Over the past few months Republicans have been waging a culture war over what can and cannot be taught in schools. Their primary vehicle for waging this war has been Critical Race Theory; a complex analysis of history and oppression that, ironically, isn’t actually even being taught in K-12 schools. Despite this, months and months of reframing Black history as CRT, as well as scrutinizing every minute detail of reading material that mentions the existence of LGBTQ+ folks, has resulted in a facism-esque wave of book bannings.
While others in the education field have been focusing on learning recovery for students after years of a global pandemic, or desperately trying to secure funding to repair crumbling schools, a few key North Carolina GOP members have been hyper focused on demonizing books about the experiences of Black and LGBTQ+ youth.
We’ve all seen the big name politicians lamenting about the “filth” being taught in our schools – but what does that actually mean for the people working in or attending those schools?
For history teachers Ayanna Perry, John deVille, and Lauren Piner, this battle over books has resulted in censored history and divided attention when it comes to what our schools actually need right now.
Perry, a Mecklenburg County educator who’s been teaching history for five years, has remarked that since the start of the pandemic she’s seen an influx of discussion and often criticism of CRT, as well as a push for the erasure of LGBTQ+ identities being taught in schools.
“I know with social studies now, people are pushing this American identity and how proud we should be of being American. You can’t teach that if people don’t see themselves. You can’t push patriotism if people don’t see themselves or their ancestors in it. Social studies isn’t supposed to make you feel good.” Perry continued, emphasizing that, “you gotta talk about those hard things even if they hurt because that’s the only way we can look at where we are and where we need to go, so our future generations don’t have to deal with the mistakes of our past.”
John deVille, a Macon County teacher, said that, “As a historian, it pains me to see North Carolina abandon its commitment to public education – a commitment we codified into our constitution in the 1970s. For decades, our state was a leader in education innovation, and now we can’t even fund basic positions and programs our students need to get a sound education.”
DeVille stated that he became a teacher to “help students draw connections between important historical events, and draw out their critical thinking skill,” and pointed out that, “It doesn’t take a lot of critical thinking to see the connection between our underfunded schools and the negative impacts that it’s having on our students.”
Lauren Piner, a history teacher in Pitt County, also emphasized the need for funding:
“I want my niece, who is in a public school Spanish immersion program, to be able to go to school in a building built for the 21st century and beyond. Her classmates and all students in North Carolina deserve to have qualified teachers who are invested in the profession, the school, and the community. Too often, I am told that I am too smart to be a teacher. If we don’t want our best and brightest in our classrooms, what does that say about our priorities?”
It can be hard to draw the “best and brightest” to an underappreciated and underfunded field. Especially when any attempt to address those issues inevitably becomes overshadowed by false allegations of CRT being taught in schools and efforts to erase the experiences of LGBTQ+ youth.
But it’s not just teachers who have pointed out this problem in North Carolina.
Michelle Burton, a Durham County librarian, said that, “As a school library media coordinator, intellectual freedom is one of the core values that myself and many other school librarians live by to educate and to affirm our students’ lived experiences. Libraries are democratic spaces where our students can learn and explore different viewpoints, so they can be better informed citizens, to be able to analyze issues that affect their daily lives, and to help them better understand the world that they live in.”
Burton went on to explain that, “That is why it is so concerning and disheartening that Republicans and their allies are focusing so much of their energy on the non-issue of “CRT” and censoring books that discuss the true history of our country and the demonization of LGBTQ students.”
And finally, and perhaps most importantly, what do the students – who, given the NC GOP’s framing, are supposed victims of “indoctrination” – really think of book bannings, CRT, and LGBTQ+ erasure?
For Maya and William Wood, siblings who attend schools in Forsyth County, learning about experiences that are different from theirs and being taught real history is not only incredibly important but also enriches their learning experience rather than “indoctrinating” them.
William said that, “Books are an important resource for students to explore their own identities and to learn to empathize with others who identify differently. When these books that center non-white and non-hetero characters are removed, it’s like you are saying that those identities are too gross and upsetting for students to fathom.”
While talking about the impact on his peers that banning books about diverse experiences has had, William said “It hurts my friends by telling them that they shouldn’t exist. I don’t want my life to be in a bubble in which ignorance is a shield. Learning about experiences outside my own helps me to be a better person by expanding my perspective and understanding of the world around me.”
For Maya, she reflected on her education experiences, saying, “At the beginning of my learning journey, I was surrounded by primarily white and privileged perspectives. During middle and high school, I learned a great amount pertaining to the building of America on the backs of enslaved people. I studied this important history in an environment that was helpful instead of shameful.”
She continued, emphasizing that, “It is incredibly important to learn the true history of our country; enlightening people on the injustice of said history, as well as the triumph of those who have overcome immense adversity. ”
This preoccupation, or rather, obsession, with CRT, LGBTQ+ material, and banning books that the NC GOP has is only hurting our schools; all the time they’ve spent demonizing diversity could have been spent solving the problems brought up by our librarians, teachers, and students everyday.