The school culture war on masks, CRT and gender identity

“I want my child to go to school for free and without a mask”, a woman shouted at a union official in Broward County last week as protesters held up signs reading “My Body, My Choice” and “Masks = Child Abuse.” Broward County voted to require masks despite the governor’s order.

The rhetoric was also inflammatory 300 miles away in St. Johns County, where masked parents protested alongside young children and urged school officials to disobey the governor’s order. “Dead children are not acceptable losses,” read one sign. After a school board meeting that lasted more than seven hours last week, masks remained optional.

“We were handcuffed,” the school board president said.

At the same time, at least 28 states, largely controlled by Republicans, have moved to restrict education about race and history. According to Chalkbeat, a nonprofit education outlet, 15 other states, mostly run by Democrats, have moved to expand racial education.

Much of the debate has focused on critical race theory, an advanced academic concept that analyzes racism at systemic levels and is not usually taught until college.

“It’s not really about critical race theory,” said Dorinda Carter Andrews, professor of race, culture and equity at Michigan State University, where she teaches such a course. “It’s really a distraction,” she said, “to suppress the ways educators engage young people in racial dialogue.”

Keith Ammon, a Republican state representative from New Hampshire, is among those who have sought to regulate how teachers talk about race. He said concepts like white privilege can create a “dividing worldview” and that he was wary of teachers who “bring their activism to the classroom.”

As a legislator, he said, his job is “to set guidelines for how taxpayers’ money is used.”

As these laws come into effect, educators may increasingly find themselves in the crosshairs.

Carol C. Reed