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Students aren’t being ‘indoctrinated’

by BLAKE RUTHERFORD Special to the Democrat-Gazette | January 22, 2023 at 1:47 a.m.

Arkansas entered an era of needless confusion and consternation when on Jan. 10 Gov. Sarah Sanders signed an executive order that states, "Schools must educate, not indoctrinate students."

It directs the Arkansas Department of Education not to promote teaching "that would indoctrinate students with ideologies, such as CRT, that conflict with the principle of equal protection under the law or encourage students to discriminate against someone."

It was a strange executive order to issue, albeit promulgated by the need to fuel partisanship and culture war. There is zero evidence of indoctrination in Arkansas schools; Critical Race Theory plays no role in primary or secondary education today.

Imagine if Governor Sanders, a former student at Little Rock public schools, used her executive authority to, say, boost teacher pay, provide more resource officers and mental health care, or develop a statewide network of shared academic enhancement that helps Arkansas teachers collaborate and incorporate new techniques into the classroom.

Instead, Arkansas enters a new political era of aimless wandering amidst the pomp and silliness of former president Donald J. Trump. Before him, reasonableness was a hallmark of governance in Arkansas. That feels like halcyon days.

Today, what are schools doing to "indoctrinate students"? The answer is nothing, at least not in the manner Governor Sanders signaled with this executive order.

Critical Race Theory is a decades-old academic theory that racism is systemic, perpetuated by structural forces rather than individual bias. It has nothing to do with the superiority of one race over another, or that individuals are inherently racist. But this isn't really the conversation Republicans, including Governor Sanders, want to have.

Rather, today, at least in Republican circles, CRT is code for anything that allows race or gender to become salient in discussions about history, current events, or literature. To that end, are Arkansas students unable to learn about the Central High Crisis of 1957, Gov. Orval Faubus, STOP, the Women's Emergency Committee, the Elaine Massacre of 1919, Silas Hunt, Daisy Bates, the impact of lynching and nightriding in the aftermath of Reconstruction, or the 13th Amendment?

Should students interested in urban studies be shielded from learning that, in the aftermath of the federal Housing Act of 1949, "the city of Little Rock through its various agencies including the housing authority systematically worked to continue segregation," according to B. Finley Vinson, then a director of Little Rock's Housing Authority in the 1950s?

Or that the construction of Interstate 630 "drew a hard line across an already segregated city," according to UA Little Rock history professor John Kirk, a scholar of the civil rights movement?

This is to say nothing of the fact that it is futile to discuss education history in Arkansas without understanding historical events in Charleston, Hoxie, and most of northwest Arkansas from Van Buren to Bentonville.

Consider, too, that Arkansas suffered greatly after the Great Flood of 1927. Teachers should never avoid instructing their students about Arkansas City native John Harold Johnson, who lived on the Mississippi River levee for six weeks as a boy and later began Negro Digest, Jet, and Ebony magazines despite being prohibited by Arkansas law from earning an education past the eighth grade because of his race (he graduated from high school in Chicago and later attended Northwestern University).

The same is true about Stamps native Maya Angelou, a literary treasure, whose writings about race are beautiful, elegiac, and profound.

There is a plethora of state history that students should examine to understand identity, morality, and change. More importantly, studying the past, with praise or blame, helps us to understand how the world works. That results in advanced citizenship and the ability to grasp how the society we live in came to be.

Anti-CRT culture warriors do not understand this, and perhaps they do not care to. It is unfortunate because Arkansas' future will not brighten if we ignore our past, including the long shadow of race that still looms today.

Blake Rutherford, a teacher, lives in Bentonville. He can be reached at Rutherford.Blake@gmail.com.

Print Headline: Students aren’t being ‘indoctrinated’

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