This spring 2022 semester, I was teaching a class on Early US Literature, pre-1865 (See “Note on Course Title,” at end of this post.). Upon mentioning the Ohio state legislative committee discussions on Critical Race Theory, I noted to students that texts that I had assigned to them in the course had at least the potential to run afoul of such prohibitions. Because my class is required of Education majors, most student in the class in next two or three years hoped to be teaching junior high or high school students language and literature. Since they overall were unaware of what I was talking about, I rewrote the second paper assignment to encourage them to work through the concepts–and to think about complications such concepts might cause them as future educators.
That is, I suggested they review the proposed statutory language to see whether any literary work that they hoped to teach, from the class, would potentially be in violation of “divisive concepts” legislation. I would add that I do explain to students that I am not a “blank slate,” an acknowledgment which I hope will help them shape their argument, even if I intend to be fair-minded. I teach in Ohio, so references to legislative bills are Ohio-centric.
[Note: I omit assignment details, as due dates for proposal and workshop, and format requirements, like MLA or Chicago style, are not relevant and not likely to be interesting to the rest of you. Also, I omit my recommendations on writing an effective thesis, also not of interest here.]
“Divisive Concepts” Discussion, for 3rd-Year College Student Paper Assignment
My understanding of ‘divisive concepts’ legislation has been derived from reading academic commentary, often works recommended by scholars whom I follow on social media (Twitter), reading university trade press like Chronicle of Higher Education and Inside Higher Education, and by browsing the legislative documents and news coverage—last because a student wrote a paper on the topic, during Fall 2021 semester, during an African American Literature survey that I was then teaching. The language here is tricky, because it depends on ideological perspective which language is typically deployed:
- In an ideologically right-wing sense, ‘divisive concepts’ is approximately equivalent to ‘teaching Critical Race Theory,’ the practice of forcing left-wing indoctrination onto school children and college students, plus also in mandated diversity or cultural sensitivity training, which encourages White people to internalize guilt about the racial past of the United States. We need to ban forcing left-wing indoctrination onto students or employees, for such ideologies are antipatriotic and subversive.
- In an ideologically left-wing sense, ‘divisive concepts’ is a way to repackage ‘patriotic education’ (i.e.,White Nationalist propaganda-style history) to make it more palatable to an uninformed general public. In fact, the right-wing people who are now renaming diversity training and the like as ‘Critical Race Theory’ are using it in scare quotes to mean left-wing indoctrination, i.e., anti-white racism, with anodyne term ‘divisive concepts’ as a way to pretend to be even-handed—when in fact it’s just White Supremacy ideology in a new package. Also, yes, “Critical Race Theory” is a real thing, a specialized topic in legal theory, typically taught only to advanced students in post-graduate law school. No one is being taught that in elementary school, in junior high, in high school, in mandated diversity training, and seldom even in graduate school, except specialized courses in law school.
For assignment, I have thought systematically about how to keep this matter manageable, but this is my first deployment of these concepts—ideologically contested concepts—as an assignment prompt. Some options, that I suggest, will be more challenging, some less; some could coincide with your interests closely, some may not. My aim is to make the basic concepts manageable, so you can deploy them to frame a paper and to invite your own further thought and exploration. Please anticipate—because this is first time that I have used this assignment prompt—that when choosing among options you will need to narrow to a particular example for a strong thesis and paper. I value your questions and feedback in order to refine the assignment. The next few sections seek to introduce the legislative tendencies, as applies nationally in Ohio and at present, according to legislative committee.
