When local schools reopen later this week, the main concern probably won't be Covid as it has been the last two years.
While Covid is still around — and burning through the community with a lot of cases right now — school debates over mask mandates and remote learning are being pushed to the background by a series of new concerns.
As school reopen, some teachers are fearful about new state laws that delve deeply into classrooms by demanding what can, and cannot, be taught to students and what materials they have access to.
Rather than trusting local school leaders and teachers to decide curriculum, state political leaders — all Republicans — have decided to censor what can and cannot be taught about race in Georgia schools.
The move to censor classroom discussions in the state comes amid a misplaced hysteria about CRT (Critical Race Theory) that has become a boogyman for those on the political right to shout about.
In reality, the theory is mostly confined to college academics and has never been a part of the curriculum in Georgia schools. But right-wing media outlets have elevated it as part of their anti-elite crusade that portrays academia as being anti-American and public schools as hotbeds of anti-American teaching.
The central thesis of CRT is that most American institutions are inherently racist due to past racial policies that continue to echo today.
One can debate that, but in reality, that's not what's being taught in Georgia classrooms. So why has the state's GOP leadership made it such an issue?
To generate fear and whip up the conservative GOP base during an election year.
It's not about what's taught in the classroom, it's about creating a divisive political environment that uses fear as a motivation to vote.
Racial issues obviously have deep roots in Georgia's history.
Initially, the colony of Georgia was a slave-free state, the only colony that didn't allow slavery. That was, for a time, backed by the British Parliament which oversaw the Georgia colony through a board of trustees.
But by 1745, pro-slavery voices won the day and the trustees overturned its ban on slavery in Georgia. Within a few years, the state had thousands of slaves working on plantations.
The issue of slavery was critical to the founding of the nation after the Revolutionary War. Eventually, slaves were counted at 3/5 of a person in the U.S. Constitution and the Founders kicked the slavery issue down the road.
That eventually led to the Civil War which, despite some who claim otherwise, was indeed about slavery.
After the war, slavery ended, but the suppression of Black Americans didn't. For 100 years, Black Americans were disenfranchised by whites, especially here in the South where Jim Crow ruled with a heavy hand and was sometimes enforced with violence.
Along with legal disenfranchisement, social and cultural barriers were also erected to keep Black Americans subjected and out of the dominate white cultural environment. Interracial marriage was illegal, Black were put at the back of the bus, water fountains were separate, banks redlined property owned by minorities and schools were not integrated.
In the Old South, Black and white citizens lived separate lives and only intersected in narrow, proscribed ways.
Another way white Americans expressed this dominance was through the public school curriculums where white students were taught a very distorted view of history. This was part of the Myth of the Lost Cause, a movement that attempted to rewrite history. The United Daughters of the Confederacy was a major leader of that effort, along with other groups with similar views.
A major part of those efforts involved censoring and rewriting school text books to reflect White Supremacy views. Among those were arguments that slavery wasn't bad for slaves, that the North was to blame for slavery, that slavery wasn't the cause of the Civil War and that whites were inherently superior to Blacks.
For decades, history textbooks in most Southern states reflected those views. Many of us were taught from these books well into the 1970s.
So it's undeniable that white culture dominated the social, political and cultural agenda for decades.
Times have changed and the nation has made a vast amount of progress toward rectifying those old abuses. That's not to say the playing field is completely level today, but it's better than it used to be.
And maybe that's why the state has decided to attack public schools with a series of new law designed to suppress discussion about the past. There are some whites who still haven't accepted Black citizens as equals and they don't want their children to learn about how white supremacy ruled the state for over 100 years.
The idea behind the "divisive concepts" law is for schools to not teach ideas that may cause students to feel hurt or singled out by race. The goal is to not make white children feel bad about the past.
So how do teachers teach real history about race without acknowledging that white supremacy was a dominate concept for over a century?
What will happen is that teachers will self-censor and water down their curriculum. They won't discuss the past in any detail. History curriculums about race will become pablum.
There are other new laws as well where the state is pushing a political agenda into public schools.
Under the guise of "parental rights," school text books and library books will come under increasing pressure. Some Republican parents are already targeting the removal of library books that feature LGBQT discussions or characters.
While parents have a right to govern what their children read, they don't have the right to dictate what other children have access to read.
But that's a very real trend as public libraries and school libraries have come under an organized and orchestrated attack by fringe groups that seek to censor what books go onto library shelves.
I suppose none of this is really new. There have long been debates about what's taught in public schools. The teaching of evolution has been a multi-generational issue. At one time, the far-right even created a counter curriculum of "creationism" that had no scientific basis, but it was popular among conservative parents.
These things tend to come in waves and then recede as people lose energy and interest. I suspect the current efforts by the state to control the details of what's taught in classrooms about race will also recede as new issues arise.
And in today's world, politicians can't control the social, educational and political agenda by simply censoring classrooms. Information about the nation's racial history is vast and deep and can be accessed by any student on his or her cell phone.
Censorship is, really, a joke in a world where social media elevates misinformation as being just as important as truth.
Still, the move by the state's GOP leadership to politicize public school classrooms with censorship efforts is troubling.
They want to ban "divisive concepts," but their actions are themselves divisive.
The same thing can be said of the far political left which, like the GOP, wants to control what's said and taught. The difference is, however, the left uses social pressure to do that while the GOP is using the machinery of government.
And nothing good will ever come from politicians who want to become thought police.