Congressional Democrats from New Jersey on Friday urged educational publishers to resist rewriting their textbooks in response to demands from Republican-led states, saying “we will not stand for lowering our educational standards and learning opportunities for our students, based on the divisive politics of censorship.”
Both of the state’s senators and five House members signed the letter, a response to GOP officials railing against what they call “critical race theory” and objecting to content that mentions gay and lesbian-led families and incidents of racism in American history.
“If you comply with such demands to alter textbooks based on the Florida law or similar legislation in other states, we ask that you continue to make available the original, uncensored textbooks to schools in New Jersey and other states,” the lawmakers wrote.
“We are proud of having some of the highest rated public schools in the country in our state, and we will not stand for lowering our educational standards and learning opportunities for our students, based on the divisive politics of censorship from politicians in Florida, Texas or anywhere else.”
The letter to four textbook publishers was led by Rep. Tom Malinowski, D-7th Dist., and U.S. Sen. Cory Booker. Malinowski has been hammered on the issue by Republican groups backing former state Senate GOP Leader Tom Kean Jr., who is trying to win the congressional seat he barely lost in 2020.
Democratic lawmakers said in their letter that Republican efforts to limit what can be taught in schools appears to be “nothing more than a bigoted censorship campaign designed to frighten parents, stoke racial grievance, and bully textbook publishers into submission.”
Florida rejected more than 40% of textbooks while Texas limited how teachers could discuss slavery and racism.
The lawmakers said they were worried that “any changes made to appease their demands will affect the quality of public education in New Jersey and other states.”
Republicans successfully made school curricula a wedge issue last fall as they came close to defeating Gov. Phil Murphy and won the governorship in Virginia for the first time in more than a decade.
“I don’t believe that we should be teaching that America is a racist nation,” New Jersey GOP gubernatorial nominee Jack Ciattarelli said at a town hall meeting in August 2021.
Rutgers University President Jonathan Holloway called the debate over critical race theory “dog whistle politics.”
“Political conservatives have used this with incredible effectiveness to cause anxiety, to get people angry, and then get them to the polls,” Holloway told The Star-Ledger editorial board shortly after the 2021 gubernatorial election.
The issue exploded anew this spring over New Jersey’s 2-year-old health and physical education standards, which outline when students should be taught about such topics as sexual orientation, gender identity, and anatomy. Republicans insisted that the guidelines be repealed while Democrats said the concerns were blown out of proportion and were at odds with the facts.
“The narrative that our New Jersey public schools are teaching young children inappropriate content flat out ‘is not true,’” Malinowski tweeted in April. “Republicans are ‘using rhetoric that plays on parents’ fears’ to drum up votes.”
The National Republican Congressional Committee has sought to make an issue out of Malinowski’s comments.
“Tom Malinowski’s anti-parent tirade started a culture war in NJ-07 and he’s just upset that New Jersey parents heard what he really thinks about them,” spokeswoman Samantha Bullock said.
And the Tea Party Patriots cited the issue in endorsing Kean on Thursday.
“While Governor Phil Murphy and his big-government pals are determined to force a radical liberal curriculum onto children and indoctrinate them with leftist propaganda, Tom Kean has been one of New Jersey’s strongest advocates for parental rights and has used his position to fight on behalf of all New Jersey parents and their children,” said Sal Russo, the group’s co-founder and chief strategist.
Our journalism needs your support. Please subscribe today to NJ.com.
Jonathan D. Salant may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him at @JDSalant.
Start your day with the latest from Trenton, D.C. and your town. Get the N.J. Politics newsletter now.