The School Culture Wars: ‘You Have Brought Division to Us’

“I want my child to go to school free and unmasked,” a woman shouted at a union official in Broward County last week, as protesters held up signs that said “My Body, My Choice” and “Masks = Child Abuse.” Broward County voted to require masks despite the governor’s order.

The rhetoric was also incendiary 300 miles away in St. Johns County, where masked parents demonstrated alongside small children and urged school officials to buck the governor’s order. “Dead children are not acceptable losses,” one sign read. After a school board meeting that stretched more than seven hours last week, masks remained optional.

“We have been handcuffed,” the school board chair said.

At the same time, at least 28 states, largely Republican-controlled, have moved to restrict education on race and history. Another 15 states, mostly run by Democrats, have moved to expand racial education, according to Chalkbeat, a nonprofit education news outlet.

Much of the debate has centered on critical race theory, an advanced academic concept that analyzes racism at systemic levels and is generally not taught until college.

“This is not really about critical race theory,” said Dorinda Carter Andrews, a professor of race, culture and equity at Michigan State University, where she teaches such a course. “It’s really a distraction,” she said, “to suppress the ways in which educators engage young people in race dialogue.”

Keith Ammon, a Republican state representative in New Hampshire, is among those who have sought to regulate how teachers talk about race. He said that concepts like white privilege could create a “divisive worldview” and that he was wary of teachers who “bring their activism into the classroom.”

As a lawmaker, he said, he has a job “to put some guidelines to how taxpayer money is used.”

As these laws take effect, educators may increasingly find themselves in the cross hairs.

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