Lessons from Nov. 2

From the newsletter

Greetings from the Berkshires on the Western edge of Massachusetts! We came up here to check out an autism school for Ian and decided to turn the trip into a mini-vacation. 

On today’s schedule is a tour of Edith Warton’s House, which should put me in literary geekery heaven. And a tour of a gilded age mansion — Ventford Hall Mansion, owned by J. P. Morgan’s sister — which should put me in history and art geekery heaven. In short, lots of geekery today, so let me put out a quick newsletter, while I’m waiting for the teenager to wake up. 


So, last Tuesday had some surprises, no? I mean it wasn’t 2016 level of surprise, but the tight election in NJ and the huge sweep in VA‘s gubernatorial was certainly not called by the major media. The signs that pissed off parents were going to take out their anger on Democrats? That was missed, too. 

Why did they miss all this? Partly, it’s because local news sources are on oxygen masks in hospice care. There’s nobody really going to the school board meetings. Nobody writing those stories that will get picked up by the bigger fish in the media ecosystem. 

In Jersey, the problem is compounded, because not only do we have the same faltering local newspapers as the rest of the country, we also don’t have a proper state media source. We’re sandwiched in between the New York media system in the North, and the Philadelphia news media in the South. So, if you paid really close attention to the local news, which is really New York City news, at 5:00, you might have heard that the race was going to be razor tight, but CNN certainly didn’t pick that up. 

And the major news sources failed to cover the exhaustion of parents and families, because it wasn’t part of the narrative. I sent in dozens of pitches to major news sources this past two years, describing the pain of raising boys — with one on the autistic spectrum — during school shutdowns. And nobody picked it up. My pitches could very well have sucked, but editors didn’t run anybody else’s pitches either. 

Still, I’m seeing people trying to reframe this week’s election about race and Trump. “White women are racist, Trumpist, Karens who deserve to die” is definitely a theme running through certain circles on Twitter right now. Fun fact: If you call a person a racist, it rarely moves them to vote for your side. Who knew, right? 

So, a few weeks ago, I read a ton of articles about racist parents screaming at school board elections about Critical Race Theory (CRT). And this made me confused. I go to our bimonthly school board meetings and haven’t seen anything like that. Our five member school board includes a Korean woman, a Hindu Indian man, who campaigned for new religious holidays on the school calendar, and a Jewish man who was concerned about anti-semitism. There was unanimous support for new diversity, equity, and inclusion initiative. I would regularly speak up about improving conditions for students with disabilities. My home is hardly a KKK hotspot. 

Since I wasn’t seeing this racism stuff at our school board meetings and wasn’t hearing about it neighboring towns, I made some calls to various contacts who serve on school boards and asked them if they were getting CRT email or hearing low key things happening. And they said, NO. If they had said yes, then I would have put on my reporter hat and started working on an article. But they told me that there was no story. 

This November was about pain. It was about parental pain. This shutdown was horrific on our children and our ability to work. We still have not recovered. Our local community college and county-run services for disabled people are still closed. We never felt like got a lot of sympathy from our leaders. 

In New Jersey, the Democratic party was in charge of the pandemic and made draconian choices that were highly unpopular. Here’s another fun fact: If you make unpopular moves, then people won’t vote for you next time. Wow, I’m just filled with wisdom today. 

On top of miserable kids, families have been bled with a million little cuts at the gas pump, at the diner, at the pub, at the supermarket. Everything costs more. And this has a major impact, not just on the bank book, but on a family’s quality of life. If they can’t go out for pizza night or grab some take out during the week, because they are tapped out, it hurts. It hurts a lot. 

It’s not too late. Democrats have to take back the education issue. They have to take back parents and families. They have to listen to what reasonable parents have been telling them all year and help them out with extra tutoring, supplemental schooling, community-based support, and mental health support. They have to make sure that money that is being diverted to local sources is being spent on the right things. (This is going to be a huge problem. For example, I’m seeing more education money being spent on consultants and than on tutoring.) 

They need to train parents to be effective participants in education governance and local government. And since it is mostly women who get involved with education issues, this is also an issue for feminism. 

They need to respect parents — again, mostly women — and not ascribe to them them evil motives. This shouldn’t be so hard. 

In order for the national government and media sources to understand the needs of families and parents, we need a well functioning local media. Please, Jeff Bezos, put your billions here. 

This Tuesday was a wake up call, and for the most part, I’m seeing people ready and willing to think through some changes. I’m happy to be part of this process. 


I’ve used up my hour for writing. My family is getting restless to get out of the room. So, please excuse typos and rushed thoughts. This is all the time that I have today. Be well, friends!

