You could almost hear every teacher, student, parent and caregiver breathe a collective sigh of relief when this school year — a year like no other — finally came to an end. Not with a bang, but a whimper, as T.S. Eliot might describe it. Most people I talked to just wanted this year to end. Sign the yearbook, slam it shut and file it away on the shelf at the back of the closet.
But never ones to let a crisis go unexploited, Michigan Republicans have conjured their new education bogeyman — Critical Race Theory. Just when we thought the adults surrounding our schools couldn’t make things any worse, they’ve given us plenty of unsavory summer reading.
State Senator Lana Theis (R-Brighton) recently introduced S.B. 460, which seeks to prohibit all public schools from teaching “the critical race theory” or “the 1619 project” beginning with the upcoming school year. Schools caught in the act would lose five percent of their state funding.
The bill was referred to the Senate Committee on Education and Career Readiness, of which Senator Theis is the Chair. This step all but guarantees that the bill will get a committee hearing and quite possibly a floor vote that will have all the deliberative value of a cafeteria food fight.
This proposed legislation defines the 1619 Project as an “attempt to reframe American history regarding 1619 as America's birth year” and Critical Race Theory as “anti-American and racist theories … that promote that the United States is a fundamentally racist nation, that the United States Constitution is a fundamentally racist document, and that certain races are fundamentally oppressive or oppressed.”
In the press release touting her bill, Senator Theis claims that “Critical Race Theory is an invention of the extremist political left that has manipulated academia for decades and is now targeting private businesses, public institutions and, sadly, our K-12 classrooms, where it is indoctrinating young minds with anti-American falsehoods … Its ‘woke’ proponents reject our country’s true history and our founding principles, in favor of an identity-based cultural Marxist ideology that seeks nothing more than victimization, envy, division, discrimination, and ultimately the destruction of our country and way of life. This radical world view has no place in public education and my bill will make sure it never will.”
Billy, are you now or have you ever been a member of the communist party?
The problem here is that these are not just opinions by some crank who wandered into a PTA meeting and can be just as easily dismissed. An actual senator introduced an actual bill banning actual educators from teaching actual students about actual issues.
Critical Race Theory is not a curriculum or a set of standards for Michigan schools. Nor is it some kind of menace that sprang up overnight to harm impressionable children, like the Tide Pod challenge. Dating back over 40 years, Critical Race Theory is more of a framework through which we can all think about the social construct of race and inequities that persist today: wealth accumulation, educational opportunities, criminal sentencing guidelines, etc.
As Adam Harris illustrates in The GOP’s ‘Critical Race Theory’ Obsession:
Take housing, for example. Researchers have now accumulated ample evidence that racial covenants in property deeds and redlining by the Federal Housing Authority—banned more than 60 years ago—remain a major contributor to the gulf in homeownership, and thus wealth, between Black and white people.
Threatening underpaid teachers and cash-strapped schools for doing exactly what they should be doing — helping students develop the tools to understand the world around them and contribute to society — is the real menace here.
And Senator Theis does not seem to be acting alone. At our most recent State Board of Education meeting, two of the three public commenters admonished us against teaching Critical Race Theory in our K-12 schools, each of them visibly referencing a prepared script. I have received more than a coincidental number of emails from constituents around the state — all using suspiciously similar phrasing — condemning the teaching of Critical Race Theory in Michigan schools.
There appears to be something more at work in the Michigan GOP. It clearly has nothing to do with education and everything to do with bare-knuckled politics. Public education has long been a wedge issue in this state, beginning with the DeVos’ twice-failed attempt to introduce vouchers and continuing through the state taking over school districts in predominantly black communities.
What’s different about this proposal is that rather than introducing policies that would destabilize public schools from the outside, the Michigan GOP is taking the Tide Pod approach with a policy that would scorch schools from the inside — spooking parents into thinking that their precious kiddos are being brainwashed in school to rise up against them.
Because Michigan Republicans lack sound policies that would invest in and improve education, such as equitable school funding and stronger support for teachers, they are once again resorting to the politics of fear. Their scare tactics and financial ultimatum won’t just cast a shadow over summer break.
Those of us who care about our public schools need to tell them that, this time, it just won’t work.