Yet again, the N.C. General Assembly is playing the game of saying it’s against something while at the same time it’s advancing legislation that actually does what the majority says it’s against. In this case, when the House and Senate say they’re against political indoctrination in the schools, it’s because they actually want kids indoctrinated.
The question is, in what way. And it seems clear from the text of the relevant measure, House Bill 324, that they don’t want kids asking too many questions about things that might lead them to criticize the government.
House Bill 324 is the outgrowth of the legislative majority’s concern about “critical race theory,” an academic construct that has as many meanings as there are people interpreting it.
But its core concept is simple enough: There was more to Jim Crow than the laws that said Blacks had to ride in the back of the bus, drink from separate water fountains and attend separate schools.
Beyond such obvious legal restrictions, Jim Crow was a habit of mind that infected many other, seemingly neutral laws and business practices. Redlining in home loans is an obvious example. Where some see banks operating to minimize the risk of loan defaults, others see that Black families in general were finding it unnecessarily difficult to become homeowners.
The “critical” in critical race theory is all about asking the sorts of questions that can root out such inequities.
There are things in House Bill 324’s 13-point list of don’ts for public schools that are unobjectionable. For example, like the bill’s backers, we don’t want the schools teaching that “one race or sex in inherently superior to another.”
But there are others that give the game away, and none is more obvious than the 11th of the don’ts: that schools should avoid teaching that “the rule of law does not exist, but instead is a series of power relationships and struggles among racial or other groups.”
One of the bill’s chief architects, Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger, has said over and over that he wants the schools to teach students honestly about such matters as slavery, Jim Crow and the Wilmington coup of 1898.
But you can’t do that without questioning the basis for the rule of law.
Slavery was legal, until the 13th Amendment and the muskets of the Union army said it wasn’t. Jim Crow was legal, until Congress passed the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The Wilmington coup was plainly illegal, but its perpetrators and their allies killed their way to power and ruled the seacoast city unchallenged for generations to come. The General Assembly, legally, impeached and removed Gov. William Holden from office in 1870 because he tried to suppress Ku Klux Klan terrorism in Alamance and Caswell counties.
Justice, freedom and the rule of law are related concepts — but they’re also separate concepts. One hopes the law serves those other things, but it doesn’t, always. It can be bent to serve evil ends.
While we grant that that’s a hard truth, and one that’s hard to teach, it’s still a truth. The most obvious reason for wanting to skate past it is to encourage the next generation to ask fewer questions.
Other provisions of the bill beg questions. For instance, it’s one thing to bar teaching that “a meritocracy is inherently racist or sexist.” But in any meritocracy, who’s defining merit, and how?
Beyond its hoped-for effect on students, House Bill 324 can be expected to make the already difficult job of teaching in the public schools harder than it already is. For that reason, it’s veto bait, and we hope and expect Gov. Roy Cooper will prevent it from becoming law.