Legislators were lying when they said their cancel culture legislation to prevent discussion of certain racial issues would not affect public schools.

The legislation is another piece of work from Sen. Trent “Death March” Garner, but it enjoyed broad support. The bill bars instruments of the state from teaching, instructing or training about “divisive” racial concepts.

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A divisive racial concept includes this definition: “Any individual should feel discomfort, guilt, anguish, or any other form of psychological distress on account of his or her race or sex.”

As I’ve said before, it’s hard to undertake a full reading of American history without the occasional twinge of discomfort about awful things done in the name of race, gender, religion and other classifications. Just today, see the front-page New York Times story about the boarding schools set up for Native Americans to “civilize the savages.” Legislators prefer that these things not be talked about.

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But back to the lying. Garner’s legislation specifically exempted public schools and higher education from the definition of those covered by the law. But the state Education Department was NOT exempted and I predicted from the start that this would be the tent where the legislative camel would stick its nose. A legislative committee proved me right yesterday.

Michael Wickline and Rachel Herzog provided the account in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.

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It details how the scam works.

A legislative review committee held up approval of contracts for work at Arkansas Tech in Russellville for reasons wholly unrelated to the contracts, including a remodeling project.

Afterward, state Rep. Fran Cavenaugh, R-Walnut Ridge, said she proposed delaying action on two of the proposals because some lawmakers have questions about the curriculum of the Arkansas Governor’s School and who is in control of the school, held at Arkansas Tech.

The legislature has, since its creation, tried to limit what’s taught at the residential summer program for brainy students begun in 1980 during Bill Clinton’s time as governor. (Disclosure: My mother-in-law, a supervisor in the Education Department, was instrumental in founding of the school.) It’s like when Sen. Alan Clark said kids in his district weren’t troublesome on issues like racial discrimination until they went to college and University of Arkansas professors put ideas in their heads. Education is a dangerous thing and the less kids get of it, the better legislators like it.

And what is being taught up at Tech, which won the state contract to host Governor’s School from Hendrix College a couple of years ago and recently was approved to continue to host it through 2024? It was supplemental (and optional) reading about “white privilege.”

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Arkansas Tech spokesman Sam Strasner said Monday night that the paper in question is titled, “White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack,” and was written in 1988 by Peggy McIntosh.

The paper was included as optional classroom material for this summer’s Governor’s School because of its position as a topical origin document concerning a contemporary issue, he said in a written statement.

Governor’s School co-directors and faculty have been in review of and responsive to the concerns expressed, Strasner said.

As a balance point to the McIntosh article, an additional optional classroom material titled, “The Perils of Associating ‘White’ with ‘Privilege’ in the Classroom,” by Ritika Goel, was also made available to students to ensure that multiple viewpoints were available for possible classroom use, he said.

“Like many other topics at AGS and at governor’s schools around the country, these optional classroom materials were made available as a means of helping students develop the capacity to formulate their own points of view and engage in civil discourse,” Strasner wrote.

That sounds reasonable to me. But, the D-G reported, lawmakers don’t think so. 33 representatives and 10 senators signed identical letters to Education Czar Johnny Key.

They asked in their letters that the Department of Education halt “prejudiced rhetoric and teaching of radical theories immediately” and find alternate instruction.

“We believe that the teaching of racist or hateful theory through the spending of taxpayer dollars is a disservice to our students and a misuse of the public trust,” they wrote. “We cannot allow or encourage further division based on factors such as race, gender, or socioeconomic background” in a time of increased political polarity.

Disparities in race, gender and economic circumstance can’t be discussed in Arkansas schools? Welcome to Cancelcultureland.

Key’s response didn’t exactly encourage confidence in academic freedom or how the department will react when legislators raise an issue about teaching in schools around the state, be it “The Color Purple” or “To Kill a Mockingbird.” And you know they will.

The D-G quotes from Key’s letter, which passes the buck by saying Arkansas Tech is in charge of curriculum, not the department. But he opens the door wide to legislative meddling.

