“Fascism” is a scary word that is far too often slung as an insult by people actively engaging in it who don’t understand what it actually is. In today’s post/podcast, I want to talk about what fascism actually is and how it shows up in all aspects of public agency functioning, but particularly how to recognize it in special education.
Unfortunately, these days, there are no better angels to appeal to within many public agencies, including public education agencies. It’s not that the entire barrel of apples is spoiled, but enough of it is that the good apples either leave or go bad, too.
Bureaucrats accustomed to gaming the system for their own financial gain at the expense of children with special needs have historically engaged in some pretty unscrupulous behaviors over the years, but they just could not resist the opportunity to exploit the pandemic to advance their self-serving agendas. They’ve become experts at seizing upon opportunities to escape/avoid their job responsibilities while still collecting their government paychecks.
For far too many individuals, employment in public service has become a form of welfare fraud, only public agency employees get more free government money and perks in exchange for nothing than actual welfare recipients, who have to perform for the pennies on the dollar they receive by comparison. In California, for example, the average special education director is paid around $125K per year plus benefits with support administrators each being paid around $100K per year at taxpayer expense, regardless of whether their students receive educational benefits or not.
So, how does that relate to fascism? And why is it such an inflammatory word when it simply describes a frame of thought?
My theory is that either the people who find the terms “fascist” and “fascism” inflammatory are engaging in fascist behaviors and don’t want to be called out on them, or they don’t actually understand what fascism is and that they are actively engaged in it, thereby simply taking it as an insult. So, before we start talking about the fascists that have been employed in local government over the last 100 years, lets first arrive at an understanding of what these terms actually mean.
Before we can talk about what fascism is, we first need to talk about what our democracy is supposed to be. The most basic summary of American democracy is that it is a system governed by the rule of law, which is created by legislators elected to represent the interests of their constituents wherein the majority rules. Being ruled by laws of which no one is above, rather than a dictator or an authoritarian regime, is an essential element of a democracy.
Another essential element of a democracy is the belief that every person, regardless of what makes them unique, is afforded equal rights under the law. The fact that we need laws like the IDEA, Section 504, and the ADA make clear that, if left to their own devices, our public schools cannot be trusted to afford equal rights to their students with special needs. They have to be regulated or they can devolve into little fascist regimes of their own, depending on the communities in which they are located.
The last 29+ years of working in this field has convinced me that even those laws are not enough. Fascists who have been within the system since before these laws were passed made these laws necessary in the first place to ensure that democracy is afforded to every child in the public education system. One of the most historically significant pieces of litigation in IDEA history is PARC v. Pennsylvania, in which it was determined that denying children with disabilities equal access to education is unconstitutional.
The fact that our federal government has been kidnapping and locking up babies coming to our borders through the the legal asylum-seeking process with their parents speaks to the degree to which the rights of any child in this country are not honored in general, much less when children have disabilities. Recent feedback from the American Association of Pediatrics has described this conduct as institutionalized “child abuse.” The American Federation of Teachers has called this conduct “crimes against humanity” (see https://youtu.be/3lMhuv3EXLI).
A government that disregards child welfare at all, much less to this degree is monstrous, hence today’s discussion of fascism.
- an authoritarian and nationalistic right-wing system of government and social organization.synonyms:authoritarianism · totalitarianism · dictatorship · despotism · autocracy · absolute rule · Nazism · rightism · militarism · nationalism · xenophobia · racism · anti-Semitism · chauvinism · jingoism · isolationism · neo-fascism · neo-Nazism · corporativism · corporatism · Hitlerism · Francoism · Falangism
So, basically, anything undemocratic is fascism. Denying children with disabilities equal access to education has already been determined to be unconstitutional. If it’s unconstitutional, is undemocratic. If it’s undemocratic, it’s fascist. Ergo, denying children with disabilities equal access to education is fascist.
Nazis are fascists. They do not believe that all people have equal rights and individuals with disabilities top their list of people who don’t deserve to live, much less be given equal access to anything. All fascism includes biases against other humans on the bases of observable physical traits and/or behaviors.
In Hitler’s Germany, it was the medical community that turned its back on individuals with disabilities, using science without ethics to justify mass killings and inhumane experimentation that were legitimized as “medical procedures.” After Hitler purged the country of somewhere between 6,000 and 7,000 Jewish doctors, more than 7% of all remaining German medical doctors joined the Nazi party, a much higher percentage than in the general population at that time. By 1942, more than half of Germany’s medical doctors and professionals with PhDs in related fields had joined the Nazi party.
Doctors working for Hitler’s Nazi State rather than patient welfare then embarked upon many of the most unethical human experiments conducted in modern history. Using Mendelian genetics to guide their decision-making processes, they saw extermination as the correct solution for developmental disabilities like Autism and Down’s Syndrome, which they regarded as genetic defects. This abandonment of the Hippocratic Oath to do no harm facilitated the Holocaust.
Murder and dismemberment in the name of science were visited upon every class of individuals captured by the Nazis, including people with disabilities, during the Holocaust. At the time, there were no international laws governing the behaviors of doctors. After the war, following the Nuremberg Trials, the Nuremberg Code was created in 1947, which established a set of research ethics for human experimentation.
In the early 1970s, when the special education and related civil rights laws were created, these ethical standards had long been established as a matter of law, but not necessarily common practice. The concept clearly did not generalize from the medical community to the education community, and much hell has been raised by school district officials and their lawyers about public education agencies not being liable for educational malpractice.
In my opinion, educational malpractice should be a criminal offense, complete with jail time and fines. Acts of unconstitutional conduct carried out under the color of public office cannot be tolerated in our democracy, whether we’re talking about extrajudicial killings by police or denials of a Free and Appropriate Public Education (FAPE) as a result of malice and/or neglect.
