TPM Cafe: Opinion

The progressive philosopher and pedagogue John Dewey famously saw schools as key conduits for driving social change. That is, he thought that “social reorganization” depended upon “educational reconstruction.” For Dewey — like Plato, Rousseau, and countless others — education was a key factor in pursuing broad social, cultural, and political ends. It’s a relatively simple claim: control the schoolhouse and you control the future. To some degree, education determines our politics. Hence the hullabaloo about what we teach in schools: whether we promote religious theories of creation in science classes, and so forth.

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The midterm elections are over and now we are looking at a political landscape where voters have shown that for the moment they prefer conservatives in office, but at the same time want progressive policies enacted in their states. Ballot initiatives such as raising the minimum wage, implementing paid sick leave and extended background checks for gun owners all passed when put up for a popular vote.

Even when it came to abortion rights in a hostile midterm, statewide votes were more often successful than not. Two state votes on “personhood” amendments, which would have had the ability to potentially ban all abortions and even some forms of birth control, failed to pass in North Dakota and Colorado, each with two to 1 margins.. [A more limited anti-abortion measure in Tennessee managed to win, with yes votes outnumbering no votes 53 percent to 47. Out of a total of 3.5 million votes cast on anti-abortion ballot measures across three states this election, over 2 million voters rejected these amendments

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My grandfather Karl escaped from Nazi occupied Vienna in the fall of 1938. By 1940, everyone he had ever known in that city was either on the run from, or scrambling to leave, Europe. I found a collection of letters that documented that desperation. Among them, there were dozens of missives from his lover, Valerie – Valy – Scheftel. Of all his friends, no one was more intense in her efforts to escape. By 1940 she, too, was on the run – but she had run deeper into the Reich, rather than out. She moved to Berlin sometime in the winter of 1938/1939 and in this series of letters I found, excerpted here, I discovered that even those around her in the heart of Hitler’s Germany were lobbying my grandfather to help her. But as you will see from primary documents unearthed at the University of Minnesota’s Immigration Research Center archives, my grandfather was in no monetary position to help anyone.

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The 2014 midterm elections were about as thorough a victory for Republicans as might have reasonably been anticipated. Much of it, however, was baked into the cake by an insanely fortunate Senate landscape and turnout patterns that are increasingly dividing elections into midterms dominated by Republicans and presidential elections dominated by Democrats. But while Republican Senate and gubernatorial midterm victories in red states aren’t that great and accomplishment, the GOP also won Senate seats in two states carried by Obama in 2012 and another the president carried in 2008. And although some of the surprisingly strong Republican gubernatorial performances involve single-state quirks, they so exceeded expectations that some other explanation is called for.

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Jobs, equal pay, and college affordability are among what politicians discuss when talking about the economy and young women. Yet it’s always shocking to me that they typically leave out reproductive health as part of the discussion. Reproductive health care access is just as important the economic discussion too. Recently the National Institute of Reproductive Health released a survey that polled likely voters feelings on reproductive rights and elected officials. The results? Three-quarters of voters polled not only support abortion access but strongly link it to a woman’s financial stability and equality. Additionally, voters are more likely to vote for elected officials who support such policies. This is not a surprise to any who works in the reproductive rights and justice movement. Access to reproductive care is about the economy, stupid.

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The South usually gets a bad rap when it comes to reproductive rights. And this isn’t entirely undeserved: Mississippi only has one abortion clinic in the state, anti-choice politicians in my home state of Alabama seem to be in a perpetual race to see who can strike the biggest blow against abortion access, and let’s not even get started on Texas.

But since 2000, Tennessee has offered better protections for reproductive rights than the U.S. Constitution. That was the year that the state Supreme Court ruled that abortion was a fundamental right, and outlawed mandatory waiting periods and other barriers to access.

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On Nov. 4, North Dakota voters will consider whether to add a “personhood” amendment to their constitution. If this amendment, Measure 1, passes, North Dakota would become the first state to amend its constitution to define the “inalienable right to life” for humans as beginning at conception. (A similar measure is on the ballot in Colorado.)

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Readers of the entire 147-page opinion issued earlier this month by a federal district court striking down Texas’s strict voter identification law as unconstitutional and a violation of the Voting Rights Act might have been too exhausted to realize that the opinion’s very last sentence may be its most important. The court ended its opinion with a dry statement promising a future hearing on “plaintiffs’ request for relief under Section 3(c) of the Voting Rights Act.” That hearing, however, has the potential to require Texas to get federal approval for any future voting changes for up to the next decade, and to make it much more difficult for the state to pass more restrictive voting rules. It may be much more important than the ruling on the voter ID law itself.

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With a Republican Senate majority increasingly plausible, there’s more talk about what will actually happen in an all-GOP-run Capitol next year. What should the Republicans do? House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy suggested they will “prove they can govern.” But many more anticipate the same old standoffs between the Republicans and the president whose second term they tried and failed to prevent.

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The biggest prize in the 2014 midterms is control of the U.S. Senate. Georgia’s race between Democrat Michelle Nunn and Republican David Perdue is now at the very heart of that national fight. The candidates are essentially tied in the polls with less than a week to go.

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