It’s a summer cookout. You’re enjoying a faintly burned burger, but the ashy taste is covered by a healthy portion of ketchup and mustard. Birds are singing in the trees. Your kids are playing with their cousins and you have a moment alone. Then, your sister’s boyfriend Thaddeus (who goes by Deuce) rolls up to you, suddenly an expert when it comes to Critical Race Theory. To your horror, he begins droning on about how CRT makes white students feel bad about themselves, and how teachers are part of the liberal agenda, an arm of the global elite whose entire purpose is to force untrue history onto the next generation of Americans.
States have been passing “anti-CRT” bills all summer. In my opinion, these are largely a backlash against some of the largest Civil Rights protests in history from a minority who have now lost their president. Recently, Texas and their anti-CRT bill was trending, with headlines saying that Texas was stripping Civil Rights sources and leaders from the state curriculum. Now, those headlines were misleading. The bill was passed by the Senate, and is a response to a Democrat sponsored bill that required a host of curriculum to be taught in schools. It’s concerning for sure, but it’s not been passed yet. Probably because Texas Democrats have left the state to block a bill imposing voting restrictions.
A Red Herring
It’s easy to see, and to prove that structural inequalities exist in our laws, our governing systems, our housing, and our schools. Opponents of “CRT” know this, they know those laws, they reinforce those laws, and they re-write those laws to keep themselves in power. That’s why the fight isn’t about Critical Race Theory, it’s about staying in power.
Who can topple their power? The next generation.
For people like Deuce, history is the study of change over time. For him, change is good, it means something better is happening. It means that we, as a society, are progressing. But, in reality, history is the study of change, or lack of change, over time. In history, change does not implicitly mean “better”, sometimes it means that we make changes in an effort to fit structural inequalities into modern laws. Those changes look and feel different, and sometimes give a few more rights, but ultimately they keep the ruling classes in power.
This is where kids come in. If you teach students that the United States has changed over time, and that the changes have always been better, that they’ve always progressed us closer to a truer form of American values…well then all you’re doing is indoctrinating them into the cult of American Exceptionalism. Questioning our country is not morally wrong, and teaching students to think critically about our past is not corrosive on their souls.
Education is always a frontline
Way back in the day, the Daughters of the Confederacy absolutely understood that if they taught children about the glories of the lost Confederate cause, those children would continue to fight for a now, toppled, confederacy. The sentiment and methodology of the Daughters of the Confederacy is being resurrected in the fight over CRT and what history students “should” and “shouldn’t” learn.
Fights over history are always super heated, because they are an ideological debate. A large swath of Americans grew up with the ideal (bordering on religion) of American Exceptionalism. If you don’t know, this is the idea that the United States is somehow better than everyone else, and it’s founded on a premise of progress. Not only is the US “better”, Deuce may argue, but we are continually progressing. Progress = change, and change = good and better. “Look” he says, as you force down the last dry bit of your burger. “We aren’t the same as we were 100 years ago, women like you can even vote!”
In school, social studies does a lot of heavy lifting. Not only do history teachers teach history, writing, reading, and critical thinking – we are also, and this is true, supposed to teach citizenship values. It’s a strange remnant of “Republican Motherhood“. For Republicans and Democrats the ideal “citizen” looks different, which is why history education is always at the heart of these types of debates.
It’s also why lawmakers should not set curriculum. We shouldn’t be popping out party line voters. We should be teaching students factual history that allows them to think critically about our country. This is the only way our nation can “progress” and make “change” for the “betterment” of our society.
So please, show up for your schools. I say this a lot, but people like Deuce, they’re loud and they’re winning the curriculum wars. Demand a diverse narrative in the classroom, demand diverse books, and diverse curriculum. If you don’t, then the story of CRT will be the story of how we changed the language used by the Daughters of the Confederacy to fit our modern laws.