The Whitewash Caucuses are at it again

Berry Craig
Berry Craig

I wonder if the Kentucky House and Senate GOP Whitewash Caucuses are thinking “fourth time’s the charm.”

Republicans have trotted out yet another bill aimed at Critical Race Theory, the scholarly study of systemic racism that’s taught in law schools, not elementary or secondary schools.

House Bill 487 is the latest coat of whitewash. The measure would forbid public schools from offering “any classroom instruction, discussion, or instructional materials that promote bigotry, revisionist history, or critical social justice.” Teachers couldn’t teach that systemic racism persists or “that racism is not merely the product of individual prejudice but is embedded in American society for the purpose of upholding white supremacy.”

White Republican lawmakers in a slew of state legislatures are using the right-wing hysteria over CRT as a pretext to curb nearly every school program that meaningfully encourages diversity and inclusion over bigotry and exclusion. They claim CRT is inherently anti-white. It’s not. But that doesn’t matter to the GOP. Taking their cue from Donald Trump, party pros know the big lie always cranks up the almost all-white MAGA base.

Like the other three anti-CRT bills — HB 14, HB 18 and SB 138 — HB 487 aims to keep white kids from learning about persistent racism, whose historical antecedents include slavery, Jim Crow segregation, the Ku Klux Klan, and lynch mob violence. In Trump’s GOP, only white lives matter.

HB 14 would limit an elementary or secondary teacher’s freedom to teach about systemic racism. HB 18 would also include public colleges and universities. SB 138 requires a teacher who “chooses to discuss current events or controversial topics” to “explore such topics from diverse and contending perspectives without giving deference to a specific perspective.”

Apparently, teachers are supposed to give equal credence to the pro- and anti-slavery, pro- and anti-Jim Crow, pro- and anti-KKK, and pro- and anti-lynching sides.

KY 120 United AFT takes a stand

HB 14, HB 18 and SB 138 are more “attacks on educators, the classrooms they lead, and the very nature of equality and justice for all,” says a statement from KY 120 United – American Federation of Teachers, a union of public school professionals, higher education employees and state employees. (The statement was released before the filing of HB 487, which KY 120 also vehemently opposes.)

The statement doesn’t pull punches: “How can we have equality for all when we will not teach the history of all?  How can we have justice for all if we silence not only educators, but those important figures of the past who called for a more just society?”

KY 120 is part of the American Federation of Teachers, a national union that represents faculty and support staff in elementary, secondary and higher education in many states. Several professors and staffers at Kentucky community colleges belong to AFT Local 1360. (I’m a charter member.)

The statement challenges a claim on the Kentucky Republican Party’s website which says the Bluegrass State GOP is united “by the concept of the primacy of the individual and by an opposition to large, intrusive government.” The union asks, “What is more big government than dictating from high above what will be taught in classrooms? What is more intrusive than inserting legislation into whether teachers can talk about current events impacting their students?  How can ... individual[s] thrive when their history is forbidden conversation?”

The website points out that President Abraham Lincoln was a Kentucky native. (The Trump GOP seems to lean more toward Confederate President Jefferson Davis, also Kentucky born, than toward “Lincoln and Liberty.”)

“For a party that claims to be the party of Lincoln, bills that won’t allow teachers to talk about what he stood for and the ongoing problems still faced by our Black and Brown Kentucky neighbors seems to smack the legacy of Lincoln right in the face,” the statement says, adding, “Can teachers still talk about the Emancipation Proclamation and the horrors that it freed our Black neighbors from? Under these bills that would leave room for complaint about not teaching ‘American principles’ because we dare mention that millions of people in this nation were enslaved.  One cannot teach Lincoln without teaching why he signed that historic document.”

The KY 120 statement says that House and Senate Republicans insist that “they are protecting education and children,” but the union wonders “from whom or what? It can’t be the thousands of teachers who over the last two years of the pandemic have worked harder than ever to make sure their students still received an education. ... It cannot be the teachers who went door to door during the pandemic just to see their students. ... It cannot be the teachers who pulled together to help our Western Kentucky schools after the tornadoes. ... It cannot be the teachers who spend so much of their hard earned money making sure their classrooms have what they need because the State does not fully cover that bill. ... It cannot be the teachers who hug our children, are safe spaces for them, and who give students the education needed to succeed in the 21st Century.”

What these bills are really about

The answer is easy: GOP lawmakers are sure anti-CRT legislation will win them a ton of votes in a state that's 87.5 percent white, mostly rural and Bible Belt conservative, and dotes on The Donald, who racked up more than 62 percent of the vote between Jordan and Jenkins both times he ran.

These bills aren’t about our children, or education, or principles. They are about politics, plain and simple. And they are shameful.

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Berry Craig

Berry Craig is a professor emeritus of history at West KY Community College, and an author of seven books and co-author of two more. (Read the rest on the Contributors page.)


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