prophets in this moment. In the spirit of prophets everywhere and in every era, stand up together for public education, public educators and public schools for all children in Arkansas.
This is no time to be diplomatic. We must be united and defiant. Be united and disruptive of the universal vouchers scam.
Be united and disobedient. Be united examples of dissent, defiance and prophetic integrity in the face of imperial tyranny and unchecked authoritarianism. Be united activists, and find attorneys who will take you as clients to mount legal challenges to the “school choice” agenda.
As a community of prophets, preach to everyone about the wrong of taking what others need in order to gratify self-centered aims. As a community of prophets, preach about rulers who disregard love and justice in the name of bigotry by using national security as an excuse.
Preach as one community of prophets. Teach as one community of prophets.
Correct. Confront. Organize. Encourage. Defy. Dissent. Disrupt.
Do these things because we are a community of prophets. Teach others to do these things together because we must organize and fight and fight together, as one community against the forces that are hell-bent on destroying free public education for all children.
And when you do this, resist attempts to separate you. Resist the temptation to invite a few of you to the governor’s mansion for a photo op.
Resist the temptation to be intimidated into silence when you are demeaned, denounced and condemned by the pundit class and by people who oppose love and justice. Nevertheless, press onward as a community of prophets determined to speak truth to power, to resist robbery, deceit and hypocrisy and to expose threats to democracy.
As prophets from diverse sacred, secular, political, cultural and other backgrounds, let’s show Arkansas and the world that we are a united community of prophets— not pawns who stand by while the system of free public education for all children is dismantled, re-segregated, defunded and privatized. Show Gov. Sanders that you will not sell out the hope for democracy that public education represents.
As a community of prophets, parents, teachers and elders, we must lead counter-offensive lawsuits, marches, demonstrations, and nonviolent, civil disobedience actions against the threat to free public education for all children.
But the most important people will be children whose learning and lives will suffer if we do not resist and defeat the Civil War threat against public education. For their sake, let us spare no pain to resist, defy and invalidate the latest neo-Confederate States of America attack on public education.
Let children throughout Arkansas see us fighting this good fight together. Let the children across Arkansas join us in fighting this good fight together. History will record that we and the children won this good fight together.
Legislation like the Arkansas LEARNS Act should be repealed. Governors such as Sarah Huckabee Sanders (and Florida Governor Ron DeSantis) should be recalled.
Prophetic people should say so and work to make it happen. That isn’t inappropriate.
It’s the way we can protect public education from clear and present neofascist threats and actors.
Pastor at New Millennium Church in Little Rock, Arkansas, a retired state court trial judge, a trustee of the Samuel DeWitt Proctor Conference, author of one book and three blogs, a consultant on cultural competency and inclusion, and a contributing correspondent at Good Faith Media.