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Fear of critical race theory

Republican legislators in about two dozen states have introduced or won passage of bills to censor the education of children on race.

Exactly what are they afraid of?

A lot of it stems from President Donald Trump’s “liberal indoctrination of America’s youth” demagoguing last year, when he created a commission to promote “patriotic” education in classrooms. (President Joe Biden killed the panel.)

Part of it is reaction to the The New York Times’ Pultizer Prize-winning “1619 Project,” which argues that Black Americans first brought to this country as enslaved people are the foundation of U.S. democracy — and which conservatives fear is a type of historic revisionism that will seep into schools. (Classroom curriculum from the project has already been developed.)

And there are concerns that children could be exposed to vaguely understood academic concepts like critical race theory, which right-leaning detractors claim stigmatizes white people as oppressors.

“Critical race theory says I’m a white supremacist,” Texas lawmaker Steve Toth, a sponsor of the school censoring law in that state, told an Austin television station.

He’s wrong about critical race theory and what it says about him. But the accumulated fear driving this wave of legislation is a mix of the predictable, the outlandish and, even, the justified.

Responding to all these concerns by policing classroom discussions about race with a state law is like using a shotgun to drive mosquitoes out of a bedroom.

First and foremost, the new laws may very well be a violation of free speech.

Beyond that, legislation is far too blunt and unworkable a tool to surgically restrict certain controversial theories from education without chilling all discussion on the topic of race. Concerned Texas educators correctly worried that their state’s new law — with its long list of racial concepts and views that “may not” be taught — could end classroom debate about race as a contributing factor in hiring, housing, police shootings, presidential elections and countless other areas.

Critical race theory is frequently misunderstood and misinterpreted

How is stifling this kind of discussion a healthy means of expanding young minds?

As USA TODAY contributor Larry Strauss, a high school English teacher in South Los Angeles, argued, “I do not ‘teach critical race theory’ and I never will. I will teach (students) about it and help them understand its assertions and the evidence appropriate to support those assertions — but it must always be up to students to arrive at their own conclusions.”

He’s exactly right.

Legislators should stay out of the classroom. Curriculum, whether around race or ‘rithmetic, is for school board members, principals and teachers themselves — education experts beholden to the classroom and the community — to sort out for the educational enrichment of their students.

* Guest editorial excerpt by the Akron Beacon Journal

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