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New Hampshire Turns Students, Parents Into Bounty Hunters for Teachers Who Discuss Racism

Students sit in a classroom setting, facing a teacher speaking.

In recent months, a number of states have taken steps to codify Fox News fear-mongering into law, banning “critical race theory” from being taught in schools. As a reminder, critical race theory is not being taught to children in schools—unless those children are in law school, as the term refers to a field of legal academia. What these Fox News hosts, white parents, and conservative lawmakers are actually opposed to is simply the act of thinking critically about race and racism, and that’s what they’re trying to erase from schools.

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New Hampshire is one of those states trying to eradicate discussions of racism from schools. When drafting their annual budget, the state legislature inserted an incredibly vague ban on “divisive concepts” related to race and gender from being taught in public schools, calling it a “Right to Freedom From Discrimination in Public Workplaces and Education.”

The law is not just vague; it’s incomprehensible. The news website Newslanes wrote earlier this year:

“One of the central problems with this bill is its ambiguity in what constitutes a banned so-called ‘divisive’ concept,’” said Gilles Bissonnette, legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union of New Hampshire. “One part of the bill aims to permit ‘workplace sensitivity training’ while other portions of the bill ban speech aimed at addressing ‘unconscious racism’ in the workplace. Similarly, one part of the bill purports to protect academic freedom while another portion bans the teaching on so-called divisive concepts. Frankly, the bill is indecipherable and internally contradictory.”

Making things even worse, the state set up a website for anyone witnessing a violation of the law to report what they’ve seen. Teachers who are found to have violated the law can lose their teaching license.

Now, a right-wing group called “Moms for Liberty”—that reportedly formed to advocate for school reopenings amid COVID-19 and fight mask mandates—has joined the fray, offering $500 to the first person who “catches” a public school teacher breaking this law.

On the surface, the reportable offenses under New Hampshire’s law don’t seem like a big deal. They include teaching or advocating that any group is “inherently superior or inferior to people of another identified group,” “inherently racist, sexist, or oppressive, whether consciously or unconsciously,” or that they should discriminate against another group or be discriminated against—all things that pretty much everyone can agree should not be taught in schools.

Except these things already are not being taught in schools. So why do so many people feel the need to formally ban them? You only need to watch about 30 seconds of Tucker Carlson’s show (already far above the recommended limit of zero seconds, if you want to preserve your sanity) to realize that basic and necessary conversations about race and racism are being contorted into bad faith arguments that white people are being “discriminated” against. Factual discussions of systemic racism are attacked for teaching students that white people are “inherently” racist and even evil, if Tucker is to be believed. (He is not.)

It would be a lot easier to believe these schools and parents were actually interested in protecting students from discrimination if they weren’t simultaneously working so hard to ban books that discuss actual discrimination.

(via Forbes, image: Unsplash)

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Vivian Kane
Vivian Kane (she/her) is the Senior News Editor at The Mary Sue, where she's been writing about politics and entertainment (and all the ways in which the two overlap) since the dark days of late 2016. Born in San Francisco and radicalized in Los Angeles, she now lives in Kansas City, Missouri, where she gets to put her MFA to use covering the local theatre scene. She is the co-owner of The Pitch, Kansas City’s alt news and culture magazine, alongside her husband, Brock Wilbur, with whom she also shares many cats.

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