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Attacks on Critical Race Theory Seek to Insert Fascist Politics Into Education

The conservative wrath against critical thinking is manufactured ignorance parading as “patriotic pedagogy.”

A man displays his U.S. flag during the Kentucky Freedom Rally at the capitol building on August 28, 2021 in Frankfort, Kentucky. Demonstrators gathered to speak out against a litany of issues, including Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear's management of the coronavirus pandemic, abortion laws and the teaching of critical race theory.

Part of the Series

The right wing in the United States is waging a war against critical race theory. Republican governors such as Ron DeSantis in Florida, Brad Little in Idaho and Greg Abbott in Texas, among others, claim that teaching about the history of racism, mentioning race in the classroom, or addressing social justice issues amount to a form of propaganda that victimizes white students. In this view, teaching about racial justice is a form of racial injustice. Wedding this reactionary ideology to power, a number of states controlled by Republican politicians have instituted laws that forbid teachers from introducing any topic related to racism into their curricula, such as The New York Times’s 1619 project.

This is a form of apartheid pedagogy whose purpose is to prevent any form of critical thinking in the schools and to create a formative educational culture that whitewashes history, and makes racism in its institutional and historical forms disappear. It undermines the critical pedagogical conditions that empower students and others to develop the habits of critical thought, informed judgment, and power that enable them to be critical, informed and engaged citizens. In this script, censorship is reinforced by the threat by right-wing state legislators to cut millions of dollars to educational institutions that fund programs that address social justice and diversity issues. The attack on critical race theory is part of a broader attempt on the part of Republican Party, which has embraced the tenets of white supremacy, white nationalism and racial purity and is intent on reproducing a fascist politics in public schools, higher education and in those cultural apparatuses that make up the social media. Its attacks on critical race theory and critical thinking itself cannot be separated from its voter suppression laws, its attempts to eliminate Roe vs. Wade, and its lawless attempts to deputize vigilantes in Texas to harass and intimidate those who believe in civil rights, abortion rights and educational freedom. Its goal is a reign of tyranny reinforced through a cultural politics that ensures that when and where civic literacy and freedom are destroyed, democracy disappears. The enemy of the Republican Party is not critical race theory, per se, but democracy itself.

This attack on critical race theory is part of a broader attack on the wider issues of critical pedagogy, critical thinking, dissent and civic consciousness. It is a fascist politics intent on destroying the public spheres and institutions that sustain an informed citizenry and a substantive democracy. The conservative wrath unleashed against any form of critical thinking is an example of the manufactured ignorance parading as “patriotic pedagogy.” In reality, it is a cover for concentrating economic and political power in the hands of a ruling elite. Moreover, this apartheid pedagogy functions as a normalizing politics that goes hand in hand with defending policies such as voter suppression laws, the attack on reproductive rights, the undermining of historical memory and the attack on the welfare state. Apartheid educational practices allow the intrusion of criminality into politics by nourishing habits of powerlessness and undermining any viable form of critical agency. Civic illiteracy is the goal of the Republican Party, reinforced by the belief that an uninformed public shaped through a pedagogy of manufactured ignorance will not hold power accountable.

The attack on critical race theory is part of a merging of political education and cultural politics to promote pedagogies of repression as an animating principle and practice of violence, racism, nativism, misogyny and bigotry.

In the conversation with Allen Ruff that I am sharing above, we both interrogate this new reactionary and educational formation and stress how it can be fought through the development of mass movements engaged in direct action, political education, and a cultural politics capable of using visual and popular culture as emancipatory educational tools. At stake here is not only a struggle over critical agency, identity, civil rights, academic freedom, public education, the civic imagination and democracy, but also the centrality of education itself to politics.

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