Know Your Enemy: School Wars, with Jennifer Berkshire

Know Your Enemy: School Wars, with Jennifer Berkshire

A guide to the conservative war on public education, from fights over desegregation to the critical race theory gag orders sweeping the nation today.

In Yorba Linda, California, on November 16, 2021, the Placentia Yorba Linda School Board discusses a proposed resolution to ban the teaching of Critical Race Theory.

Know Your Enemy is a podcast about the American right co-hosted by Matthew Sitman and Sam Adler-Bell. Read more about it here. You can subscribe to, rate, and review the show on Apple Podcasts and Stitcher, and receive bonus content by supporting the podcast on Patreon.

It seems almost every big culture-war battle of the moment—from “critical race theory” to COVID-19 mandates—is being fought in America’s schools. Meanwhile, Democrats, anxious about a midterm rout driven by angry Republican parents, too often concede these battles to the right, adopting their rhetoric and their terms of debate—despite supposedly being the party of teachers’ unions. Does it have to be this way?

We put that question, and many more, to our guest Jennifer Berkshire, the coauthor (with Jack Schneider) of A Wolf at the Schoolhouse Door and co-host of the education podcast Have You Heard. Jennifer guides us through the recent history of conservatives’ war on public education, from fights over desegregation, the Reagan administration’s A Nation at Risk, the “parents’ rights” movement of the 1990s, Obama-era ed reform, to the CRT gag orders sweeping the nation today. Along the way we tease out some illuminating contradictions in the right’s nationalist coalition, which seeks to cultivate a shared, sanitized story about American history while simultaneously dismantling the only system by which that narrative can be imposed. We also cast a critical eye on the moderate Democrats who have failed to provide a galvanizing, alternative message about the purpose of public education. As Jennifer makes brilliantly clear, the crisis of American education is real; the question is, who will be empowered to solve it?


Sources and further reading:

Jennifer Berkshire and Jack Schneider, A Wolf at the Schoolhouse Door: The Dismantling of Public Education and the Future of School, The New Press

Jennifer Berkshire, The GOP Has Revived Its Obsession With Parents’ Rights, The New Republic

The GOP’s Grievance Industrial Complex Invades the Classroom,The Nation

Corporate Democrat Goes Down to Defeat in Virginia,The Nation

How Education Reform Ate the Democratic Party,The Baffler

Sam Adler-Bell, Behind the Critical Race Theory Crackdown, The Forum

Sarah Jones, We’re Having the Wrong Conversation About Schools, New York Magazine


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