“Divisive Concepts” Legislation, Nationwide Trends
The “divisive concepts” bills, typically conflated with and under the heading “Critical Race Theory” (as explained above) are active in and have passed in many Republican-dominated legislatures, which seek to ban “Critical Race Theory” and any related concepts according to judgment of state legislative committees. Versions have passed into law in Georgia, Mississippi, New Hampshire, Virginia, Alabama, North Dakota, Idaho, Texas, Arizona, Alabama, Tennessee, Utah etc. It’s hard to keep track of them all, but the report below, from a secondary education trade journal Education Week, attempts to do exactly that, to keep track:
Schwartz, Sarah. “Map: Where Critical Race Theory Is Under Attack.” Education Week, 11 Jun. 2021, rev. 16 March 2022. http://www.edweek.org, https://www.edweek.org/policy-politics/map-where-critical-race-theory-is-under-attack/2021/06.
“Divisive Concepts” in Ohio Legislature
In Ohio, the topic is under Ohio House Bill 327, with Short Title “Prohibit teaching, advocating, or promoting divisive concepts.” See Home Page for Bill, currently (Mar. 22) in Committee:
https://ohiohouse.gov/legislation/134/hb327/. The full title of bill, which continues after the short title, is the following: “To amend sections 3314.03 and 3326.11 and to enact sections 3313.6027 and 4113.35 of the Revised Code to prohibit school districts, community schools, STEM schools, and state agencies from teaching, advocating, or promoting divisive concepts.”
The definition of “divisive concepts” on the bill is sweeping, applying in matters of “nationality, color, ethnicity, race, or sex.” It prohibits any teaching or training which implies that one group “is inherently racist, sexist, or oppressive, whether consciously or unconsciously,” or that any “individual should be discriminated against or receive adverse treatment,” or that any of those factors can be presumed determinant about an individual’s “moral character.” Furthermore, no person in the present “bears responsibility for actions committed in the past by other members,” nor has any particular qualities (“hard work ethic” or “race or sex stereotyping”) that may be associated with an identity designation. Most importantly and in aggregate (this is my gloss), the legislation proposes—as a matter of statute—that persons in the present must be presumed to be, and in any state-funded materials or instruction activities stated to be, fundamentally innocent with respect to past discrimination, have no moral responsibility or any other burden to even acknowledge (much less address) past discrimination, whether the historical discrimination protocol (which no longer exists today) concern “nationality, color, ethnicity, race, or sex.” Please note that “sex” in legislative parlance may or may not be construed to imply both gender discrimination (against women) and sexual identity discrimination (against LGBTQ+ people). In matter of later, the most vocal wing of the Republican Party (also known as the GOP) frequently argues that such identities do not in fact exist, or that any legal acknowledgment of such person’s existence—or funding which supports such acknowledgment in a psychological or medical sense—should be banned. On same site, note the following:
Current Status: https://ohiohouse.gov/legislation/134/hb327, Scroll down the page, and note “First Hearing” and “Second Hearing,” where text of bill can be downloaded. Also, note that for “Witnesses” the “Proponent” (in favor, conservative activist groups) statements are in one group and the “Opponent” (opposed, typically education and progressive groups) are in another. As of my most recent viewing, the “Fourth Hearing” and “Fifth Hearing” do not yet have documents posted.
Full Text of Bill: https://ohiohouse.gov/legislation/134/hb327/committee, “Full Text,” or the PDF at https://search-prod.lis.state.oh.us/cm_pub_api/api/unwrap/chamber/134th_ga/ready_for_publication/bills/hb327/00_IN/hb327_00_IN.pdf
Consequences of Bill
Please note the definition of “divisive concepts” (page 2–4, lines 13–89) in the current version of the proposed statute in the House. No one may receive any training that invokes “divisive concepts”: public schools and public universities are treated as “state agencies.” (page 18, lines 488–501). Below is the relevant definition part, from March 2022 version.
(B)(1) No state agency shall offer teaching, instruction,
or training on divisive concepts to any employees, contractors,
staff members, or any other individual or group or require them
to adopt or believe in divisive concepts.
(2) No state employee shall face any penalty or
discrimination on account of the employee's refusal to support,
believe, endorse, embrace, confess, act upon, or otherwise
assent to divisive concepts. No state employee shall be required
to complete a curriculum including divisive concepts as a
condition or prerequisite of employment.
