The Mob Came and was Turned Back

The mob came for Abigail Shrier.  She’d done the unthinkable - written a book, Irreversible Damage, that questions the current orthodoxy on transsexualism and so placed herself in the crosshairs of the woke.  The ACLU condemned her and Google and Amazon jiggered their algorithms to deflect searches away from her book in order to reduce sales.

But a funny thing happened on her way to cancelation; it didn’t work.  Irreversible Damage became a best seller, garnering a bumper crop of positive reviews and Shrier went from obscurity to household name in a matter of months.  The mob gave her its best shot, but Shrier’s still on her feet, standing taller than ever.  Countless people in this country reject the progressive narrative; they want to know the truth and to make up their own minds.

Which brings me to Part Two of my piece on the opposite directions this country is headed in education. (Here’s Part One.)

While progressives work to abandon and degrade objective standards of educational acumen, others work to strengthen them.  Here’s how former New York mayor Michael Bloomberg began an op-ed announcing his massive financial support for charter schools:

American public education is broken.

Indeed it is.  Bloomberg goes on to explain.

Before the pandemic, about two-thirds of U.S. students weren’t reading at grade level, and the trend has been getting worse. Results from the National Assessment of Educational Progress, commonly known as the nation’s report card, show that in 2019, eighth-grade math scores had already fallen significantly.  

That of course is a national disgrace and a harbinger of future dysfunction.  We’ve been told for decades that we live in a “knowledge economy” requiring specialized knowledge and skills, but two-thirds of public school kids can’t even master the basics.  This is not good.

But those awful results tell us something else.  Progressives say their jettisoning of standardized testing is all about “equity,” but there’s a far more insidious purpose too:  doing so covers up lousy public schools.  After all, if there are no objective measures of students’ performance, there are no objective measures of schools’ performance and the teachers therein.  And, as that performance declines, there’s ever more reason to hide the dismal truth.  Teachers’ unions that dominate so much of public education aren’t delivering the goods so, to maintain their power, they must keep their results hidden from as many of us as possible.  Ergo, dispense with measures of kids’ performance and put a bow on it called “equity.”

Bloomberg’s not having it.

Today there are long waiting lists for charter schools across the country, but mayors and governors aren’t getting the support they need from Congress and the White House to open new charter schools. To begin meeting the demand for charters, Bloomberg Philanthropies is launching a five-year, $750 million effort to create seats for 150,000 more children in 20 metro areas across the country.  

Charter schools, if done right, can make an enormous difference in how children perform on those objective measures so loathed by public teachers’ unions.

Success Academy’s network of 47 public charter schools is serving New York children whose families predominantly live below the poverty line. Their students are outperforming public-school students in Scarsdale, N.Y.—the wealthiest town on the East Coast and the second-wealthiest town in America—by significant margins. Yet a statewide cap on charter schools is blocking Success Academy from expanding.

Unsurprisingly, parents have noticed.  Not only are they besieging school boards to demand an end to the teaching of critical race theory, they’re pulling their kids out of public schools as well.

In New York and many other places, enrollment in traditional schools has fallen dramatically since the start of the pandemic as parents search for better alternatives. Meanwhile, across the country, charters saw their largest enrollment increase ever last year—240,000 more children.

Yes, New York City’s traditional public schools lost 64,000 kids over the last two years and Chicago’s lost 25,000.  And, even as charter school enrollment reaches all-new highs, it’s being sharply restricted by politicians in hock to the unions.  Because charters often rely on sharing space with existing schools, progressive mayors like Bill de Blasio of New York have refused to sign agreements granting that space.  During his time in office, de Blasio signed only 59 such agreements compared with Bloomberg’s 150.  That helped maintain those astonishingly long waiting lists for charter school admissions Bloomberg mentioned.

Some NYC public schools are so bad that parents refuse to enroll their kids in them.  As Journalist Jason Riley reported in his book, Please Stop Helping Us, one had space for 628 students, but only 288 enrolled.  Another had seats for over 1,000, but only 388 children showed up.  By contrast, Harlem Success Academy received over 6,000 applications for just 500 available seats.

It’s easy to see why.  One traditional NYC school, P.S. 149, had 29% of its students performing at grade level in reading and 34% in math.  Meanwhile, Harlem Success, that occupied the same building as P.S. 149, had 86% of its students performing at grade level in reading and 94% in math.  All those kids were drawn from the same areas of the city and even went to school in the same building.  But, while the kids in the traditional schools were failing miserably, the Success Academy kids outperformed even those from some of the nation’s most affluent areas.

The difference?  Standards.  Traditional public schools, in thrall to teachers’ unions, have for many years degraded standards in academic performance and behavior.  Now progressives want to get rid of most or all of them entirely.  But charter schools maintain strict standards and can expel any child who doesn’t toe the line.  If you’ve got 12 applicants for every available seat, you don’t have to put up with underperformance or disruptive behavior.

And it’s not just charter schools that are expanding, homeschooling is too, as I reported here.  Some five million kids, 11% of the total, are being taught at home by their parents and by teachers hired by groups of parents.

The response to the madness that is woke progressivism is well under way.  Everyday people are part of it.  So are the prominent and well-heeled, like Bloomberg.  So are academics and traditional liberals beyond counting.  So are elected officials like Senator Joe Manchin who finally said ‘No’ to progressive legislation.  And so are people like Abigail Shrier who unwittingly found herself in the eye of a woke storm and emerged “bloodied but unbowed.”   




Teachers unions have moved away from the core mission of education and have moved toward social justice initiatives that have nothing to do with reading, writing, math, science, history, and critical thinking. School districts in California now have teacher training days focused on grading equity instead of additional reading or math help. When teachers start loosing jobs, maybe things will change. But for some parents, they do not have a choice or the skills to teach their own children. The traditional public education system will continue to marginalize the most vulnerable in our society.

Paul Nathanson

Here’s a link to Shrier’s commencement address to the graduating class of Princeton—not at Princeton itself, of course, but at a private venue, which accommodated around 35 grads. Her speech is deeply moving.

Abigail Shrier, On Freedom in an Age of Fear: A Warning—and a Rallying Cry,” Common Sense, [

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