Today in The New York Times Margaret Renkl tackles the ongoing debate taking place in legislatures across the South over Critical Race Theory and how to teach the history of race and slavery. It’s a powerful op-ed and well worth your time.
That said, there is a tendency in op-eds on this subject to cast the South as still stuck in a collective past defined by the Lost Cause. To her credit, Renkl nods in the direction of change. She acknowledges the activists and others responsible for the removal of Confederate monuments and other iconography over the past few years, but I humbly suggest that it is not enough.
Even more than the debate surrounding Confederate monuments, the attempt to control classroom discussion reflects dramatic changes that have taken place across the South over the past few decades.
Legislation authorizing new textbooks in the 1950s and 60s as part of a broader stand against civil rights was carried out by politicians who reflected the will of constituents that were permitted to vote. Today, these same laws point to legislators and organizations such as Moms for Liberty, who are attempting to rally their constituents around these same fears. The difference is that these efforts are largely a rear guard action.
The laws banning CRT and/or attempt to control what can be taught about history are doomed to fail. While they will most certainly cause unnecessary harm to both teachers and students in the coming year it is unlikely that these laws will succeed in turning the clock back decades.
This is no longer your grandmother’s South.