Editorial: Progressives take over schools 

It wasn’t a coup, exactly, at least in the classical meaning of the word. But it is fair to say the new majority on The City’s school board were high-fiving and otherwise plotting their newly enabled "progressive" agenda. The consolidation came Tuesday, when at their evening meeting members elected Mark Sanchez their new president.

Sanchez is described as an openly gay, middle-school teacher in Redwood City and a member of the Green Party. The operative description is "progressive," a political tendency he shares with most of San Francisco’s political class.

As a general rule reporters grant political and other activists their self-descriptions. It’s a smart, controversy-averse habit, and we follow it. But here we place the scare quotes around "progressive" because, for the moment, we genuinely want San Franciscans to ponder the word’s authenticity and impact. Will it actually bring to The City any measurable progress?

The word surely echoes a politically productive time in America’s history. The "Progressive Era," early in the 20th century, gave us animated politicians such asPresidents Theodore Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson, along with public intellectuals and journalists such as Walter Lippmann and Herbert Croly. Progressivism aimed to break up concentrated economic power and create the regulatory state.

Forgive the abbreviated history, but the early progressives soon enough adopted the word "liberal," which once referred to champions of individual freedom but came to denote those who wanted to expand the coercive state. In the last third of the last century, that designation was itself discredited as the failures of state programs became manifestly evident.

So, true-believing statists, dropping the now-unpopular "liberal," circled back to "progressive." It had a respectable pedigree, and it sounded so perfectly trendy. Sober students of history, however, would remember Charles Peguy’s devastating indictment: "It will never be known what acts of cowardice have been motivated by the fear of not looking sufficiently progressive."

So what does all this mean for San Francisco’s public schools? "Progressivism" sees classrooms as social laboratories, places to mold anti-war activists and other sensitive souls, not places to equip young people with substantive knowledge and empower them to make their own life choices. But history now moves so rapidly and so dependently on freedom that social engineering throws us backward.

If the school board’s agenda hastens family flight from the district, don’t be surprised. Ironically and unintentionally, that may be the real progress.

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Staff Report

Staff Report

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A daily newspaper covering San Francisco, San Mateo County and serving Alameda, Marin and Santa Clara counties.
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