(3) No state agency shall accept private funding for the
purpose of developing curriculum, purchasing or selecting course
materials, or providing training or professional development for
a course that promotes divisive concepts.
Thus, if passed, students or employees will be empowered to argue in court (or to some sort of review board—the protocols proposed have shifted while in committee) that their right to a bias-free education has been violated—if the course or training is required as part of a degree plan or a condition of employment. In latest version of the statute—varies from earlier, where the threat of withholding state funding for any such courses was detailed and explicit—the process by which financial support will be withheld should any divisive topic be taught is less clear. The policy has an exception, that some materials (historical documents, etc.) can be taught in a course, but only when presented in a non-biased manner (page 3–4, lines 62–86):
(C) If the superintendent of public instruction determines
that any school district knowingly violates the prohibitions
prescribed in division (B) of this section, the department of
education shall withhold state funding from the district in the
amount determined by the department until such time as the
department determines the district no longer is in violation of
(D) Nothing in this section shall be construed to prohibit
discussing or using supplemental instructional materials, as
part of a larger course of academic instruction, to teach
divisive concepts in an objective manner and without
endorsement. Such materials may include the following:
(1) The history of an ethnic group, as described in
textbooks and instructional materials adopted in accordance with
the Revised Code concerning textbooks and instructional
(2) The impartial discussion of controversial aspects of
(3) The impartial instruction on the historical oppression
of a particular group of people based on race, ethnicity, class,
nationality, religion, or geographic region;
(4) Historical documents permitted under statutory law,
such as the national motto, the national anthem, the Ohio
Constitution, the United States Constitution, the Revised Code,
federal law, and United States Supreme Court decisions.
In other words, any student or state employee who complains that they are being taught a “divisive concept” in a required course has an invitation to argue before someone (university appeals body? human resources committee?) that a degree program or course or training material is in violation of their right to an education or employment free of “divisive concepts” indoctrination. How exactly that will be enforced in public schools and universities is unclear, the task of developing adjudication process is handed over to the State Board of Education: “The state board of education may adopt rules regarding the implementation of and monitoring compliance with the provisions of this section.” (page 4, lines 87–89).
While preparing this assignment I saw a news report (from March 22) about an interview with one of the bill’s sponsors, Sarah Fowler Arthur (Republican, Ashtabula). She brought up (without being prompted) the teaching of the Holocaust in a world history course as an example:
“What we do not want is for someone to come in and say, ‘well, obviously the German government was right in saying that the Aryan race is superior to all other races, and therefore that they were acting rightly when they murdered hundreds of thousands of people for having a different color of skin,” the representative said.
“Maybe you’re listening to it from the perspective of a Jewish person that has gone through the tragedies that took place,” Fowler Arthur continued. “And maybe you listen to it from the perspective of a German soldier.”
Trau, Morgan. “Comments about the Holocaust from Representative Sponsoring ‘divisive Concepts’ Bill Raise Concerns.” WEWS News5 Cleveland, 22 Mar. 2022, https://www.news5cleveland.com/news/politics/ohio-politics/comments-about-the-holocaust-from-representative-sponsoring-divisive-concepts-bill-raise-concerns.
I would like to be perfectly clear, that to sponsor Representative Fowler Arthur, for an educator to say, in an educational context, that the Holocaust was “bad” without also noting that it had its “good” points, is potentially a “divisive topic”—which under earlier drafts of legislation could lead to defunding the education institution that employs that teacher or professor. Typically, views like Fowler Arthur’s are identified with anti-Semitism, and it seems very probable that Fowler’s choice of this example, in a public interview, could torpedo the work of this committee, during the 2021–2022 legislative cycle. I don’t think that means such efforts will be irrelevant to educators going forward, as other states are passing versions. However, since the 20th century Holocaust is not a directly relevant example for pre-1865 U.S. Literature, an analogy suggests itself. Following Fowler Arthur’s logic, to say enslavement of Black people in the United States was “bad” without also adding that it had its “good” side might very well be considered a ‘divisive concept’ in the eye of the bill’s sponsor. In my teaching, I’m likely to violate that rule. Furthermore, implying that America’s legal history of enslavement, racial terrorism, legal disenfranchisement has any present relevance would be prohibited strictly.