17 thoughts on “Lessons from Nov. 2

  1. Suburban Virginia here. I am with you on our local coverage problem – we are in the rain shadow of DC and they deign to give us a little coverage. It’s a patchwork – there is a fairly rabid Dem blog (Blue Virginia) which is full of the evil of the local Reeps and the inevitable triumph of virtuous Dems, there are some local papers and web sites. A statewide online paper (Virginia Mercury) and a conservative statewide blog (Bacon’s Rebellion) So I was aware of Loudoun and the rape of the teen girl at school by a boy in a skirt, and the attempts to stifle protesting parents. There is a terminology struggle about CRT (not happening! It’s an abstruse academic discussion! Is happening! Our kids are being taught self hate!) I had no idea how seriously to take this, Arlington did seventeen per cent for Trump in 2020 and, as it turned out, 22 per cent for Youngkin. I had been expecting a fairly narrow Dem victory. State as a whole went from +10 or +11 for Biden to +2 for Youngkin in a year. Wow.

    I was pretty happy to vote for Terry Mac in the beginning, got less so as the campaign wore on as he kept running against Trump instead of on local needs and issues. Youngkin ran a nearly perfect campaign, and Terry Mac not so much. Statewide shift was enough to cost the Dems control of the HoD, so the Dems only survive in control of the Senate (and that by one vote, we have a couple guys who are pretty similar in their loyalty to Manchin and Sinema, let’s see how that goes, and the Lieutenant Governor is the Reep). Fairly big shift towards the Reeps on the part of Latins and Asian voters. I don’t know what the effect of our newly elected LG (Black woman, former Marine) will be on what has been pretty strong loyalty of Virginia Black voters for the Dems. A Loudoun parents group has just turned in recall petitions for members of the Loudoun School Board. I do have a feeling that all bets are off, future may be pretty different from the past, more of a feeling of flux than I am used to. Probably unwise for Terry Mac to have gotten Randi Weingarten to come and keynote for him.


    1. ds,

      You cover the base pretty well–I was actually coming here to mention the Randi Weingarten thing.

      There was also the weird Charlottesville fiasco, which is still murky, but seems to have gone down like this:

      –The Lincoln Project or somebody sent a small group of Democratic staffers to Charlottesville to stand in front of Youngkin’s bus and yell that they were all in for Glenn…while doing Charlottesville neo-Nazi cosplay, complete with tiki torches and identity-concealing sunglasses.
      –A bunch of Democrats thought (or pretended to think) that they were the real deal and claimed to be disgusted, blamed Youngkin for them, etc. Some of these were individuals who almost certainly knew that it was initially a troll, before people decided to pretend that they were actual neo-Nazi Youngkin supporters.
      –The internet rapidly started IDing Democratic staffers in the group.
      –VA Democratic staffers commenced scrubbing their social media.
      –The Lincoln Project bragged about organizing the event.
      –End scene!

      Being a Republican, I would love to see this race as the start of a red wave for 2022/2024, but I have to confess that McAuliffe’s campaign is perhaps the worst political campaign I have ever followed in my entire life, so I don’t know how much this generalizes.


      1. AmyP, the Terry Mac campaign can be maligned, and you have done it very nicely, but the landscape in which they started out looked very favorable for them: Biden ten point victory, he was polling well, tarring Youngkin with the ‘Trump’ brush looked like a golden ticket.
        A bunch of events went sour for them: Biden thinks he is FDR and the voters think he is Chernenko, the Squad made progress hugely difficult and it played out in the papers for months, the Loudoun County schools situation went about as unfavorably as possible for Dems. And Youngkin finessed the Trump stain very nicely (‘Terry, I know you want to run against Trump. But you are running against me’)
        I think the Reeps need to desperately hope that Trump will just stay in Florida and SHUT UP rather than injecting himself everywhere. Trump being Trump, that may be too much for them to hope.


  2. I am starting to note a trend where school districts now feel really comfortable throwing surprise school holidays at parents and/or just cutting the school year down. I have three recent examples already, so you know it’s a trend!


    CPS cancelled school for Nov. 12 with one week’s notice for “Vaccine Awareness Day.” This is not a school-based vaccine clinic by the way: it’s an opportunity for Chicago parents to go hunt down vaccinations for their kids on their own. Hope they don’t get fired!


    San Diego USD was planning to discuss doing a “mental health day” on Friday Nov. 12…at their TUESDAY board meeting. Parents pushed back, so this got cancelled. (There was supposedly some sort of plan to arrange for childcare and meals.)


    Southfield, Michigan (not, apparently, a swanky district) has decided to go to having every Friday be a remote learning day.

