Sunday, September 26, 2021
Sept. 26, 2021

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In Our View: Critical race theory target of ill-informed rhetoric

The Columbian

Discussion about the inclusion of critical race theory in Washington schools is necessary. But that discussion must be based on facts rather the kind of rhetoric that has inhabited internet posts and conservative media.

A quick Google search reveals multiple headlines claiming that Washington schools are requiring the teaching of the controversial theory, and those headlines have spurned outrage from misinformed parents. School board meetings in Camas and Washougal have been infused with vitriol, echoing a national backlash against the theory.

The truth is that Washington schools are not requiring the teaching of critical race theory, and the backlash has mischaracterized an important step in our nation’s racial reckoning.

This year, Gov. Jay Inslee signed Senate Bill 5044, requiring a professional training day for public school staff that focuses on topics such as diversity, equity and inclusion. Local school boards will determine how that training requirement is met. The bill was supported by all Southwest Washington Democratic lawmakers, while all local Republicans voted against it.

Nowhere in the new law is critical race theory mentioned, and there is one reference to race: “ ‘Diversity’ describes the presence of similarities and differences within a given setting, collective, or group based on multiple factors including race.”

The purpose is not to pit one race against another; it is to help teachers create a more inclusive classroom while being cognizant of students’ differing backgrounds. Yet efforts to bolster inclusion have become a touchstone in the nation’s damaging culture wars.

Critical race theory has been a lightning rod for those wars, and that has led to falsehoods from those seeking to exploit wedge issues. The theory dates to the 1970s, when it was developed by academics as a lens through which to assess American history. The basics: Racism has played a role in the development of American legal and social systems.

Whether or not one finds that to be a useful tool for examining our criminal justice system or our history of exclusionary housing laws, the theory has nothing to do with the current or future curriculum of K-12 education. As Washougal school board member Angela Hancock said during a recent meeting: “Our district is not teaching this. It’s not a curriculum that we’re adopting. It’s not something that’s in our policy. I just want to make it clear that it’s not the same thing, because I know there’s a lot of misinformation about that.”

That misinformation has led critics to view critical race theory as a menacing agenda that targets vulnerable schoolchildren. Those critics claim the theory is based on Marxist ideology, is discriminatory, and will undermine our very democracy.

All of that is hyperbole, and it threatens to overwhelm an accurate teaching of American history and much-needed discussions about this nation’s racial history. Our education system is remiss if it ignores the truth about slavery and the truth of how bigotry has permeated our financial and health care systems — just as it would be remiss to foster racial animus on all sides. History must not shy away from painful truths, and discrimination from any perspective must be opposed.

Those two desires are not mutually exclusive. It is entirely possible to examine America’s racial history without placing blame or fostering divisiveness. Efforts to stop the discussion before it begins seek to ensure that we remain stuck in the past rather than attempting to move forward.