Rushing to defend a recent Time magazine article critical of teacher tenure, several conservative media outlets neglected to discuss what is at the core of a major backlash against the article: due process.
Time's November 3 cover story, titled "The War on Teacher Tenure" and promoted on the cover as "Rotten Apples", has spurred significant backlash, particularly among teachers. The Huffington Post noted on October 27 that a petition from the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) "asking Time to apologize for the cover had reached 72,000 signatures." In response to the uproar, Time published reactions to its piece from various individuals, including Rep. George Miller (D-CA), AFT President Randi Weingarten and National Education Association (NEA) President Lily Eskelsen Garcia.
Various conservative media outlets covered the Time controversy by defending the article and cover, attacking teachers unions, and mischaracterizing teacher tenure. The common thread in all of this coverage, however, was a lack of discussion about due process, or why due process policies like tenure exist.
On the October 30 edition of MSNBC's Morning Joe, host Joe Scarborough and co-host Mika Brzezinski hosted Time's Nancy Gibbs to discuss the backlash. The segment did not include a discussion or even a mention of tenure or due process, though Scarborough claimed, "It's absolutely silly. There are rotten apples. There are horrible teachers. There are horrible lawyers. There are horrible journalists. There are horrible TV hosts. In every field you can go, there are rotten apples in that field."
Fox News' Outnumbered on October 27 also neglected to discuss due process during a discussion of the Time piece, though co-host Andrea Tantaros stated that teachers unions are "destroying America" while co-host Jedediah Bila claimed:
BILA: And unfortunately, the reality is, is that a lot of bad teachers stay. They have tenure.& You cannot get rid of them. They want no accountability, and they are bringing schools down in every city across this country.
With two weeks to go before midterm elections, the North Carolina Senate race is on track to be the most expensive Senate race ever. But on Fox News, the focus is on spending by teachers unions, not the conservative-backed groups pouring money three times that amount into the state.
Fox News' America's Newsroom highlighted on October 21 how two prominent teachers unions, the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) and National Education Association (NEA), are "on track to spend a record amount this [campaign] cycle." Focusing specifically on the North Carolina Senate race, host Martha MacCallum asked, "What are the teachers unions doing there?" Correspondent Mike Emanuel noted that Democratic incumbent Sen. Kay Hagan is polling narrowly ahead of her Republican challenger Thom Tillis, as "the National Education Association super PAC has spent about $3 million on ads blaming Republican Tillis for making class sizes bigger and for reduced art and sports programs. Expect more of this down the final stretch," because Tillis is "a target."
With its focus on teachers unions, Fox conveniently left out the spending from outside groups that totals nearly three times more. For example, the North Carolina chapter of Americans for Prosperity, a conservative group backed by the Koch brothers has poured in at least $8.3 million in ad money. At least $6 million has come from groups linked to conservative Karl Rove, a Fox News contributor.
Such selective reporting on election spending is becoming standard for the network, which has worked to minimize the influx of money supporting Republican candidates into states with hotly-contested congressional races this election cycle.
Fox News misrepresented the latest news about a controversy over the Advanced Placement (AP) history curriculum in Jefferson County, Colorado, falsely portraying a vote by the county's school board as a decision to "mak[e] history courses more patriotic." In fact, the board voted to change the way the school district reviews its curricula, but it did not adopt the supposedly "patriotic" changes to the AP history curriculum, which Fox has been promoting.
Hundreds of Jefferson County high school students have walked out of class over the past few weeks in response to the proposed changes to the AP history curriculum. The original resolution, introduced by school board member Julie Williams, "stated that AP history classes should promote 'patriotism and ... the benefits of the free-enterprise system' and should not 'encourage or condone civil disorder.'"
