How anti-critical race theory bills target teachers

This spring, an English teacher from a high school in Missouri he lost his job following parental complaints that one of his homework was teaching critical race theory.

The teacher had assigned a worksheet titled “How racially privileged you are? “as preparation material for reading the school-approved book” Dear Martin, “a novel about a black high school student who is physically assaulted by a white police officer. But despite the teacher’s insistence that he does not was teaching critical race theory to his students, an academic legal framework which states that racism is systemic and ingrained in many American institutions, the local school board disagrees and has determined that the material questionable thing.

The Missouri incident was no anomaly. In Tennessee, a teacher was reprimanded – and subsequently fired – afterwards telling his class that white privilege is a “fact” and the assignment of an essay by Ta-Nehisi Coates who argued that white racial resentment was responsible for the rise of former President Donald Trump. Meanwhile in Texas, a principal has been suspended after his parents accused him of promoting critical race theory based on a letter he had written more than a year earlier, calling on the community to come together and defeat systemic racism in the days following George Floyd’s murder. The contract was him afterwards not renewed.

Critical race theory was not actually taught in any of these schools, but this is largely out of place. Rather, these struggles make up for it the last chapter of the culture initiated by the GOP was and they are more generally about how teachers should – and shouldn’t – talk about race and racism in America.

Since January 2021, Republican state lawmakers have introduced nearly 200 anti-critical race theory bills in 40 states, according to data compiled by the non-profit organization PEN America. According to our analysis of the 11 states that have already signed bills targeting secondary and secondary schools, and the 84 of those bills that are still pending in state legislatures, few of these bills actually aim at teaching critical theory. of the breed. Instead, these bills are largely messaging bills that draw on the Trump administration talking points. That said, many still try to impose severe penalties on those found in violation. While the primary purpose of these laws appears to be to inflame the Republican base and win elections, these bills have created a chilling atmosphere for teachers who may decide to avoid discussing race, identity and contemporary issues altogether. in class, rather than risking their jobs.

First, despite governors and lawmakers often describe these measures such as prohibitions of critical race theory in schools, only 17 of the 84 pending bills and two of the 11 state laws (Idaho and North Dakota) explicitly mention “critical race theory.” Mississippi law mentions critical race theory in the title but nowhere in the text.

Furthermore, in the legislative acts that mention the critical theory of race, few specify what is meant by it and those who do are often inaccurate. A pending New Jersey law claims that critical race theory includes ideas such as whether one race is “inherently superior” to another and that the United States is “hopelessly racist” – none of which are actually principles of critical race theory. A bill filed in South Carolina states that race theory is critical includes the belief that the advent of slavery “constituted the real discovery of the United States”, which is not a precept of critical race theory, but rather a blow to the New York Times Project 1619. Incidentally, 12 of the 84 pending bills, plus The law of Texasspecifically prohibit the teaching or use of Project 1619 in a course.

Indeed, by examining the language of these pieces of legislation, we found that more than two-thirds of the pending bills and every single state law (except that of North Dakota) contained text essentially identical to a Trump executive order issued in September 2020, titled “Combating Race and Sexual Stereotypes”. That executive order didn’t actually mention critical race theory by name, but it still served as a model for Republican lawmakers seeking to ban critical race theory in schools. Indeed, there has been a concerted effort to persuade Republican legislatures across the country to adopt the language of Trump’s executive order in the bills they have tabled, as shown in disseminated documents such as “Model school board language to prohibit critical race theory“produced by a conservative advocacy group founded by the former director of Trump’s Office of Management and Budget.

In other words, these bills are not about critical race theory as much as they are about embodying Trump’s agenda in the law. They are what political scientists call message bills, or “hopeless legislation constructed not to change public policy but instead to signal the desirable characteristics of incumbents to voters.” But as the teacher and principal layoffs mentioned earlier suggest, these bills can still cause real harm to both teachers and students.

Of the 84 bills we reviewed, we found that 47 included penalties for those who violated the law. The most common punishment, found in 27 of the pending bills and two of the state laws, is financial, which often involves fines or cuts in school or district funds, usually imposed by a school board or a ‘ state government agency. Two other common punishments include lawsuits by parents, students or the state attorney general against a teacher or school district found in violation (11 bills) and the firing of a teacher accused of promoting critical race theory (12 bills of law).

A further 15 bills imposed other forms of disciplinary sanctions, such as verbal or written reprimands, revocation of school certifications and accreditations, suspension of pay or corrective action plans for school curricula.

Abstract Venn diagram showing the category of punishments among the 47 bills introduced in state legislatures that impose punishments around the teaching of
Abstract Venn diagram showing the category of punishments among the 47 bills introduced in state legislatures that impose punishments around the teaching of

We have found that it is often school leaders and local superintendents who have to enforce these laws. This means that these administrators must determine whether a teacher’s history lesson was objective enough or whether the teacher was responsible when a student reports feeling guilty or uncomfortable. Some of the punishments are also very severe. A pending Virginia state law, for example, he claims that anyone who is determined to have violated his anti-criticism law on race theory is guilty of a misdemeanor and risks termination or revocation of their teaching license. Meanwhile, in Kentucky, an introduced bill would have allowed any person injured by the law to do so seek compensation of up to $ 100,000.

Some bills also impose a penalty on teachers not teach something. For example, a pending Illinois law mandates that students be taught that socialism and similar political systems would lead to the overthrow of the United States and punish any school board found to be in violation with fines of up to $ 5,000 per student. In Missouri, meanwhile, a proposal sends that teachers explore the “conflicting perspectives” of contemporary controversial issues, meaning both sides of the racist substitution theory Currently pushed by some far-right commentators it must be presented while Project 1619 would effectively be banned from the classrooms by other bills currently pending in the state legislature.

These bills often do not even give accused teachers the opportunity to defend themselves against the accusations. For example, the Missouri teacher who was fired for assigning the racial privilege worksheet was let go by the school board in a closed-door session she was not allowed to attend. After being informed of the council’s decision, she said“If that’s how they fire teachers, without asking questions, without talking to the teacher, then no one is safe.”

Although only 11 of the nearly 200 anti-criticism bills on racial theory introduced in the past year and a half have been signed into law, the very presence of these bills, including their often ambiguous language, has created a chilling atmosphere for the teachers who may decide to avoid discussing race, identity and contemporary issues altogether in the classroom, rather than risk losing their jobs.

Take Jen Given, a 10th year history teacher in New Hampshire. She used to teach her students about racial economic disparities through lectures on Jim Crow’s laws, redlining and other topics. However, following the passage of the a bill that included provisions on anti-critical race theory in June last year, he stopped including those subjects in his curriculum. “The law is very vague indeed,” he told the Washington Post this year, he continued, “we asked the state, the union and the school’s lawyers for clarification. The universal answer is that nobody is really sure. “

The ultimate effect of these laws appears to create uncertainty for teachers and administrators, delegating parents and students to shape school curricula and influence how, or in some cases, whether teachers discuss difficult aspects of our history and contemporary society.