Column #181. First published in the St. Cloud Times online Aug. 5, 2022; in print Aug. 7
“It’s summer. No time for something I don’t know anything about, and it probably doesn’t much matter anyway.”
Away with excuses. This coming Tuesday it matters a lot, especially for voters in St. Cloud Area School District 742. And the pretext that “I can’t find out about it” is lame.
St. Cloud resident Kevin Carpenter’s July 28 Your Turn, “Your next chance to vote is Aug. 9. Don't miss it,” gives a play-by-play of how to find out where you vote and what your ballot looks like: https://www.sos.state.mn.us/elections-voting/election-day-voting/.
The July 28 Times also included a letter from three readers, “Conservative school board slate will set District 742 back.” I agree with the letter, but want to consider the online conversation it provoked at the Times website – a window on how people inform themselves about issues and on the curious mutation that “nonpartisan” has undergone.
An early comment laments that the letter gives readers only the writers’ “perception of an ‘agenda,’” but “it hasn’t been reported.” This is not true.
In a June 16 Times article, “Some St. Cloud school board candidates speak at event in Wilson Park,” remarks of Mike Bueckers, Nicole Rierson, and Theresa Carlstedt are cited, with enough code words to make an “agenda” pretty clear. Bueckers: “’I want to bring back “we the parents,”’ he said before stating that parents are losing power in the education system and that the school system is pushing agendas onto children.” Rierson “addressed her views against mask mandates, vaccine mandates, sex education and discussion of politics.” “Carlstedt claimed ‘kids are being indoctrinated into communist beliefs’ and that ‘everything about gender equality is messed up,’” and also proposed “arming teachers and the district hiring active or former military reserve to protect schools.” The writers of the letter to the Times were not making up the three candidates’ agenda.
It is an agenda to which all three are openly committed. Lawn signs picture all of them together. During a July 15 interview on the Steel Toe Morning Show they made clear that they are running as a team and hope to become the board’s majority ― though Rierson, who you think would at least know the basic facts, said it’s a six-member board (it’s seven) and that the superintendent is a voting member (she isn’t).
Another Times comment, from a former school board member, notes that it’s “not a question of conservative or liberal. … Public education is not partisan.” Yes, the election is technically “nonpartisan,” which means candidates are not identified by political party on the ballot. But Bueckers, Carlstedt, and Rierson stretch the definition of “nonpartisan” past the breaking point.
The three candidates have welcomed endorsement by Central Minnesota Freedom Advocates (which sponsored the Wilson Park event in June). At its website, CMFA declares the mission of its education task force: “Our schools have been slowly taken over by Marxists ideals. Our students have been taught to hate our nation and are being equipped to bring down our nation from the younger generation on up. We need to fix this! One way we do this is becoming involved with our schoolboards.”
“Marxist ideals” are an echo of the “Red scare” of the 1950s. To say that attention to the dark sides of American history amounts to teaching students to “hate our nation” so as “to bring down our nation” is to say that Americans can’t abide the truth. I, for one, find it easier to love America that faces up to its past and its present than the jingoistic America that I “learned about” many decades ago.
The three favor “reading, writing, and arithmetic” as the sole substance of education. In their Steel Toe Morning Show interview they disdain extracurriculars, despite overwhelming evidence from research and testimonials that sports, music, debate, theater, and all the rest are crucial in preparation for successful lives.
They say they speak “for parents.” But: which parents? Current school board members are parents. And public education is of concern to all voters, not just parents. Many citizens trust the educational professionals – administrators and teachers and counselors and other aides. They are not subversive “Marxists” training a generation to “bring down our nation.” They are working every day to fulfill District 742’s mission: “to provide a safe and caring climate and culture in which we engage, inspire, educate, prepare and empower all learners in partnership with their surrounding community to be successful in today's and tomorrow's society.” Rierson disparages this mission statement itself as “an example of an agenda being pushed toward students.”
None of the three has answered the League of Women Voters Education Fund questionnaire (vote411.org). There you will find responses from the other five candidates – Zach Dorholt, Chantal Oechsle, Bashir Omer, Natalie Ringsmuth, Heather Weems. They make “nonpartisan” make sense.