For more than a year, the Guilford community has been mired in a toxic atmosphere engineered by Superintendent of Schools Paul Freeman, and a complicit Board of Education. This controversy has caused an unprecedented level of division in this once quiet community.
At issue is the question of whether a political majority can impose a highly toxic and, frankly, misguided racial ideology upon students in a school system paid for by all taxpayers, including those in the minority, and, in the process, violate state laws mandating that they “provide access to all points of view without deliberate distortion of subject matter.”
This essay will address some of the deeper issues that have brought the citizens of this community to an impasse on matters of educational policy and pedagogy. Instead of having a civil discussion, we have been talking past each other for more than a year, with no resolution in sight.
For a proper diagnosis of the group dynamics that characterize this impasse, it’s useful to turn to the work of Yale Professor of Psychology, Irving Janis, whose classic work, The Victims of Group Think, was published in 1972. Janis described Group Think “as a quick and easy way to refer to a mode of thinking that people engage in when they are deeply involved in a cohesive in-group, when the members’ strivings for unanimity over-ride the motivation to realistically appraise alternative courses of action.”
In his study, Janis analyzed numerous examples of group decision making, including those that succeeded and those that failed. The most significant distinction between these two outcomes was the degree to which all stakeholders were involved in the process. Confine the decision-making process to the in-group and the chances of failure are heightened. Embrace a broader spectrum of opinion, and the chances for success are considerably enhanced.
Drawing upon Janis’ earlier analysis, the eminent journalist Christopher Booker, in his book Group Think: A Study in Self Delusion, isolates three rules which characterize Group Think:
(1) that a group of people come to share a common view, opinion or belief that is not based in objective reality, that cannot ultimately be tested in such a way to prove it beyond doubt, is based on a picture of the world as they imagine it to be, and that bears an element of wishful thinking;
(2) because their shared view is essentially subjective, its adherents need to go out of their way to insist that it is so self-evident that all right-minded people must agree with it and that evidence that contradicts their view can be disregarded; and
(3) that in order to reinforce their ‘in-group’ conviction that they are right, they feel obliged to treat the views of anyone who questions their view as totally unacceptable. Unable to engage in dialogue with those outside their bubble, they seek to marginalize or ignore them and, if necessary, “their views must be mercilessly caricatured to make them seem ridiculous … attacked in the most violently contemptuous terms, usually with the aid of some scornfully dismissive label, and somehow morally discredited.”
It is the same phenomenon that Thomas Sowell brilliantly captures in his book The Vision of the Anointed: Self-Congratulation as a Basis for Social Policy.
In Guilford, we have heard or read these labels: they range from “extremist,” “far right,” “Trump extremist,” or even “racist,” directed at those who oppose the radical agenda of the Superintendent and Board of Education. The effort to demean a principled and well informed group of parents and their 3,000 supporters is reflective of this Group Think mentality that feels compelled to demonize its opposition as a means of reinforcing its “in-group conviction that they are right.”
Last fall, Democrats colluded with likeminded so-called independents to fashion a cynical fusion ticket to circumvent the minority representation rule and shut Republican candidates out of the process. Since Democrats could run only two BOE candidates in 2021, Democrat voters had three extra votes to cast. The results were predictable, since Democrats enjoy a decided registration advantage over the Republicans.
They cast those three votes for these like-minded Independents. These three independents replaced the Republicans as the minority party and shut out 3,300 Republican voters from a voice on the school board despite the fact that there are only roughly 300 members in the new Independent Party —one tenth of the total number of registered Republicans. It was a form of cancel culture, but this time directed at an entire local political party. This malicious action has simply perpetuated the monolithic Group Think of the existing board.
What the Democrats did in that election flies in the face of the stated intent of the minority representation rule that has been in place in Connecticut since 1877 (Chapter 81 of the Public Acts of 1877; updated by Public Act 665 of the Public Acts of 1959; as codified in Section 167a of the Connecticut General Statutes). The intent of that law requires minority representation on certain governmental bodies including, but not limited to, Boards of Selectmen and Boards of Education, to wit: “For elective bodies, the maximum number of members of a single party is set by establishing a ceiling that is applied after an election in declaring the winners or by restricting nominations and the number of candidates voters can vote for.”
