October 2, 2023

Whitewashing Education and Politics

How would you distribute nearly thirty-three billion dollars left over after you balanced your accounts? This is the dilemma Governor Greg Abbott faces at the end of this year’s regular session of the Texas legislature.

This redundancy is greater than the entire budget of 24 other states.  According to the Texas Tribune in March, If the surplus were passed out equally to each of our fellow 30 million Texans, everyone would get about $1,088. With that bonus, every single Texan could purchase more than three avocados per day for a year. Or we could pay for every student’s school lunch (no guacamole, please!) every day from their first day of first grade until they graduated high school and have enough for 30 more days each.

Or you could improve Texas’ per-student funding for education. Currently we are close to the lowest extreme of all the other states, and our students are being denied adequate and accurate instruction.

You could increase the paychecks of Texas teachers. Their minimum annual salaries ranged from $33,660 for a beginning teacher to $54,540 for a teacher with 20 or more years of experience during the 2022-23 school year. They are the only state employees who have not received a raise this year. No wonder experienced, successful teachers are departing the classrooms, forcing the newer ones to work harder, longer and try to control larger classes.

For comparison, the governor’s salary is $153,750, which is the 21st highest among all the states, and comes with free housing, healthcare, travel reimbursement, security, entertainment expenses, and automobile transportation … No “wokeness” or historically accurate lesson plans required.

Of course, school safety is a priceless priority for Republicans and Democrats. After the massacre in Uvalde last year there have been frequent discussions about how to “harden” schools, with some lawmakers calling for better access to the state’s mental health system, which ranks dead last among the other states in this country.

To protect campuses the governor has recommended that school safety officials conduct “unannounced, random intruder” appraisals of Texas public schools. Education advocates are skeptical of sending unannounced, fake intruders, anxious that the actors participating in such practices might be subject to defensive attack by any observer who misidentifies them as a legitimate threat. Clay Robison, a spokesperson for the Texas State Teachers Association sees this as “just another way to avoid addressing the issue of doing something about too many guns in the hands of the wrong people.”

But if parents can be provoked to sufficient disgust over the appalling conditions of our public schools perhaps it will sponsor tumultuous, groundswell support to abandon them entirely. In that case the governor has an eager scheme to remedy the dissatisfaction: his private (Christian) school vouchers plan!

Florida has had such a plan for over 20 years. As a result, Black History (and Blackness) has been a casualty in that state. An Advanced Placement course in African American history was prohibited because it was determined to be without “educational value.” Instead, fanciful “whitewashing” history lessons will be in Florida’s public schools in the fall, including the preposterous suggestion that people of another continent weresiezed, tortured, and then perished as a clever way to learn a trade. (“Slaves developed skills which, in some instances, could be applied for their personal benefit.”)

Our nation is being consumed by culture wars. Students’ understanding of our collective past and prospective future may be contingent on whether they are educated in a red or a blue state.

“Our children deserve nothing less than truth, justice, and the equity our ancestors shed blood, sweat, and tears for,” Derrick Johnson, president, and CEO of the NAACP, said in July. “It is imperative that we understand that the horrors of slavery and Jim Crow were a violation of human rights and represent the darkest period in American history.”

Indeed, it is imperative to protect their own integrity as well as to demonstrate their educational achievements to the very institutions that measure their worth, those that ascertain their worthiness to enroll in AP or dual credit classes in high school or college, as well as college admissions exams and review boards that demand accurate comprehension of historical incidents and how students relate past events to modern issues.

Republicans, led by pugilistic governors like Abbott and DeSantis, both of whom disingenuously promote “personal freedoms” are the predominant deniers of generational trauma, insisting that slavery does not affect Black people today. They decry and exclaim over Critical Race Theory (the scientific fact that discrete human races do not exist,  that the concept of race is a pretext to support white supremacy) ignoring that the esoteric scholarship on CRT is published in professional journals not easily accessible to K-12 teachers or the public, or that is generally restricted to graduate school curriculum, particularly law studies.

Civil rights attorney Ben Crump warned recently “If we don’t bash this racist curriculum in the head like a snake, then I worry that it will manifest all across America,”.

It may be too late to bash it. As of this spring legislation to outlaw CRT in schools has been made law in Idaho, Iowa, Oklahoma, and Tennessee. In Texas the legislature intends to prohibit schools from teaching the Pulitzer Prize winning 1619 Project, the New York Times examination of U.S. history from the date when Black people arrived on American ground.

Still, we will never surrender our youth’s education. We will continue to campaign and protest as if it is never too late.







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