It’s unlikely that you believe North Carolina’s public schools should promote the idea that one race or sex is inherently superior to another race or sex.
Or that an individual, solely on the basis of race or sex, is inherently racist, sexist, or oppressive. Or that a person’s race or sex determines his moral character.
But when legislators filed a bill in 2021 to block schools from promoting these and other equally objectionable concepts, the debate generated partisan division. Not a single Democrat in the state House or Senate pressed the green button to support the measure.
Republican majorities approved House Bill 324, titled Ensuring Dignity and Nondiscrimination in Schools. But Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper vetoed it. The measure died.
Not all of the bill’s 13 proscribed concepts concerned race or sex. One would have blocked schools from promoting the belief that the United States government should be violently overthrown. Another would have stopped schools from touting the concept that the rule of law — a bedrock tenet of our constitutional government — does not exist.
The bill would have prevented schools from promoting the idea that governments should deny equal protection of the laws to any person within that government’s jurisdiction.
Did the partisan split result because Democrats support racial and sexual discrimination, back the violent destruction of American government, and reject the foundational concept of the rule of law?
H.B. 324 got caught in partisan crossfire because of the way opponents, and a compliant media, characterized the measure. Critics regularly depicted it as the “anti-CRT” bill. They also accused Republicans of wanting to block legitimate discussion of the darker moments of American history — such as slavery and Jim Crow.
The first critique had some merit. While H.B. 324 never mentioned the words “Critical Race Theory,” most of the proscribed concepts had links to the controversial academic approach.
But one didn’t need to learn details about CRT to know that schools shouldn’t tell any kids that their skin color makes them inherently racist or oppressive. Or that their skin color forces them to bear responsibility for past actions taken by others of the same race.
As for the idea that H.B. 324 supporters wanted to discourage difficult classroom discussions, opponents were flat-out wrong. The measure included specific language contradicting the critics.
Speech protected by the First Amendment would face no prohibition. The bill also supported “impartial discussion” of “controversial aspects” of history, including “historical oppression of a particular group of people.”
Had media outlets spent as much time reporting on the bill’s text as they devoted to the critics, H.B. 324 might have enjoyed greater success.
This observer recalled the H.B. 324 debate when reading “Half-Educated,” a recent article in National Review from Frederick Hess of the American Enterprise Institute.
“Lately there’s been much hand-wringing punditry about the education ‘culture wars,’ with the mainstream media blaming right-wing extremists for heated fights over social studies, school boards, DEI (diversity, equity, and inclusion), library books, and what-have-you,” Hess wrote. “But what if right-wing extremism is mostly a figment of the mainstream media’s collective imagination? And what if it’s actually those enlightened pundits who are fueling the fights?”
“Education coverage often seems bent on ignoring or caricaturing conservative concerns, signaling to readers that the Right’s complaints are ignorant or insincere,” Hess added. “This predictably frustrates the Right, ramping up populist outrage. And round and round we go.”
Hess targeted Florida’s high-profile debate over AP African-American history classes. Gov. Ron DeSantis’ critique of the AP course earned him a media portrayal as a “scheming, censorious bigot.”
“Yet such attacks ignored inconvenient facts: Florida’s Stop WOKE law requires students to study the civil-rights movement, and DeSantis has repeatedly explained that he objected not to the subject matter but to units such as ‘Black Queer Studies’ and ‘The Reparations Movement,’” Hess wrote. “Whatever one thinks of these contemporary and controversial topics, questioning their inclusion in high-school curricula is hardly evidence of hostility to ‘fact-based history’ or a desire to ‘silence Black voices.’ The major-media coverage, though, echoed progressive hyperbole while providing no sense that conservatives might have sincere concerns or good-faith objections.”
Sponsors of H.B. 324 likely understood Hess’ point completely. This observer suspects they would support his conclusions.
“When it comes to ‘anti-racism’ and CRT, there’s plenty of room for serious people on the left and the right to embrace inclusive, robust history while rejecting toxic dogmas,” Hess wrote. “But in elevating extreme claims on the left and fueling frustration on the right, the nation’s agenda-setting media have made it far tougher to find such agreement.”
Would-be reformers must keep the challenge of incomplete, biased reporting in mind as they approach similar legislative fights in the future.
Mitch Kokai is senior political analyst for the John Locke Foundation.