It’s no secret that Republicans are exploiting culture wars and the pandemic to attack public schools via a so-called “parental rights” movement that represents only a small sliver of parents, and is funded, in part, by right-wing dark money. The uproar about education isn’t just a Trojan horse for school privatization, or an attempt to inflame the GOP base before the midterm elections. This movement is the latest manifestation of the right’s longstanding effort to erase federal protections for Black, Brown and LGBTQ students by attacking bedrock civil rights laws, and even pushing to shutter the Department of Education.
1954 saw the Supreme Court rule in Brown vs. Board of Education The Constitution prohibits segregation of schools by race. This was a significant victory for the civil rights movement. Southern white conservatives were outraged. Howard Smith, then chairman of the House Rules Committee released the racist document in 1956. Southern ManifestoThe attack was by Brown As an abuse of federal power. One-fifth (five percent) of Congress signed on, with each supporting member hailing originally from a former Confederate country. Civil rights advocates say Republicans are following the same “states’ rights” playbook today, and “states’ rights” still serves as a clear dog whistle for racism and bigotry.
“What we are seeing today is a revival of the resistance to Brown movement, it’s the Southern Manifesto by another name,” said Liz King, the senior education program director at the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, in an interview.
For months now, the right-wing media has been awash with overtly racist propaganda about “Critical Race Theory,” extremely homophobic and transphobic accusations of “grooming,” and bizarre allegations about the “Marxist indoctrination” of schoolchildren. Experts say it’s all part of a broader effort to capitalize on the reactionary impulses of a vocal minority in the wake of uprisings for racial justice in 2020 and the xenophobic presidency of Donald Trump.
“They have longstanding motives to take apart public education, and I think they now see that their end goal might be able to be achieved by riding this specific ‘Critical Race Theory’ wave, which has now developed an accompanying anti-LGBTQ aspect,” said Sergio Muñoz, policy director at the watchdog group Media Matters for America, in an interview.
Legislation that bans the discussion of queer identity or racial justice at schools and/or attacks the health and well-being of transgender and gender nonconforming adolescents was introduced in the country and has been passed in a few red states. These efforts have been championed by Republican governors, such as Greg Abbott of Texas or Ron DeSantis from Florida, perhaps in an effort to boost their right-wing resumes for potential presidential bids.
Muñoz said right-wing think tanks and media outlets throw buzzwords at the wall and see what sticks, and with help from Trump and the propagandist Christopher Rufo, conflating the advanced academic field of Critical Race Theory with any effort to teach children about racism struck a nerve with conservative white parents. It’s the same playbook the right has used for years; before Critical Race Theory, the right stoked white grievance with buzzwords such as “affirmative action” and “diversity.”
“We thought it was periodic, but it’s amazing how quickly they pivoted to including anti-LGBTQ hate,” Muñoz said.
Schools across the country are becoming ideological battlegrounds over antiracist education, LGBTQ rights, and schools. the banning of booksAs a consequence. A network of far right “parental rights” groups are fueling the most recent culture war flare up, many of them bolstered by ultra-wealthy donorsMembers who also work for Republican PartyOr right-wing think tank. They claim their mission is to reestablish “parental control” of what their children learn in school, but in reality, they represent only a narrow sector of conservative, largely white parents. They use a variety of tactics. strategically harassing educatorsSpreading lots of misinformation about school curriculumsOutlets such as Fox News.
One of these groups said the silent part loudly before Critical Race Theory was made the latest right-wing bogeyman. U.S. Parents Involved in Education, a group that attacks comprehensive sex education and claims “lies” are taught in public schools, released a “blueprint”For the elimination of the Department of Education in 2017. The plan also calls for the privatization of federal student loan programs and the “repeal” of all laws permitting “federal intervention”Public schools going back the 1960sWhen lawmakers started implementing standards to improve education, and protect civil rights of students from color, it was known as school desegregation. Title IX could be included, which prohibits discrimination based on gender in schools since 1970.
Far right Republicans such as Rep. Ed Massey in Kentucky, Rep. Lauren Boebert in Colorado, and Rep. Matt Gaetz in Florida are sponsoring. legislation to “abolish” the Education Department that has little chance of passing the House, at least as long as Democrats are in control. However, Muñoz said conservatives had no problem with the department when Betsy Devos, the billionaire champion of school privatization, served as secretary under Trump.
“The Department of Education has over the years — insufficiently, we would argue — intervened to make sure that students have legal protections they are promised by Constitution and enjoy basic civil rights,” King said. “There is a resentment about equal opportunity, there is a resentment about diversity, and that is what we are seeing right now.”
Muñoz said most of this is not new; only the buzzwords have changed. Republicans have pushed to eliminateThe Department of Education has been in existence for many years. The department grants schools funding, which allows federal policymakers to set standards and protect students. George W. Bush, in 2000, fought to keep the department out the GOP platform, before he passed his controversial overhaul, No Child Left Behind. accordingTo Vox.
“But the end results are the same: They are banning books, they are whitewashing American history to actually corrupt what is correct, and more fundamentally, they are trying to not only deny their identity, they are trying to make it harder for these kids to attend schools,” Muñoz said.
Republicans are attracted to culture wars in schools for short-term political gain. This can help GOP activists in local elections, while whipping conservative voters on the national level in a frenzy in the midterms. But the right is also playing the long game, Muñoz said. The chaos created by Critical Race Theory caused chaos at school board meetings. Heritage Foundation thought tanks rediscovered their old strategies for undermining civil right. Elite donors began funneling millions of dollars into “parental rights” groups and PACs backing GOP candidates.
“This is advantageous [for right-wing groups] from a longstanding policy perspective of trying to roll back the civil rights movement,” Muñoz said.
Muñoz pointed to the Supreme Court, which could be poised to eliminate the constitutional right to abortion and fundamentally reshape college admission programsThese are a step towards racial equity. The same arguments used to oppose so-called “Critical Race Theory” are routinely presented to a court that has already rejected appeals from civil rights groups and gutted federal voting rights protections. The Supreme Court is dominated now by conservative justices. Roe vs. Wade could resurface in challenges to same-sex marriage and LGBTQ rights, Muñoz said.
The right claims the Constitution is “colorblind” and opposes any form of “race-conscious” policymaking. This is a false claim. Reconstruction-era Amendments, which were created after the end slavery, are one example. The idea that white children will feel “discomfort” if they learn about the nation’s legacy of racism echoes the arguments made 50 years ago against desegregating public schools and even public pools — the racist idea that white children would be intimidated by Black children, according to Muñoz.
“They can lie on Fox News and say the Constitution is ‘colorblind,’ but the real danger of this is they are making the arguments before the Supreme Court,” Muñoz said. “It’s bad enough that they are trying to roll back 50 or 60 years of American progress, but they are trying to go back to what we fought a civil war over, frankly.”
King said that the threat extends far beyond the laws and institutions that protect basic civil rights. Children and teens are being attacked for their identities. Educators are being attacked because they try to create safe and welcoming environments that support Black, Brown, transgender, and gender-nonconforming student.
“This is an attempt to deny children access to the schoolhouse doors and to prevent them from reaping the many benefits that education can provide.,” King said.
King said that although they are vocal, the attackers are a small minority within the U.S. They are still supported by a large and well-funded right-wing apparatus. King said that they are aware that public education is crucial for creating a multiracial democracy, which would lessen white supremacy.
“To prevent progress, they are seeking to deny opportunity to everyone,” King said. “What kind of monster wants to make children invisible?”