Over the past year, Education Week, the leading independent news organization in America that covers K-12 education, has reported that Republican lawmakers in dozens of states have introduced more than 100 bills to restricting the teaching of anything that looks vaguely like Critical Race Theory (CRT).
For some CRT is an academic approach, taught in law school. that seeks to examine and explain how race and racism function in American institutions, the persistence of racial inequality in the US and the pervasiveness of “systemic racism.” For others CRT is a recent widely promulgated worldview that contends that all the events and ideas around us in politics, education, the workplace, and beyond must be explained in terms of racial identities and the pervasiveness of “systemic racism.”
According to the Goldwater Institute, a conservative and libertarian public policy think tank, “Under Critical Race Theory every policy idea, election, textbook, movie, news report, work environment, and local concern cannot be judged according to effectiveness, quality, or accuracy but according to whether minority individuals and issues are afforded more influence in everyday life. Even George Washington, Abraham Lincoln and the US Constitution itself are subject to being canceled out of American culture- such as being removed from the names of public schools- for failing to live up the standards set under Critical Race Theory.”
CRT has become a hot button issued for many conservative parents who increasingly want to know not only how their children are learning, but what they are learning. Tennessee Republican Governor Bill Lee said last month that “The vast majority of parents believe that they should be allowed to see books, curriculum and other items used in the classroom.” In Virginia, after narrowly defeating his Democratic opponent, former Governor Terry McAuliffe, by tapping into parents’ anger over mask mandates, parental rights and CRT, the newly elected Republican Governor, Glen Youngkin, established an e-mail tip line to allow parents or members of the public to report CRT in the classroom. “For parents to send us any instances where they feel that their fundamental rights are being violated … or where there are inherent divisive practices in their schools.” Governor Youngkin, was one of the first politicians to realize that these anxieties could be the keys to winning elections.
And in New Hampshire, a conservative group of moms is offering $500 bounties to those who turn-in teachers who break a state law prohibiting certain teachings about racism and sexism.
Fourteen state legislatures have either passed laws, taken executive actions, or promulgated rules and regulations restricting the teaching of anything that looks like CRT. The result, according to Jelani Cobb in a recent column in The New Yorker, is restricting “what students can be taught about our past, segregating laudatory and thereby permissible subjects in American history from a Jim Crow section in which the nation’s deepest shortcomings are hidden from view.”
The laws that have passed to date should be an anathema to anyone concerned about censorship – limiting what schools can teach and what teachers can discuss with regard to race, American history, politics, sexual orientation and gender identity. Let’s take a brief review of some of the most egregious bills that have been introduced in different states that would create a “minefield” for educators trying to figure out how to teach topics such as slavery.
Here is Jamelle Bouie writing recently in his column in The New York Times: “One such law, passed in Texas, prohibits teaching that “slavery and racisms are anything other than deviations from, betrayals of, or failures to live up the authentic founding principles of the United States, which include liberty and equality.”
An Indiana bill would prohibit any “anti-American ideologies.” The term is not defined and the legislation does not simply preclude endorsing or promoting anti-American ideologies. It precludes discussing them. A Florida bill prohibits teachers from “encouraging any conversation about sex and sexuality.”
And South Carolina passed a law that if signed into law would make it illegal according to Jamelle Bouie “for teachers and college professors in the state to criticize members of a white supremacist groups since that affiliation might count as “a political belief.”’
Last but not least, a law passed last November in North Dakota precludes the teaching of CRT in K-12 schools. Specifically the law forbids discussing “critical race theory, which is defined as a theory that racism is not merely the product of learned individual bias, but that racism is systemically embedded in American society and the American legal system to facilitate racial inequality.”
In other words, under the North Dakota law, you can only describe racism as a product of individual’s own bias or prejudice and not something that is endemic or embedded within American society. It is a way of burying the ugly underbelly of racism and prejudice towards blacks throughout American history and in contemporary society. This compartmentalized approach to racism and slavery in America is designed to discourage students from thinking critically about contemporary institutions and identifying whether or not they might also be guilty of systemic racism. Further, it would sweep under the rug institutional racism, ie, Jim Crow laws and other discriminatory practices like redlining and denial of the GI bill benefits to Black veterans.
Over the years, I have been diligent about voting in elections for candidates at the federal, state and local levels. I haven’t been as conscious about voting in school board elections. Be assured that this trend will not continue. In the future, I will do everything possible to find out where school board candidates stand regarding censoring educators who teach, or even raise topics such as slavery, Jim Crow laws, the Holocaust or sexuality, gender and LGBTQ issues in their classroom. I will not be voting for any candidate for school board who favors censoring American or World history.
Irwin Stoolmacher is president of the Stoolmacher Consulting Group, a fundraising and strategic planning firm that works with nonprofit agencies that serve the truly needy among us.