School students with raised hands, back view. (Stock Photo, Getty Images)
Conservatives are furious that American schools might actively start to teach that systemic racism is a real problem in the U.S., and so far, they’re winning the war to stop that from happening. Over the past few weeks and months, suburban school districts, Republican state legislatures, and even former President Donald Trump have railed against “critical race theory,” a framework that treats race as a construct that’s been used to exploit people and acknowledges the racism inherent in major U.S. institutions.
The only problem is that “critical race theory” has now been co-opted by the right as a stand-in for any attempt to reform schools to provide a more inclusive education for children. On Saturday, voters in the Carroll Independent School District (ISD) in Texas, a district of 8,500 students in the wealthy community of Southlake outside of Dallas, overwhelmingly elected two new people to the school board who publicly vowed to reject a “cultural competence action plan.” After several racist incidents in recent years, including multiple videos showing students in the majority-white district saying and chanting the n-word, a district diversity council of dozens of parents, teachers, and staff came up with a 34-page plan that included hiring a director of equity and inclusion, embedding education about diversity and inclusion into the curriculum, cultural competency training for teachers, and creating a process for students to report discrimination.This was met with backlash from conservatives, who painted it as an insidious attempt to implant cultural Marxism into America’s impressionable young minds. On Saturday two school board candidates who ran in opposition to the plan each won their races with nearly 70 percent of the vote. One of the newly elected school board candidates, Hannah Smith, is a lawyer and former clerk for Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito, two of the most right-wing justices on the Supreme Court.
"The voters have come together in record-breaking numbers to restore unity," Smith told NBC News in a statement. "By a landslide vote, they don't want racially divisive critical race theory taught to their children or forced on their teachers. Voters agreed with my positive vision of our community and its future."“Critical Race Theory ain’t coming here,” the Southlake Families PAC, a conservative group opposing the plan, wrote on Twitter Saturday. “This is what happens when good people stand up and say, ‘Not in my town, not on my watch.”’While schools and districts across the country have begun reforming their curricula in recent years in response to police killings and the larger cultural conversation about racism, there’s zero evidence that critical race theory is taking over American schools and indoctrinating kids. But the reactionary right has nonetheless put a spotlight on the effort to reform schools to be more inclusive, and the schools in Southlake are far from alone. Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis announced in March that his state’s proposed civics curriculum would “expressly exclude unsanctioned narratives like critical race theory and other unsubstantiated theories.” And last week, Idaho became the first state to pass a law banning the teaching of critical race theory. The Idaho law claims that ideas inherent in critical race theory “exacerbate and inflame divisions...in ways contrary to the unity of the nation and the well-being of the state of Idaho and its citizens.”
The ban came even though there’s little reason to believe critical race theory is even being taught.“In my 32 years in two different school districts, a public charter school, I never saw any of this happening, and I still don't see that happening,” Republican Rep. Julie Yamamoto told NPR. (Yamamoto voted to ban the teaching of critical race theory.)In Louisiana, an effort to ban not only critical race theory but also “divisive concepts” such as institutional racism or sexism fell apart last week after the state representative who authored the bill said during a committee hearing that schools should teach “the good, the bad, and the ugly” of slavery. (The legislator, Ray Garofolo, later had to clarify that he did not actually think there was anything good about slavery.)One of former President Donald Trump’s final acts in office was releasing “The 1776 Report,” a response to the New York Times’ 1619 Project which sought to minimize the role early U.S. leaders played in the atrocities of slavery and genocide as part of an effort to maintain America’s religious devotion to the Founding Fathers. Upon taking office, one of President Joe Biden’s first acts was to shutter the commission that authored the report.“Doing bad history is a really good way to continue to divide people, tell lies about what is true American history, and discredit the power and impact and pain associated with the institution of slavery,” Dr. Lionel Kimble, a vice president of the Association for the Study of African-American Life and History and an associate professor at Chicago State University, told VICE News in January.