In the end, it wasn’t even close. When the time came for the TUSD Board to discuss the Freedom Center-created textbook for the high school course, Ethics, Economy, and Entrepreneurship,
not a single board member had a kind word to say about it. And since the textbook and the course are inextricably linked, the board’s consensus opinion was the course will not return to TUSD.
[A Personal Note: For this post, I'm once again donning the blogging hat I took off recently. I'll most likely return to The Range in January, though I'll be writing less frequently. Stay tuned.]
A bit of history: Ethics, Economy, and Entrepreneurship
somehow managed to sneak into the TUSD curriculum in 2016 as a yearlong course which fulfilled the state's economics requirement and could also be taken for dual credit at the University of Arizona. No one at the district knows how it got there (or at least no one is saying).
The Board is supposed to approve new courses, but they were kept in the dark on this one. Most of them first learned of the course's existence when I wrote an article
about it in the print edition of the Weekly in October, 2017. Since the school year had begun and students were already enrolled, the board decided to let the course stay until the end of the school year, then discontinue it. Possibly, they said, they would take a closer look at the course at a later date.
That later date was Tuesday, December 11. After the textbook was opened to the public for inspection and evaluation, and a citizens' committee was created to make a formal assessment of the book, it was time for the board to decide on the fate of the textbook and the course.
At the December 11 board meeting, a number of people spoke against the textbook during the Call to the Audience (I was one of them). Only two people spoke in its favor: one of the co-authors of the book and a fellow faculty member at the Freedom Center.
The board members, who had a chance to look over the online evaluations of the textbook—many of them long and detailed, most of them negative—listened to the audience members, then began their discussion. Not one of them had a good word to say about the textbook. At best, some of them said they liked the idea of an elective course on entrepreneurship, but this course and textbook weren't the way it should be done.
When all the board members had their say, Superintendent Trujillo spoke.
"The administration's recommendation," he said, "is not to approve the book or the course." After he stated the reasons behind the district's negative recommendation, it was the board's turn.
"So, do we have a motion?" Board President Michael Hicks asked his fellow board members. Silence. No one offered a motion. The usually contentious board members had a rare moment of unanimity on a potentially divisive issue. None of them liked the textbook, so there was nothing more to say. They agreed with administration's assessment of the course and accepted the superintendent's recommendation without comment.
That was it. No fuss, no drama. The Freedom Center-created course will not be returning to TUSD.
Here are a few takeaways from the yearlong process.
The Kochs Off Campus Group Deserves a Great Deal Of Credit
Kochs Off Campus, comprised of University of Arizona faculty and members of the community, has been dogged in its determination to defang, if not eliminate, the UA's Freedom Center, which was created and is maintained by millions of dollars from the Koch brothers and members of the brothers' donor network. It was members of KOC who alerted me to the TUSD course and helped me gather information for the article I wrote in the Weekly. They kept their focus on the course, poring over the textbook in detail, using their academic expertise to point out its many weaknesses, and keeping tabs on how the district was dealing with the situation. Many of them spoke during the December 11 Call to the Audience, detailing problems with the textbook and the course. Their energy and commitment were instrumental in removing the course from the TUSD curriculum.
The Freedom Center Does Not Like Publicity
When you read about the decades-long efforts by the Koch brothers and their billionaire buddies to shrink government and wipe out business regulation, the term that crops up most frequently is "stealth." These folks like to operate behind the scenes, leaving as few fingerprints as possible while they move their agenda forward. (For more information, Jane Mayer's Dark Money
and Nancy MacLean's Democracy in Chains
, one or the other, or both, are required reading.)
The Freedom Center is a libertarian acorn that doesn't fall far from the Koch brothers' tree. It avoids publicity while it quietly builds its influence in the university and around the state. That's how it worked in TUSD, slipping its course into four high schools without the board being any the wiser. The reason the course has been removed from the TUSD curriculum is the Freedom Center's stealth mission was exposed. Lesson: When someone likes to maneuver in the dark of night, turn on the floodlights.
Amphitheater, Vail and Sahuarita School Districts Should Take a Second Look At the Course
TUSD decided to cancel the course, but Amphitheater, Vail and Sahuarita school districts still offer it to their students. They should take a step back and review the textbook and the course again now that it's been opened to public scrutiny. The TUSD board website has pages of evaluations of the textbook, and the Tuesday Call to the Audience has some powerful arguments against the textbook and the course. After looking over the new information, the districts may decide to keep the course, but first, they owe it to their students to give it a second look.