By NISHANI FRAZIER
Next week, diversity in the school debate returns to the neighboring state of Missouri through House Bill 952, its anti-1619 bill, which joins the previous proposed Parents’ Bill of Rights, SB 776. Missouri, a point of reference for policymaking in Kansas, indicates likely resuscitation of this policy debate after similar efforts slowed in the Kansas Legislature. Coupled with Florida’s recent rejection of the AP African-American class in public schools, the two events mark a resurgent salvo in a larger discussion about school curriculum and diversity.
The Parent’s Bill prohibits school districts from denying parental review of curriculum and educational materials used by the school. Other elements include: notification about safety issues that impact their children, the right to visit their children at school, the right to review their children’s school records, and the right to be heard at school board meetings. Almost none of these issues are prohibited by school systems. The most dangerous component includes parental rights to review information about teachers, lecturers, and presenters; and the right to object to materials that parents deem inappropriate.
In addition, the bill supports a broader education framework by the Missouri General Assembly to ban critical race theory (CRT) and the 1619 draft. The combined legislation, which acts to empower parents over the curriculum, is a misnomer given that the bill doesn’t extend to calculus, physics, and other areas of study, but is a legislative condemnation of all things “diversity.”
The problem is that Missouri’s bill, similar to the Kansas version, mistakenly conflates CRT theory with any topic related to diversity, especially black history. The law is abstractly constructed as a broad framework that allows parents and politicians to exclude certain topics for political propaganda.
For example, an educator may not identify individuals, entities, or institutions in the United States as “intrinsically, immutably, or systematically sexist, racist, anti-LGBT, bigoted, prejudiced, privileged, or oppressed.” Does the legislation suggest that the Ku Klux Klan (an entity) is not inherently racist? Although numerous studies repeatedly confirm that the criminal justice system (an American institution) treats black Americans unequally, should educators ignore the inconsistencies of the system? Other elements of the law are equally confusing.
Logical parsing of the educational curriculum is not what is at stake here, nor is it the true intent. Policy makers who have focused on the CRT as a mechanism for denouncing “liberal” education ironically use it to create their own doctrine of education: an America without flaws. Black history and other “diversity” topics are uncomfortable because they question the centrality of democracy as a shared American identity. In black history there is always the question: freedom for whom? When? How?
The circumstances of this legislation are even more threatening than the political division. The contradictory nature of these politicized claims of “unpatriotic” education has created an increase in harassment from opponents of diversity. Teachers, lecturers and writers become the focus of online and physical harassment.
Parents should think deeply about this legislation when the debate returns to Kansas. How are parents truly empowered? What won’t their children learn about themselves or society? How are teachers and educators endangered by these feelings? Why should censorship provide the way for patriotism? Finally, they should ask themselves whether fear of diversity is a good way to prepare children for a future in a multicultural America?
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Nishani Frazier is an associate professor of history and American studies at the University of Kansas. Prior to Kansas, he held positions as Associate Curator of African American History and Archives at the Western Reserve Historical Society (WRHS), Assistant Director of Archives Martin Luther King, Jr. at the Martin Luther King Center for Nonviolent Social Change, and Personal Assistant to the Dr. John Hope Franklin, before and during his tenure as chairman of President Bill Clinton’s advisory board on “One America”.