Category Archives: Education

Something Stupid This Way Comes

Yep, it’s time again for another round of The Veepies, our awards for stupidity and/or obtuseness in the public sphere. Got a lovely crop of stupid on offer.

First, we have the It Worked So Splendidly Last Time, Let’s Run It Back Again Award, which goes to the folks responsible for exhuming the cold, rotting carcass of the Sanders Institute. Yep, the Sanders clan’s vanity project think tank is once again open for business, thanks to a big fat chunk o’change from… wait for it… the Bernie Sanders campaign! Gotta do something with all those $27 gifts they couldn’t manage to spend during the actual election season.

For those just joining us, the Sanders Institute was founded in 2016 by Jane Sanders and her son David Driscoll, who — mirabile dictu — emerged from what I’m sure was an exhaustive nationwide search to become SI’s executive director. Well, the Institute posted a bunch of essays (mostly recycled from other media) on its website and had one big conference in 2018, but was shut down in May 2019, sez the AP, “amid criticism that the nonprofit has blurred the lines between family, fundraising and campaigning.” Ya think?

There are a few differences between the original and SI 2.0. Sanders comms guy Mike Cesca told VPR that none of the campaign’s money would go toward pay or bennies for Sanders family members. Which is kind of an admission that they screwed up the first time.

Also, two different spokespeople made reference to “the transition” from winning votes to educating people, which makes you think he’s not running for president again, and makes you wonder whether he’ll run for another Senate term in 2024. The new Institute will also include an archive of Sanders and his family… hmm, sounds like a think tank vanity project.

After the jump: A daycare misfire, a self-inflicted social media disappearance, and incompetent fiber installers.

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UVM Prof Boards the Klar Klan Kruiser

Oh boy, oh boy, tonight brings us another stop in the Klar Klan Kruiser’s “Waah Waah Critical Race Theory” tour. This time it’s in St. Albans, and the speakers include one Aaron Kindsvatter, professor of counseling in the UVM College of Education and Social Services, and, to be perfectly frank, one whiny little bitch.

Kindsvatter became a source of controversy on campus earlier this year when he posted a video on YouTube entitled “Racism and the Secular Religion at the University of Vermont.” In it, he complains about being stigmatized because of his race and being labeled a racist because he didn’t accept the “secular religion” of, well, critical race theory. He didn’t use that term, but his presence on the KKK’s roster shows you where his head is at.

Kindsvatter’s video triggered a petition drive aimed at getting him to resign. It’s gathered 3,445 signatures out of a goal of 5,000. This isn’t his first go-round with race-based campus controversy; back in 2016 he objected to the actions of the UVM Bias Response Team, which looks into reports of bias on campus. He said the team “opens the doors for censorship of anyone of any ideological perspective who says something in class that could potentially offend somebody else.”

Now, I can understand how a white man could feel a little uncomfortable with all the anti-racist efforts in his workplace. But that, in itself, is a great measure of white privilege. White people are used to being the norm. Their views, feelings and concerns are the ones that matter. That’s not true anymore, but it’s not as though white people are being ostracized or genocided or enslaved or lynched or engenicized or targeted by excessive police force.

A few decades ago, a study was done of male/female participation in group conversations. What they found was that women tend to speak about 25% of the time. If they start talking more often than that — say, 30-35% — then everyone in the group thinks the women are talking too much. Even the women. In reality, all they’ve done is try to make a small step toward equity.

What’s amazing to me is that a professor of counseling could possess such a complete lack of empathy. He sees everything through the lens of his own experience. That’s something that white people used to be able to get away with and can’t always do so now, which makes them feel oppressed.

In his video and in a subsequent interview with a right-wing media outlet, Kindsvatter makes some statements that reveal a total obliviousness about the experiences of others.

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How Many Schembechlers?

The Man They Called Goldfinger.

The University of Michigan, my alma mater, has been rocked by an unthinkable sexual-abuse scandal. Dr. Robert Anderson served as an athletic team doctor for thirty-five years and throughout that time, he sexually abused male students so frequently that it was a running joke among athletes. Except for those who were traumatized, of course.

This story has been out there for a while. But the latest disturbing turn is that several former football players — and many observers of Michigan athletics — say that legendary coach Bo Schembechler absolutely knew about Anderson’s abuse. Some say they told Bo; others say that he kept such a tight fist on his program that he couldn’t possibly have been ignorant. Just like Joe Paterno at Penn State.

And just like Paterno, the statue of Schembechler that adorns the athletic campus will almost certainly be removed sometime.

But what does this have to do with Vermont politics, you say?

These scandals have become so commonplace that I can’t help but believe that there are many more like them, so far undiscovered. And if you think this state is exempt, well, check your Vermont exceptionalism at the door.