The intent of the minority representation rule is to protect minority rights, advance of sense of comity at the local level, and foster compromise and mutual respect. But these goals are not in the playbook of rigid ideologues who feel justified in forcing a racist and highly divisive ideology upon innocent schoolchildren.
While this law has been challenged under the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment, the Connecticut Supreme Court, U.S. District Court, and U.S. Supreme Court have all upheld the law against these charges by supporting the legislature’s authority to regulate how candidates are nominated and elected, and recognizing the principles of stability and the rights of the minority. There is ample justification for this statutory provision: (1) it provides a watchdog role for the minority party; (2) it provides a check upon the excesses of the majority party; and (3) it places some responsibility upon the minority party for actions taken by the whole body.
The minority representation rule is very much in keeping with the fact that our form of government is a constitutional republic, not a democracy. Our constitution was not written to empower democracy, but to secure liberty, a fact lost on many Democrats, “liberals,” and “Progressives,” who seek primarily to grow government power at the expense of the individual. In fact, the word democracy does not appear in either the Declaration of Independence or the Constitution because our Founding Fathers feared democracy and its excesses as much as they feared the excesses of a king or potentate.
American constitutional history has always hovered in the mutual resistance of two competing principles: the right of each individual to be free, and the power of the majority to make rules restricting their freedom. Abraham Lincoln articulated this dichotomy when he said: “We all declare for liberty, but in using the word we do not all mean the same thing. With some the word liberty means for each man to do as he pleases with himself and the product of his labor; while with others the same word may mean for some men to do as they please with other men, and the product of men’s labor.”
Progressive-era thinkers, however, rejected the fundamental limited government premise of the Founders’ thinking by turning it on its head in order to advance democracy over liberty in the pursuit of secular utopian ends. These ends are fully manifest in the goals of the current crowd of those who proclaim themselves “Progressives,” and for whom the ends justify the means.
What the Founders sought was to erect a barrier around politics, to protect the people’s rights from the political process, and leave them free to live out their lives free from an oppressive government. The left, on the other hand, seeks to expand the role of government and to shrink the sphere lying outside its precincts. The current drive to nationalize election laws, abolish the electoral college, pack the Supreme Court, and dismantle federalism (a primary safety valve of our system) are just the current manifestations of this lust for power that harkens back to early 20th century Progressive goals.
In Guilford, it takes the form of forcing its ideology upon a captive audience of impressionable schoolchildren.
Indeed, as Jonah Goldberg documents so scrupulously in his book Liberal Fascism, the agenda of the early Progressives was a mirror image of Mussolini’s formulation: “Everything in the State, nothing outside the State.” It’s why economic historian, Robert Higgs, calls our current system of government, as it has evolved under primarily Democrat administrations, “participatory fascism,” his characterization of the omnipresent and unwieldy administrative state that has become largely impervious to Congressional oversight. Executive branch bureaucrats realize that they can simply outlast transitory politicians who might seek to curtail their power.
Which brings us back to the Guilford Board of Education. It is clear that the actions of Guilford Democrats and their so-called “independent” accomplices are a direct assault on the minority representation rule and the republican principles upon which it was enacted. These so-called “independents” were chosen, not because they would be independent voices, but because they would vote in lockstep with the existing BOE in support of woke superintendent Paul Freeman.
The goal of this charade was to prevent Republicans from having any influence in stemming the tide of the indoctrination, intimidation and bullying going on in the Guilford Public Schools. It not only reflects the fact that the school administration and BOE have something to hide, and for which they do not want to be answerable, but also constitutes the greatest electoral fraud ever perpetrated upon the citizens of Guilford.
But it also reflects the fact that the Democrat Party, the Guilford Education Association (the local NEA affiliated union) with which it joined at the hip, both locally and nationally, and the woke administration are in a position to unethically and illegally indoctrinate the children of their political opposition in the pernicious and divisive tenets of Critical Race Theory and its progeny. That effort can only end in failure or a permanently divided community.
Kendall Svengalis of Guilford is President of New England LawPress.