    Somebody needs to have the talk with schools about how the beginning of year calendar is a contract with the families, and that barring life-threatening emergencies, schools need to keep their side of the contract.


    1. Regarding the Chicago Vaccine Awareness Day–I just spent yesterday morning on hold with various entities here in Central Texas and discovering that neither our grocery store, nor our pediatrician, nor the local hospital chain currently has 5-11 kid COVID vaccines. I’m not saying it’s completely unavailable, it’s just that everybody is scrambling right now and it’s definitely not widely available.

      Given that this is so early in the process, there could easily be some similar hiccups in Chicago, especially if you turn every family in Chicago loose and expect them to get vaccines for their kids on the same day.


  3. You didn’t link the article about the local story on school reopening in Montclair, NJ that you retweeted. It was an interesting summary that generalizes across other liberal cities (Brookline, MA has a similar story). The author summarizing Montclair’s parents reactions reflected the stories you tell us (parents who were significantly impacted by the school closures and didn’t see people being thoughtful about reopening) and their loss of trust in depending on government services and the personal backlash against the governor (“I’ll never vote for him again”).

    The NJ specific politics, what I’d call low grade corruption (the mayor, is also the president of the teacher’s union? and appoints the school board? I couldn’t quite follow, because it didn’t make sense the way I was reading it) is not something we see.

    Our city has an elected school board (Montclair seemed to be trying to get one through referendum) and here, we questioned whether our elected, but unpaid school board was up to the task of managing the superintendent in the pandemic and there was chatter about reforming the school board to have a mayor appointed one.

    I don’t think the Governor is suffering significant backlash at this point, but, he will almost certainly not run again (now on a 3rd term). I don’t know if his party will suffer a backlash, and I don’t think we’ll know until we have an election.

    My one take home was that in future pandemics (and we will have another, and we are sadly unprepared), emergency measures have to have expiration dates that must be re-upped by the Governor. Through much of the school year in 2020-2021, the Governor said he didn’t have the authority to reopen schools, tough he had the authority to close them. Eventually, they found a public health tool — by arguing that the school closures were impacting the mental health of children. But, I think that when an emergency measure is taken, it should be until a specific date and the Governor should have to reauthorize it.

    (I know others think there should be stronger limits on governor’s powers — but I would prefer this one).


    1. bj said, “My one take home was that in future pandemics (and we will have another, and we are sadly unprepared), emergency measures have to have expiration dates that must be re-upped by the Governor.”


      “Through much of the school year in 2020-2021, the Governor said he didn’t have the authority to reopen schools, tough he had the authority to close them.”



  4. Here in Ontario it’s the Conservative (really populist) government that shut education down in weird ways and withheld funding, made everyone suffer with extremely last-minute decision-making, lack of support and training, etc. Education, never mind special education, was definitely not a core priority. The speculation here is that the Conservatives always wanted to start moving towards cheap (and monetizable overseas) online education — pre-pandemic they were about to make one core credit in grade 10 an online course. As well as bust the unions.

    I suspect a lot of governments are going to flip based on fallout of their pandemic decision-making almost regardless of what the policies actually were. I find myself frustrated in Canada by the amount of pointing and blaming and the lack of actual policy positions. I agree parents are one of the most tired out, jaded, angry groups and I am one of them. At least my kids’ schools did really good jobs. Our board shut special education down in the first (March-June 2020) debacle but after that prioritized in-person special education, so those classrooms stayed open even when everyone else went virtual. But our record on special education, autism funding, and disability is bad regardless so that’s not a brag.

    AmyP, I can’t believe all that. I’d lose my mind. I have a friend in California where her kids regularly have half days that seem random (like a *whole week* of them for parent teacher interviews???) and it’s like – how are parents supposed to deal with this? Does every daycare/after school program just jump in? Our schools started really late this year because they needed extra prep time, and so they reduced the number of PA days to 4 for the school year (normally 7.)


  5. The random days are an interesting phenomenon. My kiddo loved having Wednesdays without scheduled school during the pandemic (rather than a short day), and said that he wished they’d keep it. He used it productively, and imagined even more interesting options (like interning or volunteering).

    The unpredictable days are a problem and the chopped up schedules, even when predictable, are awful for the kids, parents, and teachers. I’m guessing that Friday after Veteran’s day that Chicago randomly added in was partly motivated by the chopping of the schedule. I’m pretty sure that no effective learning gets done on a Friday after a holiday. But, for parents who need the child care (even without learning), it’s a tough.

    I was talking with a teacher about the discussion within her district about holidays for Yom Kippur and Epiphany. Epiphany wasn’t a regular holiday, but has recently been added to the schedule because some schools in the district had insufficient staffing on those day because of changing demographics. But that meant the number of days didn’t allow Yom Kippur off.

