Feb 03, 2023

INSIGHT KANSAS: Missouri Parents Bill of Rights vs. diversity

Posted Feb 03, 2023 11:15 AM
Nishani Frazier is Associate Professor of History and American Studies at the University of Kansas.
Nishani Frazier is Associate Professor of History and American Studies at the University of Kansas.

Next week, the diversity in school debate returns to neighboring state Missouri via House Bill 952, its anti-1619 Project bill, joining the earlier proposed Parent’s Bill of Rights, SB 776. Missouri, a bellwether for policymaking in Kansas, points to the likely resuscitation of this political debate after similar efforts slowed in the Kansas legislature. Coupled with Florida’s recent rejection of AP African American Course in public schools, the two events mark a resurging salvo in a larger argument over school curriculum and diversity.

The Parent’s Bill prohibits school districts from denying parental review ofcurricula and educational materials utilized by the school. Other elements include: notification about safety issues impacting their children, the right to visit their child in school, the right to review their children’s school records, and the right to be heard at school board meetings. Hardly any of these issues are prohibited by school systems. The more dangerous component includes parent rights to review information on teachers, lecturers, and presenters; and the right to object to materials parents find inappropriate. 

Additionally, the bill undergirds a larger educational framework by the Missouri General Assembly to ban Critical Race Theory (CRT) and 1619 Project. The combined legislation, which acts to empower parental say over curriculum, is a bit of misnomer given the bill does not extend to calculus, physics, and other areas of study, but is a legislative condemnation of all things “diversity.”

The problem is that Missouri’s bill, similar to the Kansas version, incorrectly conflates CRT theory with any diversity related subject matter, particularly black history. The law is abstractly constructed as a broad framework that allows parents and politicians to excise certain subject matter for political propaganda.

​For example, an educator cannot identify people, entities, or institutions in the United States as “inherently, immutably, or systematically sexist, racist, anti-LGBT, bigoted, biased, privileged, or oppressed.” Is the legislation suggesting that the Ku Klux Klan (an entity) is not inherently racist? Although numerous studies repeatedly confirm that the criminal justice system (an American institution) unequally treats Black Americans, are educators to ignore the incongruities in the system? Other elements of the law are just as confounding.

Logical analysis of the educational curriculum is not what’s at stake here, nor is it the real intent. Political operatives who focused on CRT as a mechanism to denounce “liberal” education, ironically use it to craft their own doctrine of education- an America with no imperfections. Black History and other “diversity” subjects are uncomfortable, because they question the centrality of democracy as a shared American identity. Within Black history is always the question- freedom for who? When? How?

The circumstances of this legislation are also more ominous than political division. The adversarial nature of these politicized claims of “unpatriotic” education has created an upsurge in harassment by opponents to diversity. Teachers, lectures, and writers become the focus of online and physical harassment. 

​Parents should think deeply about this legislation when debate returns to Kansas. How are parents truly empowered? What will their children fail to learn about themselves or society? In what ways are teachers and educators endangered by these sentiments? Why would censorship provide the pathway to patriotism? Finally, they should ask themselves if fear of diversity is a good way to prepare children for a future in a multicultural America?

Nishani Frazier is Associate Professor of History and American Studies at the University of Kansas. Prior to Kansas, she held positions as Associate Curator of African American History and Archives at Western Reserve Historical Society, Assistant to the Director of the Martin Luther King Jr. Archives at the Martin Luther King Center for Nonviolent Social Change, and personal assistant for Dr. John Hope Franklin, before and during his tenure as chair of President Bill Clinton's advisory board on "One America."