All those vague, overly broad state laws banning the teaching of critical race theory (CRT) are having their intended effect: They’re scaring teachers away from teaching important parts of U.S. history or anything about current events.
Thirteen states now have policies telling teachers how race can’t be taught in schools, with some explicitly threatening teachers’ careers if they make any parent angry. In Florida, “I’ve censored or fired or terminated numerous teachers,” Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran said. “There was an entire classroom memorialized to Black Lives Matter and we made sure she was terminated.”
A New Hampshire law would allow any “person claiming to be aggrieved by a violation” of its limitations on teaching about race and other issues to take legal action against the school and would open teachers up to “disciplinary sanction by the state board of education” if they were found to have violated it. But the law “is really, really vague,” Jen Given, a 10th grade history teacher, told The Washington Post. “We asked for clarification from the state, from the union, from school lawyers. The universal response is no one’s really sure,” she said. “It led us to be exceptionally cautious because we don’t want to risk our livelihoods when we’re not sure what the rules are.”
As a result, Given is no longer teaching her students about how Jim Crow laws and redlining built the racial wealth gap that still persists. Those are facts about how history produces the present, and those facts have been erased from the education Given’s students are getting. In another New Hampshire town, English teacher Kate LaClair is no longer having her students take a Harvard implicit bias test or read critiques of it.
An Oklahoma teacher who is a plaintiff in a lawsuit challenging his state’s don’t-teach-race law says, “I have taught differently. I’ve had to edit myself in a way that I’ve never had to think about in my entire career.”
At one Utah middle school, the principal decided to eliminate an entire course called American Institutions because it covered current events, including Black Lives Matter.
These laws are slashing important parts out of the education kids are getting in schools in 13 states, and in many places there are flaming racists ready to press for more. There’s the Tennessee “Moms for Liberty” group trying to use that state’s new law to ban children's books about Martin Luther King Jr. and Ruby Bridges. There are the Alabama parents calling education officials to complain that observing Black History Month is teaching critical race theory.
Raising white kids to be ignorant of the racial history of the United States is a full-on Republican goal, now written into the laws or official policies of 13 states. The claim is that white kids have to be protected from knowing about things that have been done to Black kids in the past, because it might make the white kids feel guilty, or something. Bridges had to walk into school under federal protection past people screaming slurs at her. Moms for Liberty thinks it’s unacceptable for kids now to see pictures of that moment, not because of the trauma inflicted on one little Black girl then, but because of the guilt it would supposedly make white kids feel now. People feel empowered—with the support of Republicans at the very highest levels—to threaten school board members. And teachers can hear loud and clear that their careers will be over if they teach a fact the wrong white person finds inconvenient.