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Dan French Says the Quiet Part Out Loud

The Education Agency’s proposed new logo (not exactly as illustrated)

Vermont’s education secretary let the cat out of the regulatory bag on Wednesday. He acknowledged that state regulation of approved independent schools is, as Willy Shakes put it, “more honored in the breach than the observance.”

Dan French was speaking to the state board of education, a body not known for an aggressive attitude toward the AIS’s. But this time, they’d had it up to here.

VTDigger’s Lola Duffort reported on French’s testimony, casting it primarily in terms of the troubled Kurn Hattin Homes for Children. Kurn Hattin gave up its license to operate a residential treatment program in the face of enforcement action by the Department of Children and Families (the department cited a pervasive culture of abuse) — and yet, the Ed Agency rubber-stamped Kurn Hattin’s status as an approved independent school.

Well, on Wednesday we found out how the agency arrived at that curious conclusion. And it ought to send shivers down the spine of every parent and educator and, heck, every taxpayer in the state.

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Might As Well Call ‘Em the Rutland Race-Baiters

Rutland Aldermen Attempting to Exhume the Raiders Logo (Not Exactly As Illustrated)

I’m glad to know that everything’s absolutely fine down Rutland way. No issues, no challenges, just unicorns and rainbows all day long.

That must be the case, because otherwise how to explain a majority of the Board of Aldermen* voting in favor of amending the city charter (Rutland Herald story, you may encounter a paywall) to enshrine the “Raider” nickname for Rutland High’s sports teams? That’s right: Change the freakin’ charter because they’re butthurt over the loss of a racist nickname. As Rep. William Notte wrote in an essay submitted to the Herald, “Nothing positive will come of this discussion.” Because there’s no way the Legislature would ever approve this.

*Speaking of which, “AlderMEN”? Really? Is this 2021 or 1921, guys?

More on this in a moment, but first we have breaking news about an upcoming outbreak of racism town hall meeting scheduled for next Wednesday in Rutland. It will be a gathering of Vermont’s anti-“critical race theory” dead-enders. Yup, the handful of folks who believe that fighting racism in the public schools is a threat to our American way of life.

The details: It’s organized by a Rutland-based group called Vermonters for Vermont, last seen helping to bring a busload of Vermonters to the January 6 Capitol insurrection. They’ll be gathering at the Vermont State Fairgrounds at 6:30 on Wednesday, June 16 for an evening of rabble-rousing by the likes of Rep. Art Peterson, former gubernatorial candidate John Klar, Mill River Union School District troublemaker Todd Fillmore, and newly-elected Essex school board member (and proud anti-anti-racist) Liz Cady. Klan robes optional.

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The Veepies: High and Mighty Edition

Well, it’s Monday, and once again we’ve got a full crop of stupidity in the public sphere. I didn’t intend for this to be a weekly feature, but hey, if they keep serving up the meatballs, I’ll keep swinging for the fences.

This week, the stupid was strong in positions of prominence. We’ve got a U.S. Senator, a State Senate committee, a state’s attorney, and not one but two agencies in the Scott administration. So let’s not keep these important slash self-important folks waiting.

To begin, we’ve got our first-ever Provisional Veepie and our first-ever Sub-Veepie. The P.V. is the I’ma Throw Everybody Under the Bus Award, which goes to none other than St. Patrick Leahy. It’s provisional because it’s about an anonymous second-hand quote from Politico, so there’s a chance that Leahy didn’t say, or mean, this. But if he did, what a doozy.

The article reports that Leahy is expected to run for re-election next year. It includes this line: “The 81-year-old has also indicated to them that he believes he’s ‘the only Democrat that can win the seat,’ said a person briefed on the conversations.”

Woof. Way to simultaneously diss every Democrat in Vermont, Senator.

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The Congregation of the Aggrieved

First time, long time (not really)

Something odd and troubling has been happening in southern Rutland County for more than a year now. Bits and pieces of it have been reported in the Rutland Herald, but nobody has put together the big picture.

It’s something you wouldn’t expect in the Vermont of our imaginations, the tolerant place where politics is characterized by civility, and the Religious Right is a toothless fringe. But for almost a year, the Mill River school board has endured harassment from a small group of far-right Christians. (The district includes the towns of Clarendon, Shrewsbury, Tinmouth and Wallingford.) They were originally upset over the proposed flying of the Black Lives Matter and LGBTQ+ Pride flags at the district’s high school, but their list of grievances has grown by leaps and bounds. They’re upset over alleged illegality by the school board, its supposed “very left ideology” which seeks to “politicize and sexualize our children’s education,” a critical Front Porch Forum post by school board chair Adrienne Raymond, and the district’s failure to provide in-school education during the pandemic.

I’m probably missing some stuff, but you get the idea. It’s a great big bag o’nuts.

The group includes Rep. Art Peterson, notorious for denying the existence of systemic racism and saying that victims of discrimination should shake it off and pull themselves up by their bootstraps. Peterson was inspired to run for the House after the school board approved the flying of the two subversive flags.

