There is a wondrous scene in Robert Bolt's play, A Man for All Seasons, when Thomas More is talking to his daughter as she tries to convince him to take the Oath of Supremacy to avoid execution by Henry VIII. He could simply take the oath, she suggests, without really believing in what he'd be saying, be released from the Tower, and return to his family.
Sir Thomas, however, gently chides his daughter about why he cannot do this: that taking an oath is solemnly and publicly to call upon God to witness that what one is saying one truly believes in one's heart. Not believing it would be calling upon God to witness a lie, a most grievous wrong, a wrong he would not wish his daughter to think her father capable of.
For in swearing an oath, he continues, one is proclaiming before God and the world that what one is saying is true, and that were he to lie, even though he'd be saving his life, he'd be losing his honor, his soul, and himself -- forever. Truly, a man for all seasons!
Likewise, in taking his oath of office, a state governor is also solemnly and publicly calling upon God to witness that what he is saying, he intends to perform. He is swearing, in essence, that he will do all in his power to preserve, protect, and defend all the institutions and responsibilities of state government, including those of public education -- "so help me God."
And, likewise, if he were lying and had no intention of carrying out those duties, he would also be calling upon God to witness a lie, a most grievous wrong, have lost his honor, his integrity, his very essence -- forever.
He would also be perjuring himself, and even, perhaps, be sentenced to prison.
It is a fearful thing to swear such an oath and not intend to protect what one has sworn to protect, but even worse would it be to destroy it. By perjuring oneself, one would have revealed oneself before all the world to be morally unfit for such an office of high public trust.
And, in a previous age, it was always thought dangerous to keep such a man in power, since in lying to God he would think nothing of lying to anyone, and there was no telling what such a man might do were he allowed to continue in power.
Since taking their oath, many governors have begun to close public schools. By violating their oath in so public a manner, they have shown that perjuring themselves means nothing to them, as does the fact that their first act in office was an act of perjury.
The possibility that anyone will ever trust them again seems doubtful since everyone knows that a perjurer now resides in the governor's mansion. What happens to governors who perjure themselves naturally depends on the citizens of their states.
Until then, the question is why these governors who swore to protect public schools chose not only not to protect them, but also to destroy them.
I'd like to discuss two possibilities. First, let's suppose that before taking their oath, these governors were all true believers in public education, and that only afterwards did they undergo a soul-changing "Damascus experience," whereby they realized that the only way of saving these schools was by destroying them, as the saying went during the Vietnam era that "the only way of saving a town was destroying it."
The mystery is how to explain that all of these governors reacted in the very same way. How did these true believers in public schools suddenly become their fiercest opponents, so fierce, in fact, that far from trying to improve these schools, they replaced them with charters?
What prompted these governors, now securely in power, to suddenly become so disenchanted with public schools that they're now closing them all over the country?
How do they reconcile this with their oath, or do they simply refuse to face what they've done?
How did these educational neophytes all suddenly "see the light" at the same time? How did they discover that public schools were so beyond the pale of redemption that they had to be closed?
Was this mass conversion to charters pure coincidence or the brainchild of the charter school industry itself, whose vision of a better world convinced these governors to rid America of its public schools, as the words of their oath were still ringing in their ears?
How did all of these governors become suddenly conversant with educational research which so overwhelmingly convinced them that public schools must be abolished?
Did it cross their minds that this newfound "research" might be nothing but a tissue of false accusations concocted by the same charter industry to undermine America's trust in its public schools to make way for charters?
Or that this was nothing but a hostile and highly financed corporate takeover being sold as educational "reform"?
Did these governors realize that no such "research" even existed?
What prompted their decision, contrary to their oath, to close these public schools rather than work to improve them as is the normal way of addressing such problems?
Was this option even considered, and, if so, why was it rejected in favor of charters, apart from their prospect of unlimited profits to potential investors?
Since tens of billions of dollars could yearly be diverted to charters from closed and already weakened public schools, why didn't these governors avoid the appearance of a conflict of interest by submitting this "research" to independent experts for a second and third opinion as a check against bias?
Why didn't they solicit the input of public-school officials for a more informed opinion before closing these schools?
Or is this asking too much of human nature since money is always the most eloquent advocate when arguing a case?
Did this "research" unearth any problems that were not related to decades of systemic underfunding of public schools, as opposed to the billions that would now be pouring into charter coffers to elated investors?
Why didn't these governors with their misgivings about public schools, which had served the nation well for over 150 years, bring their "research" to the public at once, lest it later be suggested that they simply colluded in inventing this claim?
Or why didn't they call a national news conference to outline their findings and produce this "research" that would confirm their claim, research that, curiously, has never been provided?
More curiously still, why didn't the press, in that once grand tradition of investigative journalism, seize upon this absence of evidence and expose these governors for what they were doing?
If closing public schools was contingent on "evidence" which was never provided, then it was safe to assume that it never existed for, if it did, these governors would have produced it in support of their claim.
Put briefly, there was never a basis for closing these schools!
Surely, seasoned journalists must have realized what was actually happening, so why didn't they go public with it? And now you begin to understand what is going on in this country.
Or why didn't these governors hold exhaustive, wide-ranging, and televised hearings into these public-school "weaknesses," call witnesses, and solicit learned opinion on both sides of this question?
Did they think that the public didn't have a stake in the success of its schools and wouldn't want to know what was wrong with them?
Or did these governors fear a public outcry from public-school parents who might have disagreed with them, thereby depriving these governors of a pretext for closing these schools?
Why didn't these governors want an open and honest public discussion about their claims, unless they feared they'd lose control of the narrative and be exposed as having no case?
Is it any wonder, then, that they proceeded by stealth rather than dealing with public anger during these hearings? Does this explain their cloak-and-dagger secrecy, their keeping to the shadows, their failure to provide information except when schools closures had occurred?
Wasn't it easier to plunge these schools into chaos by simply closing them and replacing them with unregulated charters, without any proof of these charters' vaunted superiority, with their countless scandals of financial corruption that have since come to light?
And what of the millions of public-school children whose education has been disrupted? Why are these governors still bleeding their schools white by drastic underfunding to cause these children to fail and their schools to close and re-open as charters?
Why do the majority of these closings unfairly target Black and Hispanic children from poor neighborhoods in a new form of Jim Crow racism?
And what of the millions of their outraged parents, whose lives, families, and neighborhood communities have been turned upside down by these governors beholden to a corporate agenda rather than the public schools they swore to protect?
And what of those tens of thousands of teachers thrown out of work because of an unfounded claim that their schools were failing, a tactic that weakens public-school unions as part of these governors' corporate agenda?
Was closing these schools about anything but a contempt for democracy and the rights of citizens, who now realize what they have always suspected -- that there is something very rotten in this state of Denmark?
Are these governors concerned about the open secret that their educational "reform" has been exposed as a hoax, devised by the charter school industry with the collusion of governors to weaken America's trust in its public schools?
Are they concerned that the public now understands that closing public schools was merely the pretext for enriching charters by misappropriating billions to defraud children of a public-school education, which has never been about profit for investors, but only about children?
Are they concerned that these unregulated charters are exempt from state regulations for keeping financial records, a golden inducement to widespread corruption?
Why did these governors and their state legislatures sanction these sweetheart deals in the charters they grant these privatized schools as a quid pro quo for campaign contributions in this brave new world of educational "reform"?
Who will guard these guards themselves, who perjure themselves that they'll guard our democracy and its public schools, and then proceed to destroy them?
How do we protect ourselves against guards such as these, who think themselves above the law and too big to jail?