If any American community embodies the national frenzy about how we teach race in schools, it’s Southlake. The acrimony over Carroll ISD’s diversity plan to tackle racism reshaped the school board, drew unflattering headlines and inspired a podcast by NBC News.
Now the ugly debate in Southlake has twisted into something unthinkable.
Last Thursday, news broke that a Carroll ISD administrator advised teachers to make sure classroom libraries featuring books about the Holocaust also included “opposing” perspectives. The administrator, Gina Peddy, was directing teachers on how to vet books in light of a new state law meant to ban critical race theory in schools.
Let’s start with the obvious: Nazis and their collaborators slaughtered more than 6 million Jewish people. There should be no denial of the Holocaust nor any defense of it, and we should never wander into a place where our teachers might be pressed to treat it as anything other than the unspeakably evil act it was.
The views of Nazis are not morally equivalent to those of the people they terrorized. If our children are to study a perspective other than those of victims, it should be a lesson on how some of our fellow citizens will contort facts and deny others their humanity for their own purposes. It should be a lesson on how those actions are indefensible.
What happened in Southlake this month is the unfortunate outcome of a new and misguided state law against critical race theory that passed earlier this year. While the law doesn’t define the term or even mention it, it was crafted by legislators in the context of a national panic about how our country confronts racism.
A major sticking point for educators was a requirement that teachers not be compelled to discuss current events in class, and that those who do so explore “diverse and contending perspectives” without giving deference to any particular one. Educators and other critics of the legislation warned that it was vague and that it would create confusion and lead teachers to avoid issues such as racism. Some worried it would force them to straddle the fence on something like a white supremacist rally.
Peddy clearly misunderstood the law, which instructs teachers on how to discuss any “particular current event or widely debated and currently controversial issue of public policy or social affairs.” That does not describe the Holocaust. Still, many teachers are terrified about the climate in schools right now, as one of them told Peddy during the book-vetting training session. Photos show Carroll ISD classroom libraries covered with yellow caution tape or black sheets of paper.
“We are in the middle of a political mess,” Peddy said, according to a recording obtained by NBC News. “And you are in the middle of a political mess.”
There should be no moral confusion in our schools about the evils of the Holocaust, of slavery, of white supremacy. But educators are overreacting to the new state law out of fear of getting in trouble, and our lawmakers should have never put them in this predicament. They must revise the law or repeal it.
This awful episode could ratchet up tensions in Southlake even higher. How much more discord can a community take?
We hope Southlake parents will agree that the hostility has gone on too long. It’s evident that this political mess only exacerbates feuds. There have been more than enough incidents to make it clear why many students and families feel less than welcome in Southlake, so it should be equally clear why the community needs honest and civil discussions about a diversity and inclusion plan.
The Texas Legislature has made it harder for Southlake to find a path toward reconciliation. Our lawmakers should be joining us in these difficult conversations instead of dividing us.
Dallas Morning News