Progressives Just Won a School Culture War in New HampshireBreaking News
tags: education, culture war, teaching history, critical race theory
Jennifer C. Berkshire hosts the education podcast Have You Heard. She is the author, with Jack Schneider, of A Wolf at the Schoolhouse Door.
It wasn’t supposed to turn out this way. For months now, Republican Party leaders have trumpeted their intention to run hard on parent grievances en route to routing the Democrats in the midterms. According to this narrative—partially based on the 2021 elections in Virginia, then endlessly echoed by Democratic pundits—parents frustrated over school shutdowns, Covid restrictions and the focus on race and social justice in schools are the new swing voters, poised to flee the Democratic Party.
But in New Hampshire, where bitter debates over school masks and “critical race theory” (CRT) have dominated local politics for more than a year, the season of parent rage ended in a stunning sweep of school board elections last week by progressive public school advocates. “It was a complete repudiation of the GOP’s attempt to drive a wedge between parents and schools,” says Zandra Rice Hawkins, executive director of Granite State Progress. Of 30 candidates designated by the group as “pro–public education,” 29 won their races—many in traditionally “red” regions of New Hampshire. Across the state, culture warriors and advocates of school privatization lost to candidates who pledged to protect and support public education.
Instead of resonating with voters, the right’s efforts to weaponize cultural grievances appears to have alienated them. With the GOP poised to make the education culture wars a central focus of its midterm appeal, New Hampshire offers some clear lessons for Democrats.
Michael Boucher chalks up his decision to run for the school board in the southern New Hampshire town of Atkinson to a single word: extremism. Last year, he watched as the debate over local schools grew steadily more rancorous, first over CRT, then masks. Boucher became a regular presence at board meetings, where he noticed that many of the loudest voices weren’t actually from the district. “Suddenly there were all of these groups coming in—the Government Integrity Project, Moms for Liberty, Americans for Prosperity. I realized that if I didn’t step up, one of their people would,” says Boucher.
Boucher, who works as a data analyst for a government contractor, says that he set a goal of talking to as many people in Atkinson as possible about the rising climate of extremism. He found a receptive audience. While the community has long leaned Republican, many voters remain what Boucher calls “classic” GOP. “They want to see tight budgets—but they also want to see opportunities for all kids and a welcoming culture in the schools. There are actually a lot of people who feel that way,” says Boucher.
He campaigned on the need to teach history honestly against a candidate who ran on opposition to CRT. Boucher won resoundingly, claiming nearly three-quarters of the vote.
And Boucher wasn’t alone. Thirty miles north, in Bow, first-time candidate Angela Brennan, the subject of a Republican mailer calling her “anti-parent” and a “Biden-like progressive,” was the top vote getter in a five-person contest for two seats on the school board.
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