Jennifer Berkshire: The GOP’s Grievance Industrial Complex Invades the Classroom
Jennifer Berkshire at The Nation takes a look at the effects of the rise in parent vigilante activity aimed at schools.
Just one year ago, fourth grade teacher Rickie Farah was honored as a teacher of the year in Southlake, an affluent community outside of Dallas, Tex. Now, she was on the cusp of being singled out for punishment by the school board. Her crime: A student in her class had taken home a copy of teacher Tiffany Jewell’s best-selling book, This Book Is Anti-Racist: 20 Lessons on How to Wake Up, Take Action, and Do the Work, from Farah’s classroom library. When the child’s parents filed a complaint with the school district, alleging that the book was inappropriate, administrators declined to punish Farah. Then Southlake’s new conservative majority school board intervened. By a vote of three to two, members agreed to direct school administrators to place a letter of reprimand in Farah’s personnel file, permanently blemishing the record of one of the district’s star teachers.
“It’s really chilling,” says Jennifer Hough, a parent and member of the Southlake chapter of Dignity for All Texas Students. “The message that’s being sent to the teachers in this school district is that nobody’s safe.”
In May, parents angry over a proposed plan to address racism in Southlake’s schools propelled a slate of conservative candidates into office. Today, that parent anger, along with the state’s new limits on how teachers address controversial issues, increasingly informs district policy. The school district recently announced new rules restricting what books teachers can assign and instructing them to get rid of books that parents might perceive as biased. Even books on the Holocaust should be balanced with opposing perspectives, officials told teachers.
In recent months, debates over race and equity have roiled school districts across the country. More than 27 states have introduced legislation limiting how teachers can talk about race and racism in the classroom. But the enforcement of these measures will largely rest on parents, who’ve been newly deputized to ensure that teachers aren’t teaching “critical race theory” (CRT), a vague catchall that has rapidly expanded to include almost anything that conservatives don’t like.