Imagine if hard-core crazies like Marjorie Taylor Greene ran most of the school boards all across America. They could raise up an entire new generation of civics-clueless right-wing racist kids, and probably keep much of it well below the nation’s radar screen.
That is the GOP’s current plan, and they are gaining real traction in getting there. They have found their new 2021 “bigoted wedge issue,” crushing teachers and schools that want to teach the horrors of genocide and racism — and it is stirring up their base just like gay marriage or “radical Islam” did a decade or two ago.
As a result, Americans who care about democracy and a genuinely egalitarian society that includes the diversity reflected by America’s citizenry need to get active. Now.
Back in 1954, the US Supreme Court in Brown v Board ordered the end of racial segregation in America’s public schools. The short-term result was a “massive resistance” explosion of public school districts actually shutting down, and the opening of hundreds of whites-only “Christian schools” and “academies” across the country.
When the IRS and then the Supreme Court ruled that some of these schools (and Bob Jones University) that were explicitly whites-only could no longer be tax-exempt, the so-called “Christian right” was birthed.
Throughout the 1960s and 1970s, their big freak out was “forced busing” of Black children into previously all-white schools.
There was a decade or so in there where they were hysterical about teaching evolution in our schools – 60% of our schools still avoid the topic, and positively foaming at the mouth about honest sex education. There were also a few years where they had major campaigns to ban gay people from even working in our schools.
The high point of this insanity was reached during the Reagan administration, when the president appointed Bill Bennett as Secretary of Education.
Bennett is probably most famous for having claimed that, “You could abort every Black baby in this country, and your crime rate would go down.” And then aggressively standing behind his quote in repeated media appearances.
Reagan and Bennett oversaw the gutting of Federal support for civics education, leading to the situation today where the group that runs national exams of eighth-graders across the country, the National Assessment of Educational Progress, determined in 2018 that only 24% of US students were “proficient in civics.” It has gotten so bad that the Lincoln Project is launching a K-12 civics program of their own called the Franklin Project.
They are doing that because they know that if you want to turn a democracy into an oligarchy and essentially hand the entire country over to a small group of super-rich right-wingers, keeping people stupid about how a democracy is supposed to work is a great starting point.
And it is an issue that is helping the GOP politically: Republicans are having a hard time attacking Joe Biden for his plans to undo 40 years of Reaganomics and put this country back to work rebuilding our infrastructure and pushing us into the 21st-century because people want that.
When we had a Black man in the White House, it was fairly easy for Republicans to demonize him, from Donald Trump’s birtherism rants to freak-outs about tan suits and “Third World Socialism” in Obamacare. He was, after all, a Black man in a position of power, and that was generally enough to keep the Republican base cranked up.
In the last few weeks they have tried to get their mojo back by pushing the idea that there is still a Black person in charge of America, that being Vice President Kamala Harris.
One meme heavily promoted on rightwing radio and television is that Biden is feeble and incompetent and Harris is “pulling the strings” behind the scenes. When that did not get them the traction they wanted, they tried claiming that it was Susan Rice, another Black woman, who was our “shadow president.”
But no modern-day equivalent of the Tea Party movement emerged from all those efforts; it is harder to get white Republicans to show up when there is a very white guy in the White House and he is doing things that will explicitly help millions of white people across the country. And he can hold a coherent news conference with a smile.
So this is their latest freak-out: teaching civics and history that might include the story of how badly white people have treated minorities over the last 400 years.
A couple of moderate Democratic and Republican senators put together what they thought was an uncontroversial piece of legislation that would undo Bill Bennett’s work and make available up to $1 billion a year in grants to states and local school districts to teach civics.
John Cornyn (R-TX) and Tom Cole (R-OK) were two of the Republican senators involved with several Democrats, and both are now starting to back away from the bill as they are being hammered on right wing media. God forbid America’s children learn actual civics and thus understand how our government works.
Understanding civics and the history of race in this country has become such a live-wire for the GOP that they are using the issue to take over school boards all across the country.
As Michelle Goldberg wrote in the New York Times, an affluent Republican suburb was planning to teach Black history after a series of YouTube videos of their white students taunting Black students went viral, and local Republicans have now turned the Black history program into a central organizing issue.
As Goldberg noted, that “election drew three times the ordinary number of voters” and right-wing white people opposed to the so-called Cultural Competence Action Plan “dominated, winning two school board seats, two City Council seats and the mayor’s office by about 40 points in each race.”
In Orange County, whites-only history organizers are going nuts over the possibility that the Los Alamitos Unified School District could teach the actual racial history of the United States.
One of the opponents, in an open letter, said, “These courses are filled with hate for America and all America stands for,“ sputtering that the goal of the school is to develop a curriculum that “teaches children that America is based on white supremacy and that white people are racists, even if they don’t know it.”
In Oklahoma, Republican Governor Kevin Stitt signed HB 1775 into law recently, a piece of legislation that “restricts the teaching of critical race theory in the state.” The bill explicitly bans “mandatory diversity training.”
A right wing oligarch-supported group called the Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs pushed the bill saying, “Passage of House Bill 1775 sends a signal nationwide that Oklahomans will not tolerate efforts that force children to submit to the Marxist and racist theology of critical race theory…and impose psychological harm based only on an individual’s genetics.”
White Republicans across the country are now organizing at the level of school boards, county commissioners, and city councils.
Control of the curriculum in our schools, they know, is essential if they are going to undo the “wokeness“ of the Millennial Generation and return to the 1950s-style Beaver Cleaver ignorance of America’s racial history that animates and sustains the white supremacy at the core of today’s Republican Party.
If you care that future generations of Americans both understand and undo some of the extraordinary damage that slavery, Manifest Destiny, and the Doctrine of Discovery have wrought on this country, check into running for local office.
From dog-catcher to school boards to city council and mayoral races, multiple progressive groups offer tools to run for office, as does your local Democratic Party. Get active.
© Thom Hartmann, used with permission. Originally published on The Hartmann Report as America Now On the Verge of Re-Fighting the American Revolution?
Subscribe to The Hartmann Report directly and read the latest views about U.S politics and other fascinating subjects seven days a week.