The new GOP 'snitch culture' is designed to 'spread fear' and 'scare' teachers into silence: analysis
Ron DeSantis on Friday, April 2, 2021. - Amy Beth Bennett/South Florida Sun Sentinel/TNS

All over the United States, far-right Republicans in state legislatures have been pushing bills that prohibit teaching “critical race theory” in public schools. But CRT, a field of academic study found on some college campuses, isn’t even taught in K-12 schools in the United States — and the race-baiting bills are really a broad attack on any teachers who discuss the country’s racist past in any way. These bills, liberal Washington Post opinion columnist Greg Sargent warns in his February 9 column, are promoting a Republican “snitch culture” designed to bully and intimidate teachers and make them feel they have to walk on eggshells in the classroom.

Some of the bills being passed encourage parents or students to call a tip line and report any teacher who teaches CRT in the classroom, but the material that causes problems for the teacher doesn’t really have to be CRT-related — it could be anything from Toni Morrison’s work to “The Autobiography of Malcolm X.” Moreover, MAGA Republicans’ anti-CRT hysteria is, as Sargent points out, going beyond racial matters and venturing into anti-gay territory.

“The GOP proposals sweeping the country that restrict the teaching of race have an obvious purpose: to make teachers feel perpetually on thin ice, so they shy away from difficult discussions about our national past rather than risk breaking laws in ways they cannot themselves anticipate,” Sargent explains. “But there’s another, more pernicious goal driving these bills that might well succeed politically precisely because it remains largely unstated. The darker underlying premise here is that these bills are needed in the first place, because subversive elements lurk around every corner in schools, looking to pervert, indoctrinate or psychologically torture your kids.”

Sargent points to proposals or new laws in Florida, Virginia and West Virginia as examples of the Republican “snitch culture” being aimed at teachers.

“First, a new battle has erupted between the White House and Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R), now that DeSantis has signaled support for what critics are calling the ‘Don’t say gay’ bill advancing in the Florida legislature,” Sargent explains. “The bill would restrict classroom discussion of sexual orientation and gender identity, and President Biden just slammed it as ‘hateful.’ Second, a new GOP proposal in West Virginia would establish a tip line for parents to report teachers caught proselytizing about critical race theory. After a similar tip line was instituted in Virginia, this suggests the mania for mechanisms to rat out offending teachers may be spreading.”

Sargent continues, “The Florida ‘Don’t say gay’ bill prohibits school districts from encouraging ‘discussion about sexual orientation or gender identity’ that is not ‘age appropriate’ or ‘developmentally appropriate.’”

Sargent describes critical race theory as “the idea that racial disparities are baked into law and institutions.” According to professors who teach CRT on some college campuses, the racism of the past continues to affect U.S. institutions in 2022.

A university professor who teaches CRT might argue, for example, that although Jim Crow laws were abolished in the U.S. during the 1960s, they inflicted long-lasting wounds that are still affecting institutions today.

One Never Trump conservative who has spoken out against anti-CRT laws is Florida-based Rick Wilson, a former Republican strategist. In a video posted by The Lincoln Project on February 8, Wilson warned, “They want teachers to be scared in the classroom. We’re going to see test cases.… all over this country.”

Sargent wraps up his column by arguing that Republicans’ anti-CRT hysteria is rooted in an overall disdain for public education.

“As a great episode of the ‘Know Your Enemy’ podcast details, calls for maximal parental choice and control in schools have been used by the right for decades as a smoke screen to sow fears and doubts about public education at its ideological foundations,” Sargent observes. “The move from restricting race discourse to more ‘snitch’ lines is perfectly in sync with that history. If you pay close attention not just to the language of these bills, but also, to the unstated premises they are trying to advance, you can see this happening all over again.”