When it comes to social justice and racism, who is indoctrinating whom in Idaho?

·6 min read

If certain Idaho legislators are not bona fide white supremacists who cannot abide the technicolor coat of a changing America today, at the very least they feed white supremacists in Idaho with their hysterical concerns over critical race theory and social justice.

Bob Kustra
Bob Kustra

Social justice? Is it possible that anyone in 21st century America could find fault with the definition of social justice you can find on any internet search — equal rights and equitable opportunities for all across various aspects of society. There may be different approaches and timelines to dealing with these challenges, but could anyone stand in the way of students discussing this issue in class?

As far as the Idaho Legislature is concerned, the answer is yes.

It seems that a number of Republican legislators living in almost all-white Idaho like it that way and apparently buy into Tucker Carlson’s “replacement theory” that a conspiracy exists to replace white Americans with non-white immigrants intent on destroying white Christian America. There’s no room in this column to list all the “know-nothings” in the Idaho Legislature who cleverly misrepresent social justice theory and challenge it as a threat to our democratic existence when it more likely is a craven appeal to their political base.

If it isn’t social justice theory driving these legislators up their walls of exclusion, then it’s “critical race theory.” Leave it to academics to come up with jargon that throws red meat to Leo the Lion as the far right jumps on the Idaho Freedom Foundation bandwagon, creates controversy out of whole cloth and denies what anyone who reads and watches the news must have figured out by now. Racial prejudice is deeply embedded in society and our culture even when laws on the books supposedly protect against discrimination. They spend their legislative days trying to deny students the opportunity to learn from our history how we can be what our framers called a “more perfect union.”

Their solution is simple: pass a law to intimidate school administrators and teachers with the threat of breaking the law for teaching about racial discrimination and violence against minorities. Can you imagine the chilling effect on the teaching of history this will have? Are we not to learn from the sins of our past by assuring those responsible are held accountable in our historical narrative so their descendants disavow the errors of those who have come before them?

The history of America is about the unfolding of progress as our nation moves through the centuries. It’s not just about how we upgraded from the stagecoach to the train to the automobile to the airplane. It’s also about how America as a nation synchronized its moral compass to changing times and a more finely tuned understanding of how to treat our fellow travelers.

Crimes against humanity, such as slavery, lynchings, racial discrimination and the underlying cause of white supremacy that surfaces on our streets even today must be viewed through a 21st century lens that uses the errors of our past to improve the human condition today.

Make no mistake about it. Gov. Brad Little signed this legislation for the strategic purpose of freeing up education funding these right-wing zealots held hostage, not because he bought into their “indoctrination” theories. In a word of warning to his party’s extremists, he said “we must be focused on facts and data, not anecdotes and innuendo.”

The question here is who’s indoctrinating whom in Idaho? It sure sounds like a few legislators have perfected the art of indoctrination far more effectively than any teacher in Idaho.

I cannot imagine what might be on the bookshelves and nightstands of these Idaho legislators, but I wish they could open their minds long enough to read a book written by a brigadier general with 30 years of service in the U.S. Army, including his 20 years teaching military history at West Point.

Ty Seidule wrote “Robert E. Lee and Me: A Southerner’s Reckoning with the Myth of the Lost Cause” to come to terms with his own Southern past and the South’s lies, half-truths and exaggerations about the reasons the South went to war.

The Lost Cause myth claims the Civil War was all about protective tariffs, states’ rights, the agrarian dream and other issues, but not the subjugation and enslavement of Black Americans. To the contrary, Seidule argues, Lee and his Confederates seceded from the Union to protect and expand the institution of slavery.

Part memoir and part history of the Civil War and its aftermath, Seidule’s book confronts his upbringing and growing up idolizing Gen. Robert E. Lee. Idaho legislators concoct tales of imaginary indoctrination in Idaho classrooms, but Seidule shows how textbooks in his Southern classrooms indoctrinated students and parents alike and rewrote the slaveowner Lee’s past to have him appear as the Grand Gentleman of the South.

Lee fought the U.S. Army for four years to preserve slavery. By refusing to capitulate earlier in the war, no other enemy officer is responsible for as many deaths of U.S. Army soldiers as Robert E. Lee.

Today, Seidule’s major beef with the U.S. Army is the Confederate names of military installations in a day and age when we should know better than honor those who caused so much death and destruction for the cause of slavery.

Not to be outdone by Southern thinking, the Idaho House of Representatives weighed in on the practice of honoring Confederates like Robert E. Lee, whose name can be found in Idaho’s public and private places. House members passed a bill requiring cities to seek approval from the Legislature before removing a monument or renaming anything that uses the name of a historical figure. The flimsy excuse that we learn about history from such statues is just that, as though the classroom is not the place for students to learn about our history, good and bad. Thankfully, the bill stalled in the state Senate.

In rethinking his past and placing Robert E. Lee in historical perspective, Seidule serves as a model for how to evaluate the flow of information we are bombarded with daily. Idaho’s Republican legislators could use a dose of his courage and take a lesson by rejecting the myths floating around the state Capitol this session and dumping their indoctrination speeches. Unless they aim those speeches at some of their own members.

Bob Kustra served as president of Boise State University from 2003 to 2018. He is host of Reader’s Corner on Boise State Public Radio and is a regular columnist for the Idaho Statesman. He served two terms as Illinois lieutenant governor and 10 years as a state legislator.

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