Another way to frame ‘divisive concepts’ legislation (which may make it relevant even after present moment) might be with the idea of “relatable.” According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the word has three meanings: 1) “Able to be told or narrated; suitable for relating” (in use from 1690s to present); 2) “Able to be brought into relation with something else; capable of being related or connected (to something)” (1860s to present), and 3) “That can be related to; with which one can identify or empathize.” (1960s to present). You can likely detect, from those, how the third (newest concept) gradually separated from second.
The Ohio legislation specifically allows that historical concepts and documents can be “ told or narrated” (sense 1), a carve-out to permit use of primary source materials in history courses. However, a teacher or instructor is at risk of introducing ‘divisive concepts’ should any lesson applicable to the present be drawn from those examples. Should ever the teaching or training hint that past practices “can be related to” present practices or would encourage students to “identify or empathize” (both sense 3) with idea that past documents hold a continuing relevance and consequences for the present, in matter of present-day moral or financial responsibility to redress harms of historical practices, it is likely violating the proposed statute. Implying that anyone has moral responsibility to the past is strictly prohibited, that an effort to make the topic “relatable” (sense 3), which any student construes as being educated, trained, encouraged to feel moral guilt or ethical responsibility, seems likely to fall into category of promoting a ‘divisive concept.’
Turning it Into a Paper Assignment
In order to turn this into an “assignment,” I think it is incumbent upon me to suggest scholarly discussions of concepts that you might apply to works that we are reading: 1st) have at least the potential to be considered divisive, and 2nd) could be used to analyze works in early American literature.
On What is Considered Divisive, and Why at This Moment
Given preceding discussion, my general assumption is that the concepts mostly likely to be designated divisive are those that would seem so to a GOP-led legislature or a State Board of Education whose members are selected by and who report to a GOP governor and legislature. That is because states with Republican-dominated legislatures are passing these bills. My assumption, then, for what has potential to be deemed offensive, is that they are about one of the following: 1) matters as concern continuing reverberations of historical racial discrimination, or historical institutions like slavery, 2) matters as concern gender or sexuality, 3) or matters as concern religious expression: arguments that are secular in emphasis; that elaborate non-Christian tenets (Islam, Buddhism, Indigenous religious beliefs); or that draw from a denominational creed that is outside Evangelical Protestantism.
In other words—and this is an important caveat—I am assuming, for sake of convenience, that beliefs associated with modern Republican activists who advocate for the legislation are not likely to be considered “divisive” by a GOP legislative committee, by a GOP-appointed State Board of Education, etc. Examples of concepts that might be considered “divisive” from a social justice or reparative justice perspective (i.e., views associated with liberals and progressive wings of Democratic Party) might include, for example, that “the United States is a Christian Nation,” or that “Manifest Destiny expressed God’s plan”; or that the “Bible in Genesis names the Creator responsible for only two genders, assigned at birth”; or that “the Civil War was fought over State’s Rights,” or that “Reading methods associated with Queer Theory can illuminate classic literary texts.” If you wish to explore which concepts associated with American history and culture that continue to seem “divisive” in politics—and write a paper suggesting that a concept associated with GOP beliefs would fall into category of “divisive”—you are welcome to take that approach also. For identifying topics that potentially fall under the divisive rubric in historical topics, please review indexes and browse treatment in the following two books, which I will place on 3-day reserve:
Zinn, Howard, and Anthony Arnove. A People’s History of the United States. Thirty-Fifth anniversary edition, HarperPerennial, 2015. For teaching materials, see https://www.zinnedproject.org/.
