With support from the University of Richmond

History News Network

History News Network puts current events into historical perspective. Subscribe to our newsletter for new perspectives on the ways history continues to resonate in the present. Explore our archive of thousands of original op-eds and curated stories from around the web. Join us to learn more about the past, now.

The Social Justice Purge at Idaho Colleges

Last month, I wrote that right-wing legislatures trying to ban critical race theory from public schools and institutions were a far more direct threat to free speech than what’s often called cancel culture.

Some opponents of critical race theory responded that these bans aren’t meant to prohibit teaching about critical race theory; that they are, rather, meant to protect individuals, especially children, from coerced speech and indoctrination.

“C.R.T.’s critics aren’t arguing that no one has the right to talk and write about C.R.T. (particularly among adults on college campuses); they are resisting the implication that C.R.T. is a settled and acceptable dogma,” Christine Rosen wrote in Commentary. “They also take issue with the way this theory is being imposed on schoolchildren, many of whom have been forced to denounce immutable parts of themselves, such as their skin color and sex, in C.R.T. struggle sessions.”

I’m willing to concede at least part of what Rosen is saying. I don’t like struggle sessions; I think critical race theory as it developed in the academy is intellectually rich, but some of the ways it’s been adapted by workplace diversity trainers and education consultants seem risible. Rosen referred to a Nevada lawsuit by a Black woman who accused a charter school of making life miserable for her mixed-race son because he rejected certain ideas about privilege and oppression; if the details in it are true, he was seriously mistreated.

The right-wing caricature of progressive public schools as pampered re-education camps is extremely far from my own family’s experience, but if any kids are being bullied and shamed for refusing to espouse social justice principles, even principles I agree with, that’s wrong.

However, the claim that the right’s war on critical race theory doesn’t threaten academic freedom is also wrong. Consider what just happened in Idaho, where last week Boise State University suspended dozens of classes, online and in person, dealing with different aspects of diversity. This week, they were reinstated, but online only and “asynchronously,” without any live discussions.

These suspensions happened the day before the Idaho State Senate voted to cut $409,000 from the school’s budget, an amount meant to reflect what Boise State spends on social justice programs. The budget bill also banned state colleges and universities from using any appropriated funds to “support social justice ideology student activities, clubs, events and organizations on campus,” and requires schools to report all social justice spending to the Legislature. The Idaho Statesman quoted one lawmaker saying of schools, “They’re going to get the message.”

Read entire article at New York Times