Last Thursday, by a vote of 11–2, the Georgia Board of Education adopted a resolution that would bar the practice of protest civics (extracurricular political protest and lobbying as required schoolwork), while also preventing Georgia schools from instilling in students the key tenets of critical race theory. This follows passage of a bill by the Texas state legislature the previous week that would bar both protest civics and critical race theory, and the introduction of a similar bill by Ohio state representative Don Jones in late May.
These moves in Georgia, Texas, and Ohio all draw upon the model Partisanship Out of Civics Act (POCA) that I’ve published with the collaboration and endorsement of the National Association of Scholars. What differentiates POCA from other such models is that it takes on both protest civics and critical race theory (CRT). That is important because the various “civics” bills currently being considered in Congress could easily impose leftist indoctrination on the states via protest civics alone. Even if every state in the Union were to bar the core tenets of CRT from K–12, in the absence of a POCA they would nonetheless be vulnerable to federally imposed politicization. Georgia’s move thus signals welcome momentum for the extended protections of the POCA model against federally imposed indoctrination.
Georgia’s move is also the first case in which a board of education, rather than a legislature, has moved against protest civics and CRT. Governor Kemp, to his credit, asked the Board of Education to act, because the Georgia legislature is currently out of session. That is no small matter, since it is entirely possible that one of the dangerous federal bills could pass before the Georgia legislature reconvenes in 2022 and acts to bar protest civics and CRT on its own. A federal grant with strings controlled by bad legislation, combined with Biden’s own pro-CRT priority criteria, could easily force protest civics and CRT on Georgia before its elected representatives have a chance to act. The latest move by the Georgia state Board of Education helps to prevent that, and it’s notable that the Georgia board’s resolution explicitly bars application for federal grants that encourage either protest civics or CRT.
A legislative committee in South Dakota acted recently, issuing a “Letter of Intent” instructing the State Board of Education to refrain from applying for federal grants that would fund either protest civics or CRT until after the legislature has moved to bar those practices in its 2022 session. Georgia and South Dakota are thus pointing the way for other states, most of whose legislatures are now winding down or out of session. Without action by boards of education or legislative committees during formal recess, there is a very real risk that Biden and the Democrats could federalize and politicize America’s schools before the year is out.
An article on the Georgia Board of Education’s latest action in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution conveyed some misconceptions about the resolution by its opponents. The Georgia resolution does not declare that teachers may not make students feel guilty or uncomfortable during discussions of race, a purely subjective standard. On the contrary, the resolution prevents teachers from asserting that students ought to feel guilty simply because of their race, a different and much clearer standard.
Nor are teachers or students prevented from discussing the core concepts of critical race theory. Teachers are prevented only from “inculcating” a belief in concepts like racial superiority or collective guilt. When carrying out their duties, K–12 teachers are rightly obligated by law to convey the approved curriculum. To bar the inculcation of certain concepts is therefore not a violation of a teacher’s freedom of speech. On the contrary, it is well within the scope of discretion by states and school districts to bar teachers from instilling certain concepts.
In significant ways, the Georgia resolution actually protects teachers from compulsion, while also safeguarding the ethos of free exchange. It prevents teachers who do not wish to discuss current controversies from being forced to do so. It also encourages teachers who do wish to explore current public-policy debates to explore them from diverse and contending perspectives. That gives teachers a variety of options, while also protecting students from indoctrination.
It is to be hoped that the Georgia Board of Education’s move will inspire other states to follow suit, administratively, legislatively, or both. Above all, states need to go beyond merely addressing CRT, by including a bar on protest civics as well. (I make the case against protest civics here.) Without taking on both protest civics and CRT, Biden and congressional Democrats could push them on America’s schools through a variety of ill-conceived federal bills and administrative rules within months.