Valarie

Republican Rep. Valarie Hodges, of Denham Springs, waits as Rep. Rick Edmonds, R-Baton Rouge, discusses her legislation to require public schools to teach World War II and the Holocaust on Monday, May 24, 2021. Her House Bill 416 was approved on a 66-32 and now heads to the Senate.

Fearing their children would be blamed for the nation’s history of racism, cadres of Louisiana parents last summer stormed the usually dry meetings of academics updating curriculum for about 720,000 students in the state’s public schools.

Monday was supposed to be the end of public comment on the proposed guidelines teachers are to use in the classroom for social studies. But the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education extended public comment into December — meaning it won’t be until the new year before a vote on the curricula that was supposed to be in place four years ago.

State Rep. Valarie Hodges, the Denham Springs Republican who led parents to those meetings, said Thursday that while she wanted to see an expansion of Black history, she opposed “critical race theory” that would focus on blame.

Her efforts were sidelined by the anger over making children wear masks in school. But critical race theory will reemerge in Louisiana and elsewhere after Tuesday’s election of a new governor in Virginia.

Democratic candidate Terry McAuliffe, who had served as Virginia’s governor from 2014 to 2018, was the prohibitive favorite, with endorsements from Barack Obama to ’90s rock star Dave Matthews.

Republican nominee Glenn Youngkin, who had never run for office before, trailed by double-digit numbers until he promised to abolish critical race theory on his first day in office. And while critical race theory is not taught in Virginia, or elsewhere for that matter, Youngkin has so successfully mined parental resentment over the issue that he could win and provide a blueprint for the 2022 congressional contests.

A buzzsaw term in the hands of conservatives, critical race theory actually is an academic framework to ferret out parts of the legal system that had been added during Jim Crow to discriminate against Black people but are now forgotten.

Conservatives' interpretation of critical race theory became a part of the reaction to the protests over the police killing of George Floyd. As president, Donald Trump accused teachers of “left-wing indoctrination.”

This isn’t the first time Republicans have weaponized the schoolhouse for political benefits.

A few years ago, it was Common Core State Standards Initiative, federally recommended academic criteria that many parents thought should have been proposed locally. Louisiana massaged the wording, called Common Core something else and the storm dissipated after the 2016 elections.

Before that Louisiana passed a law, which until overturned by the courts would have required schools to teach faith-based Biblical theories as the equal of empirically tested science. Then there was Florida orange juice spokeswoman Anita Bryant’s “Save Our Children” campaign in the 1980s that wanted to forbid hiring of homosexual and lesbian schoolteachers.

Over the spring and summer, 27 state legislatures introduced bills — a dozen of which became law — to restrict teaching critical race theory or limit how teachers can discuss racism, according to Education Week.

Critical race theory has become the key campaign issue in this fall’s local school board races in Kansas, Wisconsin, Ohio, Connecticut, Maine and elsewhere across the country.

In Lafayette, the Fleur De Lis Republican Women, a grassroots partisan club, caught flack for offering $1,000 college scholarships to high school senior girls who write winning 800- to 1,000-word essays on how the theory “undermines our Republic.”

The social studies curricula pending in Louisiana, which will decide what’s actually taught K-12 students, seems innocuous in light of all the unfounded hand-wringing that White children should have to hang their head in shame because of what some of their ancestors did.

Second graders already study the significance of the flag, the bald eagle, and other national symbols. Under the new guidelines, they would also learn “how the diverse cultural makeup of the United States influences Louisiana.”

Seventh graders already study the Mayflower Compact, the Declaration of Independence, the Bill of Rights, the Dred Scott decision, and other documents. They even are supposed to read the Federalist Papers. BESE proposes to add discussions about William C.C. Claiborne, the first American governor of Louisiana; the pirate Jean Lafitte; and Oscar Dunn, the first elected Black lieutenant governor of any U.S. state.

Given the modest changes to the curriculum, perhaps of more concern should be paid to the delay of four years and counting to approve the updated social studies teaching guide.


Email Mark Ballard at mballard@theadvocate.com.