Every time they try to hide an ugly fact of history, they look worse — they’re just compounding the problem. We’re seeing this mistake in Florida and Texas and Tennessee, where Republican legislatures cobble up laws to silence teachers and prevent them from mentioning the ghastly evils that previous legislatures have executed. It’s not going to work. It just means that the next generation is going to be confronted with the fact of American slavery, for example, and the fact that America tried to hush it up in the 2020s. Tennessee has been eager to join in the shameful displays of cowardice.
Last year, Tennessee passed one of those cookie-cutter rightwing bills banning the teaching of “divisive concepts” in higher education — the very same sort of hogwash that’s currently under a court injunction in Florida. The law, SB 623 prohibited teaching a whole bunch of very bad ideas, like the concept that “One race or sex is inherently superior or inferior to another race or sex” or the always fun “An individual should feel discomfort, guilt, anguish, or another form of psychological distress solely because of the individual’s race or sex” — so you can’t read about Ruby Bridges, you. The bill also prohibited “penalizing” students for not endorsing the concepts, because we all know how professors like to demand that students recite from the Maoist catechism.
(Do follow that link to the Ruby Bridges story. There is a woman in Florida named Emily Conklin who is going to be on the poster about the wicked perpetrators of bigotry, her picture right next to the Ku Klux Klan, the Southern Democrats of the 1960s, and Steve King of Iowa.)
You can tell these congressvermin know nothing about how education works — they’re of the God’s Not Dead school of projection, where they think their authoritarian vision of how to teach by law enforcement is the way we must work. For example, my genetics students have been given a bunch of papers on racist and sexist misconceptions in genetics that they’ll be summarizing in class this week…and I’ve explicitly told them that they can disagree with the papers without penalty. I can’t imagine standing up in a class and dictating how they must interpret the science. That’s not how any of this works, this is an exercise in learning how to think for themselves about the evidence.
Does that make me one of those red professors? There’s no way you can compel me to wear a bowtie.