Jun 20, 2021 - Politics & Policy

Educators face fines, harassment over critical race theory

People talk before the start of a rally against "critical race theory" (CRT) being taught in schools at the Loudoun County Government center in Leesburg, Virginia.

People talk before the start of a rally against critical race theory being taught in schools at the Loudoun County Government center in Leesburg, Va. Photo: Andrew Caballero-Reynolds/AFP via Getty Images

Elementary school teachers, administrators and college professors are facing fines, physical threats, and fear of firing because of an organized push from the right to remove classroom discussions of systemic racism.

Why it matters: Moves to ban critical race theory are raising free speech concerns amid an absence of consistent parameters about what teachings are in or out of bounds.

Driving the news: So far, 21 states have introduced proposals to limit lessons about racism and history.

  • The Alabama State Department of Education recently announced it would seek to prohibit critical race theory in public schools.
  • The Kansas Board of Regents recently asked its six universities — including the University of Kansas, Kansas State University, and Wichita State University — to produce a list of courses that include critical race theory, following pressure from a Republican state senator.
  • Iowa State's provost decided not to sign off on the new university diversity requirement, pending a review of how the state's new ban on critical race theory would impact that requirement.
  • A task force looking into claims of critical race theory “indoctrination" in Idaho schools is seeking records from the Boise School District— a move critics say is aimed at intimidating teachers.

Educators say they have been subjected to harassment at school board meetings, and college professor candidates have been asked about their views on critical race theory in job interviews.

The intrigue: Citizens for Renewing America, a group led by a White House budget director under former President Trump, offers activists model legislation to craft bans in their states.

  • It says that equity, intersectionality, social justice, and "woke" terms are racist ideas and falsely claims that critical race theory teaches that "one race or sex is superior to another race or sex."
  • The proposal also calls for firing educators who continue to teach about systemic racism.

Reality check: Critical race theory, a concept developed in the 1970s, holds that racism is ingrained in our society and comes from how the nation formed.

  • It says that policies and practices in areas from law to education to banking contribute to persistent racial inequalities and are designed to conserve white supremacy.

What they're saying: "The Alabama State Board of Education believes the United States of America is not an inherently racist country, and that the state of Alabama is not an inherently racist state,” according to a draft resolution by the board to ban critical race theory.

Yes, but: Alabama, a former state in the Confederacy, was home to some of the most violent episodes of the U.S. civil rights movement in the 1950s and '60s.

  • Four Black girls were killed in the 1963 16th Street Baptist Church bombing in Birmingham, and civil rights activist John Lewis, who would go on to make his mark as member of Congress until his death last year, was severely beaten in Selma.

The bottom line: Educators and writers of color say banning critical race theory is really an attempt to sugarcoat U.S. history.

  • "The current infrastructure of oppression was built on silence, and built on willful ignorance and built on a purposeful erasing of history," Baratunde Thurston, How To Citizen podcast host and author of How to Be Black, told Axios.
  • "I think this is such a deliberate tactic at erasing our history...the history of black and Hispanic folks. This has always been a tactic of white supremacy," said Edgar Villanueva, author of Decolonizing Wealth: Indigenous Wisdom to Heal Divides and Restore Balance.
  • Educators say they fear they might not be able to discuss Juneteenth -- even after President Biden signed a bill last week making the day a national holiday.

Don't forget: After 21 American prisoners of war refused to be repatriated to the U.S. following the Korean War, states in the 1950s began requiring U.S. history in public schools to fight future "brainwashing" by Communist countries.

  • The U.S. history and social studies classes in the Cold War era were taught to reinforce nationalism and romanticize Founding Fathers while downplaying slavery and the extermination of Native Americans.
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