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They are All Connected: Saving Ukraine – and Russia --  from Putin, Prop 28, and a So-Called ‘Parent Rights’ Movement


Bill Lasarow

“If the West holds firm, Putin’s regime will likely collapse in the near future.”

-- Garry Kasparov and Mikhail Khodorkovsky, “Foreign Affairs,” January 20, 2023

“His (Olag Scholz’s) decision, taken under pressure from NATO allies, was a smart,

courageous reaffirmation of the West’s resolve to prevent a Russian victory and protect

a basic precept of the international order: the impermissibility of wars of aggression.”

— Washington Post Editorial Board, January 27, 2023


Marilla Sicilia, “Garry Kasparov, at the Excelsior Hotel, Rome,” photograph.

Courtesy Marilla Sicilia, Mondadori Portfolio, Getty Images

The apparent about-face of the Biden administration, arranging to send a batch of our top-quality tanks to Ukraine, heralds some consequential decisions. I take this to indicate that the administration perceives an opportunity to dramatically wound Putin politically and stay the drift towards international authoritarianism. It is significant that Germany announced that they would contribution a number of their Leopard tanks. Starting with the proposal for a parliamentary republic described by Alexei Navalny, I see the likelihood not of chaos in a post-Putin Russia, but if done right a democratic surge. This is exactly the case that Kasparov and Khodorkovsky make in their “Foreign Affairs” manifesto.


Alexei Navalny, his wife Yulia, opposition politician Lyubov Sobol and other demonstrators march in

memory of murdered Kremlin critic Boris Nemtsov in downtown Moscow on February 29, 2020

For this to succeed, however, we must welcome and assist Russia into the modern, democratic world. It is also we and our allies, not Russia, that must bear the cost of rebuilding Ukraine. Unlike our 1990’s post-Soviet failure to act, implementing a post-Putin Marshall Plan is our second chance to get this right. But make no mistake, Putin’s regime must first collapse.


By announcing that it will supply Ukraine with 31 M1 Abrams tanks the Biden administration has signaled that it recognizes the merits of this argument. With this shift we are witness to an emerging strategic plan that mirrors the historic post-WWII formula for success. Winning a just war is simply not good enough. It is the rebuilding — physical, cultural and political — after the conflict has been settled that determines the outcome.


Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy

I continue to believe that it is now time for the UN to suspend Russia from the Security Council for two years. As I’ve written before, replacing it for the next two years with Ukraine would be both pragmatic and poetically just. These new developments strengthen the case for taking this step. Then, for the longer term, the UN Security Council should begin the push to have term limits set for any head of state as well as for many other key positions on multiple tiers of government. Of course China will be a roadblock. That does not lessen the importance of the mission or the prospect that, with persistent effort, it will eventually come to pass. Our world once more suffers from too many tyrants. Putin and his war to dismantle and absorb Ukraine can help crucially to staunch this trend. The opportunity is historic. The removal of tyrants such as Putin, and their false, self-serving narratives will change dramatically for the better given that singular measure: Term limits.


California’s Proposition 28 guarantees funding for arts education in the public schools.

The 2022 ballot measure passed with a 65% majority

But I didn’t sit down to discuss international term limits, or Putin’s removal, or Ukraine’s role in expanding democracy. I had more local concerns in mind. The recent passage in California of Proposition 28 (now law) has enshrined arts education in public education’s core. At the same time, we have seen the parallel emergence of a political trend called “Parent Rights.” They superbly represent those conflicting international cultural and political currents, happily without the wanton destruction occurring half a world away.


When you hear the term “Parent Rights” you first think … for all parents, sure. The problem is when the term is used by someone who means their rights as opposed to, well, yours. The cute language doesn’t change what it really is: the latest in a lineage of political tricks driven by misleading language. Remember “partial birth abortion”?


The new California law at long last embeds art education in the core curricula of the state’s pre-K-to-12 public school system. It will draw about $1.2 billion from the state’s general fund (meaning no new taxes), 80% of which will go towards the hiring of teachers. That small amount of money will go a long way in preparing our pre-K to 12 students for Life After School. Pre-Prop 28, only about 20% of California public schools boasted even a single full-time arts faculty.


As a parent of a child who attended public schools in the Conejo Valley in California, I always embraced it as a right (AS A RIGHT) for my daughter to be educated in a safe and stimulating environment. Goodness, doesn’t EVERY parent feel that way? To me, the right of every child attending school in California — or any state and any country — is to get a good education and to safely return home at the end of every school day. Where are these “Parent Rights” advocates when there is a Parkland or Sandy Hook horror? But having kids read “The Color Purple” or “Maus” or “How to Be an Antiracist” or “Catcher in the Rye” THAT is what gets these folks worked up? The availability of these books at school holds up as a “Parent Right” for me.


The NEA published its “Findings from Four Longitudinal Studies,” focusing on the impact of arts education on at-risk children fully a decade ago. That study found such education produced improved academic performance that narrowed the gap between low- and high-achieving students while improving civic and social participation across the board. The Arts Education Partnership, a consortium of organizations “dedicated to advancing arts education,” has published numerous studies that bear out the NEA’s conclusions.


I’ve posed the question to some educators who are old enough to remember how a Proposition 28 would have been received by voters 20 or 30 years ago: not with great enthusiasm. In those days most people regarded the arts as no more than window dressing. Had Prop 28 appeared as a state ballot measure in, say 1990, would it have passed? Um, no. So what happened in November, 2022 that it did pass? In fact, it passed with 65% voter approval. Well, California is not the same. Voters have come to understand that their kids do better when the arts are joined together with the rest of the STEM subjects. 


They also see how a large slice of the country has gone off in a direction that from here appears unpleasant at best, and given recent efforts in Florida to impose state censorship (it really does fit the definition of ‘censorship’) on education, downright repugnant. Banning the teaching of an AP Black History class; banning the teaching of critical race theory (never a subject actually taught in K-12 public schools, though on second thought maybe it ought to be); threatening fines for pronoun usage beyond “he” and “she;” book banning. None of this is my idea of “Parent Rights” but rather the coercive imposition of a vocal minority’s cultural preferences on the rest of us. These are better named “Bigots’ Rights.”


“Parent Rights” in current usage is a cynical attempt to appropriate what is legitimate in order to hijack and deny the wholesome right of our children to learn to think critically and for themselves. The mandating of arts education in the core curriculum is the polar opposite, opening up children’s minds and risking that our own kids might come up with better solutions than we would, or even, gasp, disagree with mom and dad. There is no doubt a value judgement planted like a flag right in the middle of arts education: the eradication of racial and gender bias. I call that morally sound and spiritually liberating. Ron DeSantis calls it indoctrination.


So good for California. Proposition 28’s passage reflects a culture and heritage that is morally sound and progressive in its embrace of freedom. It is a fundamental — not fundamentalist — narrative that is, at this time, radically different than those brayed by the political leaders of Texas, Florida, and some other states. For me it is an article of faith that in the fullness of time, perhaps not such a very long time, those states will catch up. An education system grounded in creativity, intellectual acuity, vigorous engagement, and independence of thought … now that is a formula to make America even better than it has ever been.

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