These laws only became necessary, and were finally enacted in the 1970s, because the intrinsic educational and civil rights of children with disabilities were being denied all over the United States. Professional ethical standards alone were not enough to protect students with special needs. Just as with the Nazi doctors and the Nuremberg Code, laws had to be created after the fact to hold people accountable for their unethical treatment of individuals with disabilities, including school-aged children, here in the United States.
The laws that protect students with disabilities have always been difficult to enforce. In no small part, this is because the fascists already employed within the public education system who viewed children with disabilities as second class citizens continued to undermine these laws from within their public education agencies after these laws passed.
As a more visible example of what I’m talking about, consider one of the most famous “Karens” in our social awareness, Kim Davis of Broward County, Kentucky. While she got elected to serve the public, taking an oath to abide by the rule of law and fully knowing that the Constitution requires a separation of church and state, she refused to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples following the landmark federal lawsuit Obergefell v. Hodges, because her religious beliefs require her to engage in discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation.
This is fascism. She denied equal Constitutional rights under the law, refused to abide by the rule of law, and abandoned the separation of church and state in favor of her religious beliefs, which clearly do not align with the Constitution or democracy in general. She then claimed that she was being persecuted for her religion when she was put in jail for refusing to do her government job according to the rule of law.
This kind of behavior has been going on since the laws that protect children with disabilities were passed in the 1970s through to today. And, now, we have the consequences of this pandemic impacting an already unconstitutionally dysfunctional system and exposing all of its flaws for the whole world to see.
The thing about hard times is it quickly reveals who the fascists are. They are the ones advocating for a return to the previous status quo in which they were the beneficiaries of inequities while actively denying the existence of the obvious inequities in our publicly funded systems.
It has become the norm that agencies created by our democratic rule of law and funded with taxpayer dollars routinely violate those laws and misappropriate those dollars at the expense of the very constituents these agencies were created and funded by the taxpayers to serve. This has to stop or democracy is truly dead in this country.
Such is often the case in special education, just as a matter of routine. But, now this pandemic has really shown everyone’s true colors and there is little that is beautiful to behold. Just as peaceful protests against police brutality are being met with more police brutality, parents advocating for remedies to address their children’s special needs are being met with more frequent and egregious violations now that the circumstances have changed in response to the pandemic.
Clearly, public safety is of paramount importance and I will never dispute that plain fact. But, public safety does not require the end of democracy, and I’m not talking about masks. Don’t be an idiot; wash your hands, wear a damn mask, and socially distance yourself from other people.
Public safety is equal in importance to the constitutional rights of children with disabilities, not greater. These children have a protected legal right to equal access to public education. Further, special education students have a protected right to individualized educational programs designed and delivered according to the peer-reviewed research (34 CFR Sec. 300.320(a)(4)).
Local government agencies performing according to their legal mandates is democracy in action. This pandemic is not so apocalyptical that certain classes of individuals suddenly cease to have legally protected rights. Fascism denies their rights, not a virus. Local education agencies refusing to perform according to their legal mandates is fascism in action.
Further, as I’ve previously reported here, none of the applicable federal laws have been waived as a result of the pandemic. States and local governments do not have the legal authority to waive the federal requirements; they can only describe with State law how the federal laws will be implemented within the State, and local education agencies can, at most, create policies about how they will individually comply with the State’s implementation requirements of the federal regulations.
No local school district has the legal authority to refuse to abide by the laws, particularly those that regulate its purpose and existence. Nothing could be more undemocratic – more fascist – than that.
And, yet, here we are with our most vulnerable children languishing and regressing developmentally with every passing moment because a bunch of “tax-fattened hyenas,” to quote the great Berke Breathed, saw fit to use the pandemic as an excuse to not expend public dollars on the members of the public for whom those dollars were intended, while continuing to collect six-figure annual salaries in exchange for nothing. This isn’t just a civil rights issue. Just like police reform, it’s a taxpayer issue.
What this pandemic has done, among other things, is expose every crack in every system throughout all our systems of governance. And, those cracks are the consequences of systemic non-compliance with regulatory mandates, as well as failures of those mandates to adequately describe courses of action that prevent non-compliance.
There is no proactive oversight of local education agency compliance with special education and related civil rights law; the burden falls to the shoulders of largely uninformed and/or unempowered parents to file complaints or litigate in order for the law to be enforced, which means it usually is not. It’s a matter of “When the cat is away, the mice will play.”
Without proactive oversight and enforcement, public agencies are adrift at sea, inventing their own ways of doing things while often unaware of their legal obligations. There is no real quality control in special education. There’s just school district lawyers who jump in after the train has already wrecked to argue that it really didn’t for ridiculous dollars per hour at taxpayer expense.
It’s one thing to point this stuff out. It’s another thing to do something about it. My thought process is that the IDEA is overdue for reauthorization. Presuming democracy is preserved with the upcoming election and we haven’t descended into dictatorship, there is going to be a lot of public agency and legal reform coming down the pike for the next 10 years, at least.
Historians, anthropologists, sociologists, and psychologists will all be looking at the last four years and what led up to the current state of affairs in our nation under a microscope for the next 100 years, at least. The data they will be generating will inform vast improvements to our social systems and create systems for ongoing improvement as our society evolves and encounters new challenges, so long as the rest of us make sure that happens.
Right now, one of the most powerful things that parents of children with special needs can do is vote for the candidates they believe will take action to make sure that our publicly funded government agencies actually perform according to the regulatory requirements and achieve the purposes for which they exist, including the application of valid science to the delivery of services intended to benefit the public good. Maybe then we can finally become the democracy we’re supposed to be.