Images of 5 Texas Representatives — Reps Bernal, Davis, Talarico and Gonzalez versus Representative Toth
Representatives Bernal (top left), Davis (middle left), Gonzalez (top right) and Talarico (bottom left) amended HB 3979 written by Representative Toth in ways that make it ineffective. They all also argued against him well on the house floor.

Thank you all as you came with me on my journey through the passage of HB 3979 in Texas. If Texas Governor Abbott does push to revisit the law in a special legislative session, I may need to write more, but for now, some concluding thoughts.

I have been struggling to understand what all of this means. I see three main themes in the issue of Critical Race Theory and the fight to keep it out of K-12 education. The first is that this is part of an over-arching strategy by Republicans to keep white working class voters enraged and engaged on sideshow issues so that they can continue to be elected and pass legislation that helps the wealth 1%. The second is the basic underlying racism of the whole fight. The third is the relationship between this battle and the fights over Transgender issues in the schools and the many fights over the years around the values taught in school.

The Republicans and Fox News are making a lot of noise about Critical Race Theory. They are writing laws like this one, parents are pushing back against school boards and getting into fights at meetings, and Steve Bannon has said they plan to use this issue to get out voters in upcoming elections.

The strategy outlined by Steve Bannon is part of a larger, well-documented strategy by Republicans to use racial issues and class issues to divide the country, engage through anger with white voters, particularly working class white voters, and win elections. It’s no surprise that the rise in discussion of Critical Race Theory follows the decrease in discussion about the 2020 presidential election, as something new was needed to engage people. And Critical Race Theory, as Joanne Freeman noted, is the perfect name for something to be against — Republicans hate all three words: critical or criticizing people (and by assumption criticizing you), race or discussing issues of racism, and theory with its connotations of academic elitism.

This strategy seems to underpin Representative Toth’s desire to pass this law. As I watched the hearings and heard him defending the law, I kept wondering why he seemed so uninterested or unknowing of the details. He did not represent the bill in front of the Committee for Public Education. In exchanges with Representative Talarico, he admitted he didn’t know what the Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills for social studies were. In exchanges with Representative Davis, he appeared not to know or be able to easily speak to what the amendments to his bill had changed and what the bill now represented. These three actions taken together make the bill seem not about actually changing the public school curriculum, but just about appearing to have fixed the problem. I believe Representative Toth is hoping to run for either congress or senator in 2022.

Because of his ignorance or lack of interest, the law that passed does more to teach the key ideas of Critical Race Theory through the inclusion of excellent primary texts from Black, Chicano, and women’s voices on US and Texas history.

The second theme I couldn’t help noticing as I researched this is the explicit racism running parallel to this talk of how Critical Race Theory should not be taught. The first mention of Critical Race Theory was on the Tucker Carlson show, and Tucker Carlson is a white supremacist. One only has to listen to him to hear it, but here are a few of the articles calling him out.

I could probably find more, and certainly other hosts and commentators on Fox News also make obviously racist statements. This theme feels like “I’m rubber you’re glue, whatever you say bounces off me and sticks to you.”

One meme that I saw on Facebook suggests that the reason people are against teaching Critical Race Theory or accurate history in schools is because they don’t want to have to explain why Grandma (or other ancestors) are in pictures of white people protesting integration efforts.

The third issue is this ongoing theme of what is taught in schools. In the school my daughter attends, we had a fight this year over transgender education in the schools. New York State and the New York City Department of Education have both legislated and created guidelines for the teaching of transgender and gender non-conforming issues in the schools. They have laws insisting on the rights of all children to be their full selves in school. This did not sit well with a significant number of parents in our school, who believe that this topic should be taught in the home. Some of the parents were also arguing not to teach Black Lives Matter in the schools, as well. Yes, even in Brooklyn, parents don’t want to talk about race and gender in school.

I was not surprised to learn, therefore, that many of the conversations with school boards about Critical Race Theory were also about transgender and gender non-conforming issues in the schools. What is taught in school versus what is taught in the home are ongoing battles in the United States, as we attempt to have a public life free of religion and a blending of multiple cultures and perspectives.

The good news is that past battles in this fight, such as the fight over teaching evolution appear to be moving in the right direction. A recent paper by Plutzer, Branch and Reid, Teaching evolution in US public schools: a continuing challenge notes some success in the teaching of evolution. They note significant shifts in teachers emphasizing that “the broad consensus that evolution is a fact” and not teaching creationism. Let us hope that the teaching of history with multiple perspectives and a recognition of the systemic racism and sexism inherent in the founding of the United States and subsequent actions follows that trajectory and in 10–15 years, we find more teachers emphasizing the whole speech of Martin Luther King Jr, and not just his dream. To conclude in his beautiful words:

There will be neither rest nor tranquility in America until the Negro is granted his citizenship rights. The whirlwinds of revolt will continue to shake the foundations of our nation until the bright day of justice emerges.

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