April 16, 2022

William H. Frey: Anti-CRT bills are aimed to incite the GOP base—not parents

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William Frey is a senior fellow at Brookings Metro, but even he is able to see that anti-critical race theory bills are not about protecting parents.

Beginning last year and continuing in 2022, dozens of states—mostly those with Republican-dominated legislatures and governors—have proposed laws and executive orders banning the teaching of critical race theory (CRT) or, more broadly, books and courses on America’s diversity. Perhaps most noteworthy was newly elected Virginia Governor Glenn Youngkin’s “day one” executive order banning the teaching of critical race theory and other “divisive concepts.” Other Republican governors who have been vocal about these bans include Ron DeSantis of Florida and Greg Abbott of Texas. 

Many of these laws were embedded in broader initiatives to address sometimes legitimate parental concerns about public schools’ capabilities to deliver quality educational experiences during the COVID-19 pandemic. But the specific focus on banning the teaching of racial history smacks of political motivation by a party that is trying to ignore this nation’s rising diversity and appeal to its largely white, culturally conservative voter base. In fact, the term “critical race theory”—a much narrower academic framework than what is commonly taught in K-12 courses on American racial history—is intentionally used as a scare tactic to appeal to that base. 

Surveys taken in VirginiaFlorida, and Texas show underwhelming support for banning the teaching of racial history and diversity in public schools among most respondents, including parents. Moreover, a February nationwide CBS poll found that more than eight in 10 Americans oppose banning books that discuss race or slavery from schools, and more than six in 10 believe that teaching about race in America makes students understand what others went through. 

This is noteworthy because the demography of the nation’s school children and their parents is distinct from nonparent voters of the traditional Republican base—older white voters, especially those without college educations. Therefore, it is fair to say that the political strategy behind these laws, particularly in rapidly diversifying Republican states, is really intended to appeal to nonparent voters who are fearful of the nation’s changing demography. 

Read the full piece here, with the numbers and charts to back up Frey’s theory. 

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