Triangulation and Resistance

I saw a post linked on Twitter the other day about Betsy DeVos, Trump’s pick for Education Secretary. Like everyone chosen for Trump’s cabinet, there’s a long list of reasons to loathe her, although I’d say she’s basically a normal conservative pick, as these things go, unlike Sessions, who’s far more horrifying than any likely AG pick we might have seen from Jeb or Rubio. (Probably. I mean, you never know.)

But, she also provides a good example of something I want to encourage people to think about.

Hopefully you’ve seen the Indivisible guide (if not, you can download it here), which talks about harnessing some of the tactics used by conservatives against Obama to resist the GOP agenda. They talk about calling your Representative and your Senators, and beyond that, finding out about town hall meetings and other opportunities to show up and make things difficult.

If you have Democratic representation (like me: I’m represented by Betty McCollum in the House, Amy Klobuchar and Al Franken in the Senate) you want to encourage them to stand firm. They’re less likely to cave if they know their constituents are on their side. Especially if you know the other side is mobilizing to pressure them, call and say thank you. Let them know you have their back. Show up at their town hall meetings and be the opposite of difficult. Etc.

If you have Republican representation, though, the goal is to get them to break with their party, at least some of the time. The thing is, this really will be more successful when you can frame the issue in a way that has the potential to make them look bad to their base, and not just the Democrats. I mean, they already look bad to Democrats and they don’t, generally, care. “I want you to support Planned Parenthood because women should have the right to choose” is not going to sway someone who campaigned on an anti-abortion platform. “Your plan to refuse to let Planned Parenthood provide non-abortion-related health services will cost the Federal government $130 million. Whose taxes will be raised to cover this extra cost?” is the sort of question that might make them sweat.

So that’s my first point: when possible, find ways to frame things that threatens to make your Republican representatives look bad to their supporters. (I’m not saying you should give up on pressuring them when you can’t do that. But when you CAN, embrace it.)

My second point, though, is that you need to follow one additional rule: do not beat up on an already-marginalized group. Especially a group that’s being attacked by the Trump administration already. Do not go after Republicans by demonizing trans people. Or Muslims. Or immigrants. Find another option.

Back to Betsy DeVos. She’s a proponent of vouchers — giving public money to religious schools. Most voucher proponents imagine children attending Christian schools of one sort or another on the public dime, with maybe the occasional Jewish school for variety. They are not picturing Muslim schools receiving public money, but in fact, there are some Muslim schools around doing just that through voucher programs.

Loudly pointing that out, however, breaks that second rule. The last thing Muslim-Americans need right now is Democrats shouting at Senate hearings about the lurking danger of Madrassas. (Fun fact: “madrassa” is just the Arabic word for “school.” I heard a radio piece some years back by an American woman who’d taught somewhere like Jordan and had been really taken aback when she heard people referring to madrassas in tones of horror and hatred. Imagine hearing people saying school the way you hear people say madrassa and you’ll probably get the picture.)

Also, there is a terrific alternate bogeyman out there. They don’t have any schools right now but if Trump starts trying to push voucher programs nationwide I bet they would be overjoyed to set one up. After all, they crowdfunded an awesome statue and started a lovely afterschool program a year or so back… I am referring, of course, to the Satanic Temple.

As far as I can tell, the Satanic Temple was started more or less for the purpose of demonstrating to pushy Christians why “separation of Church and State” is in their interests, as well. So demonizing them (heh) is not only fair game but something I expect they would embrace wholeheartedly. Especially if you promise to donate to the project if they do start crowdfunding a school. (I bet it would be an awesome school.)

“Senator Johnson, why did you vote to confirm Betsy DeVos, who supports giving taxpayer dollars to schools run by Satanists?” (Pause to allow him briefly to yammer about parent choice, but don’t give up mic.) “But you didn’t answer my question about Satanists, Senator. Why do you support giving taxpayer dollars to Satanic schools?

