Editorial Roundup: Missouri

Kansas City Star. January 18, 2023.

Editorial: Want to teach Missouri kids patriotism? Then quit lying about ‘critical race theory’

This week, GOP legislators in Jefferson City will make their latest transparent attempt to erase the ugly history and legacy of slavery from public school textbooks. It will ultimately fail — but it’s a needless, energy-sapping exercise that distracts elected officials from the real work of government.

Senate Bill 4, from GOP state Sen. Andrew Koenig of District 15, would forbid public schools from saying that individuals “bear collective guilt and are inherently responsible for actions committed in the past by others.” It would also ban courses on so-called “critical race theory” in K-12 schools.

Wonder why you never heard about “critical race theory” before late in the 2020 national election cycle? That’s because the noise was ginned up almost out of thin air to fight back against the popularity of that year’s Black Lives Matter demonstrations. After the unjust deaths of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor and other Black Americans prompted hundreds of thousands to take to the streets demanding justice, conservative activist Christoper Rufo decided to start a movement to counter that public sympathy — and make a name for himself at the same time.

On Sept. 1, 2020, Rufo secured himself a guest spot on Tucker Carlson’s influential Fox News show to lodge “critical race theory” in the public mind. Before then, the LexisNexis database showed the phrase had appeared a grand total of 119 times that year — many of them duplicates — among the hundreds of U.S. newspapers it catalogs. In 2021 and again in 2022, “critical race theory” appeared so many times that the service can’t even display them all — more than 10,000 stories per year.

The bad faith of those intentionally twisting the concept is difficult to overstate. Actual critical race theory is an arcane academic premise that wasn’t taught in K-12 public schools in 2020, and isn’t taught there today. But the term sounds pretentious and disdainful, so it’s convenient for opponents to tie it to a basic reality that’s unpleasant for many to accept: African Americans suffer from a social and economic system historically stacked against them.

Rufo is brutally cynical about his intentions of “steadily driving up negative perceptions” of the term. “We will eventually turn it toxic,” he bragged on Twitter, “as we put all of the various cultural insanities under that brand category.”

It worked, and he profited from it. He’s now a constant on the talking head circuit, and was named senior fellow and director of the newly-created Initiative on Critical Race Theory at the Manhattan Institute, a deep-pocketed conservative New York think tank.

And today so-called CRT has become anti-BLM, simple as that. Sens. Josh Hawley and Eric Schmitt, among scores of other Republicans, have made it central to their political messaging.

We in the news media have been complicit by letting intentional bad actors and the uninformed alike toss the term about as if it’s real. Journalists should remind audiences it’s a fabrication every time it’s misused against someone “woke” (a term itself tinged with racism when hurled as an insult).

How can we pretend that chattel slavery is some forgotten remnant of a distant past? The last known child of an American slave — a man named Daniel Smith — died just three months ago, on Oct. 19, 2022. Unknown and uncountable numbers of grandchildren of human beings born as property live in this nation. The Federal Housing Administration made sure Black people were denied mortgages and insurance in white neighborhoods well into the 20th century. Millions of today’s African Americans endured Jim Crow laws firsthand for decades.

Another section of Koenig’s bill would ominously direct the state’s education department to “develop a patriotic and civics training program,” and pay teachers to take it. The line echoes Hawley’s 2021 stunt “Love America Act,” which also tied love of country to suppressing its sins.

For a lesson in patriotism, let’s listen to that paragon of truth, justice and the American way: Superman, who told schoolkids in posters all the way back in the 1950s: “If you hear anybody talk against a schoolmate or anyone else because of his religion, race or national origin — don’t wait: Tell him that kind of talk is un-American. Help keep your school all-American!”

So no, don’t divide students. Start by not straitjacketing our teachers’ lessons about our complicated past and the differences among us. Let’s be realistic about the Missouri Compromise that made this a slave state — and also about how we’ve learned and grown since then.

That’s real, honest history, and it’s our only path forward.


St. Louis Post-Dispatch. January 22, 2023.

Editorial: Missouri lawmakers are slandering teachers while grossly underpaying them

Missouri’s classrooms are facing a crisis. The state’s public school teachers are the lowest paid in the nation, which has spawned a serious teacher shortage and affected the quality of education here. So of course the state’s Republican legislative majority is diligently filing legislation to confront … critical race theory. If these cynical culture warriors insist on battling imaginary problems, they should at least acknowledge the real ones, too.

