If an issue is ripe for demagoguery, Todd Rokita will be on it like a dog on a bone. The phony outrage over what schools teach about race was made to order for the Indiana attorney general.
Rokita came out Wednesday with a “parents bill of rights” that purports to educate parents about their right to understand and be engaged in their children’s education. That sounds reasonable; but for Rokita, it’s an excuse to dive into a culture war.
Predictably, he jumps on the right-wing bandwagon to attack critical race theory and the 1619 Project. Never mind that K-12 schools almost never teach CRT, a theoretical framework for examining the role of race in society that may be taught in law or graduate schools. Or that the 1619 Project is exactly what it claims to be: an attempt to “reframe the country’s history by placing the consequences of slavery and the contributions of Black Americans at the very center of our national narrative.”
Rokita lists six “rights” for parents with regard to their children’s education: the right to question school officials, to question the school’s curriculum, to expect schools to comply with the law, to participate in setting state academic standards, to review instructional materials and to run for school board.
I read the 1619 Project when it was published in 2019, and I thought it was one of the most powerful collections of writings about America that I had ever encountered. I reread parts of it this week, including Nikole-Hannah Jones’ lead essay, and I still feel the same way.
I’ve been mystified to see the project turned into a political lightning rod. Following the lead of Donald Trump, critics argue it is racially divisive, anti-white and anti-American, and that it seeks to make us ashamed of our country. (None of that is true). Some legislators want to outlaw teaching it in schools.
I can only assume that these people are making their arguments in profoundly bad faith, manufacturing outrage for the 2022 elections. As Notre Dame professor John Duffy writes, many of the critiques seem “cynically opportunistic – gasoline poured into the trash can fires of the culture wars.”
An ambitious initiative by the New York Times, the 1619 Project aimed to “reframe the country’s history by placing the consequences of slavery and the contributions of Black Americans at the very center of our national narrative.” It examines 400 years of history through the prism of race and racism, starting with the arrival in 1619 of the first Africans brought as slaves to what would become the United States.
Remember when Indiana Republicans said vouchers would let disadvantaged students find alternatives to “failing” public schools? Times sure have changed. Advocates no longer pretend Indiana’s voucher program is about improving education. It’s about funding private religious schools, plain and simple.
For evidence, see this article in Today’s Catholic, a publication of the Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend. Joseph Brettnacher, superintendent of Catholic schools for the diocese, explains the benefits of a voucher program expansion that state lawmakers approved this year:
“The most important aspect of the choice expansion is that more families will have the ability to send their children to faith-based schools, where students can develop a personal relationship with Jesus Christ within his mystical body, the Church,” Brettnacher says. “Our goals for students are to create disciples of Jesus Christ, help them fulfill their destiny to become saints and reach heaven.”