Fox News has reported on this story several times, including hosting Ken Witt, the conservative president of the school board, to scapegoat teachers unions for supposedly "using students" as "political pawns," despite a statement to the contrary by the president of the local teachers union. Fox host Gretchen Carlson even told students "that if they 'don't like it here,' then they should just 'get out.'" Fox's disapproval of these protests stands in stark contrast to the network's previous lauding of students who stood up against things like healthy school lunches and rules regarding religious texts.
On the October 3 edition of Fox & Friends, Fox host Heather Nauert reported on the Jefferson County school board meeting the night before, claiming that the board "voted 3-2 in favor of making history courses more patriotic" while an on-screen graphic read "A Win For Patriotism":
NAUERT: The controversial history plan that sparked massive protests in Colorado still alive this morning despite students, parents, and teachers protesting for days. The Jefferson County School Board voted 3-2 in favor of making history courses more patriotic. There was a bit of a compromise, though. The board will let students and teachers get more involved in that process. [emphasis added]
Nauert's report, however, is misleading. Though she is correct that the vote allows for input from students and teachers, according to reporting from local TV station KUSA and the Associated Press, the board in fact voted 3-2 "to revise procedures for reviewing curriculum but did not specifically approve a review of AP U.S. History." The report continued:
Ultimately the board adopted a compromise proposal penned by Superintendent Dan McMinimee to revise current review procedures to include students, teachers and other community members. But the committee that was approved is not course-specific and has not been charged at this point with reviewing AP U.S. History, according to Marlene Desmond with Jeffco Public Schools.
While another Associated Press report acknowledged that Williams "refused a call to withdraw her original proposal," The Washington Post emphasized that "it's not immediately clear whether the committee will review the history course, only that the meetings must be held in public." In addition, NPR reported that after two weeks of protest in the county, "the original language about patriotism was dropped," though "the resolution still calls for a committee to review course materials."
Meanwhile, FoxNews.com published an Associated Press story that also described the events accurately.
News of a massive student protest in Colorado against a "conservative-led school board proposal" has prompted Fox News to rethink its stance on student freedoms.
Earlier this week, hundreds of students across six high schools in Arvada, Colorado, walked out of their classrooms amid news of a "conservative-led school board proposal to focus history education on topics that promote citizenship, patriotism and respect for authority." The Associated Press reported that the curriculum proposal would establish a committee to ensure certain history materials "don't 'encourage or condone civil disorder, social strife or disregard of the law'":
Student participants said their demonstration was organized by word of mouth and social media. Many waved American flags and carried signs, including messages that read "There is nothing more patriotic than protest."
The school board proposal that triggered the walkouts in Jefferson County calls for instructional materials that present positive aspects of the nation and its heritage. It would establish a committee to regularly review texts and course plans, starting with Advanced Placement history, to make sure materials "promote citizenship, patriotism, essentials and benefits of the free-market system, respect for authority and respect for individual rights" and don't "encourage or condone civil disorder, social strife or disregard of the law."
On September 25, Fox & Friends hosted Ken Witt, president of the Jefferson County Board of Education, which oversees the Arvada schools, to discuss the protests. Amid chyrons like "Political Pawns" and "Teachers Are Using Students," Witt alleged that the real issue was not the history curriculum proposal, but rather the upcoming teachers union contract :
WITT: That's the unfortunate situation that's going on. I believe that there is a significant amount of union conflict right now that we would like to not have. The issue is that it's easy to get children out. It's easy to use kids as pawns and it's not right. We have a union contract that's expiring in August of this year.
Co-host Elisabeth Hasselbeck parroted Witt's allegations, saying, "What concerns me is that what I'm hearing from you, and correct me if I am wrong, is that there is someone else behind this planting it and using these students for their own gain."
Fox News' morning show Fox & Friends celebrated Back to School week by pushing for armed teachers, rehashing tired myths about healthy school lunches, using slurs for immigrant children, and hosting discredited Fox personality John Stossel without disclosing his problematic history on the issue of education.