“Without explicit authority granted by the General Assembly to oversee curriculum of Arkansas Governor’s School, I would be hesitant to demand Arkansas Tech make immediate changes in the curriculum out of concern for possible executive branch overreach,” Key wrote.

He added that the department “does not support the teachings of topics that purport to indoctrinate students in racist or hateful theories and other concepts that are subversive to the best ideals of our nation,” and that he looked forward to working with Hammer to make regulatory or statutory changes to ensure the Governor’s School provides a positive experience for students.

Again: Teaching history and human nature is not indoctrination. Yes, it might cause an open-minded person to ponder how some people enjoy more privileges than others (without even realizing it) by virtue of skin color, gender, lack of disability, religion and more. It’s called education.

I have been down the Governor’s School road many times before. See 2018 when the Religious Right began another one of its jihads against the godless Governor’s School, a crusade dating back to its founding. This was always a rich irony to me because my mother-in-law was the prototypical church lady, in a pew every Sunday, accompanied by her grandchildren if not always her son-in-law. Of course, as Mike Huckabee once told me, being a Presbyterian isn’t really the same thing as being religious. Maybe he was joking.

But let’s have some academic inquiry. Decide for yourself if McIntosh’s work is racist, hateful or attempts to indoctrinate. It comes from the Wellesley Centers for Women. (Strike two on me. My wife went to Wellesley College. Strike three. So did Hillary.)

You’ll see how  McIntosh begins with gender and “men’s unwillingness to grant that they are over-privileged.” (Before you argue, compare the gender breakdown of school superintendents versus the gender breakdown of classroom teachers.)
She continues:

I think whites are carefully taught not to recognize white privilege, as males are taught not to recognize male privilege. So I have begun in an untutored way to ask what it is like to have white privilege. I have come to see white privilege as an invisible package of unearned assets that I can count on cashing in each day, but about which I was “meant” to remain oblivious. White privilege is like an invisible weightless knapsack of special provisions, maps, passports, codebooks, visas, clothes, tools and blank checks.

She goes on to compile a long list of circumstances in which she thinks African-Americans might not feel as she does about conditions she describes. I encourage you to read them all, but here are a few examples:

If I should need to move, I can be pretty sure of renting or purchasing housing in an area which I can afford and in which I would want to live.

I can go shopping alone most of the time, pretty well assured that I will not be followed or harassed.

I can swear, or dress in secondhand clothes, or not answer letters, without having people attribute these choices to the bad morals, the poverty, or the illiteracy of my race.

I am never asked to speak for all the people of my racial group.

Food for thought. Education, in a word.

Though state support of the program at Hendrix was continually under fire — and Hendrix leaders responded in various ways to accommodate critics, including hiring one of them, Republican legislator Dan Greenberg, as a faculty member — it was better situated to withstand state pressure than a state institution, as yesterday’s committee meeting illustrated.

If curriculum changes are required for Tech to conduct other normal college business, Tech ought to give it up. If a summer session for bright high school students must be conducted in a manner acceptable to Missionary Baptist preacher Kim Hammer, lead signatory of the Senate letter, there’s no point having it.

The legislators were liars when they said the “divisive concepts” legislation doesn’t apply to schools. Give them one inch of censorship at Governor’s School and they’ll take a mile at every school district in Arkansas.  It’s the bully privilege.

One fond memory from a different time: Gov. Jim Guy Tucker sent Bob Taylor, a tough, very conservative businessman and former CEO of Arkansas Blue Cross up to review Governor’s School after one of the religious flareups over course content. It was in 1993, I think. Taylor returned with a thorough not-guilty verdict. That was good enough for Tucker, who was no pushover either. You don’t see their kind of backbone often at the Capitol today.

More original source material (the signatories are not surprising):

The letter to Key from House members.

The letter to Key from senators.

Johnny Key’s response.

The rules on site selection and curriculum (changed two years ago to focus more on technology and less on intellectual inquiry)