The GOP is stepping up its attacks on critical race theory
SSince the summer of 2020, nearly 900 school districts across the country, covering 35% of K-12 students in the United States, have been rocked by campaigns against teaching critical race theory. .
These campaigns began shortly after the huge racial justice protests, sparked by the murder of George Floyd, put racial equity issues at the center of the American political conversation. They gained momentum as Trump, in the final months of his presidency, accelerated his efforts to tap into any white resentments over this shifting conversation. In the year after the election, the GOP took over the CRT as its corner issue of the day, the one which, hope its leaders, will propel them towards the victory of the mid-terms of 2022.
Most of the school districts in which local anti-CRT campaigns have gained momentum share two common traits: motives change; and they’re in politically competitive precincts where both Republicans and Democrats have a realistic chance of winning a majority of votes.
These findings are in a report just released in California, titled The conflict campaign, by two University of California professors of education—John Rogers, director of the UCLA Institute for Democracy, Education, and Access; and Mica Pollock of UCSD.
The report makes clear how opportunistic the GOP’s anti-CRT campaign is: how it’s designed to serve as a corner issue in districts that are politically up for grabs, and how it’s designed specifically to foster racial resentment and cultural anxiety in communities that have recently become or become less white.
Rogers and Pollocks analyzed more than 10,000 media reports on critical race theory and public schools that took place between September 2020 and August 2021. They interviewed hundreds of educators across the country. And they reached out to 21 equity officers in districts where the CRT debates had become particularly heated.
Teachers said they felt discouraged from teaching complex ideas about race and the unsavory history of institutional racism in the United States, even though they were told by superintendents to avoid “controversial” topics. Equity officers reported being verbally harassed and threatened in response to their efforts to promote inclusive school policies and programs.
When I spoke to Rogers earlier this week, he explained how the right-wing media was constructing a cartoonish image of the CRT – an image that really wasn’t being taught in the vast majority of American classrooms – to create a movement. of resentment which, they hoped, would allow them to flex their electoral muscles.
“They pushed the issue into the districts where they could win the most politically,” Rogers said. It was, he continued, a “fabricated conflict” designed to exploit all-too-real political and cultural divisions in the country.
Rogers and Pollock’s research findings show how effectively the GOP has pushed critical racial theory conflicts to the micro level, focusing on politically competitive districts where a few hundred parents changing their voting habits can fundamentally change the party dynamics. But as that campaign escalated, GOP operatives realized that statewide resentment campaigns were getting more bang for their political bucks than fine-tuned local efforts.
In Virginia, GOP gubernatorial candidate Glenn Youngkin pushed a strong anti-CRT message that resonated with suburban voters who had abandoned the party en masse during the Trump years. He won the election in November and, on his first day in office earlier that month, quickly signed an executive order banning the teaching of critical race theory. Last summer, state school boards in Florida and Utah acted to prevent the theory from being taught in their schools.
Other states have bypassed school boards entirely and have passed or are proposing legislation banning critical race theory in the classroom. In Tennessee, a slave state and part of the Jim Crow South, public schools that To do teach about white privilege will have their state funding withheld. The bill was pushed by Republican lawmakers, but signed into law by a Democratic governor. Think of it as an updated version of the Scopes Monkey Trial, in which a Tennessee biology professor was sued nearly a century ago for having the temerity to teach his students the theory of evolution. , a development that provoked a furious reaction from bible-loving parents. and their political cronies.
Meanwhile, in South Dakota, Governor Kristi Noem, a presidential candidate, personally drafted a law banning the teaching of CRT in state schools. It is likely to be adopted during the next legislative session. This follows an earlier executive order signed by Noem that barred his state’s Department of Education from applying for millions of dollars in history and civics grants due to concerns that these grants came with conditions that reportedly encouraged teachers to address issues of racial injustice and privilege in their classrooms. Instead, she said, she wanted teachers to focus on “honest and patriotic education.”
In Texas, Governor Abbott signed a bill to limit the teaching of Critical Race Theory and, specifically, to ban the teaching of the 1619 Project. In Florida, which has already seen council action against the CRT, DeSantis and his GOP allies in the Legislature are now going further, advancing a bill that would ban teachings about race that make students feel “uncomfortable” when told teaches racial discrimination. . The governor has also promoted legislation allowing parents to sue schools for teaching critical race theory. In western Arizona, lawmakers also passed a law banning local governments from teaching critical race theory.
Even in California—which has headed in the opposite direction of conservative states on education policy, and where there is now a statewide mandate for schools to teach ethnic studies—Rogers and Pollock have found 75 school districts where anti-CRT activists had launched significant campaigns, including recall efforts against liberal school board members.
Rogers told me his research found that across the country, teachers were now beginning to censor themselves out of a desire to avoid the ire of politicians, angry parents and the conservative media. He told me that equity officers said they had received death threats and that one of the officers they interviewed was so afraid for his personal safety that he only parked his car near the CCTV surveillance cameras.
Doing divisive politics around race could guarantee votes for opportunistic politicians, but it comes at a huge cost. Schools are becoming battlegrounds in America’s increasingly garish culture wars, and educators are afraid to teach some of the toughest and most complex issues in American history.