OPINION | JOHN BRUMMETT: Speaking of divisive … – Arkansas Online

“You have asked me a question that could be interpreted by some as a ‘divisive concept.’ State law forbids me from educating you on anything that might be considered such. It authorizes a financial penalty if I am found to have done so.
“Therefore, I am prevented by law from providing education on the subject of your question. If anything you happened to read in your textbook prompted you to ask that question, I will at this point ask everyone to hand their textbooks forward for confiscation for review. The books may or may not be handed back after that review.
“Let us now proceed as if that question was not asked and with whatever we might be able to do instructively absent textbooks or any divisive concepts. How about: Wooo pig, sooie. How ’bout those Hogs?”
That above text is suggested for use if needed, as it might soon be, by the state’s public school teachers, particularly but not exclusively of history.
I propose it for rote response and protection should any public school teacher in Arkansas get asked by a student something such as, “Miss Smith, is it true that our founding fathers put out a Constitution that didn’t stop people from having slaves?” or, “Miss Smith, was the Civil War about slavery?”
A bill was put in Tuesday at the special legislative session by a small passel of extreme conservatives to outlaw the “propagation” of “divisive concepts.”
Schools would be prohibited through the enactment of this bill from imparting anything that might cause anyone to believe or consider that either the United States or Arkansas is inherently racist.
Another provision would prohibit a teacher from causing a person to think–even unconsciously, so says the bill in filed form–that he or she is, by heritage, inherently racist, sexist or oppressive.
The bill says that anyone believing himself to be aggrieved under these provisions–made to feel bad about self or country, that is–may file a claim with the state Claims Commission. If that claim is successful, the bill would send award money to a state scholarship fund for special-needs children after attorneys’ fees and witness fees were taken off the top for reimbursement of the plaintiff.
That’s a sneaky Texas-like thing to limit enforcement to citizen litigants and use proceeds for a good cause.
Among other things, we need to think about whether we ought to make school teachers accountable for the unconscious thoughts of students, meaning those the students don’t know or understand they’re having, but which affect behavior and attitude.
It would provide a bonanza for this scholarship fund if you could identify and prove children’s unconscious thoughts and assign complicity for them to classroom exposure to balanced education.
We know what this bill is about really. It’s this raging right-wing issue of “critical race theory,” which, in actuality, is advanced-level material not taught in elementary or secondary education.
But this bill gets at the real right-wing target, which is basic teaching that might enlighten and provoke thought. This bill would have none of that.
Filed by the usual right-wing suspects–Trent Garner, Bob Ballinger, Jason Rapert, Mark Lowery, et al.–the bill was denied a second reading when the bill calendar was dispensed with by the Senate on opening day Tuesday. It was ruled not germane to Gov. Asa Hutchinson’s special-session agenda, which is the biggest income-tax cut in the state’s history.
That was expected. The bill is not germane to the governor’s agenda, which is the point, since modern-day extremist Republicans think Hutchinson, as a detractor of Donald Trump, is as liberal as the dreaded Ronald Reagan.
That means bringing the bill up will require a two-thirds vote to suspend the rules when the governor’s agenda is completed. All indications so far this week are that such efforts will fail, but you can never relax with these legislators.
Hutchinson opposes any rule suspension for issues other than the income-tax cut and attendant housekeeping measures he proposes. He has said that nothing else being contemplated–such as this measure–addresses an emergency.
He points out correctly that disputes about the propriety of teaching have been and ought to remain the purview of local school boards.
It once was a proud conservative precept that mandates from the big consolidated government were bad, and that local folks ought to be freed to govern themselves.
These modern right-wing extremists hold that the federal government can’t tell Arkansas people to get vaccinated against a killer pandemic but that the state government can muzzle every teacher in every classroom in Arkansas.
Essentially, this combined extremist position declares that America is bad but that Arkansas schools are bad if any kid comes home asking his parents if that’s so.
So, consistency is not on the side of these extremists or this measure. But, more to the contemporary point, rage and resentment are.
John Brummett, whose column appears regularly in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, is a member of the Arkansas Writers’ Hall of Fame. Email him at jbrummett@arkansasonline.com. Read his @johnbrummett Twitter feed.

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