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  • Writer's picture The Vindicator

The Culture War is a Privatization Scheme

Inside the billionaire plot to overthrow public education

Written by Riley Roliff

With hundreds of thousands of lives uprooted, more than a thousand deaths and hundreds of billions of dollars in damage, Hurricane Katrina took no prisoners. As the world looked upon New Orleans in horror, one man saw an opportunity.


“This is a tragedy,” wrote famed economist Milton Friedman in the Wall Street Journal. “It is also an opportunity to radically reform [New Orleans’] educational system.”


By radical reform, Friedman meant privatization. Like hawks to prey, a score of billionaire-backed right-wing think tanks descended upon the ailing city to carry out Friedman’s plan. With the support of President George W. Bush, New Orleans’ public school system was almost completely replaced with charter schools, publicly-funded but privately-run institutions, before much of the low-income population could return from exile. Teachers unions were scrapped and most of its members fired. The school board was disbanded, and all public accountability disappeared.


“Katrina accomplished in a day… what Louisiana school reformers couldn’t do after years of trying,” said an article from the right-wing think tank American Enterprise Institute.

Many think tanks, organizations and individuals involved make direct connections between the culture war and the privatization of public schools.

For a long time, wealthy school reformers have been hard at work trying to hack away the United States public school system. Their aim has been to institute charter schools and voucher systems, where the state supplies families with vouchers which can be used like coupons on private schools. They are regularly stymied by the immense popularity of public schools, which is shown by repetitive failures of privatization schemes at the ballot box. To circumvent this popularity, reformers need a crisis — a hurricane of panic to cloak their agenda.


Enter: the culture war. Public schools are devious factories indoctrinating innocent children with race hatred and anti-Americanism, grooming them behind their parents backs into questioning their natural gender identities and aggressively canceling anyone that questions their woke agenda. Check out any conservative television show, podcast, news site, Facebook group or even the op-ed page of the New York Times and this is what you will see.


Central to the culture war and school privatization movement is the interconnecting web of think tanks and organizations bankrolled by a handful of right-wing billionaires. The think tanks, including The Heritage Foundation, the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), the American Enterprise Institute (AEI), the State Policy Network (SPN) and its 65 state-specific affiliates, the Manhattan Institute for Policy Research and more give an official and nonpartisan veneer to propaganda. The think tanks directly connect with legislators by supplying lavish donations, holding excessive banquets, writing model legislation and providing briefs on issues that further the interests of their donors. They connect with the public by supplying toolkits to help parents confront local school boards and making media appearances. These organizations, such as Moms for Liberty, Independent Women’s Forum and Parents Defending Education, mobilize individuals into activism by supplying scripts for public comment at school board meetings, providing activist trainings, making media appearances that appear to give a grassroots veneer to the culture war, and presenting a platform at events for pro-privatization politicians and donors to spread their message.


Many think tanks, organizations and individuals involved make direct connections between the culture war and the privatization of public schools. Manhattan Institute for Policy Research contributor Christopher Rufo stated in a speech at Hillsdale College, a conservative private school bankrolled by pro-privatization right-wing billionaires, that in order “to get to universal school choice [another word for charter schools and voucher programs], you really need to operate from a premise of universal public school distrust.” With articles like “Time for the school choice movement to embrace the culture war,” “Empowering parents with school choice reduces wokeism in education” and “School choice: Protecting parental rights, resolving curriculum wars, and reducing inequality,” the Heritage Foundation regularly connects the two topics. The annual Moms for Liberty summit features the heavy hitters of both the culture war and school privatization movements. The 2022 summit featured school choice activists slandering public schools as “maoist thought reform prisons,” former education secretary Betsy Devos calling for the abolition of the Federal Education Department she once ran, former HUD secretary Ben Carson advertising his “Little Patriots” curriculum and Florida Senator Rick Scott calling for attendees to run for their local school boards. Attendees also awarded Florida governor Ron Desantis with a “liberty sword” for his support of “parents’ rights.”


Another central player is Hillsdale College, a private conservative Christian school funded by the same right-wing billionaires behind the previously mentioned think tanks and organizations. Larry Arnn, the president of the college and a board member of The Heritage Project, led the Trump administration’s 1776 Commission. The commission sought to create a “patriotic curriculum” in response to The New York Times’ 1619 Project, which they smeared as racist and anti-American indoctrination for examining the role of anti-Black racism in U.S. society. The college is also involved in building charter schools across the nation. Early last year, Tennessee governor Bill Lee announced plans to partner with Hillsdale College to launch up to 50 charter schools in the state. Lee said the schools would use the 1776 curriculum to foster “informed patriotism” and combat “anti-American thought.”


The utilization of racism to manufacture consent for school privatization hearkens back to the 1950s. After the supreme court struck down racial segregation in public schools through its 1954 ruling Brown v. Board of Education, Virginia began giving vouchers to families which could be used on private schools. The available private schools accepted only white students, leading to a system where Black students were either stuck in severely underfunded public schools, or had no accessibility to school at all. Virginia became a blueprint for the rest of the south, leading to over 200 private segregated academies popping up throughout the region by 1969.


“Simply setting up voucher programs isn’t their ultimate goal,” said Charles Siler, former lobbyist and PR person for State Policy Network-affiliate Goldwater Institution, in an interview with the Washington Post. “It’s just the current next step towards their ultimate goal …They want the weakest and leanest government possible in order to protect the interests of a few wealthy individuals and families who want to protect their extraction of wealth from the rest of us.”


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