K-12 DIGEST: Education is the new vehicle for GOP outreach to an increasingly moderate America
Texas Governor Greg Abbott recently called for the state’s education oversight board to review standards for acceptable reading material in K-12 systems throughout the state. Citing urgency to remove content with “overtly sexual” themes, the prompt led to other state politicos launching investigations ranging from sexual awareness to climate change.
The Lone Star State is just one of many in the union where conservative lawmakers and activists find a new foothold to infuse cultural fear and loathing into policymaking. The echoes of pro-gun and pro-life fanaticism have now translated into prohibitive talking points against Critical Race Theory, human sexuality, transgender access, and more.
To understand why CRT has become such a flash point in the culture, it is important to understand what it is and what it is not. Opponents fear that CRT admonishes all white people for being oppressors while classifying all Black people as hopelessly oppressed victims. These fears have spurred school boards and state legislatures from Tennessee to Idaho to ban teachings about racism in classrooms. However, there is a fundamental problem: these narratives about CRT are gross exaggerations of the theoretical framework. The broad brush that is being applied to CRT is puzzling to academics, including some of the scholars who coined and advanced the framework.
From a July edition of Politico on a collection of Attorneys General pushing back on federal interpretations of equity for transgender students.
The attorneys general also expressed concern that the new guidance will “sow confusion” among schools that are navigating changing guidance, state laws and Title IX. Confusion is bound to happen due to what the attorneys general called an “abrupt pendulum swing” between the Biden administration's position and the one the Trump administration had in place just a few months earlier.
The attorneys general emphasized issues with the guidance’s application to school sports, dorms, locker room and restroom access and the use of the proper pronouns for students who are transgender. They said the guidance contradicts Title IX which “recognize[s] the biological differences between male and female students.”
The themes are prominent and the aim is unmistakable; issues like healthcare, national defense, transportation, voting rights access, and public safety have mainly become metropolitan issues. When a debate centers around moral perspectives on these views, it activates a variety of groups.
But when the subject is the kinds of themes that can infiltrate the minds and makeup of children, this is the common ground that is fertile for crossover appeal and moderate consensus. Education is hyper-local, bridges the sacred-secular divide uniquely, and challenges the views of metropolitan and rural, blue-collar and college-educated alike who are closer on sensitive subjects than they would like to admit.
America is getting browner and more socially conservative within growing minority populations. The GOP is betting that despite shifting racial trends, getting in on the ground floor of issues like sexual identity and racial politics will make bonafide conservative voters push harder to the right, and moderate voters think twice about the liberal platform.
Emphasizing education reduces the need for a figure like former president Donald Trump to caravan around the country on a platform of grievance. Education stirs up emotions to protect children, to preserve family values, and to steel against ideas or people who can “make their kid gay” or “make their kid feel bad about their race.”
It is much easier to move a school board or state board of education to advance a more conservative ideology than a Congress burdened and powered by layers of lobbying and expansive media coverage. And once precedence is set for education policy, it is that much easier to sell voters on the notion of “if it works in your schools, why can’t the same people work to build your judicial, financial, and industrial systems?”
The GOP isn’t particularly interested in education as a legitimate platform; uneducated voters comprise its biggest and most active base for funding and activism. Republicans are very much interested in chipping away at liberalism within kitchen table politics; schools and the children who attend them will always be the top focus of those conversations.