If the recent school board elections in Miami-Dade County, Florida, indicate a national trend, “woke” educators are in deep trouble. Their decades-long control of America’s public school bureaucracy is threatened. They are not yet defeated. It will take years to untangle the mess leftists have made of American education—public, private and Catholic. However, two conservatives, endorsed by Florida’s Republican governor, defeated more liberal candidates within a bastion district of progressive education.
When I became an employee of that system, their most common catchphrase was “on the forefront of educational reform.”
A National Debate about School Boards
The fact that anyone is paying attention to school board elections is a sure sign that education issues are a priority among voters. Until recently, these elections have been minor events. Unless a major scandal loomed, incumbents usually won them automatically, often without opposition.
Thus, in Miami-Dade County, the fourth largest school system in the country, school board members with tenures of over twenty years have been ordinary. Parents often complained about the school system’s indifference to their concerns, but few were willing to do the work that could change the situation. The system’s cumbersome bureaucracy sheltered employees at all levels who were ineffective, and cronyism was rampant.
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Two separate but related controversies have changed that picture drastically: Gender Ideology and Critical Race Theory. While public consciousness of those trends is relatively new, both represent movements that school leaders promoted for decades.
Poisoned Plants Germinating over Generations
I encountered both movements—albeit under different names—during the fifteen years (1984-1999) that I taught history and government in the Miami-Dade public schools. My career began when AIDS—Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome—became a public concern. The central office assigned American history teachers to teach lessons about AIDS. Each teacher received a massive binder of materials on the topic. Nowhere in those hundreds of loose-leaf pages did it say what everyone already knew, that AIDS was limited mainly to promiscuous individuals, especially homosexuals. “Advocates” met anyone who mentioned that inconvenient fact with a barrage of criticism that they were “blaming the victims.”
The attempt to inculcate Critical Race Theory began in the early nineties under the title “Multiculturalism.” The radicals shouted their contentions that morals and laws were purely human inventions. The vital idea was that all cultures were equal. In a process called imperialism, Western cultures imposed their religion, laws, languages and morality on other nations. Those who proclaimed no moral absolutes espoused only one inherent truth—that all imperialists were evil.
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Now groups of more traditional parents challenge those long-germinating ideas. They are rejecting these ideologies at the ballot box. Liberals recoil in shock and horror as they cry out that the conservatives “politicize” education. Where liberal doctrines reigned supreme for decades, there is now confusion and contention.
Controversy over Textbooks
A typical situation transpired in Miami over the spring and summer of 2022.
In April, the school board adopted a “health” textbook by a five-to-three vote. That was the same month Florida’s governor signed a new law that leftists erroneously dubbed the “Don’t Say Gay Bill.” The law forbids teaching about sexuality “in a manner that is not age appropriate or developmentally appropriate for students in accordance with state standards.”
In Miami-Dade County, parents filed 278 objections to the new book, alleging that it violated the new law.
On July 20, the board reversed its decision by a five-to-four vote. However, the board chairwoman switched sides the following week, and the textbook was re-adopted.
A Changing of the Guard
In many ways, that confusion was a prelude to the August 23 election. Four members were up for re-election in the officially non-partisan race. In one case, the incumbent chairwoman did not run for re-election to the board. Roberto Alonso, vice-president of a local real estate firm and member of the board of directors of Miami-Dade College, was elected to replace her on the school board. Mr. Alonso’s platform supported parents’ rights in curriculum decisions and promised to “Protect female athletes and female sports.” Then he added, “Boys can’t compete in girls’ athletics!”
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In a far more contentious election, Monica Colucci challenged Dr. Marta Pérez, who has been on the board since 1998. Local station Channel 10 described Dr. Pérez as “a Republican and self-described moderate conservative.” Mrs. Colucci, an elementary school teacher for twenty-six years, ran on a platform that stressed parents’ rights and a return to basic education. She specifically opposed “Critical Race Theory and other extreme liberal agendas.” Moms for Liberty, a parents’ group, strongly supported Mrs. Colucci, who won the election by a four percent margin.
There is another compelling aspect to this story. Miami-Dade County has been a reliably liberal bastion in a state whose other regions tend to be conservative. Governor DeSantis, who supported thirty other school board candidates statewide, received only 39% of Miami-Dade’s votes when he ran for governor in 2018. In 2016, Hillary Clinton defeated Donald Trump in Miami-Dade County by a nearly two-to-one margin.
A New Direction?
This election amplified a trend that started in Loudoun County, Virginia and spread to San Francisco. Largely liberal areas of the country are electing conservative school board members. Even in such communities, concerned parents can slow—and perhaps even stop—the nationwide spread of Gender Ideology and Critical Race Theory in elementary and high schools. Perhaps, harmful ideas that took decades to develop can be turned back in a single election cycle.
Pray that it be so.
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