There was a good reason why slaveowners wouldn’t allow the slaves to learn to read; it was because the single biggest threat to the oppressive domination of a slaveowner was a field full of highly educated slaves with a lot of questions about why things were the way they were — and with the ability to formulate well-informed plans to change those conditions. The last thing Massuh needed were inquisitive slaves who were more informed about the news of the day and the law than he was. All Massuh wanted was a docile herd of dark-skinned humans to shut up and pick cotton.
Considering the fact that there were still a number of rebellions led by enslaved people (Harriet Tubman, Nat Turner), and that some still figured a way to learn how to read and write, it’s obvious that the fervent white wish for a docile slave population never completely took hold. The all-too-human desire for freedom – and freedom from oppression — is a powerful thing. But imagine what that desire might have looked like — how it may have manifested — if all those slaves had been educated. An absurd premise, sure. Almost scifi.
But just imagine.
So that was a few hundred years ago. Today, slavery is gone, but the fear of a fully-educated population endures. Only now it isn’t just the fear of dark-skinned people with history books in their hands. Perhaps the greater fear is a thoroughly educated population of white youngsters, eyes wide open to the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth about the country in which they live. Thanks to the exaggerated influence of the Republican far-right wing over a surprisingly large segment of our educational system, we now appear to be entering an era where education is considered the enemy of the people and of the dawning order. Only submissive indoctrination will do. Kind of like life on the plantation.
In April, I wrote about how the MAGA Republicans in charge of the U.S. House of Representatives had passed a “Parents’ Rights” bill that would give parents complete authority over what is taught in schools and which books and other media are appropriate. The bill, introduced by Louisiana Republican Representative Julia Letlow, required schools to notify parents that they have the right to review the curriculum and school budget, inspect books and other library materials, and prevent students in grades 5-8 from using their preferred pronouns or gender identity.
Obviously this bill — which did not pass the Senate — was designed for the benefit of fully indoctrinated parents, not those educated enough to question dangerous absurdities and think for themselves. This perversion of "education" has caused many teachers in both Florida and Texas to resign in droves.
But it hasn’t slowed the march toward educational indoctrination. According to a recent story in The New York Times, the public school libraries in the Houston Public School District were closed near the end of July and converted into discipline centers where troublesome kids will be sent, exiled from the classroom to an offsite location to resume their lessons remotely until they get their minds right and can be returned to the general student population. Not surprisingly, the overwhelming majority of these 187,000 youngsters are Black and Hispanic. This new dawn in education was introduced to Houston courtesy of Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, the same guy who is being sued by the United States Justice Department for installing illegal — and wildly inhuman — barriers at the border to prevent illegal immigration (of dark-skinned people), including huge buoys and barbed wire.
The image of libraries being retrofitted as sites of punishment and reform instead of maintaining their intended purpose to educate and enlighten should be terrifying to anyone with a pulse. And the fact that this is being done in schools where most of the kids are not white should serve as a clear indication of where we’re headed if this train isn’t derailed and soon.
But it doesn’t stop there. The Supreme Court of Arkansas in May put a hold on a law recently signed by Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders — part of a proposed overhaul of education in her state — that would put teachers and librarians in jail if they did not eliminate or remove books deemed "offensive" by a group of conservative activists. The law was suspended by Pulaski County Circuit Judge Herbert Wright. One month later, the Arkansas Supreme Court lifted the judge’s suspension, clearing the way for Huckabee to pervert children’s education in her state.
And right here in Michigan the push toward de-education is alive and well, because we most certainly are not immune. This year was supposed to mark the opening of The Hill Pointe School in Grosse Pointe, a charter school backed by ultra-conservative Hillsdale College, located in Hillsdale, Mich. Although the opening of the Hill Pointe School appears to have been put on ice until at least 2024 or 2025, due to their inability to find a suitable location to twist young minds, Hillsdale College continues to blaze a path nationwide as it makes headway establishing satellite institutions elsewhere across the country to spread its gospel.
Similarly, Moms For Liberty, another misnomer rightwing front with a mission to muzzle education, has been active with its 12 chapters located throughout Michigan and has reportedly been making inroads in Grosse Pointe. According to a story in the Michigan Advance, “of the 63 Moms for Liberty-endorsed candidates across the state with reported results, 31 candidates won and 32 lost” in the November, 2022 election. Which means despite the progressive tilt across the top of the Michigan ticket that caught national attention, the less-noticed local school board races much closer to ground level remain, in many cases, seized by right-wing and MAGA control.
So sure, maybe it’s too late to stop the children from learning how to read. But by controlling access to what they read and how they read, it appears the Republican right wing believes it’s never too late to prevent the kids from actually learning anything at all.
Keith A. Owens is a local writer and co-founder of Detroit Stories Quarterly and the We Are Speaking Substack newsletter and podcast. Contact the Free Press opinion page: freep.com/letters
This article originally appeared on Detroit Free Press: MAGA Republican legislation shows fear of woke white kids | Opinion