There are plenty of other topics which I think may turn out to be less partisan than Paul Ryan assumes – Medicare, the ACA (my sympathy for the people who are dependent on the ACA but voted for Trump is limited, but I’m all for mobilizing them whenever we can), banking regulations.

But there’s another benefit to this sort of triangulation that’s worth thinking about. The Republican coalition has held together as long as it has because it’s been a long time since they’ve tried to accomplish anything. In addition to blocking the Trump agenda at every opportunity, I think our broader goal should be to burn down the Big Tent. Turn Republicans against Republicans at every opportunity. The Republican party has shown itself willing to lie, cheat, and obstruct. They’re willing to give aid and comfort and alliance to literal Nazis. They’re willing to side with a Russian dictator against American democracy. These are not the actions of good and decent people who care about America. That’s a political party that cares about nothing but power. That’s a party that needs to go.

The ultimate purpose of triangulation is to turn your opponents against each other. Turn Republicans against Republicans and get out of the way. If the Big Tent is burning, evacuate the vulnerable but do not get a fire extinguisher. (I mean that metaphorically, to be clear. Obviously if you’ve, say, decided to visit a Republican gathering to encourage productive discourse, and a literal fire gets started while you’re there, grab an extinguisher and put it out. Literal fires are super dangerous!)

 

Election 2016: Minneapolis School Board, District 4

(By request.)

This is a genuinely interesting race. Here’s who’s running:

Josh Reimnitz (Incumbent)
Bob Walser (DFL-endorsed)

If you peel back the boilerplate rhetoric, this is kind of a contest between the school reform movement and the teacher’s union, although when I say “school reform movement” I want to be very clear about the fact that I don’t think Josh is on the side of monied interests who want to turn schools into for-profit businesses. I just don’t think he’s necessarily on the side of the teacher’s union.

Before going any further I want to talk about how I view teacher’s unions. I am not anti-union. However, I think it’s useful to acknowledge something that should be obvious, which is that the role of a teacher’s union is to advocate for and represent the interests of the teachers. Those often coincide (or at least overlap heavily) with the interests of the students. But not always, and I think it is legitimate, when electing school board members, to prioritize the interests of the students.

(In St. Paul last year, on issues that the teachers were furious about, students and parents were overwhelmingly on the same page. This was an election over things like discipline policies and school safety; the iPad rollout; the changes made to how schools were structured — everyone was angry about those changes. I think students are well-served by contracts saying that teachers get a lunch break, a prep period, decent salaries, good health benefits, small class sizes. However, I think that the procedures for firing unionized teachers are not in the interests of the students, and anyone saying so should be laughed at. Do they benefit students some of the time? Sure. Do I need to roll out my horror stories of genuinely godawful teachers who were shielded by the fact that it’s very difficult to fire a teacher? No, I don’t, because you can ask literally anyone who has a student in the Minneapolis Public Schools for their version of those stories.)

 

I also want to note that in Minneapolis school board races I give preference to the incumbent, because serving on the school board is a completely shitty job: you work full time (or more) for $15,000/year and a large part of your role is to be yelled at for all the failings of a large, complicated system. Few people run twice, and as a result the board has suffered significantly from a lack of institutional memory.

Josh Reimnitz won his seat in 2012, kind of implausibly given that he didn’t have the DFL endorsement, was an extreme newcomer to the city, and has no kids in the schools. (He has no kids, period. When he won four years ago, he was 26 years old; now he’s 30.) He’s a Teach for America alum, which straight up made him deeply unpopular with the teacher’s union. His partner Daniela is a charter school principal — yet another potential strike against him, although there’s a school board member who got elected who works at a charter, I think, so maybe this is becoming less radioactive.

Josh’s big project in the last four years was rewriting the policy manual. Apparently the Minneapolis school board purchased a policy manual back in the 1960s and hasn’t done any comprehensive updating since then. Josh has some explanation on his website for why this was important; I haven’t seen the manual, but I expect he’s correct that it’s a mess.

