The Toxic Goal Behind GOP Laws Restricting Teaching about RacismHistorians in the News
tags: racism, civil rights, Virginia, teaching history, critical race theory, Glenn Youngkin
Glenn Youngkin’s victory in the Virginia gubernatorial election persuaded Republicans that there’s political gold in attacking teachers for supposedly indoctrinating the nation’s children about race. So in GOP-controlled state legislatures, efforts to place new restrictions on teachers are accelerating.
But behind these efforts lie specific trends that could prove particularly toxic. The risk: They may make teachers believe they are on such thin ice that they end up whitewashing the U.S. past rather than dare to communicate hard truths about it.
That’s the key takeaway from a new report from PEN America on the latest batch of restrictions moving forward in GOP legislatures. The report shows that these efforts are expanding and getting more pedagogically pernicious in their goals.
The report’s top-line finding: Dozens of proposals have already been introduced this month to limit how our nation’s racial past and present are taught. That’s striking enough, but what’s underneath these efforts also matters.
Some of these laws ban the “concept” that the United States is “irredeemably racist or sexist,” and some ban the idea that slavery and racism represent anything more than full-scale betrayals of our “authentic” founding. Proponents sometimes cite Martin Luther King Jr.’s belief in the ultimate promise of America’s founding in justifying this.
But things are not this simple. King described Whites as “the oppressor” and Blacks as “the oppressed.” He said “we must not consider it unpatriotic” to ask whether the U.S. needs a “radical restructuring” precisely because its current trajectory may not ultimately realize its founding principles.
“King said he hoped America could live up to its stated ideals, but nevertheless he wrestled with whether that was possible,” historian Kevin Kruse tells me.
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