The ‘critical race theory’ idiocy in the United States and the histrionic dumbness of goon parents at school board meetings isn’t remotely close to new.
I watched a less grand in scale but still wildly stupid series of initiatives play out in Tucson, Arizona (circa 2010) surrounding a Mexican American Studies program. The curriculum was vigorously opposed by Arizona republicans, and the state was, in many ways, a test kitchen for contemporary right wing populism. It was gross, and so stupid.
The dismantling of the MAS program was ultimately successful, despite militant opposition. Looking back on the events, it is very clear that the attack on the program was a direct response to the ‘Mega Marches’ against a draconian immigration policy put forward by James Sensenbrenner in 2006. Youth were among (if not the) most important actors in the movement. I don’t for a moment believe that this current round of attacks on efforts to allow children to learn history is not in response to the uprisings of 2020 against police violence in the United States.
It is hard to tell what the grassroots of the ‘anti-CRT’ movement actually believe. The stupidity of the discourse is astounding, and the people delivering it are astoundingly stupid, but that doesn’t mean they don’t understand what exactly it is that they’re doing.
But the most likely dynamic is that they are useful idiots. There are a lot of evil men in the shadows with piles of dark money on the table, very excited at all the middle-class dolts willing to act as shock troops. They’ll orchestrate local initiatives to get the stupidest people imaginable elected to school boards, election boards, other little commissions, using these relatively unimportant (for them) ‘culture wars’ to grease the wheels for later initiatives that will, predictably, make even more money for the rich while disempowering the rest of us.
As for the discourse, it is stunning but not surprising that it has so much traction, and the sound bites are jaw dropping. The “It’s dividing people,” “It’s making my kid feel guilty,” “It’s teaching them that America is bad,” and “It’s encouraging a sense of victimhood” stuff should be embarrassing, but when you’re shameless because you’re too dim for introspection, you’ll say just about anything and be excited when someone one-ups you.
We’re all well aware that we’re divided. We’re living in a time of ‘my rights versus yours’, but for the right wing, their rights extend as far as an entitlement to listen to and tell racist jokes without their children correcting them; to charge as much money as they can for a death-trap basement apartment; and I suppose be excited for a return of ‘Cops’ to television.
As for the “my kid might feel guilty thing,” thing, I think they should feel mortified at their dipshit moms and dads, but not guilty at all, and were they to skip down the yellow brick road of working class history they would find quite a bit to inspire them. The lessons of the history of racism in the United States should not inspire guilt. It should inspire anger, and hopefully provide young people with this single, useful insight: Racism, while an individual failing, is a reliable lever by which the wealthy and powerful have pitted people against each other by appealing to the worst sentiments of the white working class.
As for ‘America’ and its history, I feel dumbfounded that people who are willing to compare vaccination requirements to the holocaust would complain when actual genocide and chattel slavery are discussed, and I suppose this touches on the heart of the matter. One of the underlying political demands of the contemporary right, never clearly stated, is that they never be confronted with the prospect of being intelligent, which leads us to a second underlying ethic of the contemporary right: They are partisans for misery. They absolutely hate the idea that life might improve. Criminal justice reform? Even a modicum of empathy for queer people? The idea that any sort of environmentalism might be helpful for anyone? The idea that people experiencing natural disasters and political violence should be able to escape certain death? The resounding answer is ‘fuck ‘em’. To follow the thread further, they are not only committed to the misery of others, but to the misery of their children, and ultimately, to their own suffering, apparently because it gives them cover to pursue the singular pleasure of being an asshole.
The final, frequently deployed refrain in regard to teaching children about well-documented and widely accepted historical occurrences is that it will encourage a sense of victimhood, which roughly translates to “I would like people to never, ever complain about unfair treatment, nor should they advocate for themselves… except for me… I’m going to complain endlessly about every real or imagined slight, but never in cooperation or coordination with other people so as to actually improve things for myself and others.”
In a brief, less-than-illustrious career as an educator, I had a few decent insights, one of these being that inasmuch as school is compulsory, it serves as the de facto workplace for children, adolescents, and (in this case directly) teachers. It’s a social factory, and the desired product is average labor power, and I think the struggle unfolding around school curriculums speaks very much to the desire on the part of the right to make being an ignorant asshole a quality of young workers.
So, it is somewhat reassuring that it’s really fucking hard to get kids to do what you want them to.