Republicans are on the offensive over education, seeking to use a schools-focused culture war to take Democrats down in the 2022 midterms, and Democrats are predictably fumbling the response. But while some polls suggest that Republicans succeeding at dragging Democrats down on the issue, they’re also making themselves downright toxic.
Take Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin, supposedly swept into office by parents angry about mask mandates and teaching about race in schools. A new poll from Christopher Newport University finds Youngkin’s approval rating underwater, with 41% of Virginia voters approving and 43% disapproving just over a month after his inauguration. “We have some history being made today. Glenn Youngkin is the first Virginia Governor to ever poll with a majority disapproval rating anytime in his first year in office,” Democratic state Sen. Louise Lucas gleefully noted. “He did it in just over a month!”
The same poll finds that majorities of voters support teaching about how racism impacts society, oppose a ban on critical race theory, and think school mask mandates should be determined by health data and information from health experts.
That’s one poll, but the mask portion of it, at least, echoes a September 2021 poll of Virginia and other, more recent national polling on that issue. Similarly, multiple national polls find majority support for teaching about the history of racism in the United States—though Republicans are something of an exception to that.
All that said, while Republicans are not winning majorities of voters over to their positions on the specific educational culture wars they’re waging, they are doing what Republicans do best: making the whole issue so ugly and conflictual that voters are disgusted with everyone. Sowing doubt and fear. A November 2021 poll found significant erosion in Democrats’ traditional advantage on education.
And while Republicans wage a cynical, dishonest, but very well-funded campaign against public education—with the ultimate goal of defunding public schools—Democrats are fumbling. There is so much material to use to go on the offensive against Republicans on these issues, starting with the fact that Republicans want to defund public schools while most people express confidence in their local schools. Republicans want to ban books. They want to put kids at risk through anything-goes public health policies.
Republican politicians support the people making death threats against school board members and barraging schools with baseless legal claims. They want to drive teachers out of the profession by intimidating them and making their jobs harder. These creepers want to put cameras in classrooms and watch what your kids are doing as part of that effort to intimidate teachers.
But despite the impression you might get from the media, which is so heavily driven by white people making noise, there already is grassroots pushback. Black parents have long had concerns about how race is taught and handled in schools. Students across the country are seeing racism in their schools and fighting back. Republicans may have the biggest partisan platform in Fox News, but the rest of the media should refuse to just follow along. And Democrats? Democrats must show another way, or prepare to lose.
It’s time for Democrats to be vocal and loud in defense of public education. Republicans are not going to let this drop. The only way to win is to fight, not to cover our heads and hope it goes away.