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Bad Takes: The fallout from Texas' anti-CRT law continues with the firing of a high school principal

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James Whitfield — the first Black principal at Colleyville Heritage High School — is a high-profile casualty of Texas Republicans' war on Critical Race Theory. - FACEBOOK / JAMES WHITFIELD
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  • James Whitfield — the first Black principal at Colleyville Heritage High School — is a high-profile casualty of Texas Republicans' war on Critical Race Theory.
Bad Takes is a periodic column of opinion and political analysis.

During the legislative fight over Texas' then-proposed ban on the 1619 Project, I perused op-eds and listened to more of lawmakers' debate than any human being should have to. But I didn't find anyone talking about one of the law's most significant effects — that it effectively prohibits write-your-congressperson classroom assignments and awarding extra credit given for students' citizen engagement.

Even though I listed that as gripe No. 1 in my Current column back in June, part of me secretly thought, "You know, if no one else is mentioning this, perhaps I'm way off-base."

Dot dot dot.

“In an email to middle school administrators obtained by the Texas Tribune," Jason Kao reported for the online news outlet in mid-August, "a social studies curriculum coordinator wrote that ‘in light of’ the new law’s ban on political activism and policy advocacy, we will no longer be allowed to offer Youth & Government as an elective course for credit’.”

On Sept. 1, CNN's Nicole Chavez reported that she spoke to nearly two dozen school districts across Texas about how House Bill 3979 already was altering their plans for the new year. "In College Station, some government teachers won't be asking students to take notes at city public meetings for a grade," according to the story. "Elementary school teachers in Leander won't be asking students to write letters addressing lawmakers anymore.”

The bill's authors have replied to this loss to civic education with the classic Steve Urkel defense: "Did I do that?" Yes, State Rep. Steve Toth and State Sen. Bryan Hughes, you did this. As did all Republicans who voted for the measure.

Regardless of the legislative intent, the text of the law clearly targets "public policy advocacy" and "political activism." If you had wanted to only ban the "bad" Black Lives Matter activism you don't like, you should have just said so, instead of hiding behind neutral-sounding language that has now hurt all students.

But the worse news is that we're still finding more bags of crap lit on fire on our doorsteps thanks to anti-woke activists. Right now, James Whitfield — the first Black principal at Colleyville Heritage High School in the Dallas-Fort Worth area — is on administrative leave after defending himself from a spurious smear campaign.

Whitfield's imbroglio began when, upon being promoted to principal, a "concerned parent" dug through the educator's old Facebook albums and found professionally shot photographs from 2009 of he and his wife embracing on a beach in celebration of their five-year wedding anniversary. District officials instructed Whitfield to remove the photos, which he dutifully did.

Although I wish I didn't have to add this detail in the year 2021, it bears mentioning that Whitfield's wife happens to be white. But that's not the issue that led to his firing, the school board said.

On July 26, after the removal of the photos, a former candidate for the Grapevine-Colleyville school board, Stetson Clark, broke with the rules for public commentary at board meetings and repeatedly called out Whitfield by name as promoting "the conspiracy theory of systemic racism" and "encouraging all members of our community to become revolutionaries by becoming anti-racist." Clark said those teachings advocate that "we should all be working to destroy our businesses, our school district, our city, even our state."

Why would anti-racism destroy Texas as we know it, one wonders. Especially, if as Clark suggests, the notion that the system is racist is nothing but a baseless conspiracy theory?

But Clark's frothing at the mouth isn't the issue either, the school board also said.

No, what caused Whitfield's firing and the non-renewal of his future contract, they contend, was his having the unmitigated gall to respond via social media to incessant attacks on his character. Evidently, standing up for oneself is what qualifies today as "insubordination."

As the supposed adults in charge embarrass us yet again, the bright side, as usual, has been the mature response exhibited by the student body at Whitfield's school, one hundred of whom walked out to protest his mistreatment. For the record, Whitfield also denied accusations that he ever inserted Critical Race Theory into the curriculum. He's also requested a public hearing to appeal the school board's decision, and that hearing is likely to occur in coming weeks. 

When Americans wonder why passionate, dedicated people forgo education as a profession, they ought to think of James Whitfield. Conservative parents' proclivity for knee-jerk hysterics based on concocted right-wing media outrage is driving teachers and administrators away and leaving kids ill-prepared for the diverse world of tomorrow. We must stop ceding ground to these wingnuts if we want to move ahead as a society.

On a lighter note, may I suggest a Halloween costume idea? Going as the letters C-R-T. That is, if you think the parents of kids ringing your doorbell can remain standing upright without wilting in abject terror.

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