The Teachable Moment of “Divisive Concepts” Legislation

September 10, 2021 / PSU-AAUP

Academe Blog

by Kevin McGruder

September 10, 2021

In 2021, the movement against the purported teaching of Critical Race Theory in K-12 schools and public colleges dominated public discussions in many communities and has now resulted in legislation against the teaching of “divisive concepts” in many states. It is a matter of public record, as Jennifer Ruth noted here, that the controversy is a manufactured one, a masterful disinformation campaign to silence advocates of anti-racism. The campaign was conceived by conservative activist Christopher Rufo, and amplified by the American Legal Exchange Council (ALEC) through trainings, and then by the dissemination of sample legislation to state legislators. In Ohio, two pieces of legislation are in committee. House Bill 322 would amend sections of the Ohio Revised Code regarding the teaching of certain current events and certain concepts regarding race and sex in public schools. House Bill 327 would amend the Revised code to prohibit school districts, community schools, STEM schools, and state agencies from teaching, advocating, or promoting divisive concepts.

As educators, the divisive concepts controversy, while frustrating in its distortion of the facts, provides us with a teachable moment to share information, both with our students and with the larger community, that draws on our scholarship to answer the question, why is this happening now? My discipline of history provides clear answers. The disinformation campaign fueled by Christopher Rufo is part of a historical tradition in the United States of backlashes to steps toward achieving racial equity. As a nation, on paper we are a multi-racial democracy, but in practice we are a nation in which some White citizens expect to always have a dominant voice, and where the possibility of sharing power with citizens of color is seen as a threat to their power and privilege. A brief historical review:

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