    And, Epiphany, on Jan 6, is the Thursday after kids return from winter break. So, they get two weeks off, three days of school, a holiday, and then return for Friday.


    1. bj said, “I’m guessing that Friday after Veteran’s day that Chicago randomly added in was partly motivated by the chopping of the schedule.”

      What I’ve been hearing is that schools are really strapped for subs now, so some of these surprise school holidays are due to the fact that they really do not have the staff to cover the classrooms.

      But if that’s the case, we need to have that conversation. For example, we need to talk about bringing sub wages in line with the market and the fact that you can’t a) pay small hourly wages and b) give very little notice and expect warm bodies to show up when you need them.

      Laura, a sub piece might be worth writing!


  6. Here’s another local news take from a personal angle: I live in a rural university town, and we have two local news services, a good though minimally-staffed NPR station, and a barely local (mainly wire stories) newspaper – they cover city council meetings at a very basic level, which is something, but no in-depth reporting.

    Since the university is important for my job and the jobs of 1000-plus others, I pay a lot of attention to our board of trustees meetings, and 5-6 years ago realized that the only way to know what was going on was to actually sit in on their quarterly meetings, which sometimes run to 6 hours. The NPR story usually hits the major highlights but is only 5-6 paragraphs at best.

    Not everyone wants to or can attend a six hour meeting on a Friday, so I started “live-blogging” them on my FB page. It’s mostly straight news/observations; I’m pretty well-informed so I know what is routine and what is controversial. I make some comments linking back to earlier events and every once in a while say something snarky or something nice. Generally it’s one post and then I make about 25 comments on it, with others popping in occasionally. It’s popular among my 100 or so FB friends at the university, and sometimes a person who I know only slightly will mention how much they appreciate it. (It would probably make more sense to do this on twitter, but I haven’t become a twitter person yet.)

    I was on my hs newspaper and covered school board meetings – which were sometimes quite controversial or at least lively even back in the 1980s. I’ve thought about branching out to do city council or school board, but that would require a lot more time.


    1. The main source of reporting on our school board is a blog, which went into hiatus when the author moved to Arizona. She revived the blog (I don’t think she moved back, but was just motivated, but I”m not sure) during the pandemic, watching some of the school board meetings on line. I think the blogging resources can be great, but they are labors of love and we can’t count on them.

      I do think that school newspapers are a growing resource for some of these stories these days, in addition to the volunteers. Certainly there should be a reporter covering school board meetings for our HS newspapers (though I think maybe only my kiddos school has a real newspaper).

      There’s Gates funding for education reporting in our local newspaper (which I might also characterize as “mostly wire service” reporting, but is probably not entirely fair). I was disappointed at the quality of the educational reporting during the pandemic. For example, a reporter trying to group source factual information on twitter. I thought she should call the schools for the info (and,yes, maybe schools weren’t giving it to her, but that’s what I wanted, too, a reporter with relationships that she would develop and use). I think there might have been a problem with the individual — who may not have been suited to handle the fast breaking stories during the 2nd phase of the pandemic and school openings.


  7. Terry Macauliffe also stormed out of an interview where he was being asked softball questions. I think this was an example of his arrogance. Just stupid on his part.


    1. Tulip said, “Terry Macauliffe also stormed out of an interview where he was being asked softball questions. I think this was an example of his arrogance. Just stupid on his part.”



      1. I started the season pretty enthusiastic about Terry Mac, who had done well as governor before, and got less and less so as the campaign wore on. He made a lot of own goals. He would clearly have won, though, had Biden’s reputation not gone swirling down the toilet as it did.


      2. ds wrote, “I started the season pretty enthusiastic about Terry Mac, who had done well as governor before, and got less and less so as the campaign wore on. He made a lot of own goals. He would clearly have won, though, had Biden’s reputation not gone swirling down the toilet as it did.”

        I’m listening to the Nov. 4 episode of Jonah Goldberg’s Remnant podcast, and I just got to the point where he’s talking about how Terry McAuliffe got his start working for Bill Clinton. Goldberg states (pretty plausibly, I think) that Billl Clinton would never, ever have run the kind of campaign that T-Mac did in 2021. You’d never catch Bill Clinton on tape saying that parents need to butt out of the classroom.

        I’m not the world’s biggest Obama fan, but I don’t think Obama would have run this style of campaign either. Both Clinton and Obama in their prime had a lot more finesse.

        Granted, Clinton and Obama were unusually talented, but many contemporary politicians don’t even seem to be trying. Did a lot of politicians forget in 2020-2021 that politics is about persuasion?


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