His endorsements are heavily former school board members. He quotes from Carla Bates, who says, “Josh is an informed and independent voice for Minneapolis students.  Over the past four years, I have admired Josh’s dogged focus on student achievement and fiscal accountability.  Josh works hard to insure alignment between our goals as a school district and our resources.  Josh knows how to prioritize and students are at the center of all that he does. As part of the mix on a 9 member school board, Josh is needed now more than ever.” I’ll note that I have a lot of respect for Carla Bates: my recollection is that when she was on the board, she was very willing to make unpopular decisions and she didn’t sugar-coat things, two traits that the board needs more of.

I kind of want to unpack Carla’s statement. “An informed and independent voice,” I think, means “he’s not in the pocket of the teacher’s union, but he’s also not a complete idiot.” (It might also mean “look, some outside groups donated a shit ton of money to get him elected last time, but he’s not in their pocket, either.”) When she says that she admires his dogged focus on student achievement and fiscal accountability, I’d read that as, “he’s willing to piss off his coworkers on the board by insisting they pay attention to this stuff.” When she says “as part of the mix on a 9 member school board, Josh is needed now more than ever,” I read that as, “would we want nine of this guy? hell no. But we definitely want one of him.”

The other thing that strikes me in comparing his endorsements to Bob Walser’s — I think (but I’m not 100% sure) that Josh’s come heavily from the members and former members who are not from the (wealthy) southwest neighborhoods — which is interesting, because District 4 is mostly made up of those areas (it includes Bryn Mawr, Lake of the Isles, and Lake Calhoun). His endorsements also come heavily from people who are retired, and no longer need the support of the DFL. (Bob Walser is endorsed by Kim Ellison, who’s from northeast and is an exception to this generalization, but she’s also currently running and currently endorsed, and there’s an explicit expectation of endorsed candidates that they back the other endorsed candidates, to the point that there was a kerfluffle two years ago when Iris Altamirano appeared somewhere with Don Samuels.) (Edited to add: someone left the correction that Kim Ellison is from North, not Northeast, Minneapolis. That doesn’t really affect the point here, though.)

The front page of Bob Walser’s website starts with the following statement: “As the only candidate in the District 4 race with a student in Minneapolis public schools, and as the husband of an MPS first-grade teacher, I know, first hand, how the decisions made by the Minneapolis School Board affect our students and teachers. I hear about it at my kitchen table.” There is a value in these personal connections, but I don’t think childless people should be automatically excluded from this particular type of public service.

He goes on to list three reasons that he’s running:

Equity must be our priority. Strong schools in every neighborhood today are the key to a strong Minneapolis tomorrow. I will fight for equity across all of our schools to provide the resources every student needs to thrive

Students are not data points. Data-driven education programs have their benefits, but effective education recognizes that every student is a unique individual. For every student to thrive, teachers and front-line staff must be empowered to address the needs of the whole child.

Our community should decide what best for our schools. Out-of-state billionaires are pouring money into Minneapolis school board elections and elections across the country. I support local, democratic elections for our school boar

My first thought on is “students are not data points” line was that he was making a pre-emptive strike against attempts to evaluate teachers based on student growth shown through test scores. Reading it again, though, he’s actually specifically objecting to data-driven instruction, where teachers are encouraged to use information from tests to see where their students are lagging, and shift their approach to bring those students up to speed. I’ve discussed this approach with a teacher; I was skeptical, but she says that while implementation can be annoying, it actually works really well. (I mean, obviously also students are unique individuals who deserve to have their unique needs addressed. The profound failures here were part of why I pulled my kids out of MPS; I blame, in part, the extremely large class sizes.)

