The “Controversy” Over Critical Race Theory in Schools
Critical Race Theory in schools has taken a new turn in political news. What started as an outlandish attack on any form of diversity has now fallen into the Republicans’ more formal strategy. Originally, Critical Race Theory, or CRT, was used as a catch all for the right wings’ counter-attack to the political and social changes brought about from the protests following the George Floyd murder. Few outside of the academic world had ever heard of Critical Race Theory prior to this fomented outrage and that subjective ignorance was what made the rallying cry so very powerful. And let’s be perfectly clear, there is absolutely no credence to any political or social concern with CRT.
John Stoehr summarized the issue quite clearly in The Editorial Board: “What to do? First, make it clear the Republicans are lying. No one, and I mean no one, is teaching white children to hate themselves. No one is teaching white children their moral character is determined by their race. No one is teaching white children that one race is superior to another.”
Coded language has been the main tool of the passive racist for decades. From the pseudoscience of eugenics, the “outside agitators” of the Civil Rights Movement, and then the “color-blindness” of the 80s and 90s. Those who support a white supremacist society but don’t quite have the commitment or dedication to wear a white robe will find codes and micro-aggresions to support their world view.
At its core, that is what the fight against CRT was intended to do. Silence black voices seeking a political and social seat at the table. The fight against Critical Race Theory in schools has taken things further. Republicans are using schools as the training ground for the post-insurrection strategy of remaining in power. As Stoehr concludes his previous thought, “All of this is a lie that, when repeated often enough, becomes the basis for state laws forbidding such things from being taught.” That is the goal, let the white supremacists fight to silence black voices politically.
The War on Critical Race Theory in Schools Begins
Two state’s Republican parties have brought this fight to its head. Virginia’s GOP candidate for Governor, Glenn Youngkin, has decided to tie his campaign to that of “upset parents” that value book bans. What the national media isn’t so quick to point out is this has mainly been an astro-turfing campaign by a GOP dark money group. This money is being poured in to manufacture outrage. Astroturfing has been a regular political practice for decades. The goal is to turn a small issue, typically local, into a major national issue. The rise of social media has made these campaigns all the more simple.
It is beyond ironic that the crowd who bemoaned trigger warnings in higher-ed now want to ban books, or that claimed western civilization was under attack because a publisher stopped printing a few racist Dr. Seuss books. Ron Desantis, ever the culture warrior, has brought Florida deep into this fight. His administration recently barred professors at public universities from speaking against the statewide Critical Race Theory ban while it is in the courts. Free speech is not allowed if it challenges republicans.
While this fight does have larger political consequences (such as setting the groundwork for further anti-democratic campaigns) it is most threatening to education as we know it. Many arguments against CRT frame it as a form of indoctrination. These are not honest arguments of what is appropriate for schools to teach, but an attempt to frame the fight as indoctrination of leftist ideas vs right wing ideas. Plaguing school boards in nonsense politics and further weakening a struggling social service. (Historian Ted McCormick provided a detailed look at the arguments in a twitter thread linked below)
Weaponizing school boards will have drastic consequences. On one hand, it will encourage local political violence. Intimidation tactics at board meetings or during election cycles may become a new pandemic if the republican strategy proves successful. On the other, it threatens to simplify our education system to just political theater. Education is a public service. It does more than teach math, science, and literature. It is where the majority of children learn to participate in society. Where millions of students get their only regular source of food and safety. Our communities are only as strong as our schools.