This spring, the group ran candidates for five school board seats. They didn’t run as a slate, but their issues and concerns were pretty much identical.

If they’d swept the field, they would have been one vote shy of a majority on the 11-member board. In the end, they only won two. The group’s candidates in the March elections were Todd Fillmore (pictured above in an out-of-focus yet somehow telling Zoom screenshot), Bruce Moreton, Julie Petrossi, Matthew Gouchberg, and Arne Majorell, who happens to be Peterson’s son-in-law. Moreton and Gouchberg are now on the school board; Majorell lost his race by six votes.

These people and a few allies are frequent participants in the public-comment section of school board meetings. They’re also active posters on Front Porch Forum. And while they try to couch their concerns in the language of earnest disappointment, they can’t entirely stop the crazy from showing through.

After the jump: Let’s look at the crazy!

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Approved Independent Schools Are Under-Regulated and Growing

The High Castle Burr and Burton Academy

State Auditor Doug Hoffer recently issued the second of two performance audits on Vermont’s approved independent schools. You may have missed it because it was virtually ignored by the #vtpoli media. (Both reports can be accessed here.)

The lack of coverage deserves a post of its own. For now, let’s get to the meat of Hoffer’s work. He didn’t find any smoking guns, but he did identify a striking trend and some definite lapses in oversight by the state. It’s a dangerous combination, especially with so many indy-related people on the state board of education.

Hoffer’s first report focused on an educational double standard: the rules for public schools and AIS’s are quite different, and favor the latter. The high points:

  • The Education Secretary is required in state law to ensure that public schools comply with the law. There is no such provision for AIS’s.
  • Public schools must follow public-records and open-meetings laws, ensuring a measure of transparency and accountability. The AIS’s do not.
  • Educational quality standards are much looser for AIS’s than for public schools.
  • Public schoolteachers must be licensed by the state. Not so for AIS’s.

There’s more, but that gives you the general idea that the indies can cut lots and lots of corners, and are less accountable for how they spend Education Fund money.

Now we get to Hoffer’s second report, which reveals that the AIS’s are taking a larger and larger share of K-12 dollars. Details after the jump.

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Another BLM Brouhaha, This Time in Essex

Hey, remember when a couple of QAnon-ish Trumpers ran for Barre City Council because they were upset over the flying of the “Black Lives Matter” flag? Well, we got us another BLM hater.

Meet Liz Cady, candidate for Essex Westford School Board (election 4/13). Her brand of fringe politics is more subtle than the Barre Boys, but it’s pretty out there. Since the Essex Reporter’s bland ‘n boring candidate profile didn’t dig into her anti-BLM advocacy, it falls to this here blog to fill the gap.

Cady is running against two-term incumbent Liz Subin. And if you carefully read the above campaign mailer, you’ll see quite a few plausibly deniable conservative dog whistles. But let’s get to a couple of telling details first.

Cady doesn’t say so on the flyer, but both of her children are in private school. She tries to elide this inconvenient fact on the flip side of her mailer, which starts “Like all parents, I want my two school-age children to receive the best education possible.”

She’s a district resident and (presumably) a taxpayer, so there’s nothing wrong with her running for school board. But if I were a district voter, I’d think twice about electing someone who has pulled her kids out of the schools.

But the bigger deal is her antipathy toward Black Lives Matter. Last year, after more than 100 students signed a petition to fly the BLM flag, the school board voted to do so. Last September, Cady spoke to the school board during public comment time and unleashed an often ungrammatical screed that, I am not kidding, called BLM a carbon copy of the Nazi movement. (Meeting is archived online; her comments start at about the 18:50 mark.)

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Gloves Off, Let’s Go

Says here Vermont’s public sector unions are feeling anxious about closed-door talks on how to fix their pension plans. Can’t say I blame them. The 2021 session is more than halfway done, Speaker Jill Krowinski is determined to get something done by then, and there’s been not a peep about what a fix might look like. And since Treasurer Beth Pearce has outlined exactly how drastically pensions might change, the teachers’ and state employees’ union have every right to be concerned.

And this is the time to show their concern through hardball, sharp-elbow politics. Give ’em hell. Threaten a cutoff of union support for any lawmaker who supports a major cut in pension benefits or a major increase in employee pay-in. Get in there and throw some elbows.

Mind you, I’m not talking right and wrong here. I’m talking the timely application of leverage.

The VSEA and VT-NEA are two of the most powerful forces in the Vermont Democratic Party. They provide financial support, volunteers, and lots of voters. They have earned a great deal of influence in party circles. That influence should be brought to bear, right now if not sooner.

You’d think this wouldn’t be necessary. You’d think the Legislature’s Demo/Prog majority would be working with the unions to resolve this crisis. But union lobbyists say otherwise.

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