Finally, he takes a swipe at “out of state billionaires” and links to an article from 2014. The race two years ago was startlingly contentious and expensive. It’s worth noting, though, that one of the major groups donating money said they were looking for candidates committed to “equity, transparency, and partnerships with community members,” and transparency is a 100% legit gripe to have with the board (the article goes on to talk about how the call for greater transparency came “after a no-bid contract was awarded to Community Standards Initiative, a community group that received a $375,000 contract to address the district’s achievement gap. The group eventually lost its contract for failing to meet its goals.” It’s legit to be suspicious of money coming in to fund school board races from outside the state but they are not always a bunch of conservatives trying to destroy urban education on behalf of The Man.)

In his “About Bob” section he emphasizes his local roots (Josh is from South Dakota) and his background as an ethnomusicologist. Both Bob and Josh are white men in a district where only about 1/3 of the students are white and that continues to have both segregation and enormous achievement gaps. There’s an excellent MNPost article I found about the race (seriously, go read that one) where both men apparently got asked about their knowlege and commitment regarding racial issues. Bob talked about his ethnomusicology background and added that a friend had given him the book A Good Time for the Truth, which is a series of essays about racism in Minnesota: “On an intellectual level, I sort of knew that stuff was out there. But it grabbed me and shook me personally. It moved it from an intellectual understanding to a much more gut level understanding. I think that’s what stories can do. Stories are powerful that way.”

This frankly made me wince. I mean I am really glad he is reading this book but if you’re at the point where you “sort of knew this stuff was out there,” holy shit, that’s where you were when you filed to run for school board of Minneapolis?

In the same article, Josh pointed out that at the DFL City Convention, the 30-35 supporters who stood up with Bob were all white. At these conventions, when someone is nominated they get to make a short speech and it’s pretty routine to have literally anyone present who’s wearing their t-shirt and doesn’t suffer from extreme stage fright to come stand up front behind them while they make their speech. The thought of having a candidate for Minneapolis school board who is surrounded by 100% white people makes me wince.

 

Josh also talks about how his partner “happens to be a person of color,” which also makes me wince, for the record. He also notes that she calls him on his privilege and it sounds like he’s receptive, which is good. (From the article: “He says he has his wife to thank for keeping him on his toes. ‘My partner, who happens to be a person of color, educates me fairly regularly about my privilege,’ he said, noting they’ll often debrief on his body language and comments after board meetings. ‘For instance, she reminds me that something as minor as sitting in a way that takes up a lot of space is totally a male thing,’ he said, laughing.”)

I mean — Bob’s emphasis on his local roots and his school connections are all designed to send the message that when it comes to school-related, community-related stuff, Josh is clueless and Bob is clued in. Having a pack of all-white supporters at the DFL convention undercuts that. Although his endorsements include a bunch of people of color, and I will also say that I disagree with Josh’s suggestion that the white crowd at the convention shows “who’s going to be represented” — I think that Bob would absolutely try to represent the interests of all the kids, regardless of race, and I am sure that Josh’s group was not a perfectly representative sample of the student population. However, I think that on issues of race, Josh sounds like he has a larger portion of a clue than Bob does.

Circling back to my original take on this race: I think that Bob very much represents the establishment here. Not entirely in a bad way — when I look at his supporters, I see a lot of people I like and respect. (I campaigned for Julie Sabo when she ran for the Minnesota Senate years ago.) But I get a pretty strong vibe of, “how dare this thirty-year-old upstart who’s not even from here try to tell us what needs to happen with our schools.

And yet, I don’t think Josh is pushing for anything particularly revolutionary. He’s updating a policy manual, which strikes me as the sort of thing that everyone knows ought to be done and no one’s had the energy to do. He’s independent, focused on accountability (including fiscal accountability), and willing to annoy the rest of the board. I see all those things as strengths. He’s also an incumbent, and see above for my pro-incumbency bias.

If I lived in this neighborhood, I think I would vote for Josh Reimnitz. But my priorities might not align with yours; I have a lot of friends who I think would vote for Bob.