On its September 2 broadcast, Fox & Friends hyped the Argyle Independent School District (ISD) in Texas, which has recently armed some of its teachers, hosting a parent with two children enrolled in that school district who supports the program. The segment, which echoed similar Fox & Friends segments on August 27 and August 30, neglected to mention, however, that experts and educators agree that arming teachers is a dangerous practice, a habit the network shares with National Rifle Association.
In keeping with Fox's long-standing tradition of attacking first lady Michelle Obama's healthy school lunch program, co-host Heather Childers reported on Fox & Friends' September 4 broadcast that two New York school districts are pulling out of the program because kids say "the portion sizes are too small and it doesn't taste good."
CHILDERS: Two more schools finding the first lady's healthy lunch program hard to swallow. Two districts in New York are now ditching the menu that Michelle Obama revamped in 2010. The reason? It has increased the cost of the lunches and the number of students buying has drastically dropped. So why are less kids chowing down? They say that the portion sizes are too small and it doesn't taste good.
On September 2, Fox & Friends also hosted a student who is "taking a stand" against these school lunches, with co-host Steve Doocy claiming that students should be able to decide on their own lunches because "they're the customer."
During a "News by the Numbers" segment on September 3, Fox & Friends co-host Brian Kilmeade claimed that educating "illegal immigrant children" would cost $761 million and noted that there are "1,000 in my district alone." Unsurprisingly, Kilmeade neglected to point out that undocumented school-aged children in in the United States have a legal right to access public education on equal terms.
On September 4, Fox & Friends turned to Fox Business Network host John Stossel to attack the Common Core State Standards (a practice the network has regularly engaged in) and to push for-profit elementary schools. This discussion, however, made no mention of Stossel's questionable involvement with teaching materials funded by two foundations described as "the dark money ATM of the right."
Curiously missing from Fox & Friends this week was groundbreaking news out of New York City, where the show broadcasts. September 4 marked the first day back to school for New York City students, as well as the first day of expanded pre-kindergarten "for more than 50,000 of the city's very smallest children." CBS New York reported, "City officials said 51,500 full-day pre-K students were enrolled as of Monday, up from 20,000 last year. They said the number will be up to 53,000 by the end of the month."
The Daily Beast published a piece by former CNN host Campbell Brown on a controversial California education trial without disclosing Brown's ties to anti-teachers union groups.
Earlier this year, lawyers spent "more than two months" in state court arguing the Vergara v. California trial, a case which The Washington Post's Valerie Strauss called a "deeply misguided lawsuit" that "is ostensibly about one thing -- protecting students -- but is really about attacking teachers unions and the due process rights for teachers." On May 29, The Daily Beast ran a piece by Brown titled, "Vergara v. California: The Most Important Court Case You've Never Heard Of," which asserted that the trial "is about equity" because it "takes aim at laws that go directly to the heart of a good education":
Vergara v. California takes aim at laws that go directly to the heart of a good education: the ability to have, keep, and respect good teachers and dismiss utterly failing ones. Specifically, the suit challenges California laws that create three sets of problems, all of them undermining a school's ability to act in the best interest of students.
What Brown doesn't bother to mention and what The Daily Beast neglects to include in the post is that Brown has multiple conflicts of interest when it comes to matters of education, especially teachers. Brown's husband Dan Senor sits on the board of StudentsFirstNY, a group that actively opposes teachers unions and tenure. In addition, Brown launched a venture last year called the Parents' Transparency Project (PTP), a purported "watchdog group" that Mother Jones' Andy Kroll took a closer look at in October 2013:
Shortly after it was launched in June, PTP trained its sights on the New York mayoral race, asking the candidates to pledge to change the firing process for school employees accused of sexual misconduct. When several Democratic candidates declined, perhaps fearing they'd upset organized labor, PTP spent $100,000 on a television attack ad questioning whether six candidates, including Republican Joe Lhota and Democrats Bill de Blasio and Anthony Weiner, had "the guts to stand up to the teachers' unions."
