For decades, politicians have tried to convince voters that they value schools and education more than their opponents. While the winners may have legislated in ways that proved or disproved their claims, the only position one could take that the public would accept was one in support of education.

That has now changed.

While the simmering disdain for education has always existed on the far-right of the political spectrum, in recent years, it has risen to the surface. While there is likely no single cause, some of the often cited reasons for this include the stress and strain of the COVID-19 pandemic and a new rise in anti-democratic forces, many of them curiously well-funded by massively wealthy individuals and small groups.

In Pennsylvania, this movement is taking shape in a number of ways. For example, the state legislature is currently evaluating the merits of HB 1532, which outlaws the teaching of “racist and sexist concepts” but accurately defines neither — making it impossible to know when a law has been broken.

The penalties for violation of HB 1532, should it pass, include “the cessation of the transfer of Commonwealth funds to the violating entity or institution for the remainder of the fiscal year and for the entirety of the next fiscal year.”

This staggering penalty implies that if a teacher says the wrong thing, the district shuts down for the year, and for the following year. It’s the kind of penalty that strongly suggests that the shutdown, not the regulation of speech, is the actual goal of the law.

Outside of the legislative process, the strategic harassment of educators has spread into local school systems and school boards. The attacks span a wide range of activities, with book bans popping up in many districts, teachers being directed not to discuss the January 6 insurrection with students, and in one case, a dark money group used local parents in West Chester Area School District to file suit and temporarily remove five school board members from their seats for having the audacity to support a mask ordinance.

Behind each attack, we find curiously well funded non-profits footing the bill, but hiding their donors.

The latest dark money push is supporting an effort to encourage members of the national anti-education group “Moms for Liberty” to send group members into the schools as substitute teachers, where they can then become the “eyes and ears” of what can only be called an effort to spy on teachers.

The parallels to Mccarthyism are impossible to ignore, and the movement is growing more vile by the day. Teachers are already being openly and routinely accused by right-wing media and political leaders alike of “grooming” children for sexual abuse. 

What’s next?