Journalist Chris Rufo accused American Federation of Teachers president Randi Weingarten on Sunday of doctoring a fake quote she attributed to him and threatened legal action. He said that Weingarten had "made up the middle part of the quote entirely."
Weingarten had claimed that Rufo said "To get universal school choice, you really need to operate from a premise of universal public school distrust. To sow & grow that distrust, you have to create your own narrative frame,& it." [sic]
In response, Rufo posted the video of his talk at Hillsdale College on April 5 that contained the alleged quote, which was culled from a much longer segment of his speech. Rufo gave remarks about school choice and the legitimacy of American academic institutions. The quote pulled from Weingarten is an assemblage of quotes from over 10 minutes of Rufo's talk.
In speaking about the controversy between Disney executives, who oppose the Parental Rights in Education bill, and the state of Florida, whose constituents roundly support it, Rufo said, near the 27-minute mark of the video of the speech:
"Whether it's critical race theory or gender ideology, in schools, for example, we have about a two to one margin, the public supporting our position, and opposing the position of the institutions. These institutions don't choose these ideologies, democratically. You didn't vote for it, I didn't vote for it. They're imposed anti democratically by fiat through bureaucratic not democratic rule. And so what we're seeing, I think, as the first step, is a narrative and symbolic war against companies like Disney, for one example. You have to be very aggressive, you have to fight on terms that you define. You have to create your own frame your own language. And you have to be ruthless and brutal in pursuit of something good."
Near 30 minutes in, he said:
"What's happening is that you have 90 percent, of American schoolchildren, attending public schools, you have 90 percent of American university students attending public universities, you have a monopoly that unless it's broken up, unless parents are given more power, more freedom, more options, more choice, they're going to be forced to run their kids through a gauntlet that they can't control. And so I think if you categorize them all together, to summarize very briefly, you're engaging in a narrative war.
"I mentioned earlier that there's this kind of postmodern layering on top of all of our institutions, to turn the, let's say, revolutionary ideology into something very gauzy, very vague, very seductive, very attractive, soft language. We have to rip that veil off of really what's happening and show Americans, thorough reporting, through information, through investigation through public records requests, etc, exactly what's happening. And we have to fight at that narrative and symbolic level, we live in an information society."
Later, around the 34-minute mark, he said:
"I think conservatives are really realizing now, we like what our institutions were. We like what we imagined them to be. And now that we are seeing what they are, we don't like them as much. And so luckily, the institutions are really doing this to themselves. You see trust in all of our institutions cratering.
"I think it's foolhardy to say, 'well, we really want to just raise that number.' I think you want to create the conditions for fundamental structural change to appropriate some language. For example, school choice to get universal school choice you really need to operate from a premise of universal public school distrust. Because in order for people to take significant action, they have to feel like they have something at stake.
"I think that the public schools have done a remarkable job at doing that for specifically the public school teachers unions. They shut down schools for more than a year. In some districts, half of all kids never showed up to online learning. They've had the most catastrophic learning loss, likely since World War Two. Their map: they kept kids masked for years, while the adults traveled around the world with no mask on.
"And the teachers union endorsed, promoting critical race theory in all 14,000 local school districts. And I think, finally, and the positive side of this, is we have to create alternatives. I think that in a dynamic society, like the society that we have, we also have the opportunity and the responsibility to create alternatives."
In short, the quote that was pulled and attributed to Rufo was an amalgamation of many things he said, taken out of context.
This was after Weingarten appeared on MSNBC, saying that the Parental Rights in Education Bill, signed into law by Governor Ron DeSantis, was bad for teachers who should be allowed to share their "lived experience" with students in order to "save democracy."
"I've talked to several gay teachers who are members of our union," Weingarten told MSNBC, "to just be their backstop. PFLAG did an amazing petition for one of those teachers in Florida. A remarkable teacher, a kindergarten teacher, beloved by his kids and the parents of his kids. And he was immediately terrorized after the bill was passed and signed by DeSantis because he's gay. We have to let gay kids and gay teachers, frankly we have to let everyone, talk about their lived experience. That's part of how you build relationships, that's part of how you unite people, that's part of how you save democracy."
Weingarten made her claims in opposition to what she seemed to believe Rufo was saying, based on this fabricated quote:
Weingarten claimed that Rufo was trying to sow "distrust and chaos," not to help kids, but her foundation was a misquote. Listening to Rufo's speech, there is a great deal more to his idea to gain school choice, and it is about trying to secure the best educational program for American students.
Rufo said that he welcomed criticism, from both Weingarten and the American Federation of Teachers, but that fabricating quotes was not acceptable.
Rufo included archives of both Weingarten's and the AFT's tweets that were misrepresenting his ideas.
Rufo has been an outspoken critic of critical race theory and the teacher's unions, which fought to keep schools closed, kids masked, and furthered the reach of critical race and gender theory during the pandemic years in public education.
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