Clay Wirestone: Following anti-CRT wins, expect dangerous hogwash in 2022 Kansas elections (Column)

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Note: The Lawrence Times runs opinion columns written by community members with varying perspectives on local issues. Occasionally, we’ll also pick up columns from other nearby news outlets. These pieces do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the Times staff.

Here’s my election forecast for next year: More hate and nonsense.

Usually I wouldn’t feel quite so bold in making such a prediction, but the Republican Study Committee, a batch of conservative U.S. House members, put out a remarkable memo the evening of Election Day that shows where we’re headed. Chairman Jim Banks, R-Indiana, outlines messaging and policy prescriptions based on a GOP victory in the Virginia gubernatorial race.

If you want to know what’s coming, read the memo. In short, every single debunked bit of irrational absurdity we’ve heard over the last few months — in Kansas and nationwide — will be repeated ad nauseam.

Targeting transgender students. That’s literally the first item on Banks’ list of policy prescriptions. Although he puts it euphemistically as “Rescind President Biden’s harmful Title IX guidance that hurts girls dreams to achieve excellence in sports.”

Weakening public schools by supporting private ones under the guise of parental choice. You can always call it “school freedom,” I suppose.

Highlighting nonexistent critical race theory in schools. We’ve hit a gusher here, folks. No fewer than four of Banks’ bullet points target that phantom problem. Don’t worry, we’ll come back to CRT in a moment.

Ending lifesaving COVID-19 mandates. You bet your bottom dollar that’s in the memo. Banks emphasizes that schools shouldn’t offer remote learning, but also shouldn’t mandate masks or vaccines. Apparently just getting COVID-19 is the answer.

I could go on. But these four highlights show how nationalized elections have become. Banks drew his lessons from a statewide Virginia race, but these issues have reverberated in local Kansas races, too. The odious 1776 Project PAC, which supports similar messaging, saw seven of its 10 supported candidates win in Kansas.

The memo’s overriding theme, in Banks’ words, is that “Republicans can and must become the party of parents.”

Talk about nonsense. None of the bullet points above has anything to do with supporting parents or their children in schools. Indeed, all of them would actively weaken students’ educational experiences. All of them will lead to more hatred, more despair and more young people deciding to leave Kansas for more welcoming climes.

This brings us back, as promised, to critical race theory. You will hear about all the issues mentioned time and again in the months to come, but you will no doubt hear about CRT the most. It’s become a bogeyman, a potential way to silence educators and a dog whistle for the willingly ignorant.

While CRT is an academic field of study that has never been — and will never be — taught in K-12 schools, conservatives have made the term synonymous with any talk of racial disparities or grappling with our country’s racist past. Some of these new school board members are no doubt ready to ferret out any lesson plan or program dealing with race. Administrators and teachers will be called to account for acknowledging reality.

That threatens honest instruction about history.

That threatens efforts to ensure every student receives a great education.

That threatens our state and country’s ideals.

All of it, however, has been extremely effective politically. Proposals like Banks’ require a robust response from those who care about racial equity. Throughout the next year, public officials and candidates should both acknowledge parents’ concerns while making clear that ignoring disparities does not eliminate them.

Our country has been through the wringer since March of 2020. We’ve seen 750,000 Americans die of COVID-19. Schools have shut down, gone hybrid, reopened and added mask mandates. We’ve seen unprecedented political turmoil. No wonder folks feel exhausted and angry.

The Republican Study Committee memo shows that one party has managed to — against all logic and actual history — paint the other party as solely responsible for that exhaustion and anger. Banks doesn’t talk about the lifesaving breakthrough of the mRNA vaccines or this year’s American Rescue Plan. He doesn’t talk about an expanding economy. Instead, his memo embraces the gloomy emotions that so many have felt and channels them toward a refreshing hatred of fabricated liberal positions.

That’s a potent strategy, especially in conservative Kansas. You’ll hear a lot more of it in the months to come.

Kansas Reflector is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Kansas Reflector maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Sherman Smith for questions: Follow Kansas Reflector on Facebook and Twitter.

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