Schweikart, Larry, and Michael Allen. A Patriot’s History of the United States: From Columbus’s Great Discovery to the War on Terror. Sentinel, 2007.
Another discussion and overview of “divisive” topics in American history, from the perspective of two university historians (Heather Cox Richardson at Boston College, and JoAnne Freeman at Yale University), can be found here, with a helpful list of additional readings, a syllabus of sorts on the topic:
Richardson, Heather Cox, and Joanne Freeman. “Battling Over Critical Race Theory.” Cafe.com. https://cafe.com/now-and-then/battling-over-critical-race-theory/. Accessed 22 Mar. 2022.
As you will find in that hour-long podcast, the matter that appears to have ignited controversy is that historians have competing views on the New York Times “1619 Project,” by Prof. Nicole Hannah-Jones. The Trump Administration’s Patriotic Education initiative, from September 2020, took direct aim at such views, designating them un-American and arguing they should be prohibited from being taught in school.
1619 Project: https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2019/08/14/magazine/1619-america-slavery.html.
1776 Report and Protecting America Press Release: See my shared Google Drive, after original posting to United States Education Department (removed under Biden administration): https://drive.google.com/drive/folders/1s03eROauHbgb3zOGtUe4ZbrQOybcsRq-
During last months in office, President Donald Trump issued the statement, and a committee that he appointed on Patriotic Education issued the 1776 Report. After the election of President Joe Biden, Republican activists took up the “Critical Race Theory” topic to animate local activists, often also when opposing mask mandates and diversity initiatives in public schools, which followed the George Floyd protests.
The scholar who led “1619 Project,” Prof. Hannah-Jones, I would note, received considerable professional backlash, from North Carolina university board members, who denied her promotion to full professor despite her being recommended for promotion by the department and college. She left North Carolina for Howard University, in Washington, D.C.
For a more local connection—also given renewed emphasis by George Floyd protests—Kent State has a Division of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI). See https://www.kent.edu/diversity. Recently the University Faculty Senate proposed a syllabus statement, drafted by the Anti-Racism Task Force Transition Team Subcommittee (i.e., committee guided by DEI).
Kent State University is committed to the creation and maintenance of equitable and inclusive learning spaces. This course is a learning environment where all will be treated with respect and dignity, and where all individuals will have an equitable opportunity to succeed. The diversity that each student brings to this course is viewed as a strength and a benefit. Dimensions of diversity and their intersections include but are not limited to: race, ethnicity, national origin, primary language, age, gender identity and expression, sexual orientation, religious affiliation, mental and physical abilities, socio-economic status, family/caregiver status, and veteran status. (Source: Feb. 14, 2022 Email from Prof. Jen Cunningham, Faculty Senate Representative).
Note phrase “diversity and their intersections,” a version of which will come up below as related to concepts from Critical Race Theory, i.e., “intersectionality.” I also served on a department-level committee with a similar emphasis, a committee charged with revising department statements and policy documents. And I do plan to include that statement on future syllabi. You are not encouraged to presume that I am a “blank slate” but to aim your argument toward a professor or instructor who is concerned about how to teach works given the potential that a student could attempt to get you reprimanded or fired for teaching them, if you are deemed to be “promoting” or “teaching” divisive concepts.
Potentially Divisive Concepts in American Literature
In first list below, I pair a scholarly article with one or two readings from the relevant part of our current semester, American Literature from founding era (1776–1791) to end of Civil War. You are not required to use these, but my sense is that they have a high likelihood to work productively on this paper.
Douglass’s Narrative or Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin
Harris, Cheryl I. “Whiteness as Property.” Harvard Law Review, vol. 106, no. 8, June 1993, pp. 1707–91. EBSCOhost, https://doi.org/10.2307/1341787. Note:
The above might supply a way to read Stowe on white racial identity (“Whiteness”) as a valuable “property,” but I propose that suggesting racial identity has affiliations to value of preserving rights to “property” may strike some conservatives as a divisive concept. To require students to read a major essay from CRT scholarship—probably divisive. Also, a very long article, dense with footnotes.
