Calling out the Idaho Freedom Foundation

For political conservatives, countering big government’s alluring but empty promises is challenging. The task is tenfold harder when libertarians pretend to speak for conservatives.

The Idaho Freedom Foundation (IFF) was founded, in part, with a bequest from activist Ralph Smeed. A mentor of my old boss Senator Steve Symms, I spent many hours escorting Ralph around Washington, D.C. He rejected the label “conservative,” proudly claiming to be a “libertarian.”

A mutual acquaintance recently mentioned Smeed when talking about the IFF, noting “If Ralph could see what it is today, he’d be appalled.”

Who could predict that Smeed’s legacy would today be aiding President Biden’s Attorney General, Merrick Garland, keep parents away from public schools?

Garland has threatened parents passionate about their kids’ education. Using a letter from the National School Boards Association (NSBA) as a fig leaf, he directed the FBI to investigate a “disturbing spike” in irate school board patrons.

Keep in mind Garland heads the same Justice Department refusing to investigate the “free speech” of Antifa protestors marching down burned and vandalized city streets.

Professor Maud Maron of Cardozo Law School, an advisor to the Foundation Against Intolerance and Racism, criticized Garland’s move, noting that “actual violence should be condemned without reservation,” but “the incidents cited by the NSBA are not criminal and they definitely do not warrant federal intervention.”

Garland’s motive is obvious. His own son-in-law sells “social-emotional learning” assessments that use a racial lens to pigeon-hole students, an approach opposed by many parents. He doesn’t want parents challenging school boards and wishes they would stop advocating to improve their public schools. He is joined in that cause by IFF President Wayne Hoffman.

Hoffman has been pushing to get parents to quit public schools altogether. He presumably doesn’t know or doesn’t care that many rural Idahoans have no alternative. And he may be funded by purveyors of private schooling and home-school curricula, although the IFF is notoriously quiet about who pays their bills.

Hoffman recently attacked public schools for teaching “Critical Race Theory” or CRT. He conveniently neglected to mention that this turn toward Marxism surfaced early in elite private schools.

Even worse, Hoffman bungled the definition of CRT, a mistake that led Lt. Governor Janice McGeachin to a fruitless “survey of statewide curricula.” Critical Theory is more about tactics than content. Its insidious outlook on the world is imbedded deep in educational philosophy, influencing how some teachers think, but rarely showing up as a topic in a K-12 classroom.

And getting the theory wrong has had devastating consequences. One teacher in Idaho’s Magic Valley offers an inspiring syllabus using the Minidoka Internment National Monument as an object lesson. Students learn how widespread fear can lead a government to heavy-handed tyranny despite a constitution that guarantees individual rights. Could any topic be timelier?

After Hoffman scolded legislators for “not doing enough to ban CRT,” that teacher was warned to downplay the Minidoka lesson – a direct result of Hoffman’s focus on “what history” is taught, not “how” the history either illuminates or obscures Constitutional principles.

Making IFF even more problematic is its political grassroots drawing from anti-government voices, including some uncomfortably allied with civil rights objectors. A vocal faction of IFF activists recently “affiliated” with an organization opposing the 1964 Civil Rights Act.

To have any credibility, those of us who oppose CRT need to stand as unequivocal defenders of civil rights. IFF cannot do that.

The democrat running for Governor of Virginia has said “You don’t want parents coming in every different school jurisdiction saying, ‘This is what should be taught here.” The IFF delivers that same message.

Parent’s educational choice is a long-desired conservative goal. Libertarians prefer private education. When IFF undermines public schools while parents have limited private alternatives, that sound you hear is principled libertarian Ralph Smeed rolling over in his grave.

Trent Clark

Trent Clark

Trent Clark of Soda Springs is President and CEO of Customalting Inc. and has served in the leadership of Idaho business, politics, workforce, and humanities education.

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