Editors of Rethinking Schools: Right-Wing Legislators Are Trying to Stop Us from Teaching for Racial Justice. We Refuse.
The editors of Rethinking School have weighed in on the Critical Race Theory attacks from the right. The editorial is powerful and well worth the read, because this is not new.
“The alphabet is abolitionist.”
This powerful statement comes from an 1867 Harper’s Weekly editorial rallying its mostly Northern readers to the fight for robust public education as part of the post-Civil War reconstruction of the South. It rightly rooted this struggle in the violent denial of literacy under the slavocracy. In that context, learning — or teaching others — to read and write was indeed abolitionist.
The political project of white supremacy has always included attacks on education and those attacks continue in 2021. Today’s Republican Party is not so bold as to suggest educators be prohibited from teaching their pupils to read the alphabet, only that we be prohibited from teaching them to read the world.
Lawmakers in a growing number of states are attempting to pass legislation that would require teachers to lie to students about the past and present. The bill introduced in the Missouri legislature exemplifies a rash of similar bills — in Arizona, Arkansas, Idaho, Iowa, Louisiana, New Hampshire, Ohio, Oklahoma, North Carolina, Rhode Island, Tennessee, Texas, Wisconsin, West Virginia, and others. It bans teaching that “identifies people or groups of people, entities, or institutions in the United States as inherently, immutably, or systemically sexist, racist, anti-LGBT, bigoted, biased, privileged, or oppressed.”
Since these laws seem to be written with the intent to confuse, let’s focus on just a few terms from the comma-laden lists of the Missouri law: institutions, systemically, racist. Under the Missouri legislation an educator could not, without penalty, teach their students that the authors of the U.S. Constitution (establishing the institutions of the U.S. government) included multiple protections for enslavers and slavery (another institution), making white supremacy (racism) foundational (systemic), to the United States.
To put it another way, in 2021, when children look around at the vast inequalities apparent in every corner of their daily lives — where the wealth of a typical white family is 10 times that of a typical Black family, where a Black person is three times as likely to die in childbirth as a white person, and where African Americans are five times as likely to be in prison as their white counterparts — and ask, “Why? Why is it like this?” that child’s teacher would be prohibited from answering their student’s earnest and urgent question.