Another consulting firm working with Brown's group is Tusk Strategies, which helped launch Rhee's StudentsFirst. Advertising disclosure forms filed by PTP list Tusk's phone number, and a copy of PTP's sexual-misconduct pledge--since scrubbed from its website--identified its author as a Tusk employee. (Tusk and Revolution declined to comment. Brown referred all questions to her PR firm--the same one used by StudentsFirst.)
The New York Daily News also reported that Brown recently launched a website to "influence the direction of [New York City's] ongoing contract talks with the teachers union."
Vergara v. California has significant implications for the future of teaching in the state. LA Weekly referred to the case as the "Vergara Time Bomb," asking if "a judge [will] tear down California teacher protection laws," while Daily Kos concluded that "The Vergara lawsuit has nothing to do with a good education for the disadvantaged, and has everything to do with destroying the power of unions. And if it succeeds, it could set a very dangerous precedent across the nation."
Glenn Beck released a new book last week on everything that is supposedly wrong with education in America. The title, Conform: Exposing the Truth about Common Core and Public Education, gives most of it away.
Most people know Glenn Beck from his previous stint on Fox News or from the various media outlets associated with his network, The Blaze. His co-author Kyle Olson, on the other hand, appears to be up-and-coming in the right-wing media sphere. Currently, he is the publisher, founder, and CEO of EAGnews.org, a "news service dedicated to education reform and school spending research, reporting, analysis and commentary." He is also a contributor to Townhall, and just last week launched a new conservative website called Progressives Today with "Dumbest Man on the Internet" Jim Hoft.
In Conform, Beck and Olson take on everything from teachers unions' to the Common Core State Standards to school lunches to abortion in a book characterized by anecdotal evidence, sweeping generalizations, and quotes from anonymous bloggers. The focus of their ire is what they call the "controllists," defined as "the teachers' unions and their progressive friends in the media and the state legislatures." In 222 pages, Beck and Olson lob a number of outlandish attacks against the various evils they perceive in public education, relying on such conservative actors as Michelle Malkin, the Heritage Foundation, National Review, The Wall Street Journal, and the Heartland Institute to do so.
Here are the eight most ridiculous attacks from Conform:
1. Longer School Days Help Teachers Encourage "Teen Sexual Activity."
Beck and Olson seem convinced that teachers are not only "promot[ing] sexual activity among children," but would use longer school days to "encourage teen sexual activity," among other radical ideas (emphasis added):
Educators back then knew that some parents were too shy or awkward to broach the subject, so schools made sure kids would have basic knowledge to build on as they grew and developed their own points of view.
Today the trend seems to be to promote sexual activity among children, rather than gradually preparing kids for the facts of adult life.
There's also the issue of what our kids would learn with even more hours at school. Many of these educators would relish the opportunity to spend more time feeding students a steady stream of radical, anti-American political ideas, encouraging teen sexual activity, and deemphasizing the importance of traditional values and religion. [Conform, pgs. 126 & 138]
According to the National PTA, this week was Teacher Appreciation Week. Right-wing media appear to have missed the memo.
The week started on May 5 with radio host Rush Limbaugh stating that those who advocate for greater diversity among teachers were "pushing for racial quotas" and want to return the U.S. to segregation and "go back to the way it was ... before the Civil Rights Act." Limbaugh was responding to a report from the Center for American Progress and the National Education Association which found, according to the Associated Press, that "U.S. teachers are nowhere near as diverse as their students."
On Fox News' Outnumbered the same day, Fox host Tucker Carlson responded to a story about a female teacher who supposedly gave a "lapdance" to a male student, claiming that men understand that getting sexually harassed by a female teacher is the "greatest thing that ever happened." When co-host Harris Faulkner read a viewer comment that "Whether this woman is hot, of course, is still out," Carlson responded, "She's hot enough." On April 28, Carlson told America to "lighten up" on the issue.
