by David Safier
As any regular BfA reader knows, I hope Mark Stegeman gets voted off the TUSD Board. My choices for the three slots, in order of preference, are: (1) Cam Juarez; (2) Kristel Foster; (3) Betts Putnam-Hidalgo; with a close fourth place going to Ralph Ellinwood. But now I have two new, troubling reasons why I think Stegeman is the wrong choice for any moderate-to-progressive voter and a bad bet for TUSD.
Reason number one: Mark is the only Democrat listed on the Candidates Page of the Pima County Republican Party. Count them: 31 Republicans listed on the page, including the likes of Al Melvin, Ally Miller, Frank Antenori, Gabby Saucedo Mercer and the rest of the right wing gang; and one Democrat, Mark Stegeman, sharing the TUSD list with John Hunnicutt and Alexandre Sugiyama.
True, Mark didn't put himself there. But he attended and spoke at Republican events, and what he said must have made them sit up and take note. Mark says this is a nonpartisan race. True enough. But if your views on education are acceptable to the wacko Pima County Republican Party, that should be troubling to any Democrat or moderate-to-progressive Independent.
Reason number two: At a DGT (Democrats of Greater Tucson) event Monday, Mark shared the stage with Cam, Kristel and Betts. Mark said lots of things I didn't like, but what really concerned me was when he gave out a conservative education dog whistle which, I think, most people missed. Because of the time I spend on education issues, I heard it loud and clear. Later he restated his position taking out the dog whistle, but that conservative-tinged statement was his first instinct.
I don't have a transcript of the forum, so this is a paraphrase. Mark said we can't use students' income or ethnicity as an excuse to say they can't achieve. [And here his voice got that determined, "I'm going for the applause line" tone] Every student can achieve if he's given a good teacher and a strong curriculum.
It's a perfectly reasonable sounding statement, but here's the dog whistle -- and the reason it always gets applause in front of a conservative audience (I'll bet Mark has gotten a hand for that line at Republican events). Behind that line is the idea that being poor and/or Hispanic and/or Native American and/or African American has nothing to do with how you achieve in school. So you bleeding heart liberals should stop crying and you parents in low socioeconomic groups, stop whining already and make your kids work harder!
The Goldwater Institute has pushed the "poor kids can make it too, so it's the schools, teachers and union's fault" notion of education for years. The conservative "education reform" and "school choice" movement have used it to trash public (non charter) schools. And now Mark, the guy who thinks the sociological, psychological and possibly academic boost students got in Mexican American Studies program wasn't reason enough to save the program, is using it to.
I think Mark, who's a smart guy, realized later in the forum that he'd used the wrong phrasing for the Democratic audience, so he restated his position to say we have to get rid of the culture of low expectations that lets the schools off the hook. (I don't have the transcript in front of me, only my notes, but if Mark actually used the phrase, "culture of low expectations" that I wrote down, he's paraphrasing the Bush line about the "soft bigotry of low expectations.") He continued, we have to acknowledge the school-related problems that come with low socioeconomic status but do our best to overcome them. That's a very reasonable line, but the acknowledgement of the importance of class and ethnicity in education isn't something conservatives want to hear, which is why I think it was missing from Mark's original statement on the subject.
My sense is, Mark's first instinct on that topic is the best representation of his views. He likes to say he's still a good Democrat. Maybe so, maybe no. But when it comes to education, Mark is shifting further and further toward the Republican camp.