Posted on June 5, 2021

Disputing Racism’s Reach, Republicans Rattle American Schools

Trip Gabriel and Dana Goldstein, New York Times, June 1, 2021

In Loudoun County, Va., a group of parents led by a former Trump appointee are pushing to recall school board members after the school district called for mandatory teacher training in “systemic oppression and implicit bias.”

In Washington, 39 Republican senators called history education that focuses on systemic racism a form of “activist indoctrination.”

And across the country, Republican-led legislatures have passed bills recently to ban or limit schools from teaching that racism is infused in American institutions. After Oklahoma’s G.O.P. governor signed his state’s version in early May, he was ousted from the centennial commission for the 1921 Race Massacre in Tulsa, which President Biden visited on Tuesday to memorialize one of the worst episodes of racial violence in U.S. history.


Republicans have focused their attacks on the influence of “critical race theory,” a graduate school framework that has found its way into K-12 public education. The concept argues that historical patterns of racism are ingrained in law and other modern institutions, and that the legacies of slavery, segregation and Jim Crow still create an uneven playing field for Black people and other people of color.

Many conservatives portray critical race theory and invocations of systemic racism as a gauntlet thrown down to accuse white Americans of being individually racist. Republicans accuse the left of trying to indoctrinate children with the belief that the United States is inherently wicked.

Democrats are conflicted. Some worry that arguing America is racist to the root — a view embraced by elements of the party’s progressive wing — contradicts the opinion of a majority of voters and is handing Republicans an issue to use as a political cudgel. But large parts of the party’s base, including many voters of color, support more discussion in schools about racism’s reach, and believe that such conversations are an educational imperative that should stand apart from partisan politics.


Some of the discussion about education has been fueled by the 1619 Project, developed by The New York Times Magazine, which argues that “the country’s very origin” traces to when the first ship carrying enslaved people touched Virginia’s shore that year. “Out of slavery — and the anti-black racism it required — grew nearly everything that has truly made America exceptional,” the magazine’s editor wrote.

Educators have embraced curriculums created along with the project, responding to a changing nation in which a majority of public-school students are now nonwhite, but the teaching force remains nearly 80 percent white.

Republican pushback has been intense. Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the G.O.P. leader, said recently that he disagreed that 1619 was important in U.S. history. He and other Republican senators are pushing the Biden administration to drop efforts by the Education Department to prioritize history courses that emphasize “systemic marginalization” of peoples.

In Ohio, Republicans in the General Assembly introduced a bill last week to ban teaching that any individual is “inherently racist,” that any individual “bears responsibility for actions committed in the past by the same race or sex,” or that the advent of slavery “constitutes the true founding” of the United States.

“Critical race theory is a dangerous and flat-out wrong theory,” State Representative Don Jones, the bill’s lead sponsor, said in a statement. “Students should not be asked to ‘examine their whiteness’ or ‘check their privilege.’”


While few K-12 educators use the term “critical race theory,” discussions of systemic racism have become more common in American schools in recent years, particularly in liberal areas.

State social studies standards and textbooks have been updated to highlight subjects like redlining and the internment of Japanese-Americans during World War II.


Conservatives and even some liberals have said that discussions of race are crowding out the traditional curriculum and are encouraging students and teachers to see themselves less as individuals and more as members of identity groups.

In North Carolina, Republicans who control the state House of Representatives passed a bill in May to limit teaching that the country was “created by members of a particular race or sex to oppress members of another race or sex.”

The bill was a response to new social studies standards adopted by the state Board of Education that include themes of systemic racism. {snip}


Media Matters for America, a liberal group, documented a surge of negative coverage of critical race theory by Fox News beginning in mid-2020 and spiking in April, with 235 mentions. And the Pew Research Center found last year that Americans were deeply divided over their perceptions of racial discrimination. Over 60 percent of conservatives said it was a bigger problem that people see discrimination where it does not exist, rather than ignoring discrimination that really does exist. Only 9 percent of liberals agreed.

Some Democratic strategists said the issue was a political liability for their party. Ruy Teixeira, a longtime political scientist and the co-editor of a Substack newsletter called The Liberal Patriot, recently wrote, “The steady march of ‘anti-racist’ ideology” into school curriculums “will generate a backlash among normie parents.”

In an interview, he criticized leading Democrats for not calling out critical race theory because of their fear that “it will bring down the wrath of the woker elements of the party.”

In Loudoun County, Va., dueling parent groups are squaring off, one that calls itself “anti-racist” and the other opposed to what it sees as the creep of critical race theory in the school district, which enrolls 81,000 students from a rapidly diversifying region outside Washington.

After a 2019 report found a racial achievement gap, disproportionate discipline meted out to Black and Hispanic students, and the common use of racial slurs in schools, administrators adopted a “plan to combat systemic racism.” It calls for mandatory teacher training in “systemic oppression and implicit bias.”

But what the school district called “equity work,” some parents perceived as the advance of critical race theory into classrooms.

A parent group began a petition drive in April to recall six of nine school board members. {snip}