On May 6, Fox & Friends took to calling a Florida public school teacher a "Bible Bully" because a fifth-grade boy at a Broward County school claimed his Bible was taken away during free-reading time. Despite a statement from the county affirming its commitment to students' religious freedom and local reporting that the student was reading his Bible during a "classroom 'accelerated reading' program," Fox hosts nonetheless accused the teacher of being a "Bible Bully" and "humiliat[ing]" the student.
Fox & Friends even hosted Fox radio host Todd Starnes later in the program to discuss the Florida story, who made multiple outlandish claims about teachers:
STARNES: We got to start calling this like it is. We either have a bunch of religious bigots teaching our kids or we have a lot of ignorant people who don't understand the law.
STARNES: What if that child had been reading a Quran? I don't think that teacher would have done a single thing.
Breitbart.com blogger Javier Manajarres joined the fun on May 8, claiming the Florida story was indication of a "War on Christ in Florida," outing the teacher as a "registered...wait for it...wait for it...Democrat" and concluding, "Can you imagine if [the teacher] were to have banned a Koran from being read in classroom? All jihad would have broken loose, and she would be canned. The War on Christ is alive and well among the Democrat faithful."
Of course, teacher-bashing rhetoric is nothing new when it comes to conservative media. Limbaugh previously claimed that the idea that teachers contribute to a growing economy is "ignorance." Fox News earlier this year devoted several segments to bashing teachers and teachers unions in a debate over public school space in New York City. And just a few weeks ago, Breitbart Texas launched a transphobic attack on a substitute teacher in Texas who was suspended because of her gender identity, attempting to portray her as mentally disturbed and suggesting that a divorce was what prompted her to become transgender.
Happy Teacher Appreciation Week!
Image at top obtained via Flickr user Cybrarian77 with a Creative Commons license.
Right-wing media have worked themselves into a tizzy over a controversy about a student reading his Bible in a Florida public school, but they aren't telling the whole story.
The CBS affiliate in Miami, FL, reported on May 5 that a fifth-grade boy at a public school in Broward County claimed he was banned from reading his Bible during "free-time reading" in his classroom:
A Broward County boy said he was banned from reading "The Good Book" during free-reading time in school. The boy and his father have hired an attorney, calling this a violation of the boy's Constitutional rights. Meanwhile, the Broward County School District says this is all a big misunderstanding.
The Miami Herald reported that Broward school officials "rejected the accusation" because the student was reading his Bible during a "classroom 'accelerated reading' program," not during a free-reading session. The Herald also noted that the boy's family is being represented by the Liberty Institute, a "conservative religious-rights group" that "targeted Broward County on Monday in an ongoing campaign contending that faith is under attack in America's elementary schools." (Indeed, the Liberty Institute has a "long history of hyperbolic assertions about the impending end of religious freedom.")
A statement from Broward County Public Schools on Monday, May 5, affirmed the county's commitment to religious freedom:
Broward County Public Schools respects and upholds the rights of students to bring personal religious materials to school, including the Bible, and to read these items before school, after school or during any "free reading" time during the school day.
On right-wing media, however, it's a much different story.
Fox News' Fox & Friends discussed the story on May 6, leading with its "Trouble With Schools" chryon. Co-host Steve Doocy claimed that the boy's father had previously been in touch with the school principal about when the boy was allowed to read the Bible in school, which included before and after school, during lunch, and at free time, but that "the teacher didn't like it" when the boy began reading his Bible during "his free time." Doocy continued:
DOOCY: Well the teacher didn't like it, and the kid said, if you have a problem with this, you need to call my dad. Well the dad wasn't there to pick up the phone and instead, the teacher left this embarrassing voicemail.
From the May 5 edition of Fox News' Outnumbered:
From the May 5 edition of Premiere Radio Networks' The Rush Limbaugh Show:
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Fox News attacked Denver public schools by claiming they were hiring "illegal alien" teachers who are unqualified to teach. But the teachers in question have legal status to work in the U.S., have an alternative license to teach from the state of Colorado, and are working toward being fully licensed.
