An illuminating cautionary tale from Texas

Published May 23, 2024

By Thomas Mills

The Republican narrative about public schools in North Carolina has been shifting for years, becoming increasingly ominous. When the GOP took control of the legislature after the 2010 election, we heard about our broken public schools that were failing students. After overseeing public education for more than a decade, the schools have gone from broken to “indoctrination centers,” pushing socialism and gender-bending ideologies. Republican nominees for governor and superintendent of public instruction based much of their primary campaigns on stopping the far-left from taking over public education and sexualizing our children.

Down in Texas, another candidate ran for a local school board seat in Granbury, Texas, on the same issues. Courtney Gore, a former conservative talk-show host, wrote on Facebook during her campaign, “Over the years our American Education System has been hijacked by Leftists looking to indoctrinate our kids into the ‘progressive’ way of thinking, and yes, they’ve tried to do this in Granbury ISD.” She won.

After taking office, Gore set out to prove the indoctrination was occurring. She poured over school curricula, but found nothing. As the Texas Tribune writes,

“The pervasive indoctrination she had railed against simply did not exist. Children were not being sexualized, and she could find no examples of critical race theory, an advanced academic concept that examines systemic racism. She’d examined curriculum related to social-emotional learning, which has come under attack by Christian conservatives who say it encourages children to question gender roles and prioritizes feelings over biblical teachings. Instead, Gore found the materials taught children ‘how to be a good friend, a good human.’”

Gore saw the light, but others didn’t. Instead of listening to her, conservative Republicans who had supported her candidacy attacked her. Her family has been threatened and she’s had to be escorted from school board meetings.

Gore’s former allies and current opponents have demanded books be removed from school libraries and filed criminal complaints against librarians for distributing pornography to minors. They’ve defeated school bonds to build new schools in a rapidly growing area. They are attempting to discredit and destroy public education based on false accusations perpetuated by right-wing media.

While the Texas Tribune told the political side of the story, ProPublica picked up on the money side. Gore initially ran against a conspiracy to indoctrinate students but now believes that she was a dupe in a scheme to undermine public schools. She says the same Texas billionaires who are funding the pro-voucher movement in Texas are recruiting and funding local school board candidates who would attack and undermine the credibility of local schools from the inside.

The story has so much information and reveals so much truth that has echoes in North Carolina. There’s a coordinated right-wing effort to undermine public schools. Disinformation is being pushed out by right-wing media outlets and political operatives to erode public support for public schools. School board candidates who view public schools as a threat to Christian values are being recruited to run for school board, often attacking the schools they are supposed to serve. Well-funded organizations are promoting vouchers to starve public schools and shift money into private ones.

The story is also an illustration of the right’s strategic advantage over the left. While progressives are organizing protests, conservatives are recruiting candidates. While the left prefers bullhorns, the right has developed a propaganda network. The left seeks headlines and video clips while the right spreads its views through churches and at the kitchen table. And while billionaires on the left spend their money on campaign operations and SuperPACs, the right is building an entire ecosystem where schools, churches, courts, and candidates intersect.

I suspect the people pushing Michele Morrow for Superintendent of Public Instruction and Mark Robinson for Governor are the same ones who supported Courtney Gore. They have a long-term agenda that involves taking over and either destroying, as in the case of schools, or transforming, as in the case of courts, the institutions that sustain society. I like to think that North Carolinians are more moderate than the extremists who have captured the GOP. Still, I read a story like this one and I worry that the forces on the right are going to swamp a left that overestimates its strength and popularity while sabotaging Democrats’ electoral chances. Self-inflicted wounds are the most damaging.