I breathe inwardly a tired sigh of cyclonic force every time I hear the words “critical theory of races.”
Take what happens in Texas. A social studies law inspired by the reaction of the political right to the CRT came into force this week, circumscribing how state educators can talk about race and racism.
“It’s clearly an attack on diversity, on equity (and) inclusion. It feels a lot like a political reach based on misinformation,” Ana Ramón, deputy director of defense for the Association of Human Rights, told Nicole Chávez. ‘Intercultural Development Research. “Teaching critical race theory in K-12 would be like teaching quantum physics in K-12 … There is no curriculum that has been adopted in Texas classrooms.”
Perhaps the most disturbing thing about the collapse of the CRT (which, it is worth repeating, is not taught in primary school) is that the central impulse is not very new, but adapts to a long and messy one. story of fights in the classroom. instruction. When students return to school, adults could benefit from a broader context about what is happening.
This is what these slow-fire battles reveal about U.S. sociopolitical anxieties about, among other things, race, gender, and immigration.
How was the reaction against CRT introduced in schools?
Across the country, conservative-dominated advocacy groups and Republican-dominated state legislatures – instigated by Fox News, as noted by CNN’s Oliver Darcy – are exploiting relatively minor local school disputes, mutating bland school board meetings into spectacular shows where people dispute historical facts.
Republicans are confident that playing these conflicts will be useful to them electorally, as they will train their attention in mid-2022 and beyond.
The orchestrated attack on the CRT affects teachers, staff and students.
“The more we eliminate the possibility of having these critical and crucial conversations, the more we will continue to whitewash the system that is already whitewashed,” Shareefah Mason, a master of social studies at Zumwalt Middle School in Dallas, told the Texas Tribune.
Or here’s how Christopher Caltagirone, a Phoenixville school board member on the outskirts of Philadelphia, described the situation to my CNN colleagues: combination of issues. Putting it all together. And I don’t think it’s fair. “
It is not too long to say that the current struggle over how schools teach not only history, but also how history moves in the present, could affect students ’understanding of the world around them for years to come.
Is this the first time the political right is freaking out to learn about race and racism?
No, this dispute has existed in various forms at least since the nineteenth century.
For example, as the writer Anthony Conwright recently drew for Mother Jones, in 1829, North Carolina attempted to quell the slave uprising revolts by banning the distribution of abolitionist literature. One law made it a crime to circulate “any pamphlet or paper written or printed … the obvious tendency of which would be to excite insurrection, conspiracy, or resistance.” Another law forbade “the teaching of slaves to read and write” because doing so “has a tendency to excite dissatisfaction in their minds and to produce insurrection and rebellion by the manifest injury of the citizens of that State.”
North Carolina’s insistence on limiting the instruction of blacks was not a historical aberration: “Suppression tactics have to do with deep national anxiety about black dissent, whether we are talking about slave uprisings or of (black) panthers or black life, “Professor Jane Rhodes of the University of Illinois at Chicago told me in February.
In the second half of the 19th century, a different fight broke out: how to talk about the civil war in schools. To no one’s surprise, the South wanted to rethink the war so that it sympathized with the anti-democratic confederation, laying the groundwork for the enduring myth of the lost cause. The United Daughters of the Confederacy played an important role in this re-education campaign and tried to eliminate the “long-legged Yankee lies” from the textbooks.
The agitation over how schools should discuss the legacy of slavery persists to this day. Recall how the 1619 Project sent Republicans into full racial panic, with many seeking to use state power to suppress the use of the project in classrooms.
Have there been educational disputes about things other than race?
I am scared.
For example, World War I sparked an explosion of xenophobia aimed not only at German and American immigrants of German descent, but also at the German language. Senator William H. King of Utah introduced a bill to ban the teaching of German in Washington public schools.
“Wherever the German language goes, so does insidious, malicious, furtive, cruel, and cold-blooded propaganda to stifle the liberties of free peoples,” King said in 1918. “We have a duty to our children. We must protect -those of the German Monster removing the trap: the German language “.
In September last year, Seth Cotlar, a professor of history at Willamette University, posted on Twitter
as, in 1923, amid widespread fear of communism and immigration, Oregon state legislators attempted to stifle alleged threats from the left.
More specifically, the legislature, made up of an almost majority of Ku Klux Klan members, passed a law banning the use in public schools of any textbook that “speaks lightly of the republic’s founders or the men who go to maintain union or to underestimate or underestimate their work “.
And in her 2015 book “Classroom Wars: Language, Sex and the Making of Modern Political Culture,” Natalia Mehlman Petrzela, a history professor at The New School, questions how, in the 1960s and 1970s, she was stimulated by the countercultural ethics of the time. California-based citizens “came to define the school home and family as politicized places” through scruples about Spanish-language and sex education.
“The fights in and over the classroom (classroom wars) constituted a crucial crucible in which the powerful political notion of‘ family values ’was fought and built,” he writes.
So while the current reaction to CRT may seem unique, it really isn’t. It’s just the latest iteration of a century-old trend to turn the classroom into a battlefield.