DALLAS — “I’ve been a superintendent for 26 years. I don’t get rattled easily,” Dallas Schools Superintendent Michael Hinojosa told me. “But this ... I was startled.”

Hinojosa was speaking of the fervent anti-critical-race-theory movement that has gripped legislatures and schools across mostly red states, including and especially here in Texas. This month, Gov. Greg Abbott (R) signed a new law that effectively prohibits teachers from talking honestly and in any depth about the country’s racial history. The law also strongly discourages — the “both sides” language it dictates is maddeningly loose — teachers from taking on controversial current events in the classroom and prohibits crediting students for civic efforts to lobby government on social issues.

The law will go into effect Sept. 1, and those who want to push back on it have their summer homework cut out for them. How best to bring the heat against a state law clearly designed to have a chilling effect on educational discussions about race in America?

For Hinojosa, the question is personal. He knows what it’s like to be presented a whitewashed history as a child of color. The memory of it lies at the core of the educator he set out to be.

“I’m Mexican American, and with the Alamo, they always talked about slaughtering the Mexicans when I was a little kid,” he said. “Can you imagine what went through my mind? When I became a teacher, I could say, ‘Well, here’s the other perspective. Make up your own mind about it.’”

As Texas Republicans advanced the legislation, Hinojosa was outspoken about using litigation to fight back. But now that the bill has been signed into law, educators are scratching their heads. That vagueness in the language poses a huge challenge. Where, exactly, are the red lines? “We’ve got to figure out what the language of the law says,” Dallas school board president Ben Mackey told me. Because of that, Mackey said, the board would likely wait until August or September to decide on a course of action.

For all the conservative outrage about critical race theory, few GOP lawmakers can define what it is. It’s not as if the theory is widely taught in the K-12 schools — we’re talking about an advanced framework developed by scholars interested in interpreting America’s systems through the lens of race and civil rights. The Texas law doesn’t even use the words “critical race theory.” The vagueness is clearly intentional, as is the paranoid bluster that critical race theory is not only unpatriotic, but also designed to make White kids feel bad for being White. Fighting it is like fighting the hot air of this blazing Texas summer.

And the Dallas Independent School District has progress to protect. The school board had been making strides in developing programs to promote cultural competency and racial equity among staff and teachers. At the same time, Dallas is a blue city in a red state, and the district’s students are 90 percent lower-income and 95 percent racial minority, while 45 percent are English learners. One point of particular pride: Some of the state’s milestones on education in the past year can be traced back to Dallas and its civically engaged students. “We had some students who gained some pretty serious recognition for going down and lobbying the state legislature,” Mackey said. “We saw a huge step forward in making Mexican studies and African American studies official in the state of Texas.”

Hinojosa, a former history and government teacher, said he was caught by surprise by how quickly the stealthy, well-orchestrated movement against critical race theory picked up steam. I can’t say the same. Preserving white supremacy in America’s schools is as American as apple pie — made with fruit picked by slave labor.

What else but white supremacy drove Native American children to be separated from their families and forced into schools that prevented them from learning their language, history and culture? What else but white supremacy fought tooth and nail to preserve school segregation? After Brown v. Board of Education, it was white supremacy that blocked the excellent Black teachers, principals and superintendents who lost jobs at Black-only schools from positions of authority at integrated schools.

And now comes this backlash. Indeed, it is darkly ironic that laws designed to suppress the teaching of America’s history are producing scenes around America that look like something out of the 1950s and ’60s, as mostly White parents disrupt school board meetings. Groups in some states are beginning to call for McCarthy-esque surveillance measures. In Nevada, some groups want teachers to wear body cameras to monitor whether they are teaching about racial justice.

This is all about as far from the true purpose of education as you can get. Fortunately, some American educators have not — will not — lose sight of their calling. Hinojosa’s compass has not wavered. “We believe in inclusion, diversity and equity,” he said, “and that’s what we are sticking to.”

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