The state’s starting pay for public school teachers ($25,000 base minimum, with an average actual starting salary of a little over $33,000, the lowest in America) is a national disgrace. The state’s solution in the current budget was a program to offer grants to school districts to boost the starting minimum to $38,000 — but only for one year and only for districts willing to kick in 30% of the cost.

Even as the state last year instituted this temporary half-measure, which some districts simply couldn’t afford to take advantage of, lawmakers and Gov. Mike Parson approved a major tax cut. So which is it? Are Missouri’s coffers so bare that a fully funded permanent living wage for teachers is impossible? Or are coffers so flush that it makes sense to give some of it back to the taxpayers? Parson’s state-of-the-state speech last week called for another year of the matching-grant program, which is like putting another partial bandage on a patient who is slowly bleeding to death.

To the extent that there has been some discussion of legislation this year to actually fix the problem by permanently raising those salaries, legislators would send a strong message by making it the first school-related issue they confront in the new legislative session. Instead, Parson’s fellow Republicans are forcefully confronting that other education crisis — the one that doesn’t actually exist outside the frenzied imaginations of their most extreme right-wing constituents.

As with similar measures from Republicans in other states, the multiple pieces of Missouri legislation this session attempting to ban critical race theory from classrooms isn’t really about critical race theory at all, since that advanced academic theory isn’t even taught in grade schools. Conservatives here and around the country are merely using the phrase as a catchall to dog-whistle their disapproval of any classroom discussion of race that makes white kids uncomfortable. As we noted in an editorial last week, it is a deliberate attempt to seal off any mention of how past racial injustice affects modern society — to pretend those effects simply don’t exist.

Everywhere this happens, it’s an insult to hard-working teachers who are being vilified as ideological props by cynical politicians. It’s arguably worse in Missouri, where teachers have to listen as their own legislators smear them even as they struggle to make due with outrageous underpayment that those same legislators refuse to remedy.


St. Joseph News Press. January 19, 2023.

Editorial: The air chaos over your shoulder

Like most Americans, Sam Graves must get frustrated when his flight is delayed or he drives over a bridge that looks like it hasn’t seen significant repairs since the FDR administration.

Unlike most Americans, Graves is in a position to do something about it.

The Tarkio Republican won his 12th term in the U.S. House in November and was rewarded with the chairmanship of the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, a high-profile position that carries considerable clout in directing government spending and priorities on highways, ports, airports and river levees.

This appointment comes as little surprise because Graves was the ranking Republican on the committee when the Democrats held the majority. After the GOP won a narrow majority in the general election, it stood to reason that Graves, a loyal ally of new House speaker Kevin McCarthy, would be elevated.

Events that transpired since the November election show that the Northwest Missouri Republican has his work cut out for him.

Earlier this month, in a scene that resembled Jerry Springer more than C-SPAN, McCarthy got into a verbal spat with rebellious Republicans on the House floor. An astute viewer would have noticed that Graves, seated in the foreground, barely looked over his shoulder to view the fracas behind him. This sense of calm would suggest that dysfunction comes as no big surprise or perhaps Graves was preoccupied with a really important text.

One of the first preoccupations for Graves, who happens to be a licensed pilot, should be to address what’s wrong with the U.S. aviation system. First, Southwest Airlines left thousands of passengers stranded during the holiday season as mass flight cancellations reverberated through the country. Then, a Federal Aviation Administration outage led to thousands of flight delays in what was the biggest shutdown of air traffic since 9/11.

McCarthy’s ugly, grind-it-out march toward the speakership isn’t exactly a confidence builder for those who would like to see a government that can pay its bills, rebuild its infrastructure or maybe get the planes or arrive and depart on time.

Some of those core functions now fall into the lap of Graves, who didn’t support President Biden’s $1.2 trillion infrastructure bill but now finds himself at the center of legislative oversight to determine if this huge amount of federal spending actually does what it’s supposed to do. Maybe the skepticism of an outsider is what’s needed, starting with an air travel system that seems rickety on a good day.

Unlike funding for the IRS, fixing the aviation system and advancing an FAA reauthorization bill should be bipartisan priorities that don’t get bogged in the swamp. They certainly aren’t things that Graves can ignore.