Everyone complains about Congress, but if you want to keep up with the real, festering growth of Trumpism and its corrosive effect on our politics, you better keep an eye out for state capitals.
Take my home state of Pennsylvania, where the Republican-controlled State House last week got busy proposing bills that expand gun rights and restrict the rights of people who could get pregnant. These problem-seeking solutions come even as some lawmakers seek to ban transgender school athletes from participating in gender-matched sports.
And as if that weren’t enough, two GOP House lawmakers threw another log on the fire of the culture war as they began to seek co-sponsors for legislation that would ban the state’s 500 school districts from ‘teach what is commonly referred to as’ critical race theory‘. and withholding funds from district taxpayers who defeat this ill-conceived proposal should it ever pass.
The fight against critical race theory, which academics see as a belated attempt to educate public school students about how racial disparities are embedded in U.S. history and society, has become the latest pet peeve from the right, with conservatives claiming teachers are trying to inject stroke into what they think is a color blind system.
Pennsylvania’s proposal echoes this claim, stating that “our schools should teach that every individual is equal before the law and that no individual should ever be labeled superior or inferior simply because of their race or genetic makeup,” nor be held responsible for the measures taken. by others with similar traits. Such teachings, lawmakers added, “interfere with our constitutional duty to support and maintain a comprehensive and effective system of public education to meet the needs of the Commonwealth.”
Which, of course, is nonsense. But that hasn’t stopped such efforts from proliferating nationwide, as GOP lawmakers have successfully put it at the top of state legislative agendas, NC Policy Watch reported last week. The governors of Idaho and Oklahoma have already signed measures to ban the teaching of critical race theory in schools this year. The Republican governor of Arkansas has let a similar measure become law without his signature, while the Iowa and Tennessee proposals await approval from their governors.
Lawmakers in North Carolina, Arizona, Louisiana, Missouri, Texas, Utah, West Virginia and other states have also entered the debate, though some these efforts failed. A group of Republican attorneys general from 20 states sent the Biden administration a 10-page letter berating federal officials for using two grant programs as “a thinly veiled attempt to bring into our state classrooms. the deeply flawed and controversial teachings of critical race theory and Project 1619.
Meanwhile, conservative groups such as the Heritage Foundation and the American Legislative Exchange Council, which provides right-wing lawmakers with so-called “model legislation” that they can use in their own states, have also stepped up the call. pressure on conservative state lawmakers to slow down the teaching of critical race theory.
Lawrence Paska, executive director of the National Council on Social Studies, a group that represents social science educators, told Policy Watch he was concerned about the degree of control lawmakers were trying to exert over classrooms in the classroom. teachers. âWe’re concerned about this notion ofâ¦ limiting discussion of things like racism, sexism and discrimination, that we can’t talk about those things. It’s both against what we do in social education, but more importantly, it’s against the very definition of First Amendment freedoms and academic freedom for teachers and students, âPaska said. at Policy Watch.
Paska said the goal of teaching the country’s flaws is to help students become better citizens, not to shame them. That the bills come at a time of heightened awareness of the racial and class disparities exposed by the pandemic is no coincidence.
And a black Pennsylvania lawmaker says he thinks it’s “dereliction of duty” for the Pennsylvania legislature to waste time – and taxpayer dollars – on distractions at a time when so many are in the business. need. âCritical race theory is not taught in preschools. It’s an analytical approach to understanding inequalities and how the law might address persistent inequalities, âRepresentative Chris Rabb, a Democrat from Philadelphia, told me.
âIt is taught in some law schools and higher education schools. Across the country, peddlers of racial divisions are spreading disinformation to justify creating a solution to a problem that does not exist, âRabb continued. âWhat exists are structural inequalities and deep racial disparities. The analysis of their root causes is not controversial. To continue to deny racial justice, however, is nothing short of cowardly and recklessly. ”
In other words, it’s another day in the office for the modern GOP.
John L. Micek is editor-in-chief of The Pennsylvania Capital-Star in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. Email him at jmicek @penncapital-star.com.