Douglass’s Narrative as Having an Anti-Christ Theology
Hutchins, Zachary Mcleod. “Rejecting the Root: The Liberating, Anti-Christ Theology of Douglass’s Narrative.” Nineteenth-Century Literature, vol. 68, no. 3, Dec. 2013, pp. 292–322. EBSCOhost, https://doi.org/10.1525/ncl.2013.68.3.292. Note:
Douglass is typically read as a Christian, Sentimental writer. Hutchins argues that his theology in Narrative has “atheism and anti-Christ sentiments.” Should self-identifying Christian students be assigned to read this essay to interpret Douglass, or are its insights divisive?
Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin and Romantic Racialism
Fredrickson, George M. “Chapter 4: Uncle Tom and the Anglo-Saxons: Romantic Racialism in the North.” The Black Image in the White Mind: The Debate on Afro-American Character and Destiny, 1817–1914. Harper & Row, 1971, pp. 97–130.
Note: The historian Fredrickson explains race-associated characteristics in 19th-century racial science and argues that Stowe’s UTC illustrates them. Might one be at risk when teaching students 19th-century racial science, if they find same to be present in their own or the family’s racial attitudes? That is, should a teacher inform students about an intellectually elaborated form of racism—modern theoretical understanding of how racial ideas in 19th-C coalesced into one form of racism—as a means to read UTC more thoughtfully. Should one even teach that historical forms of racism exist, when 1776 Report argues that nation has always been anti-racist in its ideals and that to teach otherwise is anti-American?
Emily Dickinson, Gender, and Sexuality, i.e., Queer Poetics and Desire
Smith-Rosenberg, Carroll. “The Female World of Love and Ritual: Relations between Women in Nineteenth-Century America.” Signs, vol. 1, no. 1, 1975, pp. 1–29.
Juhasz, Suzanne. “Amplitude of Queer Desire in Dickinson’s Erotic Language.” The Emily Dickinson Journal, vol. 14, no. 2, 1995, pp. 24–33.
Note: You would read Juhasz to see how Dickinson’s erotic language has been read as “Queer,” and Smith-Rosenberg provides concepts to contextualize how present-day concepts may (or may not) map onto relationships between 19th-Century women. Also see “Reparative Reading” (Sedgwick) below.
Sojourner Truth and Intersectionality
Crenshaw, Kimberlé. “Demarginalizing the Intersection of Race and Sex: A Black Feminist Critique of Antidiscrimination Doctrine, Feminist Theory, and Antiracist Politics.” University of Chicago Legal Forum, vol. 1989, no. 1, 1989, pp. 139–67.
Note: This is not a critical reading of Truth per se. Rather, it is one of the classic statements on “intersectionality,” one of the major concepts in CRT, and a section of paper invokes Truth’s speech to illustrate the concept. Note that Hutchins (above, on Douglass’s Narrative), also discusses Truth’s famous interactions with Douglass, including challenging him for atheistic tendencies. But if Truth’s speech is historical example in an article on key concept “intersectionality,” can one inform students about it without being said to teach ‘divisive concepts’—when discussing Truth in a literature class?
Walt Whitman and Post-War Racial Reconciliation, or its Absence
Folsom, Ed. “Lucifer and Ethiopia: Whitman, Race, and Poetics before the Civil War and After.” A Historical Guide to Walt Whitman, edited by David S. Reynolds, Oxford University Press, 2000, pp. 45–96. See Library eReserves.
Note: Instead of teaching that Whitman’s poetry transcends race, we explain that even if his poetry has been interpreted by the slant his prose certainly did not share that, according to Folsom. If convinced, might student then re-read poetry with that thought that, “No, his poetry didn’t overcome its author’s racism, either”? That is, Folsom argues that Whitman shows striking lack of ability, in Reconstruction-era prose, to imagine a multi-racial democracy.
