The Idaho Legislature became a theater of the absurd this week when its members returned from a hiatus intended to halt COVID-19 in the mostly mask-free session. Unfortunately, the hiatus did nothing to stop the whackadoodle notions and motions coming out of the House this year.
It quickly rejected a $1.1 billion budget for the state’s share of teachers’ salaries in grades K-12. Opponents enlisted a “critical race theory” bogeyman and bludgeoned the budget, which failed in a tie vote.
Chances are good that most Idahoans haven’t discussed critical race theory over the dinner table—or ever.
Chances are also good that Idaho teachers haven’t pondered nuances of critical race theory, if they even know what it is. Most were too busy during the pandemic moving instruction from the classroom to the computer screen and trying to keep students from drowning in what some educators fear is a lost year of education.
Chances are high that the representatives who denounced critical race theory as part of any school curriculum cannot define the concept.
Even the best scholars know that defining critical race theory is a Jell-O-nailing proposition that brings broad swaths of history, law and sociology together to try to explain racial inequality in our society.
What the representatives did do, however, is parrot words spoken by former President Donald Trump. He called the theory dangerous and Marxist, and baselessly alleged that it has permeated every school in the nation.
They repeated the statements of a spokesperson for a right-wing libertarian group who demanded that the state refuse to fund teachers unless schools prohibit teacher training based on the theory.
The demand is absurd because it’s impossible to prohibit what cannot be defined. It would be laughable if the consequences—withholding money from already poorly funded public schools—weren’t so serious.
Unless a training program is labeled as being based on critical race theory, how would it be recognized? Would individual schools lose funding if someone merely accused them of such training? Who would determine if schools had transgressed?
Good old U.S. Sen. Joseph McCarthy, whose search for communists masquerading as actors, writers and public officials in the 1950s needlessly ruined careers and lives, would be proud of Idaho’s House.
It set up a perfect straw man and knocked the stuffing out of it. It used unfounded fears as an excuse to beat up educators and local school boards.
Alas, this is the House Idahoans elected. Idaho is getting the whackadoodle government for which it voted.
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