Three major newspapers in Kansas have ignored the role of funding from the Koch brothers in the passage of legislation that strips teachers in the state of their right to due process before they are fired, a longstanding right that gives teachers the ability to challenge dismissals.
Breitbart Texas launched a transphobic attack on a Texas substitute teacher who was suspended because of her gender identity, depicting the teacher as mentally disturbed and suggesting that she became transgender because she was distraught over her divorce.
On April 8, Lumberton Independent School District suspended Laura Jane Klug, who had worked as a fifth grade substitute teacher, after parents complained to school officials about Klug's gender identity. Breitbart Texas picked up the story on April 9, using scare quotes to mock Klug's gender identity and touting a local conservative writer's claim that Klug is "an emotionally disturbed and confused older man":
A fifth grade substitute teacher was suspended this week by the Lumberton Independent School District (LISD) after it was discovered the teacher is a "transgender" male [sic]. The teacher who was recently hired by the school district now must wait until Friday to find out if "she" will be terminated from employment.
The issue of Laura Jane Klug's "gender identity" came up after parents became aware of students talking about it in school. Mr. Klug was asked by school officials not to return to "her" classroom until the school board could be convened to consider the matter according to KFDM TV.
David Bellow raises other concerns about Klug's mental state in an article posted today on TexasGOPVote.com.
"I looked [Klug] up on Facebook," Bellows wrote, "and what I found was an emotionally disturbed and confused older man. He has not always wanted to be a woman. According to a note he posted on his Facebook page on July 7th, 2011 titled "How Much More Can I Take?" Kurt Klug was emotionally distraught and seemingly ready to give in with his life because of the pain of his female wife leaving him. The pain and distraught of his wife leaving him must have driven him to decide that he wanted to become a woman. From 2011 until now, Kurt changed his name to Laura Jane Klug and started dressing up like a woman and acting like a woman."
Bellow and Breitbart's smears against Klug rely on the discredited trope that transgender people are inherently disturbed and disordered. Medical experts reject this notion. Being transgender, in the words of one expert, is "part of the human condition," and gender identity is an ingrained, intrinsic part of a person's identity. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, gender identity is usually established by the age of four. In 2012, the American Psychiatric Association revised the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders to drop the diagnosis of "gender identity disorder," replacing it with gender dysphoria, the possible emotional distress that can come from "a marked incongruence" between one's assigned sex at birth and one's gender identity.
But Breitbart has little use for such facts. The website -- which employs the rabid anti-LGBT extremist Austin Ruse --has previously mocked transgender people by running a trans-related article with a photo of a cross-dressing South Park character, betraying an embarrassing ignorance about what it even means to be transgender.
Launched along with Breitbart London in February, followed by Breitbart California on April 6, Breitbart Texas' transphobic attack on Klug comes days after Breitbart California came under fierce criticism for a sexist image of House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi's (D-CA) face transposed onto a scantily clad woman's body.
Fox News has an enemy in the education debate, and that enemy is teachers unions.
In the weeks since New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio announced that he would block three charter schools from using public school space rent-free, conservative media have sent themselves into a tizzy distorting the mayor's record, accusing him of waging a "war on children" and calling him "Comrade Bill." Perhaps no outlet was more indignant about de Blasio's decision than Fox News, whose hosts and pundits seemed incapable of discussing the story without blaming teachers unions, devoid of any evidence or support.
Watch below for Fox's "All Speculation, No Corroboration" approach to blaming teachers:
Fox's misguided outrage is unsurprising given the network's track record on unions. Its hosts and commentators have previously asked if "teachers unions [are] ruining your kids' education" and referred to labor unions as "parasites" that are "not doing anything" for workers. Fox host Dana Perino even suggested earlier this year that instead of making an "anti-NRA" film, filmmaker Harvey Weinstein could better "tackle gun violence if he would take on the teachers unions."