I’ll also note that Bob served for a number of years as a board member at Tapestry Folkdance; I’ve danced there and have a number of friends who dance and teach there, so I e-mailed one of them to ask what she thought of the guy. She wrote back to say, “Really nice guy, awesome accordion player.” She added that they’d never served on the board together, but that his reputation around Tapestry was “someone who is incredibly dependable.” I’ll just note that this is much higher praise than it might sound. From my own volunteer experiences, the person who is incredibly dependable is the bedrock on which the endeavor rests and these people are gold and deserve everyone’s gratitude and regular deliveries of cookies. So … while philosophically, I would go for the guy who’s kind of a maverick, I don’t think Bob is a bad choice. He sounds like he’d also do a great job.

For those who are unpersuaded by my analysis and want more details, some other info I found but didn’t have reason to link above:

Profiles of the candidates from Southwest Journal, written in June
Josh’s campaign Facebook page
An article about Josh from 2012
Bob Walser’s Twitter
And I linked to this above but I’m going to link to it again:
A terrific MNPost article about this year’s race. The comments are also worth reading. (MNPost aggressively moderates their comments to keep them from turning into a cesspool.)

 

 

 

 

Elections 2016: Minneapolis School Board At-Large

Minneapolis has an at-large School Board seat coming up for a vote this year, and the incumbent, Carla Bates, isn’t running again.

Two candidates are running:

Kim Ellison
Doug Mann

Kim’s site is pretty content-free. She’s worked as a teacher both at a regular high school and an alternative high school for very at-risk kids (this 2012 interview with her gives a lot more detail on her work as an educator). She’s actually served on the school board for four years already, but previously she held the seat for the District 2 representative. She’s retiring from that seat and running for the at-large seat.

She has the DFL endorsement, which is weirdly not mentioned on her website, and the only person running against her is Doug Mann, who’s been running for the school board since 1999 with no luck.

My issues with Doug Mann can be summed up pretty well by noting that on the front page of his extensive website he lays out his priorities for schools (better retention, more mainstreaming of special ed kids, avoid watering down curricula), then adds, “Cut the war budget and raise taxes on corporations and the rich to fund the transition from fossil fuels and nuclear power to clean energy and to fund social welfare programs” and lists out a grab-bag of other left-wing positions (Medicare for all, raise the minimum wage to $15, eliminate tuition for public universities, legalize marijuana…)

I mean, do I think most of these things are a good idea? Sure. Do I think the Minneapolis School Board has the power to enact any of them? No. I am in favor of electing people who have a sense of what the job entails.

Doug’s contact information is a Facebook page which he last posted to in February. He is endorsed by the Green Party.

If I were voting in Minneapolis this year, I would vote for Kim, despite her mostly useless website. I’ve said this before but I’ll say it again: serving on the Minneapolis (and St. Paul) school board is supposed to be a part-time job, but it’s not; it’s a full-time job, and one of their major responsibilities is getting yelled at for making unpopular decisions. It is a terrible job for which they get paid less than $15,000/year. For much of the time I was living in Minneapolis, most of the people who served didn’t run for re-election, which meant the school board lacked any real institutional memory. At some point I decided that I would always vote for incumbents on this board running for re-election unless they had really pissed me off. Kim Ellison definitely qualifies.

Also, I think that when the work on a school board has become a full-time job, the school board members, like City Council representatives, should be paid a salary they can actually live on. (This would have to be changed at the state legislative level, and I do not think it’s anyone’s priority, unfortunately.)

 

Gender Nonconforming or Creative

In the news coverage of the controversy at Nova Classical Academy, it’s really clear to me that some people have no earthly idea what “gender nonconforming” is and how it differs from being trans, so let me talk about that, just briefly.

