February is Black History month and the “Ban Critical Race Theory” crowd are on the warpath again, but this time they are trying to ban actual black history.  

At Hillcrest High School in Tuscaloosa, students were ordered to leave out major historical moments, including slavery and the civil rights movement, from their Black History Month program and more than 200 students walked out of class. The school immediately called this a miscommunication but there is no doubt that this kind of censorship continues to rise. 

Just last month, Florida’s governor Ron DeSantis banned AP African American Studies from Florida schools because he disapproved of some of the content. Students are protesting, but the College Board is attempting to please all sides by releasing a watered down course and removing queer and feminist black voices. We’ll have to see if that appeases DeSantis, who earlier this month, announced plans to ban diversity programs at Florida state colleges, something that Greg Abbot is also working on.

This is nothing new. Last year we wrote about all of the new laws that were restricting what teachers could say in the classroom.  Oklahoma was the first of many states across the country that passed laws aimed at censoring discussions around race and gender in the classroom.  We also covered Kentucky’s teacher of the year, Willie Edward Taylor Carver, Jr., who quit teaching because he was prevented from helping his own students who were in crisis. He was afraid, because he is openly gay, that he would be targeted by the new rules. 

A music teacher in Kentucky had to resign because he wrote “You are free to be yourself” on the board during his class. He was told he shouldn’t have been discussing subjects outside the music curriculum. In response, Fayette County teacher Laura Hartke said, “Conversations outside of curriculum happen every day. Every day. There’s no teacher that just reads from a book and just delivers you content. Kids have questions. They have conversations. We are educating whole children.”

The problem with these restrictive laws continues. There are several areas legislatures seem to be targeting, including LGBT issues and conversations around race and racism. Also in the crosshairs are social-emotional learning. Any books or classroom discussions around these topics are sure to cause alarm. Trans and gay youth are also under fire. Also problematic are a number of laws being discussed or passed limiting Trans youth health care.

A survey and study of nearly 700 high school principals across the United States, and building on a similar 2018 survey, shows how these issues are playing out in many schools. The study, by University of California researchers,  finds increased rates of hostility and harassment happening between parents, teachers and students around these issues. 

Something new that has been added is that principals are also receiving complaints from outside the school community. People with no involvement, either as a parent or a teacher are now making complaints around these issues. Nearly half of the principals who participated in this survey said there was “more” or “much more” community conflict during the 2021-22 school year than there had been pre-pandemic and this conflict was much more prevalent in districts that were politically “purple” ie. didn’t lean heavily toward democrats or republicans. At least a third of principals reported instances of parents or community members challenging or trying to limit the learning material or policy. 

Also, almost 70% of principals said that “students have made demeaning or hateful remarks towards classmates for expressing either liberal or conservative views.”

NPR talked to some of the principals, and they talked extensively about how tough it was to be caught in the middle of this culture war.

But there has been pushback. The ACLU recently challenged the new law in the Oklahoma courts, and possibly more importantly, some schools are ignoring it, like Millwood High School. It seems unlikely to end there as the divisions deepen ahead of the 2024 elections, especially with DeSantis as a heavy favorite for Republican nominee. It is a good reminder of what is at stake for these presidential elections and why it is important to participate in politics.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *