Officials in Florida have banned dozens of math books because they supposedly contain “critical race theory” (CRT).
You read that right. Math books are accused of somehow discussing racial issues in ways that far-right Republicans and their Christian nationalist allies don’t like.
For those of us who have been monitoring Christian nationalism for years, the current attack on public school textbooks and material in public libraries is disturbingly familiar.
It works like this: Take something that actually exists but is not well known or understood by the American people, distort it beyond all recognition and construct an elaborate conspiracy theory that accuses a nefarious cabal of sinister “elites” of using the thing to infiltrate all our public institutions for some wicked ends. That then becomes an excuse to undermine those institutions or block forms of instruction that the far right opposes.
CRT, which includes the rather uncontroversial notion that entrenched forms of racism have historically been a problem in America and remain so today, is sometimes used as an analytical tool in colleges, graduate schools and law schools. It’s not routinely taught in secondary schools.
What is taught (or should be) in secondary schools is that our country has not always lived up to its promise of “liberty and justice for all” and that Native Americans, Black Americans, women, Asian Americans, immigrants, Jews, Muslims, nonbelievers, LGBTQ residents and others have been subjected to oppression, bigotry and denial of basic rights.
Any fair reading of history makes this clear. But to Christian nationalists, who cling to a vision of the U.S. as “God’s favorite nation,” any discussion of our country’s flaws – no matter how glaring they may be – is tantamount to teaching kids to hate America.
In the 1950s, far-right extremists tarred anyone with even remotely progressive views as communists. In the 1980s, Religious Right groups attacked books for teaching “secular humanism” or “witchcraft.” Like CRT, these things exist, but they were hardly being pushed in public schools, libraries and government institutions.
There’s a troubling echo in these new attacks on CRT. It has become the far right’s new bogeyman. And because religious and political extremists need it to scare their base of voters, they will conjure it up wherever necessary – even finding it in the pages of books designed to teach long division.