Parents groups formed to combat critical race theory in K-12 schools vowed not to back down after teachers’ unions said last week that they would go to court to allow the concept to be taught in the nation’s classrooms.
The leaders of the American Federation of Teachers and the National Education Association have vowed to use their deep pockets and extensive political and lobbying muscle to defend teachers who support curriculums infused with critical race theory, which teaches that American laws and systems are inherently racist, and to employ opposition research teams to go after the groups hostile to that teaching.
“We aren’t afraid of them,” said Tina Descovich, a co-founder of Moms For Liberty, a group that formed in large part to protest school shutdowns during the COVID-19 pandemic and is now opposed to what it regards as divisive and harmful critical race theory methods.
“We know they have millions of dollars and members and we’re just parents, but we think we should have a voice, too,” she said. “If [the unions] are so upset at that, maybe they ought to look at what they are doing that has made us so upset.”
Critical race theory, created by leftist legal academics, argues that laws and policies from the past continue to discriminate against Black people and other people of color and that Whites benefit from those laws and policies.
In practice, teaching critical race theory separates students by immutable characteristics such as race, gender and sexual preference and then ascribes negative and positive attributes to each.
At least six state legislatures, along with the state education department in Florida where Moms for Liberty began, have banned the use of critical race theory-informed practices that automatically and constantly slot students by race, gender and sexual preference.
Nicole Neily, president of Parents Defending Education, said the unions and American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten are lying about what critical race theorists do inside schools and that the practices her group and others oppose are often violations of civil rights laws.
“Nobody is contesting ‘teaching history’ or ‘teaching slavery,’ and to accuse parents of doing so is not only lazy, it’s also a straw man,” Ms. Neily said.
Division of students based on their characteristics leads to clear violations of civil rights laws, and some of the theory’s most celebrated material, such as the New York Times’ “1619 Project,” is “shoddy, ahistorical curriculum,” Ms. Neily said.
The “1619 Project,” part of which won a Pulitzer Prize, makes slavery the centerpiece of U.S. history. Some of its key elements, such as the reasons for the American Revolution, were false, according to prominent historians, although supporters note The New York Times has quietly made changes to the material since it was published.
Ms. Neily also took issue with what she said is a semantic game the unions and others play in denying that critical race theory is a part of K-12 education.
Ms. Weingarten has said the theory is a college-level concept and that the teaching in K-12 schools is simply a clear-eyed approach to the racist flaws embedded in America’s institutions.
“Culture warriors are labeling any discussion of race, racism or discrimination as CRT and try to make it toxic,” she said. “They are bullying teachers and trying to stop us from teaching students accurate history.”
But the critical race theory initiatives being used in schools such as “privilege walks” and books that label White people as inherently oppressive have angered parents in Massachusetts, Connecticut, Rhode Island, Virginia, Florida, Nevada and other states, as lawsuits and recent school board elections have shown.
“Over and over again, families have been told that CRT is not being taught in schools, despite the fact that last week the NEA voted both to promote its teaching and to investigate and intimidate organizations like [Parents Defending Education] that oppose its implementation,” Ms. Neily said.
Pushing back against state legislatures’ crackdown on the teaching of critical race theory, the left-wing Zinn Education Project has announced a “pledge to tell the truth” that seeks teachers’ commitment to use the theory regardless of laws or expressed opposition to it.
“Lawmakers in at least 26 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,” said the project, which is one of the providers of critical race theory-approved material for K-12 classes. The project is named after far-left history professor Howard Zinn, whose work has been criticized as biased and revisionist.
Although the Zinn Education Project said the pledge was “public” and that “we will display the name, city/state, and response to question[sic] about why you are signing the pledge,” that information was not available at the site Friday.
The group did not respond to requests for comment and for a list of its 5,099 signatories.
But conservative scholars Lindsey Burke and Mike Gonzalez at the Heritage Foundation, whose criticism of moves toward critical race theory in public and charter schools drew special notice from the American Federation of Teachers, said the pledge idea reflects a troubling attitude.
“Just like the writings of the man it’s named after, the pledge is not based on facts or an objective or fair explanation of them,” Ms. Burke and Mr. Gonzalez told The Washington Times. “This pledge’s claim that the major institutions and systems of our country are infected with oppression, and that structural racism is a ‘defining characteristic of our society today,’ is not based on reality but on the doctrinal beliefs of the fevered minds at the Zinn Education Project.”