How Democrats Can Win the Critical War of Race Theory: Calling on the Christians Right Behind the Movement
After Republican candidate Glenn Youngkin won the Virginia gubernatorial race on Tuesday, the GOP appears keen to implement its fanaticism-infused “education” strategy nationwide. “The Republican swings in Virginia and New Jersey show the effectiveness of a new model of conservative politics: appealing to suburban voters by promising greater parental control of schools,” the Washington Post reported Thursday morning. It’s a smart strategy.
If the public knew what the GOP demands really were – to ban classic books like “Beloved” by Toni Morrison or “The Handmaid’s Tale” by Margaret Atwood – most parents would not be on board. Not many people want to be a Nazi book burner! But the GOP repackages this deeply fascist love of censorship in a more convivial “parental rights” framework. They were lucky that Democratic candidate Terry McAuliffe blundered in the last few weeks of the campaign by saying, “I don’t think parents should tell schools what they should be teaching,” instead of mounting a strong defense of free speech and teaching the truth about slavery and segregation in history lessons.
So what exactly are kids learning?
Republicans use creepy terms like “critical race theory” and liberals try to draw attention to lists of books Republicans try to ban, mainly to suggest that racism is bad or that LGBTQ people exist. It is extremely important for the left to focus on how this so-called struggle for âeducationâ is actually a proxy struggle against the right’s rejection of equality for LGBTQ people and people of color.
But there is another aspect of this fight that has been less discussed: how the GOP war on schools is started, organized and financed by right-wing religious groups whose real agenda opposes children’s rights.
Conservatives, especially the Christian right, have long viewed the idea of ââraising children capable of thinking for themselves. Their point of view is that children should be “trained” to be obedient and submissive. Under the guise of “parental rights”, the Christian right integrates its hostility to the very idea that children have the right to an education. In this case, a child’s right to have an appropriate education that teaches critical thinking and intellectual curiosity.
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As journalist Talia Lavin writes in her recent deep dive into the history of corporal punishment in evangelical circles, the âbiblical parentingâ movement began in 1970, when Christian right-wing activist James Dobson published his book âDare to Disciplineâ, which advanced a belief in âthe forced submission of children to absolute authorityâ. Soon there was a cottage industry of similar books, all of which promoted “complete submission of the will of the child,” usually relentlessly beating children (which is understated by the cutesy word “spanking”). Children, from the point of view of the Christian right, do not have to be educated – they must be “formed”. This philosophy of educating children has been accompanied by a movement to impose their anti-child ideology on society and government. Unfortunately, this particular political objective of the Christian right receives far less coverage than their war on reproductive rights, their anti-LGBTQ activism, or their white supremacy. This lack of attention may, in fact, be a reason they have been so successful. As Lavin notes, hitting children “is totally prohibited in 63 countries” but “legal in all fifty states.” Laws allowing parents to remove their children from school to be “homeschooled” are notoriously lax, and there has been much progress in reorienting children out of schools to “charter schools”. Â»Religious who adopt the training-not-education approach. Donald Trump’s Education Secretary was Betsy DeVos, a far-right fundamentalist who has spent decades trying to destroy the public education system. This is why the United States is the only country in the world that has not ratified the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child.
It is therefore not surprising that right-wing religious groups that have long opposed children’s rights are behind this new national attack on public schools.
Pillars of the religious right like the Family Research Council and the Heritage Foundation played a central role in planning and launching this project to use the frightening term “critical race theory” to stir up outrage in communities. schools for teaching the truth about racism in history and literature. The International Organization for the Family, which like the Family Research Council has been named a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center, is also at the heart of the effort, as NBC News reports. Under its original name, the World Congress of Families, the International Organization for the Family has promoted not only a deeply authoritarian and patriarchal view of the family, but also white nationalism. As explained to the Southern Poverty Law Center:
Through its ideology of the ânatural family,â WCF promotes a strict view of the family, based exclusively on the marriage of a heterosexual man to a heterosexual woman and their biological children, excluding many types of families. Closely linked to this ideology is adherence to strict binary gender roles, in which men are the heads of households and women are their companions and bearers of children. Only this type of family, they argue, can stifle “demographic winter”, the idea that European populations, in particular, are in decline because of homosexuality, abortion, feminism, women. in the workplace and a variety of other things that deviate from the “natural family”.
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There’s no way to really disentangle all of these different far-right opinions from each other. Forcing children to submit and preventing them from developing critical thinking skills is seen as crucial in raising them to be submissive adults who will undoubtedly embrace this patriarchal and racist view of family formation and purpose. It is understandable why schools teaching the book “Beloved” have been flagged by far-right activists as a threat. Not only does the book humanize victims of white supremacy, it also raises important questions about children’s rights and the meaning of self-determination. Indeed, even the concept of “raising questions” alarms the Christian right. According to them, children should not think for themselves but passively accept the instructions of the elders.
Unfortunately, one of the reasons the Christian right is so successful in smuggling its radical views into mainstream politics is that it, as happened in Virginia, often reframes it as an issue of “parental rights.” “.
Most parents reject the extremist views of the religious right on the extinction of a child’s autonomy, to be clear. But most parents think they should have some control over their child’s life, including education, health care and disciplinary matters. They aren’t even really wrong about it. Children’s rights are always in conflict with the need to protect children and properly socialize them. Knowing the right balance between autonomy and discipline is a nuanced and difficult question. The problem, however, is that the reframing as an issue of “parental rights” distracts attention from the real issue, which is the war against. children rights.
Children have the right to learn the truth about American history and to develop critical thinking skills. Children have the right to be exposed to great literary and artistic works and to broaden their horizons. Children have the right to a solid health education, which includes information about sexuality and sexual orientation so that they can grow into healthy adults, instead of being hampered by the shame of having impulses normal humans. All this chatter about “parental rights” – by design – hides the fact that many of these children’s rights are currently under serious threat.
Failure to understand the deeply radical nature of the Christian right-wing ideology that fuels this school board movement leaves Democrats unequipped to fight back. We saw this with the McAuliffe campaign, which fumbled at the start of framing ‘parent rights’, and only realized too late in the campaign that they could reframe the issue – rightly so, you notice. – as a deeply racist attempt to censor books. Democrats must emphasize how deeply anti-child the GOP’s attack on school boards is, and defend both the right of children to learn and the right of educators to teach.
Most people don’t want children to grow up without learning to think for themselves. Democrats can win this fight, but first they need to understand what they are really up against.