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

"I would love nothing more than to see a flourishing of private schools run by Protestants, Catholics, Unitarians, Jews, Quakers, Hmong, etc.," Dorr says. "Let them teach the academics as well as their traditions and let them each provide for the poor in their neighborhoods/communities." The picture Dorr seems to be laying out here is one of segregated schools, organized around traditions, values, and in many cases, race and ethnicity.

Dorr repeatedly talks about how public schools encourage a dependency on the bureaucracy and the welfare system by introducing students to sex and drugs. And he sees no value in compulsory education as a means to create a trained workforce and limit unemployment, poverty, criminality, and other social ills.

"The reverse of the 19th-century slogan used to popularize public schools at the time--that is, 'Build more public schools and we'll build less jails'--has been fully realized," he says.

Instead, Dorr says, after "naturalist and narcissistic" public education gives way to parent-directed and Christian schools, crime will decrease and fewer people will have to depend on welfare. In fact, it's the public education system, Dorr says, that teaches kids a sense of self-entitlement and promotes a naturalist view, which he describes as shortsighted.

Secularists, he says, believe that "the triune God of the Bible has nothing to say about science, math, history, art, etc. There is no supernatural foundational purpose to learning...[public education] teaches self-esteem, self-image, self-awareness, self-actualization, self, self, self. True Christian schools teach Christ and Him glorified in all of your academic and social pursuits."

Molacek, from South Tama, finds Dorr's messianic stance amusing. "You know, he professes to be a Christian," Molacek says. "I'm not sure Christ would come into a community and do what he does."

 

The Saturday before the Tuesday vote in Lyle, farmers received a personalized letter signed by an unnamed "former Lyle graduate," that detailed the individual agriculture subsidies they'd received over the years. The letter said, "Be honest and give back part of the millions you get for doing nothing." The Save Our School and Community members believe it was a piece of disinformation sent out to make the pro-bond voters out to be villains.

Dorr says he doesn't need to resort to subterfuge to get his message out. "My guess is that their side did it.... The senior PAC committee members and I had nothing to do with it. Government education is failing on its own and I've never been known not to sign my name, or in these cases, encourage my clients to not sign their names to what we produce."

Despite the intrigue so close to the ballot, the Lyle referendum passed on May 24 by a 106-vote margin. Voter turnout was 97 percent.

Yet more than a month after the bond went through, the members of Save Our School and Community are hardly calling it a victory. On one of the hottest days of the year, Ron Frank is occupied with outdoor work, spraying fields and pitching in to help his customers where he can. Some of these farmers were "no" voters, and he suspects that his outspokenness on this issue has lost him some business. He agrees to meet outside of a small white church on a hilltop. It's one of the only buildings visible on a stretch of county road that's mostly decorated with manicured mazes of crops.

"Families were divided, friendships were ruined," he says, looking out over the fields. "It's no different than the Hormel strike. It's going to take time to get over."

Ron's brother Wayne, who served on the pro-bond committee, says that he has farmer friends who have stopped coming around the town for coffee. He's heard rumors that some farmers have boycotted the neighborhood shops and are refusing to participate in Lyle's annual Independence Day celebration. Without them, the truck-and-tractor pull, an event favorite, may not happen.

"People feel like they were treated unfairly," Ron says. "We all have a different idea of what our share is. But Dorr's tried to make it a rural and townsperson issue. He's trying to get people to buy into it so he can get the end result--no public schools."

In Blooming Prairie, Anita Angell has experienced the same lingering friction with her neighbors. The pro-bond committee members have come out with statements that, Angell says, question a "no" voter's intelligence. And there have been personal attacks on Angell and others. She says she has received threatening phone calls, but declines to offer any specifics.

"I know for a fact businesses have been affected by this. There are things that happened," she says, her voice trailing off. "And I don't think I'll go to those businesses again. What's going to happen to downtown? I think this turned into somewhat of a tragedy."

Angell is preparing for a meeting that night with community members and school officials to discuss plans for the school and another possible referendum. She suspects a new proposal will come up for a vote by November. "The gloves are off," she says. "You can't crap on me twice. Tonight's meeting is going to be tough. If they want the farmers to pay for this school with the structure that's in place, it's not going to happen."

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