The Gospel According to Paul Dorr

How a little-known political consultant from Iowa is beating back the menace of public education, one school referendum at a time

The farmer believes that history is being rewritten, and public schools are glossing over the importance of the Federalist Papers and the Second Amendment, the right to bear arms. "They're trying to put issues in there, homosexuality issues," he says. "There's a lot of things occurring that are very negative to students being able to understand what happened with our government and how we became what we are today."

He also says that the separation of church and state is a myth, and that religion should be taught in the classroom as an integral part of American history. "The Bill of Rights comes from the Ten Commandments. So why aren't we telling students that?" he says.

Brude admits that Dorr is stepping up the war against public education, and that as he weaves his way through rural communities, more people are starting to question its necessity. He denies, however, that he hired Dorr to give him a heightened platform to proselytize for home education. He retained Dorr, Brude says, because school boards have their own consultants; Dorr represented a way for anti-bond voters to level the playing field.

Anita Angell may be less of an ideologue, but she, too, has engaged Dorr to help suppress bond referendums. Sitting at her lace-covered kitchen table, she leafs through a stack of literature and newspaper articles about the latest school-bond showdown in Blooming Prairie--one skirmish in a campaign going back to the early '90s.

One wall in her kitchen is dedicated to hand-painted wooden angels in blue and red with beaming smiles. Farming awards and plaques take their place on an adjacent wall. The commendation for "Premier Seedsman," awarded to her husband, John, hangs next to a framed cross-stitch embroidery that reads "Farm sweet farm."

Angell graduated from Blooming Prairie High School in the mid-'70s, and also sent her son and daughter there. She's the treasurer of the anti-bond group Citizens for Sustainable Education, which hired Dorr to help campaign against the latest bond ballot. It was rejected by 303 votes on May 17 of this year.

The farming town is about 15 miles north of Austin, and has a two-block-long downtown that, like Lyle's, is dotted with American flags. Around the corner from the downtown strip of highway is the town's Main Street, where quaint, turn-of-the-century, two-story buildings house a pharmacy, a bakery, a hardware store, and a pizza parlor. Angell says the debate had become so tumultuous that she's still uncomfortable visiting this little commercial district.

"It's gotten so ugly," she says, taking off her glasses and poking at the air with the earpiece to punctuate her thoughts. "It should not be like this. It needs to stop. I want to know that I can go to Main Street and a guy isn't going to wave his fist at me."

She's quick to point out that the group opposing the referendum didn't hire Dorr because he's out to diminish the role of public education, but because he's good at creating messages that get the committee's issues across. "He can't tell me what to think," she says, her lips tightening and her eyes growing wide. "It doesn't matter what his views are. Nobody can tell me how to think. Not even John can do that."

In the last year, the value of the couple's homesteaded farm and residence has increased by $52,000. The assessment on another parcel of their land has shot up $42,000. She says the family, with roughly 800 acres, simply can't afford to pay for a new school building, which could cost them more than $100,000 over the 20-year term of the bond. "The way it's figured is not fair," she says. "The system is broken and it needs to be fixed."

No matter what new figure the school district offers, Angell says, she would never vote to approve another referendum. Truly, no one could accuse her of inconsistency: She says that she voted against one Blooming Prairie school bond measure while her own children were enrolled in the district.

"Do I want the school to shut down?" She shrugs, thinking about it for a moment. "I've said it before: What would it matter?"

 

Though Dorr has shown himself to be no friend of rural school districts, he is a strong advocate for an alternate philosophy of education. It's not always easy to get him to talk about it. Though Dorr doesn't hold his tongue in the small towns where he's campaigning, he shows little interest in speaking to the state media. After declining to meet for an interview, however, Dorr agreed to discuss his ideas in a series of e-mail exchanges.

"The tragedy is that the poorest class of society is being harmed the most by it," he says of the public schools. "Their children serve primarily to fill seats needed to secure access to tax revenues, and then their future dependency on the bureaucracy is secured by introducing them to illicit sex, harmful drugs, and anything but a rigorous education."

Dorr believes that if most of the tax monies going to the state and federal governments for education were returned to the taxpayers, the cash flow would be so great that middle-class Christian families could operate their own schools and still have funds left over to help poor Christians to educate their children.

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