“If we take the Board this time, we’ll know that our work has been worth it.”—912 TN Project Founder and President
We are deeply concerned that a very polarizing political movement (the 912 Project) has taken such a strong interest in Williamson County Schools. Their agenda is very aggressive and in many ways is a complete disconnect from the mission of a county school board. What follows is Williamson Strong’s understanding of the 912 project and what we believe constitutes a strategy to introduce hot button political topics into a dialogue that should be centered on education and the continued success of Williamson County Schools.
What is the 912 Project?
The 912 Project was started by Glenn Beck in 2009 and remains tied to Beck. The 912 Project is also closely related to several other Tea Party Groups, most notably a group called FreedomWorks (more on them below). 912ers and Beck use the term “we surround them” to indicate their power or potential power. The TN chapter of the 912 Project says they are “committed to the late 18th century American values of equal application of the law for all men with privilege for none.” (We note that late 18th century America did not actually include equal application of the law for many Americans, but let’s leave that aside for now.)
Okay, but what does this have to do with our local school board?
A lot. During the recent school board election, Project 912 TN Founder and President J. Lee Douglas sent out a list of endorsements to the 912 list. Douglas states that 912 has a chance to “take” the school board this year and adds this: “If we take the Board this time, we’ll know that our work has been worth it.”
This was not unfounded bragging; 912-affiliated candidates gained control of the school board following the August 7 election. Mark Gregory, Paul Bartholomew, Jay Galbreath, Candy Emerson, Susan Curlee, and Beth Burgos are 912ers (according 912 itself). Dan Cash is not a member; however, he is supported by 912 and is working in concert with those who are members.
Why did the 912 Project want to “take” the school board?
Anti-Common Core: Glenn Beck and Project 912 are strongly opposed to the Common Core Standards. They believe Common Core is a federal takeover and have argued that it promotes homosexuality, Islam, and communism.
Note: The Common Core standards were proposed and developed by the National Governors Association (not the federal government) and were voluntarily adopted by 45 states. They were included as a part of the Race to the Top Funds for which Tennessee successfully (and quite voluntarily) applied. In 2010, the legislature approved this application 83-8 in the House and 29-3 in the Senate. While it is clear that the 912 candidates have sincere opposition to the standards, the local school board has zero authority over state standards. Williamson Strong notes that the issue of high stakes testing – which was also created by the state legislature and is a different matter – is one which we would like to see discussed and addressed. This is not the same issue as the Common Core Standards.
At a televised event this summer, Beck reportedly told his anti-Common Core followers and activists not to mention him as it would scare off potential followers. You can find the FreedomWorks/Glenn Beck Action Plan on Common Core here. It lists the talking points and suggested tactics against Common Core.
Next step, Vouchers? In January of 2014, Politico.com reported that opposition to the Common Core standards are now connected to high level donors and national advocacy groups: “The groups are stoking populist anger over the standards – then working to channel that anger into a bold campaign to undercut public schools….” A leaked document from the close* 912 ally FreedomWorks lays out the plan. The first step is listed as “End Common Core.” The second step is to offer vouchers so funds currently used to pay for public schools could be used for private and religious schools. See the plan here. FreedomWorks told Politico that the campaign was going to be “huge” and that they would partner with Glenn Beck (which they did). Candidates Cash, Burgos, Emerson, and Curlee all raised their hands in support of vouchers at the Clapham candidate forum on July 10.
*Here’s what close means: Katherine Hudgins is the current VP of the 912 Project Tennessee and is also listed as the contact for FreedomWorks Tennessee. FreedomWorks is listed under “Projects” on the 912 Project TN website. As the 912 Project TN founder promoted FreedomWorks in 2012, he said “Katherine and others are teaching us the value of long term planning.”
Textbooks: 912ers have been passionately concerned with the content of the textbooks in use. The 912 founder Douglas says they discovered “anti-Christian, pro-Muslim, anti-capitalism, pro-socialism/communism, anti-fossil fuel, pro homosexual, and anti-early American values” in textbooks in use by the county. Douglas also said, “I urge my friends who, like me, have their kids in private school or who are home schooled, to get involved.”
What Else Does the 912 Project Work On?
Project 912 addresses various issues outside the field of education including Agenda 21 (sustainability language which they connect with a UN takeover), immigration issues, accountability actions connected to legislators, conversation and meetups, and general support among the group. They are also strongly critical of Islam and Muslim-Americans. The 912 Project of TN paid for an ad in the Tennessean which was an open letter to Governor Haslam admonishing him for appointing a Muslim-American to a finance position in his administration. The Williamson County chapter of the 912 Project signed on to the letter. The letter says: “Dismiss us at your peril. Will you pretend that we are all extremists or will you seize the opportunity to be a Churchill instead of a Chamberlain. You can say no to the slow and certain demise of our state and country by refusing to move one inch toward this third world way of life.”
It should be noted that the appointee had worked for the state Department of Economic and Community Development and had been student body president at Vanderbilt. Gov. Haslam’s office also noted that her brother had led the software team for NASA’s Mars rovers.
What does this mean to me a Williamson County resident?
Well, you’ll have to decide that for yourself. At Williamson Strong we think it is important to understand as much as possible about each school board member. Board members have more than one influence, but this one seems like an important one that has been little discussed. You can read more about the 912 Project at the links embedded in this post and we encourage you to do your own research as well. Read about the 912 Project and decide if this is the governing ideology you want to see on your school board.
District 2: Daniel Cash (not a member of 912; but supported by Tennessee 912 project founder/president J. Lee Douglas)
District 4: Paul Bartholomew (912)
District 6: Jay Galbreath (912)
District 8: Candy Emerson (912)
District 10: Beth Burgos (912)
District 11: Mark Gregory (912)
District 12: Susan Curlee (912)