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Legislative Education Committee explores critical race theory and its potential presence in schools

MORGANTOWN – Legislators visited the controversial topic of critical race theory on Tuesday, with three presenters giving the joint Education Committee an overview of the topic and whether it’s present in West Virginia schools.

Tuesday was the third day of September interim meetings. Education Committee Counsel Melissa White provided the overview. She said 26 states are looking at bills or other means – such as school board policies – to ban any teaching connected with CRT; 12 legislatures have passed bans; there is no federal law on the topic.

White read at length from a Wikipedia article on the subject, but most newspapers, including The Dominion Post, do not use Wikipedia as source material so we’ve complied a limited overview from various sources.

The left-leaning Brookings Institute gives a favorable but concise summary: “Critical race theory states that U.S. social institutions (e.g., the criminal justice system, education system, labor market, housing market, and healthcare system) are laced with racism embedded in laws, regulations, rules, and procedures that lead to differential outcomes by race. Sociologists and other scholars have long noted that racism can exist without racists. However, many Americans are not able to separate their individual identity as an American from the social institutions that govern us—these people perceive themselves as the system. Consequently, they interpret calling social institutions racist as calling them racist personally.”

CRT’s history stems back to the 1970s, other sources explain, from the work of law professor Derrick Bell, who believed, “racism is so deeply rooted in the makeup of American society that it has been able to reassert itself after each successive wave of reform aimed at eliminating it. … Racial progress had occurred mainly when it aligned with white interests—beginning with emancipation, which … came about as a prerequisite for saving the Union.

CRT extends beyond race and takes into account what’s called “intersectionality” to involve other marginalized communities, such as the LQBTQ population. CRT proponent Kimberlé Crenshaw said, one source explains, CRT applies to “the way in which people who belong to more than one marginalized community can be overlooked by anti-discrimination law.”

Ibram X. Kendi, director of Boston University’s Center for Antiracist Research, has said, “Racist ideas did not arise from ignorance or hatred. They were created to justify and rationalize deeply entrenched discriminatory policies and the nation’s racial inequities.”

He continues, “No nation, no person, is inherently or permanently racist. The anti-racist resistance to slavery and Jim Crow is as much a part of American history as those peculiar institutions are. White people have been abolitionists and civil-rights activists, and they are among the people striving to be anti-racist today.”

He advocates teaching a more expansive history. “What will make America true is the willingness of the American people to stare at their national face for the first time, to open the book of their history for the first time, and see themselves for themselves – all the political viciousness, all the political beauty – and finally right the wrongs, or spend the rest of the life of America trying. This can be who we are.”

CRT opponents cite news reports of major companies requiring white employees to go through sensitivity training where they must confront their whiteness and inherent prejudices.

One conservative publication that opposes CRT-based education in K-12 schools cites Kendi’s book “How to Be an Antiracist.” Kendi says, “The only remedy to past discrimination is present discrimination. The only remedy to present discrimination is future discrimination.” This means, the publication says, “discrimination against whites is the only way to achieve equality.”

Matt Turner, with the Higher Education Policy Commission, told the committee that HEPC polled all public four-year and two-years schools to see if any course work specific to CRT is being taught on campuses.

They did not find there were any majors or courses specifically dedicated to teaching the concept, he said. “That’s not to say it’s not something that’s being discussed on our campuses or part of other coursework.”

Michele Blatt, deputy state superintendent of schools, said none of state education standards address CRT. All standards are reviewed on cyclical basis and brought before the Legislature. The state Board of Education’s instructional resources policy says that resources that contain political bias cannot be part of a selected curriculum.

Sen. Eric Tarr, R-Putnam, asked Blatt about the board’s School Recovery and Guidance document, created to respond to the pandemic. He questioned whether the guidance in fact promotes political bias by saying it seeks to “ensure curriculum and resources promote social justice and equity for all students.”

He said social justice and equity are buzz terms for such liberal/progressive organizations as the American Federation of Teachers. Equality and equity aren’t the same: Equality provides equal resources for all; equity seeks equal outcomes regardless of equality of resources.

Blatt said they they see social justice as equal access to academic, physical social and emotional well being and support, and career opportunities for students. Their view of that term and of the word equity don’t correspond with the national political discussions of those words.

“I can assure you that this statement does not mean what it seems to imply to others,” she said. The word equity could be changed if the Legislature wishes. Tarr said he would like to see it corrected.

Sen. Mike Azinger, R-Wood, called CRT “raw Marxism.” He referred to an article in an ultra-conservative publication describing a petition effort by the Zinn Education Project.

The project’s website asks teachers to sign a pledge quoting Martin Luther King Jr., “One has not only a legal, but a moral responsibility to obey just laws. Conversely, one has a moral responsibility to disobey unjust laws.” They pledge, “We, the undersigned educators, refuse to lie to young people about U.S. history and current events.”

The Zinn Project says, “Lawmakers in at least 27 states are attempting to pass legislation that would require teachers to lie to students about the role of racism, sexism, heterosexism, and oppression throughout U.S. history.”

It cites a Missouri bill that would ban “teaching that identifies people or groups of people, entities, or institutions in the United States as inherently, immutably, or systemically sexist, racist, anti-LGBT, bigoted, biased, privileged, or oppressed. [The U.S.] was founded on dispossession of Native Americans, slavery, structural racism and oppression; and structural racism is a defining characteristic of our society today.”

The petition has 7,430 signatories to date. Azinger said 22 West Virginia teachers have signed it. The website’s process for tracking signatories was too cumbersome to verify this in time for deadline, but a separate publication listed 21 from West Virginia, including 12 from Morgantown.

Zinn was a historian who described himself as “something of an anarchist, something of a socialist. Maybe a democratic socialist.” His popular revisionist history book, A People’s History of the United States,” aims to teach that “when we look at history from the standpoint of the workers and not just the owners, the soldiers and not just the generals, the invaded and not just the invaders, we can begin to see society more fully, more accurately.”

Azinger said, “This critical race theory is infesting everything,” the government, armed forces, corporations, education. While it’s not as bad in West Virginia as in other states, “I promise you it’s coming.”

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