I’ve written before about extremists in the Idaho Legislature who want to ban certain academic books and theories from our schools.
Their claims are usually false or, at best, exaggerated. One of their favorite scapegoats is critical race theory. Let’s talk about it, because some lawmakers want to ban both classroom discussion of the issue and the books they claim to contain.
I recently spoke at a gathering in Twin Falls about critical race theory – what it is and what it isn’t.
I told the group that this was a graduate study that explores how our country’s racial history manifests in our current laws and social practices. No one has been able to demonstrate that it exists in our public schools, but some of our legislators have gone out of their way to gain political points by falsely claiming that it does.
The day after my lecture, a Ron James opinion piece, a member of the Twin Falls group that sponsored the event, appeared in the Idaho Capital Sun. Ron pointed out how the critical race theory hysteria has chilled academic freedom in Idaho, even if it is not taught. He referenced false statements made on the floor of our House of Representatives last year in support of an anti-criticism race theory bill. A lawmaker argued that the acclaimed novel, ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’, was a prime example of critical race theory because ‘students were encouraged to believe there was an endless era of black victimization’ .
As we know, the novel depicts a brave lawyer defending a wrongfully accused black man in a southern town during the time of segregation. Frankly, the defendant was lucky to get a trial, because in those days many black people who were falsely accused often ended up getting lynched. Since then, we have improved as a country, but vestiges of victimization persist. Teaching or reading about these remains does not constitute critical race theory, it is simply historical and cultural fact.
In the late 1970s, a student at South Fremont High School in St. Anthony got his hands on a copy of “To Kill a Mockingbird”, which had apparently not been banned. The book inspired him to become a lawyer, much like Atticus Finch, the brave lawyer in the novel. It changed the course of his life. That young reader, Greg Moeller, now sits on the Idaho Supreme Court.
It is important that young people in this state and nation are exposed to a wide range of books, even though some may contain words or concepts that make some people uncomfortable. Restricting the historical or cultural vision of our children limits their ambitions and horizons. This nation has a proud history and our children should be told about it honestly. On the other hand, the country indulged in bad behavior – slavery, Jim Crow laws, rank discrimination against Asians, massacres of Native Americans. This history should also be honestly taught.
Our children need to be made aware of our faults as well as our qualities. Honesty in history is not about blaming anyone personally, but about acknowledging wrongs that have been done to prevent them from happening again. Watering down our past is self-deception that prevents us from taking corrective action.
Parents, not schools or libraries, have the primary role of teaching values to their children. Teachers and librarians can play a supportive role in ensuring that materials exposed to children are age-appropriate, but they should not be gatekeepers or scapegoats for parental failure.
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