English mathematician, logician and philosopher John Venn introduced the Venn diagram in the 1880s. A Venn diagram uses overlapping circles to illustrate the logical relationships between two or more sets of items. Often, Venn diagrams serve to highlight how the items are similar and different. They can also help us visualize things in new ways and afford us the opportunity to make fresh observations.
There was a time when you could create a Venn diagram with conservatism, which is an ideology, in one distinct area and Republican practices and policies, which are partisan, in another. There would have been plenty of overlap in the middle. In recent years, the middle overlap section appears to be shrinking. An example of this is the idea of local control in education. Just a few short years ago, local control would have been in the middle of the diagram; now it sits off on the conservative side, with very few Republicans even acknowledging it.
Conservatives have long held the belief in local control, especially when it comes to education. In education, local control refers to the concept that the education of children in a public school district should be made by those closest to the site of education. The management of public schools is usually left to elected or appointed representatives serving on governing bodies, such as school boards, who are located in the communities served by their schools.
Believing in local control in education means giving those governing bodies, local leaders or institutions the room to make independent decisions about the governance and operation of their public schools. The idea is that a local superintendent or governing body is deeply invested in the welfare and success of the children, the educators, and the communities entrusted to them. Republicans used to feel so strongly about local control with regards to education, they included it in the 2016 Republican National Committee Platform: The RNC “recognizes the wisdom of local control of our schools.” and “We support a constitutional amendment to protect that right from interference by states, the federal government, or international bodies such as the United Nations.” Things have surely changed since 2016.
School districts have been implementing mask mandates for the children and staff in their districts to promote the health and safety of all. Republican politicians, including Missouri’s own Attorney General Eric Schmitt, have attempted to punish school districts that are mandating masks. Schmitt filed a lawsuit on Aug. 24 that seeks to stop school districts from enforcing mask mandates. The lawsuit alleges the rules are “arbitrary and capricious,” and that mandates applying to kids are “unlawful.”
Back in June, Missouri Gov. Mike Parson enacted a new law placing limits on local public health orders. Schmitt’s lawsuit claims that districts imposing the mandates must abide by the new law. The state of Missouri is suing the 50 school districts that have initiated masking rules in schools. Included in the 50 school districts is St. Louis Public Schools and every school district in St. Louis County.
In Florida, Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis directed the state’s health and education departments to issue rules preventing the implementation of school mask mandates in an effort to “protect parents’ freedom to choose whether their children wear masks.” Florida’s State Board of Education said it would force defiant school districts to comply with DeSantis’ executive order.
One of Florida’s county circuit judges has since ruled that DeSantis’ order is unconstitutional and cannot be enforced, allowing Florida school districts to legally require their students and staff to wear masks. Although, ultimately, the judge sided with parents and local control, it did not stop DeSantis from playing Republican primary politics to begin with.
If politicians are interested in parents’ opinions regarding school mask mandates, they could look at recent polls showing mask mandates for schools are very popular. According to an Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research poll, about 6 in 10 Americans say students and teachers should be required to wear face masks while in school.
Parents and communities should be asking themselves: Who do I trust more, my local school superintendent or school board, who are looking out for the safety and well-being of all the children in their care, or the politicians who are looking toward their primary races in 2022?
For me, that’s a no-brainer.
The problem with the Venn diagram is that it does not represent the change of the Republican base voter. It is obvious that conservative Republicans are willing to ignore the principles that they said they embraced in order to appease their new voters. It is impossible to know if Republicans like Schmitt and DeSantis ever really believed those ideals in the conservative circle to begin with.
What will the Venn diagram look like in years to come? Will the circles no longer overlap? Will the overlap increase again, or will there be a new circle all together? Only time, and math, will tell.
Lynn Schmidt is a columnist and Editorial Board member of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.