News and Opinion from Sisters, Oregon

‘Critical Race Theory’ and Sisters schools

Critical Race Theory (CRT) is one of the most contentious issues in the nation. It is also known as Critical Race Training, or occasionally as Culturally Responsive Teaching. CRT is not, as is frequently suggested, a curriculum.

Critical Race Theory is an academic concept that is more than 40 years old. The core idea is that racism is a social construct, and that it is not merely the product of individual bias or prejudice, but also something embedded in legal systems and policies.

The basic tenets of CRT race theory, or CRT, emerged out of a framework for legal analysis in the late 1970s and early 1980s created by legal scholars Derrick Bell, Kimberlé Crenshaw, and Richard Delgado, among others.

Dorinda Carter Andrews, professor and chairperson of the Department of Education at Michigan State University writes that, “CRT dismisses the idea that racism stems from acts of individuals but rather [is] rooted in a system of oppression based on socially constructed racial hierarchy where white people reap material benefits over people of color resulting from misuse of power.”

Opponents claim that CRT is itself racist, dividing students by skin color or classed as either oppressed or the oppressor. John McWhorter, a Black man who teaches linguistics and music history at Columbia University, hosts Slate’s Lexicon Valley podcast, and is a contributing editor at The Atlantic, just penned an essay: “You Are Not A Racist To Criticize Critical Race Theory. Dismiss those pretending that if you don’t like what’s happening in our schools, you’re a jingoistic moron who doesn’t want kids to learn about racism.”

Ground zero for CRT debate is Loudon County, Virginia, where last Tuesday saw the arrest or citation of two agitated parents who were among 259 lined up to speak before the school board against CRT or transgender rights proposals. The board, which supports CRT and intends to introduce it into its schools, has been under intense scrutiny for the last month and its meetings widely publicized.

Seven states, including Iowa, have legislated that CRT or derivatives be forbidden within public schools. Twenty other states, including Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Rhode Island, Michigan, Maine, and New Hampshire, have legislation pending or proposed that would ban or put strict limitations on CRT or comparable academic theories being included in the classroom.

Keisha King, a Black mother of two in Duval County, Florida; Shawntel Cooper, another Black mom in Loudon County; and Tatiana Ibrahim, a Muslim woman, whose child attends Putnam County, New York schools, have all addressed their school boards with impassioned speeches that have collectively been tweeted, retweeted, or have been viewed on Facebook or YouTube over 20 million times.

Moms are not alone in pushing back. Kory Yeshua and his daughter took to TikTok, where Yeshua has 273,000 followers, to denounce CRT. Ty Smith, who holds two medical degrees, is a Black father of two teenage sons. His address to the Illinois District 87 School Board has been viewed over a million times.

For her part, Loudon School Board Chair Brenda Sheridan refuses to shy away from equity training, saying, “Dog-whistle politics will not delay our work. We will not back down from fighting for the rights of our students and continuing our focus on equity.”

Against this backdrop, The Nugget sought comment from Sisters School District officials. Jay Wilkins, outgoing school board chair was reluctant to discuss CRT out of deference to the incoming board, but did say, “CRT is a super-charged topic right now — well beyond Sisters — with many folks drawing big, sweeping conclusions based on a limited or biased understanding of the facts.”

We asked Superintendent Curt Scholl if CRT was on the horizon for SSD6.

“I hope CRT is not mandated by the state,” Scholl said.

He believes that the District is already doing good work in connecting all 1,100 kids in the system to learning and feeling valued. He expressed the importance of local control.

His greater concern was the issue being politicized. Scholl believes the District is in a good place with respect to teaching students to think for themselves.

“CRT is only a theory,” Scholl said. “And like all theories it’s healthy to debate them and have a diversity of opinion and analysis.”

He’s ready, he says, to hear perspective from all sides, while worrying that there exists so much misperception that it will require a lot of conversation. Right now, his primary focus is on the budget and implementing the expansion plans made possible by recent passage of the bond levy.

Sisters High School history teacher Gail Greaney is more concerned about the misinformation surrounding CRT and the lack of a common understanding or a non-academic definition. As it is not a course of study — thus part of a curriculum — she does not see the Oregon Department of Education imposing a position and has heard no formal talk of it.

She plans to talk about CRT in her government course but as she does with any controversial subject – conversationally.

“That allows students to become familiar with an important topic and think it through by talking it out loud,” Greaney said. “We don’t teach students what to think but how to think about issues, the pros and cons, the advantages or disadvantages, ways to improve the understanding of differing views and approaches.”

Greaney is steadfast that SSD6 teachers will continue to talk about inclusivity and making students “feel celebrated not tolerated.”

 

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