When you are trying to deceive people, it is important that you control the messages they receive from others. Republicans have been playing that game for years with Fox News and other right-wing media outlets selling Americans on fictitious lies as in the 2020 election was stolen (it wasn’t), that white Americans are being pushed aside by immigrants and minorities who are stealing their jobs (they are not), that vaccines are being used to control people (not true), and so on. Any factual information by teachers, doctors, or other professionals is considered “fake news.” In fact, the GOP message is that those other sources of information are not to be trusted.
Consider how easily Republicans sold the idea to their supporters that COVID wasn’t a significant threat even as thousands of their followers were dying every day from the infection. Pretty extraordinary. But it does take a coordinated effort. First, control the message. Then, hide any evidence of past experiences demonstrating the fallacy of your message. Thus, criticize doctors and Sesame Street for talking about the effectiveness of vaccinations as “indoctrination.” Also, it doesn’t hurt to sell the idea that hospitals are making up those numbers to make money.
In summary, control the message, build distrust in professionals with the correct information, and hide previous evidence related to that message. You can do this, for example, if you control school curriculum, especially history curriculum. The strategy is predictable and simple. Find something scary supposedly taught in the schools (critical race theory, equality, sex education) and then stage a curriculum takeover to “protect” our children from “grooming” by those liberal teachers. Frame it all as “parent rights” even though parents already control school boards and school boards control curriculum.
In Texas and Florida, Republican leaders are telling teachers not to talk about slavery, racism and past social discrimination that might upset their white children. In Tennessee, a Moms for Liberty group wants to ban books about Martin Luther King Jr. and the Brown v. Board of Education Supreme Court case because, according to them, topics like that teach students to “hate their country, each other, and/or themselves.” In Wisconsin, Republicans are pushing laws that forbid teachers from talking about topics such as “racial prejudice,” or “racial justice.”
After all, if children learn about the failures and dismal outcomes of past racism and discrimination (see Holocaust curriculum), that makes it harder to discriminate against minorities and gay people today. You know what Winston Churchill said: “Those that fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it.”
Republicans are taking a chapter right out of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s playbook. As outlined in several media outlets recently, Putin has also begun to take greater control of his nation’s schools and curriculum, especially as it relates to information about Russia’s takeover of Crimea and its invasion of Ukraine. Of course, teachers are not allowed to use words like “takeover” or “invasion.” That’s all fake news, according to Putin, and he doesn’t want Russian students to hear about fake news, unless, of course, it is his fake news.
Like the Republicans in America, Putin in Russia talks a lot about “traditional values.” Indeed, Putin wants to make Russia great again. As in American society, this is bad news for women, minorities, and LGBTQ folks whose traditional place in society has been, shall we say, restrictive. In many Republican-controlled states, we can see many of those restrictions returning in the name of “traditional values.”
As stated by Anton Troianovski, writing for the New York Times, the nationwide education initiatives in Russia “are part of the government’s scramble to indoctrinate children with Mr. Putin’s militarized and anti-Western version of patriotism, illustrating the reach of his campaign to use the war to further mobilize Russian society and eliminate any potential dissent.”
New laws in Russia require teachers to teach about “the rebirth of Russia,” the “reunification with Crimea,” and “the special military operation in Ukraine,” with an emphasis on learning to “defend historical truth” and how to “uncover falsifications in the Fatherland’s history.”
Back here in America, Republicans are also trying to rewrite history, especially when it comes to slavery or the historic treatment of minorities. Frequently, they simply want teachers to ignore these topics altogether, often under the guise of fighting critical race theory, which most Republicans could not define if their life depended on it.
Republicans have never been fans of public schools, but have been very supportive of private schools, especially religious ones. Currently, Republicans are fighting an effort by the Biden administration to make pre-K education available to all children, which would be good for our nation’s children and good for their working parents. Research show that kids with pre-K experiences complete high school and graduate college at higher rates than their peers without pre-K experience. But if you don’t want kids to attend college and become informed citizens in the first place, that’s not a problem.
As stated by Amanda Marcotte of Solon, educated children develop critical thinking skills which “inoculate people against joining QAnon or listening to Tucker Carlson, so it’s no surprise Republicans are opposed to it.”
Tom Zirpoli is the Laurence J. Adams Distinguished Chair in Special Education Emeritus at McDaniel College. He writes from Westminster. His column appears Wednesdays. Email him at email@example.com.