Racial theory and the funding of religious schools are now major battlegrounds for education

The BDN Opinion section operates independently and does not set newsroom policies or contribute to reporting or editing articles elsewhere in the newspaper or on bangordailynews.com.

Gordon L. Weil previously wrote for the Washington Post and other newspapers, was on staff in the US Senate and the EU, headed state agencies in Maine, and was a Harpswell coach.

A man tries to wash his hands using an automatic soap dispenser in a public toilet. No soap.

Her friend has no trouble getting soap from the same dispenser. It works well.

What is happening here? The first man is black and the second is white. The sensor activates the flow of soap by bouncing light off a user’s hands. The black man’s hands absorb too much light to reflect it.

No one in this story is racist, yet the black man does mean second-rate treatment. When the faucet was designed and tested, the skin color issue was overlooked. Although no one knows, the creator may have been white.

This story may illustrate the smoothest possible expression of critical breed theory, which is the subject of controversy these days. Perhaps its worst expression is the George Floyd affair, the public murder of a black man by a white police officer.

Critical breed theory has been described as claiming that “racism is ingrained in the founding of the nation and that systemic racism continues to affect the way people of color are treated at all levels of society.”

The Biden administration’s US Department of Education has proposed that some federal aid to education requires a teaching favorable to this theory. The proposal met with strong opposition from some states.

The the attorneys general of 20 states have asked the federal government to reverse this plan. They claim that the theory “supports an idea based not on facts, but on the idea that the United States is a nation founded on white supremacy, patriarchy and oppression and that these forces are still at the root. Of our society “.

Some people, mostly blacks, feel the harms and danger of racism on a daily basis and feel that others need a better understanding of their lives. Other people do not see themselves as racists or as implicitly white supremacists. These conflicting feelings posed the problem.

The legislatures of some the opposing states have gone to the bloc teaching this theory in their schools. The states that oppose the proposed requirement are all under Republican control and the issue risks becoming partisan.

It would be difficult to find a more difficult or more serious problem in American life. The Department of Education does not claim to be neutral, but would condition the flow of federal funds on teaching a contested interpretation of the facts.

This is what made it a political issue. Republicans may see it as an opportunity to defend traditional American beliefs, based on a set of values ​​that can be widely admired if not backed up by history. For example, “all men are created equal” did not even legally apply to women and blacks until long after the Declaration of Independence.

The federal government seeks to influence classroom instruction by demanding what must be taught and some legislatures want to ban a subject in the same classroom. Both deviate from the concept that parents control their children’s education, within the framework of the law, by acting through local school boards.

This is not the only major case of a historical and political battle over what is taught in school. Another concerns religion.

Historically, many public schools included prayer in daily activities. Public funds earmarked for prayer or the celebration of Christmas have been declared illegal, violating the government’s ban on supporting religion. Politicians accused that there had been a “war on Christmas”.

Schools could still teach religion, including the religious beliefs of the nation’s founders, without teaching religion itself. The Supreme Court ruled that public funds earmarked for specific purposes should go to all schools, public or religious, but not for religious instruction.

Going further, a federal appeals court ruled last week that Vermont couldn’t refuse tuition fees for pupils of religious schools, who can provide religious education. The result could help religious schools, allowing them to remove students from public education. Maine could face a similar situation.

The use of public funds to promote the teaching of critical race theory or to support religious education places the government in a position of great influence over education. The emphasis on race and religion may obscure the impact on education.

What is more, education is increasingly drawn into the current partisan conflict. In seeking to influence education about race or religion, parties may be as concerned with attracting voter support as the quality of education.

The students are in danger. Education is supposed to give them the tools to make up their own minds. If public policy causes schools to direct their thinking to conclusions about which there are great differences of opinion and belief, they can be influenced by whoever controls the government of the day.

Education, financed by the public, must keep the doors of the school open to all ideas and theories, even contested, without taking sides.

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