The frightful implications of a failed write-in campaign for Madison’s school board

Schools, discipline, and the Daves we know.
Illustration: A speech bubble hangs over a ballot that reads “Metropolitan School District Board,” with several checkboxes on it, one checked. Illustration by Maggie Denman

Schools, discipline, and the Daves we know.

Now that Dave Blaska has lost yet another bid to represent our kids on the Madison Metropolitan School District Board, I’d like to point out that as many as 3,480 voters took him seriously. While it still left incumbent Ali Muldrow with a huge margin of victory, the vote is an indication that Madison has some serious problems with its attitude toward Black kids, and needs to contend with those problems.

If you are for some reason unaware of who this Blaska is, congratulations. I want your life. If you aren’t so fortunate, then you know very well of the “alt-right lite” shenanigans he gets up to. 

His latest project, running as a write-in candidate against current school board president Muldrow, centered around his unhelpful obsession with what he frames as school safety. He claimed that Madison schools have “waged a war on discipline” as a result of a “woke experimentation with identity politics.” And that certain members of the board, particularly Muldrow—someone he calls the “high priestess of the cult of victimhood“—have perpetuated an “undergraduate fight club” at MMSD. (Disclaimer: Current election results don’t tell us how many of the 3,480 write-in votes in this race were for Blaska, as opposed to, say, Donald Duck. But the unusually high number of write-in votes indicates that Blaska was a driving factor.)

Blaska’s proposals ranged from vowing to fight the alleged teaching of critical race theory to prohibiting student use of cell phones. Blaska promised to have a squad car ready for your middle schooler if they misbehaved. In fact, he promised to have a squad car ready for you too. Had he won, Madison parents could’ve looked forward to Blaska “seeking changes in the state criminal code to make parents criminally liable for the crimes of their minor children.” (Wisconsin’s Legislature can change the state’s criminal statutes; a local school board cannot.)

Quite a policy choice for a Republican! But then again, it was our conservative founding fathers who wrote in the 8th Amendment that “Excessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted, unless you’re a parent at MMSD whose child had a bad day, in which case fuck you.” 

Blaska’s obnoxious but predictable desire to run our schools like prisons, though, was not the most scandalous feature of this particular election. The movement against placing cops in schools—who have been proven to systemically harm Black and Indigenous students—has already brought out many bad takes from Madison right-wingers and Democrats alike. The school board voted in June 2020 to remove Madison Police Department officers known as School Resource Officers (SROs) from the district’s four high schools. Recently, the pro-SRO crowd has capitalized on a recent spate of fights and other disciplinary problems to renew calls for restoring SROs, though their presence would do almost nothing to fix the deep-seated problems behind the fights. What really gets the blood boiling is the fact that Blaska and his endorsers pitched his candidacy as a way to make the school board more diverse.

The bad-faith right-wing construction of “diversity” was not only a central theme of Blaska’s campaign. It also was literally the argument former Madison Mayor Dave Cieslewicz made in a mealy-mouthed, performatively reluctant endorsement of Blaska

In fact Cieslewicz took it a step further, writing:

…there is no real diversity on this Board. Most of the members buy into an essentially Marxist vision of education. There are oppressors. There are the oppressed. The oppressors can do nothing right. The oppressed can do nothing wrong—not even when they beat their classmates who are on the autistic scale.


The most forgiving interpretation of Cieslewicz’s reasoning is that perhaps he’s solely speaking of political diversity. In which case Cieslewicz believes that all people of color think the same, and that there is no differentiation between Muldrow or anyone else on the board. That all Black people are Marxist. But unfortunately, his misreading of the situation goes far deeper than that. 

The indictment of “Marxism” Cieslewicz lobs at the school board is incredibly sinister—a cheap Trumpian trick to bait right-wingers into hating that which they know nothing about. In Cieslewicz’s world, or maybe the one he desperately wants back, those who engage with ideas of class conflict, multiculturalism, and working-class power are somehow nefarious actors conspiring against the everyday (white) man. When in fact those interested in actually analyzing systemic harm are often among society’s brightest and most empathetic, reconciling their lived experience with the world around them—often in a nerdy, nerdy way.

Ironically, Cieslewicz simplifies Marxism to an oppressor-versus-oppressed binary as a way to paint it as essentially unsophisticated and lacking nuance. Never once does he stop to think that by generalizing a deeply complex historical and political phenomenon, he is the one making an unsophisticated argument. 

By deploying “Marxist” as an accusation, right-wingers seek to codify it as a slur, one that taps into a century-old conspiracy theory that we are steps away from chaos at the hands of anyone who dares be feminist, Black, gay, poor… or someone who dares support those groups.  

Clearly, the “diversity” Cieslewicz seeks is whatever doesn’t critique the systems of power that serve him so well.

Simply put, Dave and Dave are reckoning with a Madison that has categorically changed from when they held power in this city, one as Mayor and one as a member of the Dane County Board of Supervisors. 

From Blaska’s dedication to harping on every Black elected official he can think of on his blog, to Cieslewicz’s obsessive disdain for identity politics, you can easily see that they both have a major problem with how our communities are evolving to better interact with multiculturalism and racism.

To contend that one of the most historically representative school boards in our entire state does not hold real diversity is so self-serving. It sheds a light on why exactly the Daves we know hate the school board so much, and it’s not about safety. 

It’s that their mindsets are outdated and ill-matched to the issues and solutions at hand. There are many examples and studies that show the presence of cops in schools is in fact detrimental to the wellbeing of certain kids. In a world that is evolving to understand that an increased police presence doesn’t necessarily translate to safety or peace, the Daves have dug their heels into the sand and refused to change with the tide. In response to the removal of SROs and other policies that discourage police involvement, Cieslewicz writes: “People, this is nuts. This is just bat-shit crazy.” 

What is at the core of this stubbornness? They are contending with a reality where they don’t get to make decisions for people of color anymore, and they are feeling isolated. If only they knew that their irrelevance is because they refuse to move on from the past!

The solution to school safety is one that will take a lot of work to figure out. It will require compassion, the patience to actually address and prevent harm, better classrooms, better-funded schools, and deep societal change. There isn’t a one-size-fits-all solution, and SROs are also not the answer. 

But I think one thing has been made abundantly clear: The last thing that would help would be David Blaska.

In the words of Cieslewicz himself: people, this is nuts.

Who has power and what are they doing with it?

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