Below are some essays on influential concepts about styles of critical reading: “symptomatic” reading (old style: bad) versus “surface” or “reparative” reading (new style: good). Whether reading protocols (styles) would introduce “divisive” topics or would be useful to avoid “divisive” topics would be something you might attempt to decide.
See Best, Stephen, and Sharon Marcus. “Surface Reading: An Introduction.” Representations, no. 1, 2009, p. 1. EBSCOhost, https://doi.org/10.1525/rep.2009.108.1.1.
The idea that preferred styles of interpretive reading in literary study is symptomatic and characterized by metaphors of hidden depths, with critical reading to expose something “latent and concealed” (3). By contrast, “surface reading” is interested in “intricate verbal structure” and is an “affective and ethical stance,” which concerns “description” and “location of patterns” and “literal meaning” (10–12). Might it be a “method” of in-class reading that could avoid politics and ideology?
Sedgwick, Eve Kosofsky. “Paranoid Reading and Reparative Reading, or, You’re so Paranoid, You Probably Think This Essay Is about You.” Touching Feeling: Affect, Pedagogy, Performativity, Duke University Press, 2003. See Library eReserves. Sedgwick’s term “paranoid” reading (bad) is affiliated with “symptomatic” reading (see Best and Marcus, above).
In my introduction to Critical Race Theory as a theoretical concept, and of the current right-wing political redefinition, I thought it might be useful for other people to see my overview, which served as background for the paper assigment. The usual caveats apply: I am not a specialist in Critical Race Theory. However, I teach graduate students, and one of the things I do know how to do is look up stuff in reference works and guides to scholarship, identify major texts, and read them. I am unqualified to teach Critical Race Theory at a graduate level, but that is not what’s required in this junior-level course, where it is not taught. It’s a concept that an education adult who is willing to put effort into doing so (reading 3 or 4 academic articles, plus an introductory textbook) should be capable of grasping.
The overall consensus, in eventual papers, is that students anticipated they would be censored from teaching topics and literary works that they thought valuable. At least half of the students had never been assigned pre-1865 works by African American or Native American authors, male or female. Also, no student had previously encountered works by nineteenth-century women authors. And I do not believe that I was successful at convincing most of them that such topics as history of enslavement were permissible, on the basis of the exception carved out for historical topics.
I will also add, after the fact, that given how complex the topic is, my overall impression is that the purpose of all of such legislation is censorship. And I think the legislators who are advancing it know this–and approve of the silencing that will be the likely result. Nonetheless, because my students have various political alignments (some conservative, some progressive), I strived to present the topic in the most fair-minded manner that I was capable. Perhaps my introduction will be helpful to other people, who are attempting to navigate the details and consequences of legislative pronouncements. I will add below two excerpts from comments that I mentioned general drift in more than one paper, to illustrate what I thought were difficulties in applying these concepts for multiple students.
On the Genealogy of “Divisive Concepts,” According to Google Search:
Students tended to assume that phrase “divisive concepts,” like “Critical Race Theory,” have been around a long time. They have not: “Upon searching Google for quoted ‘divisive concepts,’ it today returns 227,000 (May 2, 2022). By contrast, when limiting search to earlier decade, 2000 and 2010, Google currently lists 64 quoted instances, with “very similar” excluded. Going further back, from 1850 to 1950, in Advanced Book Search, the phrase only appears 4 times. That is, ‘divisive concepts’ is a term of very recent coinage.”
On Exception for Historical Topics, My Reading of House Bills:
Reconsider assertion that not teaching “Critical Race Theory” is directly equivalent to “hiding history,” for proposed law (in present house bill) says that “Nothing in this section shall be construed to prohibit…3) impartial instruction on the historical oppression.” That would allow teaching about slavery, wouldn’t it—insofar as one remained “impartial”? To me, it’s the word “impartial” that is problematic, especially given how one of the house sponsors used it to highlight options when teaching the Holocaust.