I think most people have at least some idea what it means for a person to be trans. A trans person identifies with a gender other than the one they were assigned at birth: if at birth, people thought you were a boy and gave you a male name, and have always used male pronouns for you, but despite this you know yourself to be a girl, you are trans. (If at birth people thought you were a girl and you agree with that assessment, the word for feeling comfortable in that identity is “cis” or “cisgender.” I am cisgender, or a cis woman.)

The best example of a gender-nonconforming or gender-creative kid I can readily point to is C.J., the son of the blogger at Raising My Rainbow. C.J., now eight years old, likes dresses, wears his hair long, wanted a Bitty Baby for Christmas, and prefers things pink or purple or covered in sparkles (or all three). He went through a brief period of requesting that his family call him Rebecca and use female pronouns, then decided this didn’t feel right. His mother, in a recent blog post, wrote about the fact that she’s had people insist that her son is trans, and pressure her to transition him: “My son no longer wants to be a woman when he grows up, like he did when he was four. He didn’t feel comfortable during those days when he was six and we called him Rebecca and used female pronouns. And, after watching his friend transition he declared that he couldn’t imagine being a girl every day.”

One confusing factor here is that a lot of trans kids start out presenting as gender-creative kids, then transition. But if you’ve got a boy who loves to wear sparkly purple dresses and identifies as a boy, that’s also fine. The appropriate pronoun is “he,” the appropriate word is “boy,” and his communities (school, preschool, day care, church…) should take steps as needed to make sure he is safe and respected. It is no more okay for people to tease a boy about wearing a dress than it is for people to tell a little girl, “you shouldn’t play with that lightsaber; Star Wars is for boys.”

It’s a lot rarer that you hear people talk about gender-creative or gender-nonconforming girls, in part because the idea of a “tomboy” is so solidly part of our culture. We have narratives in which tomboys grow up and put away their blue jeans and join the world of ladylike girls — Katie John, Caddie Woodlawn — and narratives where they hold tightly to the empowerment offered by “masculine” behavior — Tomboy, The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate. While there are many ways that society squashes girls who want to resist the “feminine” box, society in general these days is overall kinder to little girls who want to wear pants and play baseball than it is to little boys who want to wear dresses and play with dolls. Even the 1970s-era empowerment story (and song, in “Free to Be, You and Me”) William’s Doll shows William as reassuringly masculine other than in his desire for a doll, and assures both readers and the other characters in the story that nurturing behavior is still appropriate masculine behavior.

The two books My Princess Boy and Jacob’s New Dress are both about gender-nonconforming boys. The boys in these books are creative and exhuberant dress-wearing boys. (Here’s a really lovely interview with the author of My Princess Boy, by the way.)

In creating safe schools, we need to protect and empower both gender-creative kids and trans kids. (We also need to recognize that protecting a gender-creative kid may mean something different than protecting a trans kid — just as it’s unacceptable for a peer to say to a trans kid, “you are really a boy!” it’s unacceptable for a peer to say to a gender-creative kid, “you are really a girl!”)

Nova Classical Academy

Nova Classical Academy is in the news today. This is the school both of my kids attend and have for years. It’s in the news because a few families have responded to anti-bullying efforts at the school by renting space and bringing in the Minnesota Family Council (sponsors of the Parent Action League, named as an anti-gay hate group by the SPLC).

Nova’s facility rental policy left things open to anyone who showed up with the necessary insurance and a check. I think this type of scenario didn’t occur to anyone when the policy was written.

The Minnesota Family Council does not represent Nova. Not only does it not reflect Nova’s values, it is antithetical to the values my children are learning at Nova. MFC is explicitly pro-bullying; they want to see GSAs (supportive organizations for queer kids and allies) eliminated and books censored. They endorse completely discredited, abusive tactics such as conversion therapy, and they want to force teachers to be their mouthpiece for homophobia and transphobia. None of that is what Nova stands for.

Not only do I stand with the targeted family against bullies both inside and outside the school, I will stand between those bullies and the vulnerable kids they are targeting any chance I get.