Across the country, a right-wing assault is taking place against education under the guise of a campaign against “Critical Race Theory”. In Georgia, educators, students, and parents took a stand against this assault on February 12.

by John Joseph

Currently, there are four major classroom censorship bills before the Georgia state House and Senate, these are SB 375, SB 377, HB 888, and HB 1084. While “critical race theory” originally referred to a specific academic lens of analysis, the conservatives rallying against it have repurposed the label to cover any and all honest examinations of the US’s racist history in the classroom. These bills target both K-12 education as well as the states University System of Georgia (including the University of Georgia, Georgia Institute of Technology, and Georgia State University, internationally recognized research universities). While several consequences are discussed in the bills, possibly the most egregious is HB 888 which would punish districts found to be in violation of the bill by revoking 20% of their state funding.

In response to these bills and the threat they pose to educators, a coalition initiated by Georgia Educators for Equity and Justice and including the Gwinnett County NAACP, Alliance for Black Lives, Working Families Party, United Campus Workers of Georgia, Georgia Youth Justice Coalition, and the Georgia Latino Alliance for Human Rights, amongst others, staged an initial protest with speakers on the Capitol steps and a picket of the Capitol. Speakers emphasized the need for students to learn all aspects of Georgia and America’s history in order to become engaged and educated members of society capable of righting wrongs and building a better society.

Aireane is a black educator in Gwinnett County, one of the co-founders of Gwinnett Educators for Equity and Justice, and the current President of Georgia Educators for Equity and Justice. She has experience fighting to win exactly the kind of curriculum this legislation seeks to attack, having successfully led a campaign to add Ethnic Studies programming to the Gwinnett County curriculum. A native of Gwinnett County, she was one of the initial speakers before the picket and spoke passionately about the need for various community groups representing the interests of Georgia’s black, Latino, Asian, and immigrant communities to work in coalition together to help each other, both in their individual struggles, as well as on issues where their interests overlap. She focused on the need for culturally responsive education, and how this relates to teaching the truth of all of her students’ histories and learning from them herself.

Leading the event was Georgia Educators for Equity and Justice Vice President, Anthony. In an interview after the event, he argued that this attack is marketed as a response to white students supposedly feeling attacked in the classroom. He emphasized that this is a fake problem that doesn’t exist, and as the history of Georgia teaches us, white supremacy will stop at nothing to fabricate fodder for racial outrage. The 1906 Atlanta Race Riot being largely incited by false reports of black men assaulting white women in local newspapers. Anthony argues that because this bill targets teachers who discuss race in the classroom and emphasize black history in the curriculum that it thus necessarily targets primarily educators of color and majority-minority classrooms.

It’s important, however, that this not be viewed purely as a defensive struggle. There is a positive vision of public education which educators and students in Georgia have been and continue to fight for. And it’s the continuation of a long struggle with its roots in the immediate aftermath of emancipation. Anthony says, this is a struggle for teacher-and-student-centered schools under local control. He notes that while the focus of the event was the four bills mentioned previously, there is another pernicious bill under consideration, SB 369, which would mandate that Gwinnett County Board of Education elections be non-partisan. Anthony and others who were involved in the campaign for the Ethnic Studies curriculum in Gwinnett County see this as an attack on that local control by Republicans upset at their loss of control over the major metro county, one which a decade ago sent arch-conservatives to the state House, but which now sends black Democrats following years of demographic change in the area.

Georgia Republicans have a history of such laws which interfere in the local administration of cities and counties, just one example being a law which banned municipalities and counties from independently raising the minimum wage. The need for local control, and more importantly for black community control of its own institutions is a centuries long struggle which began in the aspirations of freedman as they took their very first breaths of emancipation. In Eric Foner’s classic work, Reconstruction: America’s Unfinished Revolution, he describes the effort to construct independent black institutions in all aspects of life. For instance, he highlights the massive shift of black parishioners from denominations dominated by whites to their own independent church polities. Most relevant to our discussion, he relates the massive independent initiative of school-building. Black communities set up educational societies, voluntarily taxed themselves, donated their skilled labor for construction, and even on occasion required the provision of a schoolhouse for workers children in labor contracts with former masters.

As revolutionaries, we proudly echo the historic demand voiced by the Socialist Workers Party: black control of black communities! We stand shoulder to shoulder with educators, students, and parents in Georgia and across the country fighting back against racist attacks on public education. We demand; community control of community schools! Democratic schools run by teachers and students! Expose America’s racist past! Organize and fight its racist present! For the right to strike for teachers and all workers!