It is the age of impunity.
It is the age when white supremacists can defile a university campus with tiki-torched brays of “Jews will not replace us,” murder an opponent with a car and still get a president’s admiration.
It is the age when Black Lives Matter’s civil rights marchers are vilified as rioters, when their 14th Amendment ideals are debased as an inadmissible “point of view” and when their bigoted censors, two of our own school board members among them, pretend to be educators.
It is an age when children are caged by government order, when migrants are dehumanized with nazified imagery of disease and vermin in a nation that would still be looking for its worth without the immigrants and enslaved people that built it.
It is an age when a president’s brand depends on subverting democracy, when rioters and terrorists can sack the nation’s Capitol, attempt to lynch the vice president, shit on lawmakers’ floor and still be called patriots and “protesters” by apologists not only holding office, but winning elections, some of them in our own county.
It is an age when books prized and acclaimed for giving voice to anti-racism, to anti-police brutality, to Black or gay or transgender or whatever sexuality in all its exuberance, are pulled from library shelves by neo-Confederates posing on sandpiles of piety and “concern for the children of Flagler County.”
It is an age when brutality is character, when exclusion is morality, when fanaticism is faith, when inequality is merit, when racism is purity, when violence and ignorance are patriotism. When all else fails, there’s the impunity of equivalence. If it is all point of view, then it is all permissible, shameless discrimination included.
Which brings us to the Flagler County School Board’s impending revocation of equity.
The board doesn’t believe in equality anymore. No, really: it’s about to make a policy decision dropping the word “equity” from its goals. It’s opting for a euphemism instead: “student success.” For a district that brands itself “the nation’s premier learning organization,” it’s an odd way to teach students precision in language and fairness in conduct by eliminating a word reflecting both.
As astounding as this sounds, it’s not nearly as astounding as why. Two of the board’s members, Jill Woolbright and Janet McDonald, are running for re-election. Both are especially susceptible to the hysterics of tiny but noisy bands with adorably deceptive names like “moms for liberty” and other catchy coagulants glomming onto the word, which in their usage is indistinguishable from impunity. They’ve been turning school board meetings across the country into mob pits, all using the same Fox-scripted playbook and tweaked for local pushers: masks are evil, mandates are totalitarian, transgender people are freaks, lowering Old Kings Elementary’s supremely white student body by a couple of percent is the end of American civilization as we know it.
Those two board members have been appeasing these “fine people,” to quote Woolbright’s lord and savior of equivalency, and taking succor from them. They’re the same two board members who want any reference to Black Lives Matter removed from any instructional material, the same board members now going after Black, brown and LGBTQ books in school libraries. So when fanatics demand that the board freebase on their reality-altering opiates, Woolbright and McDonald say: “how high?”
The administration, out of fear, weariness or misplaced pragmatism, is giving in. Somehow board members Cheryl Massaro and Trevor Tucker, who are not easily played, gave in. Only Colleen Conklin, who called it “shameless,” didn’t. That’s the genesis of this latest surrender on equity. Massaro and Tucker should rethink.
For years the difference between equity and equality was non-existent. Equity reports have been an annual ritual in school boards across the country for decades. The latest of them was presented to the school board in July, with chapter headings like “Gender Equity in Athletics” and “Employment Equity” and all sorts of numbers that point to gaps between whites and minority success. The point of equity is to narrow those gaps.
Sometime during the Trump regression the word equity was perverted into one of those weaponized code words no one could define but easily understood as a branding of heresy. It’s not clear when the word mutated or whose perversion it was, though the imprint of the Heritage Foundation, the fringe-right shop that brought you Charles Murray’s racist Bell Curve and neo-eugenicist Jason Richwine, has been all over this. The grafting of equity onto critical race theory was no-brainer opportunism. Virginia’s Glenn Youngkin could care less about Beloved, but he sure as hell knew how to tap into the book-banning rage by manufacturing the bogus conflict between CRT and “parental rights.” As in Flagler with equity, one parent’s assault became an entire district’s capitulation: against the many, one.
The attacks have zero to do with the concepts. Most of these podium pedants at school board meetings wouldn’t know CRT from Palm Coast’s fabulous theater of the same name, nor realize that they are exhibit A in every CRT thesis’s raw data. They don’t care. Like “communism” in the 50s, like “anarchism” in the 60s, like “feminism” in the 70s, like “big government” in the 80s and “atheism” and “socialism” since the dawn of paranoia, these are just weaponized buzzwords tested in focus groups before getting released like viruses through the usual Pavlovian kennels—Fox, Newsmax, OAN, Desantis’s press office.
Accepting that the word means what its censors want it to mean–that equity looks at outcomes rather than opportunity, at groups rather than individuals–what, exactly, is the objection, especially when, contrary to its detractors, equity is not exclusive of opportunity. It is in addition to opportunity. It is academia’s earned income tax credit: it incentivizes the disadvantaged, the low-performing, the self-marginalized. Of course it seeks to lift them up. Shouldn’t it? But to suggest that it does so at the expense of the higher performing, or to bring down the better-performing, is patently false.
Education is not a zero-sum game. If Mohammed is a stronger student than Donald, and you end up helping Donald more than Mohammed–if you give Donald free wi-fi to go along with his school-issued laptop, a half-price lunch and extra tutoring after school–you’re not hurting Mohammed. You’re helping Donald perform closer to Mohammed’s level, and in so doing helping general outcomes, which means you’re helping your school’s outcomes, and therefore your community as a whole.
That’s equity. That’s what’s meant by outcomes–not the cynical, misleading propaganda about forcing everyone to perform at the same level, let alone bringing anyone below their capabilities. Those are knowingly false claims put forth with reckless disregard of the truth, not to prevent a dumbing down, which is non-existent, but to defeat the goals of equity. It is an assault on helping those who need help, who happen to be disproportionately students of color.
Following the logic of anti-equity, the only college financial aid should be merit based. There should be no subsidies for health care. Title IX, the civil rights law that prohibits gender discrimination in sports, should be abolished along with Title I, which directs extra dollars toward reading programs for the lower-performing. Head Start, the WIC program (a nutrition subsidy for poorer women, infants and children) and the earned income tax credit should all be abolished.
This is racism in action, cynically veiled in euphemisms and fake impartiality. A nation enamored of its own exceptionalism is vengefully turning against helping the disadvantaged find their exceptionalism. The city upon a hill is now gated, and the Flagler County School Board just padlocked its own gate.
This is not a pragmatic concession with no effect on policy, as the administration portrays it. It’s a signal surrender reversing decades of irreproachable progress. Words matter. Equity matters. Trevor Tucker, Cheryl Massaro, your vote will decide this. Stand your ground, champion precision in language, policy and principle, and don’t appease this latest Trojan horse of bigotry put forth by a couple of book burners: Give them an inch, they’ll take the school district.