Note on Course Title
Colleagues in literary studies will recognize that “U.S. Literature” is problematic as a term, as by general consensus “American Literature” extends much earlier than Revolutionary era. It’s one of two available courses in the cycle, so it is generally interpreted to mean how anthologies treat it, works predominantly written about or in the Americas north of the equator, including the earliest Caribbean discovery literatures and selected indigenous creation and trickster tales that are included in the Norton Anthology of American Literature. That I explain the complication in class, but do not file to have the paperwork changed in a 7-step multi-year process, has an explanation–this is how bureaucracy makes change difficult. I’m not proud that I have not attempted to do that, but that is why I have not attempted it. I’m not the only one to teach the course.
Additional Recommended Readings
The readings below, especially Cho, Crenshaw and McCall (2013), Hancock (2016), and Nash (2008, 2011), are more properly informative about Critical Race Theory as a scholarly specialty in legal studies, with related writings.
Bell, Derrick, Richard Delgado, and Jean Stefancic. The Derrick Bell Reader. New York: New York University Press, 2005. Print. Critical America.
Cho, Sumi, Kimberlé Williams Crenshaw, and Leslie McCall. “Toward a Field of Intersectionality Studies: Theory, Applications, and Praxis.” Signs 38.4 (2013): 785–810. JSTOR. Web. 28 Apr. 2022. <http://www.jstor.org/stable/10.1086/669608>.
Hancock, Ange-Marie. Intersectionality: An Intellectual History. New York: Oxford University Press, 2016. Print.
Hill, Patricia Hill. Black Feminist Thought : Knowledge, Consciousness, and the Politics of Empowerment. Unwin Hyman, 1990. Print. Perspectives on Gender: V. 2.
Nash, Jennifer C. “‘Home Truths’ on Intersectionality.” Yale Journal of Law and Feminism 23 (2011): 445.
Nash, Jennifer C. “Re-Thinking Intersectionality.” Feminist Review 89 (2008): 1–15. Web.
Williams, Patricia J. The Alchemy of Race and Rights. Cambridge, Mass: Harvard University Press, 1991. Print.
Note: Please consult the recommended readings, and, more importantly, the works cited in recommended readings. I am not a scholar who specializes in this topic, and this post has not been vetted (that is, is not “peer reviewed”) by scholars who are active in the field. You can say it’s an example of a university instructor trying to deal with the impact of divisive concepts legislation, someone who tried to get up to speed, but it is not “scholarship” in the sense of researched and peer reviewed scholarship.
The associated below are by AAUP, an advocacy organization for university professors which refers to “divisive concepts” legislation as “gag orders,” and an update to the Ohio legislative bill, which was released while students were working on the paper, after the original assignment.
- “Educational Gag Orders: Legislative Interference in Teaching About Race.” AAUP. 11 June 2021. Web. 26 May 2022. <https://www.aaup.org/issues/educational-gag-orders-legislative-interference-teaching-about-race>.
- Ohio House Bill 616, updated version of HB 234, after House member Fowler Arthur (R, Ashtabula) did the “both sides” comment on the Holocaust (see above), with different sponsors. https://search-prod.lis.state.oh.us/solarapi/v1/general_assembly_134/bills/hb616/IN/00/hb616_00_IN?format=pdf. Because much of it is a cut-paste job from Florida, the language of this bill is much more straightforward than earlier HB 616. All of below are banned specifically: “(a) Critical race theory; (b) Intersectional theory; (c) The 1619 project; (d) Diversity, equity, and inclusion learning outcomes; (e) Inherited racial guilt.” The bill also has language on sexual orientation and gender identity, with specific prohibitions at individual grade levels, echoing Florida’s HB 1557, Parental Rights in Education, known popularly as the “Don’t Say Gay” bill. See https://www.flsenate.gov/Session/Bill/2022/1557/?Tab=BillHistory.