For the last year or so, Republicans have used the “issue” of education as a cudgel against Democrats, whipping up fear and anger to motivate their voters and seize power at all levels of government.
Look no further than Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, who is pushing legislation with the colorful name of the Stop Woke Act. As the Republican governor told Fox News this weekend, we need to allow people to sue schools over their curriculums, not only because of CRT but also because “there’s a lot of other inappropriate content that can be smuggled in by public schools.”
If you liked the Texas bill that effectively banned abortion in the state, you’re in luck. Republicans apparently want to use a version of that bill’s tactic — putting enforcement in the hands of private vigilantes — to make teachers and school administrators live under the same fear as abortion providers.
It’s happening elsewhere, too. A bill in Indiana allows the same kind of lawsuits. And last week, during a hearing on the bill, a GOP state senator got in trouble for saying that “I believe that we’ve gone too far when we take a position” on things like Nazism, because in the classroom, “we need to be impartial.” The state senator, Scott Baldwin, previously attracted attention when it was revealed that he made a contribution to the far-right Oath Keepers (though he claims he has no real connection to the extremist group).
Everywhere you look, Republicans are trying to outdo one another with state laws forcing teachers to parrot far-right propaganda to students. A Republican bill in Oklahoma would ban teachers from saying that “one race is the unique oppressor” or “victim” when teaching the history of slavery in America; its sponsor says that would bring the appropriate “balance” to the subject.
So ask yourself: What are Democrats telling the public about schools? If you vote for Democrats, what are you supposed to be achieving on this issue? If any voters know, it would be a surprise.
We’re seeing another iteration of a common Republican strategy: Wait for some liberal somewhere to voice an idea that will sound too extreme to many voters if presented without context and in the most inflammatory way possible, inflate that idea way beyond its actual importance, claim it constitutes the entirety of the Democratic agenda and play on people’s fears to gin up a backlash.
That was the model on “defund the police.” Now it’s being used on schools, which Republicans have decided is the issue that can generate sufficient rage to bring victory at the polls.
Devoted as they are to facts and rational argumentation, liberals can’t help themselves from responding to Republican attacks first and foremost with refutation, which allows Republicans to set the terms of debate. So their response to the charge that critical race theory is infecting our schools is something like this: “No, no, that has nothing to do with public education. It’s a scholarly theory taught mostly to graduate students.”
But that doesn’t allow for this response: “Republicans want to subject our kids to fascist indoctrination. Why do they want to teach our kids that slavery wasn’t bad? Why are they trying to ban books? Who’s writing their education policy, David Duke? Don’t let them destroy your schools!”
That, of course, would be an unfair exaggeration of what most Republicans actually want. Is a state senator who worries that public school teachers might be biased against Nazism really representative of the whole Republican Party? Let’s try to be reasonable here.
Or maybe being reasonable isn’t the best place to start when you’re being overrun. Maybe Democrats need to begin not with a response to Republican lies about what happens in the classroom, but an attack on what Republicans are trying to do to American education.
After Glenn Youngkin won the Virginia governorship with a campaign largely focused on schools, Republicans everywhere decided that nurturing a CRT-based White backlash is the path to victory. That is their plan, whether Democrats like it or not.
This isn’t just coming from national Republicans. At the state and local level, far-right extremists are taking over education policy, leaving teachers terrified that if they communicate the wrong idea to students — like, apparently, being too critical of Nazis — they might get sued.
The implications of the GOP war on schools and teachers are horrifying, and with some exceptions, Democrats are watching it happen without anything resembling a plan to do anything about it. It might be time for all the party’s clever strategists to give it some thought.