The overhyped and inaccurate storyline of the past week — that Southlake has declared the Holocaust not real — is catnip for those who love to promote the idea that Texas is the most backward place on the planet.
Reduce this controversy to the least possible words: “It’s Texas, so it must be crazy.”
That caricature is increasingly accurate when it comes to the people running the state Legislature. But it hardly applies to all of us.
As a fourth-generation Texan who long ago gave up trying to live elsewhere because it only made me homesick, I’m quite familiar with the crucible of public scorn and ridicule that outsiders love to rain down on our state.
These days that withering criticism is no longer jealousy but justified as Texas leaders put primary victories, not people, first.
This time it’s teachers — the too-often-forgotten front-line workers of the pandemic — who are jammed up by Austin and left stuck in the middle by unnecessary legislation.
That’s the real takeaway from the Southlake story.
Let me first stipulate that this shiny Tarrant County city is an entitled and privileged place that — like many predominantly rich, white enclaves — has a long row to hoe when it comes to diversity and inclusion.
Consider the Carroll Independent School District’s failure to take real action on cultural awareness recommendations put forward after a despicable 2018 video captured its students chanting the N-word.
But this latest controversy is not that. Instead, it’s a kernel of outrage over a remark rooted not in racism but frustration over the impossible corner in which teachers have found themselves trapped.
It’s understandable if you thought otherwise. In the click-bait frenzy that sometimes passes as journalism, too often this news story has been retold without context or perspective.
Actually listen to the conversation, learn the facts and you’ll put the blame where it belongs: on our state lawmakers for creating a scary and vague law — legislation designed to be scary and vague — that makes school districts, their teachers and administrators terrified of their own shadows.
It’s hard to see how House Bill 3979, the so-called critical race theory law, does anything but promote ignorance and dysfunction. Already, it is creating chaos for school districts — leaving many so confused and scared of making the wrong step that teachers are all but paralyzed.
And just like the state’s new tool to effectively ban abortion, HB 3979 hands out free passes to anyone who wants to narc on anyone else. Only this time the target is teachers.
Here’s how I read this new law: “We’re not going to specifically tell you what you can and can’t say or teach. We’re just going to say you better be scared all the time because no matter what you do, you might get in big trouble — even if only one parent complains.”
After all the pandemic-induced difficulties that teachers have persevered through — the many months of keeping children engaged online and now trying to keep them safe in classrooms — HB 3979 is their reward?
The fact that most Texas parents are rational folks who give thanks daily for their children’s teachers only makes this situation all the more outrageous.
With the state-supported open season for fringe folks to watch for any chance to pounce, we have reached a new low in disrespecting educators: Where one blowhard can scare any teacher out of doing what she or he has always done.
That’s the context that’s been lost as folks across the globe have screamed for heads on sticks in Southlake this past week or so.
The controversy began with a secret recording — passed on to NBC News — of a Carroll ISD training session held earlier this month and designed to help teachers navigate HB 3979.
The tape reveals Carroll ISD’s executive director of curriculum and instruction, Gina Peddy, doing her best to reassure teachers caught in what she aptly described as “a political mess.”
“There are a lot of districts that are in the exact same spot we’re in. And no one knows how to navigate these waters,” Peddy said.
After a teacher tells Peddy, “we’re all just terrified,” the administrator pledged that instructors have the district’s full support and encouraged them to “just try to remember the concepts” of the legislation.
Then she stepped in it.
“And make sure that if you have a book on the Holocaust, that you have one that has an opposing, that has other perspectives.”
It’s a no-brainer that invoking the Holocaust in making any point whatsoever is a bad idea. Just don’t do it.
But here’s the rest of the story — and why it’s state lawmakers, not Southlake, and certainly not Peddy, who deserve our outrage.
When a justifiably horrified teacher responded to Peddy, “How do you oppose the Holocaust?” the administrator grimly replied, “Believe me, that’s come up.”
What if there is a Holocaust denier among Carroll ISD’s parents? Now Gov. Greg Abbott and the Legislature have empowered people like her to make life miserable for teachers.
What I took from the recording was that teachers and administrators are in a world of hurt. They are so sufficiently spooked that they don’t know what to teach about anything — not even the Holocaust.
In Peddy’s voice, you can hear the worry and the exasperation over the tight squeeze educators are all in.
Southlake-based state lawmakers can claim ‘til the cows come home that the Holocaust falls outside the bill’s intent, but that won’t stop extremists from contending otherwise.
The angst of “who’s looking over my shoulder?” will too often lead teachers in Southlake — and all across North Texas — to reflexively shy away from critical lessons. “I better not because I might get in trouble” doesn’t sound like an effective teaching strategy, but that’s where we are heading.
For that you can thank those politicians — and their supporters — who have effectively played on folks’ fears in order to equate any reasonable diversity and inclusion effort with the misunderstood term “critical race theory.”
I’ll say it again: Critical race theory is an academic framework that views racism as ingrained in law and other modern institutions — not a curriculum taught in K-12 schools and not some evil plot to make white children feel ashamed of their race and country.
Too many days of late feel like we’re on our way back to the 1950s, when Texas kids were taught dishonest hogwash like “it wasn’t about slavery, it was about states’ rights.” Oh, and stir in a little post-World War II East Germany, whose Stasi bribed citizens to rat out their neighbors.
The way things are headed, who knows how much of state, national and world history our children will never be taught.
What can you do? Amid these political storms that make their jobs increasingly untenable, teachers deserve our support now more than ever.
Lindsey Garcia, a fourth-grade teacher in the Southlake district, said it better than I ever could:
“Every day I treat my students and their families with kindness and respect and allow my students to speak their truth without fear,” Garcia said amid her tears. “I only wish that same courtesy would be extended to all my fellow educators and me.”