OPINION: Critical race theory battle drags the Irish into it

Before a Cobb County of Education board meeting begins, Sandra Davis, a Cobb County media specialist, from left, and Janet Arnold Savage, center, debate with Leroy Emkin, right, a Cobb resident who has 3 children that went through the Georgia public education system.  Teachers, parents and local residents gather to voice their opinions on critical race theory and what Cobb County teaching and the reviews initiated by the school board Thursday, June 10, 2021.  (Jenni Girtman for The Atlanta Journal Constitution)

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Before a Cobb County of Education board meeting begins, Sandra Davis, a Cobb County media specialist, from left, and Janet Arnold Savage, center, debate with Leroy Emkin, right, a Cobb resident who has 3 children that went through the Georgia public education system. Teachers, parents and local residents gather to voice their opinions on critical race theory and what Cobb County teaching and the reviews initiated by the school board Thursday, June 10, 2021. (Jenni Girtman for The Atlanta Journal Constitution)

So, I watched a legislative committee hearing last week concerning the heated issue of critical race theory and came to learn the Scots and the Irish might have had it nearly as bad as African Americans in slavery.

Now, my mother’s from Ireland and I know the Irish have endured lots of woe and travail through the centuries — and they don’t mind telling you about it. You ever listen to their music?

State Rep. Will Wade, a freshman GOP legislator from Dawsonville, is sponsoring a bill that would end “divisive” teaching. It’s this year’s red-meat issue that would get teachers thinking twice before going too lefty in their classrooms.

Wade was getting some pushback from Dems during an education committee hearing when he tried to explain history, as he saw it: “There are people in North Georgia who are descendants of folks who moved here from Ireland or Scotland or England and left because the threat of debtor’s prison. They never owned slaves; they worked, honestly, in very similar conditions that many folks in South Georgia lived in, who were slaves.”

He then added there were differences “and that’s important for a historical reference. But it does not mean that just because you’re a descendant of a white person, you should be automatically viewed as racist.”

Granted, the Irish had it bad. There was the 800 years of British subjugation, the indentured servitude and the potato famine that killed a million and forced another million to flee their homeland (even as other crops were being exported). There’s also the ubiquitous “No Irish Need Apply” signs in the U.S. during the 1800s.

I get it, Rep. Wade, is playing a bit of the victim card because these days victimhood is currency for whatever an aggrieved group is advocating. It was also an attempt to bond with a sense of shared hardship. We all like to think we’ve had it tough and have prevailed through grit, hard work and an admirable spirit.

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220209-Atlanta-Rep. Doreen Carter (D-Lithonia), who opposes HB 1084, talks with the bill’s sponsor Rep. Will Wade (R-Dawsonville) following a House education subcommittee hearing on the bill Wednesday, Feb. 9, 2022. Ben Gray for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Credit: Ben Gray

220209-Atlanta-Rep. Doreen Carter (D-Lithonia), who opposes HB 1084, talks with the bill’s sponsor Rep. Will Wade (R-Dawsonville) following a House education subcommittee hearing on the bill Wednesday, Feb. 9, 2022. Ben Gray for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Credit: Ben Gray

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220209-Atlanta-Rep. Doreen Carter (D-Lithonia), who opposes HB 1084, talks with the bill’s sponsor Rep. Will Wade (R-Dawsonville) following a House education subcommittee hearing on the bill Wednesday, Feb. 9, 2022. Ben Gray for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Credit: Ben Gray

Credit: Ben Gray

But if Wade was a middle-school teacher, his bill might get him reported to school authorities for bending historical accuracy and leading his young charges astray. The Irish and Scots had it rough, but they weren’t chattel slaves who were bought and sold or had their backs ripped to shreds if they acted up. And their whiteness eventually carried the day to success in American life.

Wade’s bill says schools “shall not act upon, promote, or encourage divisive concepts” or engage in racial “scapegoating” and that teachers or administrators peddling such concepts might find themselves in a heap of trouble with the state’s thought police.

What is “divisive?” Well, Wade lays out nine examples, including teaching that “one race is inherently superior,” that the USA “is fundamentally racist,” that a person “by virtue of his or her race, bears responsibility for actions committed in the past by other individuals of the same race” or that a person “should feel discomfort, guilt, anguish, or any other form of psychological distress because of his or her race.”

That all sounds, at first blush, reasonable. Who wants a teacher showing the class a photo of a lynching and the teacher pointing to the pale kid in the front row and saying, “Johnny, people who look like you did this to another human being a long time ago, so you ought to be ashamed of yourself?” No one in their right mind wants that.

And that’s not really happening anywhere. At least not so blatantly.

But the intent is more insidious. Wade’s legislation, House Bill 1084, is one of the GOP’s responses to the foreseen scourge that is critical race theory, an academic treatise that says white supremacy is baked into all aspects of our existence, be it social life or in legal, business and political frameworks. It’s a best-seller for the GOP this election year.

If the bill is passed, and it most certainly will be, parents can report a teacher who they believe is going too far in his or her America-bashing. Teachers, already under fire and worn out from the pandemic, will self-edit and homogenize lesson plans. Add that to the patriotic-sounding “parent bill of rights,” legislation that would give parents the right to demand and review all curriculum and entire classes could be held hostage by those wanting to score political, religious or social points.

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210520-Canton-Ron Tripodo, center, yells at the Cherokee County School Board after they passed a resolution to ban teaching Critical Race Theory and then adjourned the meeting Thursday night, May 20, 2021 Tripodo was upset that the language in the resolution was ambiguous and didn’t really do anything. Ben Gray for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Credit: Ben Gray

210520-Canton-Ron Tripodo, center, yells at the Cherokee County School Board after they passed a resolution to ban teaching Critical Race Theory and then adjourned the meeting Thursday night, May 20, 2021 Tripodo was upset that the language in the resolution was ambiguous and didn’t really do anything. Ben Gray for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Credit: Ben Gray

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210520-Canton-Ron Tripodo, center, yells at the Cherokee County School Board after they passed a resolution to ban teaching Critical Race Theory and then adjourned the meeting Thursday night, May 20, 2021 Tripodo was upset that the language in the resolution was ambiguous and didn’t really do anything. Ben Gray for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Credit: Ben Gray

Credit: Ben Gray

My guess is kids will hear more about George Washington telling on himself for chopping down that cherry tree than the paradox that the Father of our Country, the face of freedom, was a slave master.

Rep. Ed Setzler, a Republican from Cobb County, came to Wade’s defense by quoting the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., whose selective quotes have been a favorite of the GOP this session. Setzler noted that a constituent debated him on the election trail, telling him America is “fundamentally flawed” and “at its root is wicked.”

“The question is, is America a monolithic nation of exploitation? Or is it one where we’re trying to have everyone catch up and achieve our ideals?” he asked. “That’s the battle here. There’s a real fight here.

“Do we have a right as a public school system to teach that? I don’t believe we do.”

He wants American history to be an uplifting exercise, not a prosecutorial indictment.

It doesn’t have to be either.

But you don’t do well muzzling teachers.

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