Republicans are again responding to a coast-to-coast dog whistle to mobilize for the next inane culture war: critical race theory. Florida is trying to ban teaching it. The Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff lost precious time overseeing the world’s greatest military on Thursday to explain to suspected sex trafficker Matt Gaetz that if one reads a book, one does not have to believe it, much less live the rest of one’s live according to its tenets.
Critical race theory was developed at Harvard Law School in the 1970s when academics there sought to understand why the civil rights movement of the 1960s faded in its intensity. Essentially it seeks to critically examine the law as it intersects with issues of race and challenge mainstream approaches to racial justice.
Like other critical academic theories, CRT seems at times to question everything. That’s sort of the point. It is supposed to challenge the norm and make us think. This is in part why we have institutions of higher education. Some CRT ideas as posited in academic debate are radical, distasteful, or even run counter to American democracy. That doesn’t make them illegal; they are only ideas.
However, our old friend Steve Bannon, President Trump’s former campaign manager, has decided this is an election winner, seizing on CRT critics’ overblown reports that CRT wishes to indoctrinate schoolchildren that the U.S. is inherently a racist country. The CRT-is-undermining-American-values-in-our-schools threat is eminently hollow. Pointing out that George Washington owned slaves in a grade school history book is not CRT; it is history. Explaining that Jim Crow laws in the South led to societal division and societal racism which led to violence against Blacks is not CRT; it is social studies. I learned about both topics in the Silver City public school system in the 1980s and no one freaked out about it.
Unfortunately, my party sees the fake CRT specter as the perfect message to get the House back in 2022. The GOP is now on a mission to complete a school-district-by-school-district investigation to root out any indication of CRT in a curriculum and ban it, straight away. I see glimpses of it now in some of the campaigns for this year’s Albuquerque Public School Board seats.
I’m making a personal plea to APS school board candidates: Don’t be taken in by the CRT scam. Picking through texts for possible un-American language is not the best use of your important skills and talent. It will not improve our children’s math and reading skills. It will not better prepare them for the workforce or higher education. And banning ideas wholesale is about the most un-American activity I can think of.
The CRT bluster is another hyper-divisive canard aimed at stoking fear and bringing out voters on a single issue. “This is the Tea Party times 10,” Bannon says in an interview quoted by POLITICO, “I see 50 (House Republican) seats in 2022.” Because Bannon is quite the influencer, Fox News has made over 3,000 mentions of CRT since March.
For the 2016 election, Bannon used the border and immigration as the flashpoint for national division. America has lacked a coherent border and immigration policy since the 1960s. It still does. What it did gain by the 2016 immigration propaganda campaign was an increase in division, anger, and bitterness. Remember the mass shooting in El Paso? Remember Charlottesville? Bannon thinks it will be great to bring that strife back and demonizing CRT is just the way to do it.
This is nuts. And it is scary. The anti-CRT campaign message offers no ideas to improve the economy, create jobs, or enhance our influence abroad. Banning CRT will not improve the life of any American. The very notion of forbidding a specific method of teaching or thinking runs entirely counter to the Constitution, although my party still bombasts about “Constitutionality” in its tired talking points (a notable exception being January 6 of this year).
Making the entire educational system and intellectual community the enemy over semantics is a dangerous precedent. Republicans should attempt some level of political consistency as the “Party of Freedom” and drop this divisive, dangerous and unconstitutional trope. At least before someone exercising their Second Amendment rights shoots a bunch of people exercising their First Amendment rights again.