An elderly white woman's take on Critical Race Theory in Utah
Once upon a time two men on the far right, Manhattan Institute senior fellow Christopher Rufo and Fox News’ Tucker Carlson, decided to create a fairy tale about a respectable, controversial, but little known law school discipline called Critical Race Theory (CRT).
They knew nothing about it but thought would make a “good political weapon” — Rufo’s words. He tweeted, “We have decodified the term and will recodify it to annex the entire range of cultural constructions that are unpopular with Americans.” “We have successfully frozen their brand — ‘critical race theory’ — into the public conversation and are steadily driving up negative perceptions. We will eventually turn it toxic, as we put all of the various cultural insanities under that brand category. The goal is to have the public read something crazy in the newspaper and immediately think ‘critical race theory.’” Their first and most important convert was Donald Trump, whom they helped to draft an executive order banning what they told him CRT was. They then worked with state legislators on bills doing the same (The New Yorker, 06/18/21).
One such resolution passed the Utah State legislature. School Boards were targeted next. Iron County School Board member David Staheli proposed a resolution to prevent schools from teaching the fairy-tale version (https://www.stgeorgeutah.com/wp-content/uploads/2021/06/RESOLUTION-IN-SUPPORT-OF-PROHIBITING-CRT.docx.pdf). Here are a few problems with his interpretation:
• CRT does not teach that America will “always” be a racist country, nor does it disavow founding principles and progress. CRT dates from the 1970s, when Black scholars realized that the Civil Rights Act of 1964 had accomplished very little. Far from ignoring them, CR theorists debate what our founding principles originally meant to Blacks and others at the time, how that in turn influenced current perceptions, and how slavery and systemic racism fit into all of this. Without question, the latter persists (Slate, 06/25/21) — red-lining, banned in 1968 but still practiced (Washington Post, 05/28/18); neighborhoods walled-off by highways; funding schools with property taxes in poor areas; health care discrepancies (Am J. Pub. Health 2010, suppl. 1); exclusion from financial benefits of home ownership (Vox, 06/24,21); discrimination in employment, military service, prison terms, school disciplinary actions. Suspicious shop clerks, unwarranted traffic stops.
• “Divisiveness” is the new GOP buzzword. However, CRT in no way teaches children to hate each other or be ashamed of their own race. Teaching about past mistakes doesn’t automatically shame children. That’s a specious argument. Teachers know how to avoid that.
The school board resolution failed but was presented in nearly identical form by Commissioner Paul Cozens on June 28 to the Iron County Commission. Many residents applaud this effort but Rufo himself admitted that “This entire movement came from nothing” (New Yorker). Mr. Cozens prays “for the day in this country when we can just be colorblind…” without understanding why CR theorists consider “colorblindness” with regard to race as part of the problem (Am. J. Pub. Heath, 2010 suppl. 1).
Speakers favoring the Commission resolution spouted familiar cable news rhetoric. One called CRT satanic! The fifth speaker (No. 5) gave a more polished analysis starting with defining CRT as an evil discipline right up there with communism and Nazism. He implied an association between CRT and a program that uses social and emotional learning to help facilitate (not replace) academic programs, originating from a group named CASEL (the Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning — note the prominent placement of the word Academic). CASEL has been around for years and is well respected but it’s recently been targeted as a purveyor of CRT propaganda in schools.
No. 5 cited passages from a text he didn’t identify. Here’s the link — https://casel.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/04/equity-and-SEL-.pdf. I recommend reading it before watching the Commission meeting video (YouTube). No. 5 treated the passages as authors’ opinions when they are actually summaries of peer-reviewed research. Researchers debate each others’ conclusions all the time and sometimes treat each other with contempt, but they are expected to stick to facts and provide evidence. No. 5 dismissed these scholars out of hand.
• One such passage described results of research on how U.S. cultural norms promote materialism. It DIDN’T say that capitalism causes racism.
• CASEL defines education equity as “[E]very student [having] access to the resources and educational rigor they need at the right moment in their education…” In other words, providing for every student “according to his needs.” But because Karl Marx also said this, it’s a “BAD THING.” Ask parents of special needs kids what would happen if schools stopped helping them according to individual needs and let them sink or swim like everybody else (equity vs. equality).
• No.. 5 complains that “honesty” and “integrity” are missing from lists of important components of “self.” I found evidence of both. Authors describe one facet of self-awareness as “accurate self-assessment of strengths and challenges.” Additional facets include “regulating one’s emotions, stress management, self-control, self-motivation, and setting and achieving goals”; “building relationships, communicating clearly, working cooperatively, resolving conflicts, and seeking help”; and “considering the well-being of self and others; recognizing one’s responsibility to behave ethically; basing decisions on safety, social, and ethical considerations…”
• Finally, the authors never claimed that we should teach little kids that race is the sole center of their identities.
Please take this as a warning about what we’re up against. Our opponents have it easy; they just have to repeat the words they’ve been fed over and over again. We have to have actual evidence.
For anyone interested in digging deeper into this fascinating topic, I recommend starting with “Critical Race Theory (3rd edition): An Introduction” by Richard Delgado et al.
Leigh Washburn is a member of the Iron County Democrats.