Those bills with a private right of action bind together the Republican rage at the idea of white kids learning that racism is real and bad with the Republican agenda to defund public schools. In Missouri, for instance, Judd Legum reports that one of several gag order bills Republicans are pushing would allow parents to demand two weeks notice anytime their kids might be exposed to a “divisive or controversial topic that may conflict with a parent’s belief that all persons, regardless of race, ethnicity, color, national origin, or ancestry, should be treated equally.” If schools failed to provide that, parents could sue and win up to $5,000, while a school that violated the law would be fined—with 80% of the fine going to a fund providing tuition assistance for private school students. In other words, public schools would face an almost impossible demand—making them subject to the whims of the most entitled white parents—under the threat of public education money being siphoned to private schools.
Other educational gag order bills reveal their authors’ contempt for history. A draft of a Virginia bill confused Frederick Douglass and Stephen Douglas, calling for schools to teach the debates that supposedly happened between famed abolitionist Douglass and Abraham Lincoln, rather than the debates that actually happened between Lincoln and then-Sen. Douglas, who supported the right of states to keep slavery legal.
In Arizona, Legum finds a bill specifying that “Slavery, legal racial discrimination and racism are…inconsistent with the founding principles of the United States.” Except that if we take the Constitution as a statement of the founding principles of the United States, then slavery—which kinda encompasses racial discrimination and racism—was absolutely woven into the founding, and it’s not just the Three-Fifths Compromise. When the Constitution said, “The Migration or Importation of such Persons as any of the States now existing shall think proper to admit, shall not be prohibited by the Congress prior to the Year one thousand eight hundred and eight, but a Tax or duty may be imposed on such Importation, not exceeding ten dollars for each Person,” that was explicitly allowing the importation of enslaved people. Elsewhere in the original Constitution, there was a provision mandating that people who escaped slavery be returned to it even if they reached free states.
Arizona Republicans want to mandate a false alternative history of the United States.
In Florida, Gov. Ron DeSantis is pushing a bill to outlaw the teaching of anything that makes any (white) person “feel discomfort, guilt, anguish, or any other form of psychological distress” on account of their race. “This isn’t even a ban on Critical Race Theory, this is a ban on Black history,” Democratic state Sen. Shevrin Jones told CNN. “They are talking about not wanting white people to feel uncomfortable? Let’s talk about being uncomfortable. My ancestors were uncomfortable when they were stripped away from their children.”
But minor discomfort at confronting historical facts for people in some groups is placed above the fact of centuries of enslavement and lynching and segregation and ongoing structural racism as experienced by people in other groups.
Things are rather different in New Mexico, where the state public education department is proposing new standards to increase teaching on race.
“Our out-of-date standards leave New Mexico students with an incomplete understanding of the complex, multicultural world they live in,” Public Education Secretary Designate Kurt Steinhaus told the Associated Press. “It’s our duty to provide them with a complete education based on known facts. That’s what these proposed standards will do.”
One white parent of Black adopted children objected to the proposal because, “If we start too early, we rob kids of this rare time in their life that they have just to be kids,” he said. “They just get to be these amazing little kids and enjoy life without preconceived notions, without context.”
The same man told the AP that he’d had “the talk” with his Black son about how to interact with police as safely as possible, and that his kids have faced escalating casual racism as they’ve grown. But sure, schools can preserve their innocence by just ignoring the issue.
My dude, maybe if the schools teach about race from early on, your kids will face less casual racism. Your children have a context and it already includes racism. Efforts by educators to change that are not somehow going to rob them of anything.
And that, in a nutshell, is how white parents—even some who may be well-intentioned—demand that educators distort U.S. history at the expense of Black and brown children. Combine that widespread willful denial of the racial reality of this country’s past and present with a party dedicated to racist dog whistles and serving the bigotry of a significant part of its base, and you have this onslaught of laws silencing and threatening teachers and outright making it illegal to teach an accurate version of history.