Wrapped Up in Books: The war being waged by Republicans nationwide on accuracy in education and on books written by and/or about people who don’t look like them continues.
As Black History Month kicked off this week, teachers in a growing number of states are facing new constraints and penalties regarding how they teach American history—of which, obviously, Black history is an essential part and has been subject to short shrift already.
- One recent analysis found that politicians in 35 states have already introduced legislation or taken other steps to restrict the teaching of Black history (as well as LGBTQ+ history and the history of other historically marginalized groups), mostly under the pretense of banning “critical race theory” in schools—a term that deserves quotes every time it’s used outside of its actual context as a graduate-level (often law) class that’s never existed in K-12 schools; the term is has been coopted as a racist lie by conservatives.
It’s a lot to keep track of, and, well, real talk:
- I’m definitely sweating as I try to distill the “Oh my God they banned Maus!” bits (which absolutely backfired LOL) from the arguably more impactful, longer-lasting effects of actual legislation and new laws that dictate what and how teachers teach anything that doesn’t conform to “straight white people are fine and everything they do is fine and if you say otherwise maybe you’re the real racist/bigot” approach.
But as this monstrous effort to brainwash kids into thinking that everything white people did and do is fine continues in statehouses, it’s useful to step back and take a look at what started it all.
The answer, ultimately, is pretty simple:
- The orchestrated conservative backlash against “critical race theory” can be traced back to Sep. 2020, when then-Pres. Trump issued an executive order (EO) that banned diversity and equity training in federal agencies, and, in doing so, laid out a list of so-called “divisive concepts” and used other related language that’s been copy-pasted into many of the bills surfacing in state legislatures.
- Ever since this EO dropped (many state legislatures end their sessions by September, by the by), Republicans have been lifting language from it with the clear aim to discourage teachers from making race or gender salient in lessons and conversations about power and oppression.
- Republican lawmakers began claiming that teachers who discuss these topics are practicing “critical race theory.”
- Which, as discussed above, is simply a lie.
- Among many conservatives, the term has become a sloppy catchall for any lessons about historical or present inequities.
- Worse, Republicans have conflated it with a host of other initiatives in schools to improve outcomes for students of color, like culturally responsive teaching or restorative justice.
- A great Education Week analysis of the proposed and/or passed bills has found five main categories of this legislation:
- “Divisive” or “racist or sexist” concepts: Bans on teaching all or some of the concepts in Trump’s executive order
- Other rules related to discussing identity: Proposals that restrict making race, gender, or other social identities salient in some way, but don’t use the language from the executive order
- Banning “action civics”: Language that prohibits students from participating in advocacy for course credit, and limits how teachers can talk about current events
- Curriculum transparency: Proposals that would require schools to publicly list the materials that teachers use
- Prohibitions against teachers showing bias: Language that states teachers can’t show political or partisan bias in the classroom
- But it’s not all Trump. Here are some of the extremely well-financed groups pushing these toxic bills across the country:
So for all the Republicans claiming they’re “just listening to parents,” that’s just not true. There’s nothing grassroots about this effort at all.
Money for Nothing: Oh, and while we’re talking about Trump screwing up stuff, I just want to take a moment to appreciate the fact that he can’t even get donating money to state Republicans right.
And look, I’m the first person to be all, “Hey, donating to and generally getting involved in state legislative elections is actually way more complicated than it sounds because literally every state has its own campaign finance and elections laws.”
But if a disgraced racist former president can’t even hire a decent enough lawyer to sort that out for him, and will probably have to take back most of the money he tried to give GOP candidates in Michigan, well, yeah, I’m gonna laugh my ass off.
Meanwhile, one Trump-endorsed Republican running for Michigan state Senate thinks that the Second Amendment entitles conservatives to show up armed at places where ballots are being counted to “change the tide,” as he put it.
- At an event over the weekend, GOPer Mike Detmer discussed the purported poor treatment of some Republican election observers at an absentee ballot-counting facility in Detroit in the days after the 2020 election.
- In fact, the maximum number of GOP observers were allowed into the building, and the rest were (legally and properly) kept out amid COVID concerns.
- A GOP-controlled state Senate committee investigated the matter and reported there was a “descent into disorder” but “found no evidence fraudulent activities were undertaken or that such actions led to irreparable harm to ballots or vote counting.”
- But certain folks at this weekend event believed that the fact that not everyone who felt entitled to got to cram into the facility and crowd and harass ballot counters was some kind of abrogation of their constitutional rights.
- When questioned about the matter and what folks should do if it happens again, Detmer—a man who wants to hold elected office and make laws—told attendees that they should “show up armed” and “be prepared to lock and load.”
Are we doomed? I’m starting to feel like we’re doomed.
Election Day: And because everything’s not terrible enough already, the Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee (DLCC) says that Republicans in state legislatures have already introduced over 400 bills this year that would restrict access to the ballot box or otherwise make voting more difficult.
And the second month of 2022 isn’t even a week old.
- An especially noxious anti-democracy bill emerged in Arizona last week, and while the GOP House speaker used a procedural move to effectively kill it for this session, the fact remains that two state senators, including the Senate president pro tempore, and a dozen other state Republican House lawmakers had signed on to sponsor the bill.
That’s a LOT of institutional GOP support for a measure that would
- Allow Arizona legislators to decide whether to “accept or reject election results.”
- If rejected, “any qualified elector may file an action in the Superior Court to request that a new election be held.”
- Mandate that voting occurs only on Election Day and in person, eliminating early voting and the state’s widely used vote-by-mail program.
- Require voting by only paper ballots, banning electronic machines for all voters except for those with disabilities.
- Require that ballots be counted by hand, instead of using electronic equipment to tabulate election results.
- Require ballot counts to be completed within 24 hours after polls close.
And yes, all this is scary, but the most frightening thing about the whole matter is this:
- The Republican speaker’s procedural move to functionally prevent the measure from reaching the House floor for a vote this year suggests that he worries that such an extreme bill could actually pass.
And just because it didn’t get to the floor this year doesn’t mean it won’t next, or the year after that.
After all, Rusty Bowers won’t be House speaker forever.
We Never Change: But speakerships are probably one of the few things we’ll see change in legislatures over the coming decade.
- While this round of redistricting is far from final (not just in terms of maps being approved by legislatures/governors/commissions, but also because of the inevitable journeys lots of those maps will take through various courts), things are shaping up to create legislative chambers that are even less competitive than they are now.
Real talk: Michigan, Minnesota, Arizona, New Hampshire, Virginia, Nevada, Pennsylvania, and Colorado might be the only states where majority control of legislative chambers changes hands over the coming decade.
And yeah, that’s depressing as hell.
Welp, that’s all I’ve got the stomach for this week.
But hang in there!
The days are getting longer, we’re in the last full month of winter, and the omicron variant of COVID-19 has begun to abate in large parts of the country.
So take care of yourself.
I know you’re tired.
Lord knows I am.
But you’re important.
We need you.