Opponents of critical race theory in K-12 education think they may have come up with a key tactic in their battle against principals and teachers adopting the left-leaning take on American history: run for the school board.
The Leadership Institute, a conservative nonprofit, has announced that it will soon offer a “school board training program” to help candidates for the often-overlooked elected positions to counter a growing and pervasive liberal influence over curriculum and material in the nation’s 17,000 public and charter school districts.
“It’s always valuable to have good candidates on the right who will fight for education instead of indoctrination, and some people on the left are clearly more interested in the indoctrination,” said Ron Nehring, the institute’s director of international training and a former school board member in San Diego.
“The teachers unions are well-organized in terms of backing school board candidates, but there’s not really an analogous infrastructure for conservatives to counter the unions, which are generally to the left,” Mr. Nehring said.
Critical race theory will not be the only topic of the 20- to 30-hour crash course in campaign management and issues, but it has dominated the education discussion in recent months.
The leadership of the nation’s two huge teachers unions, the American Federation of Teachers and the National Education Association, have vowed to put their considerable money and political muscle to push critical race theory instruction in K-12 classrooms.
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Critical race theory, a Marxist-flavored recasting of history that puts slavery at the center of the American experience, was birthed in law school before morphing into primary and secondary school approaches.
Supporters say it allows students to get a clear picture of systemic racism in the U.S.
By dividing students into groups based on skin color, gender and sexual preference, and ascribing positive or negative traits to each, students learn there is no such thing as a color-blind society and that racism permeates every activity in America, critical theorists say.
For much of the year, education professionals denied that critical race theory was used in K-12 schools. That position appears to have changed as teachers post social media videos saying they embrace the ideology and vow to continue using it in the classroom, even if it is outlawed as six state legislatures have done.
The Zinn Education Project has initiated a pledge whereby teachers promise to instruct students in critical race theory whether it is a part of the approved curriculum or not. The Biden administration has proposed Department of Education rules that would favor proposals laced with critical race theory when awarding grants for civics and U.S. history lessons.
“The culturally competent professional understands the impact and operation of oppression (racism, sexism, heterosexism, etc.), the politics of the education system, and the racist, sexist and homophobic concepts that have permeated institutions,” read an instruction manual for teachers in Loudon County, Virginia, last year, according to documents released by FightForSchool.com.
Opponents believe drilling students in concepts of “oppressor” or “oppressed” and the idea that White, heterosexual people have inherent advantages over and hostility toward people of color or LGBTQ students is a recipe for perpetuating and cementing racist society. Some say public schools use methods that violate civil rights laws.
Critical race theory opponents have begun to look at school board positions as a lever to expose how the theory works in schools, which they say contrasts sharply with supporters’ anodyne definitions.
“This is exactly the way to fight back against the left’s monopoly on our children’s education,” said Jim Hanson, the executive director of America Matters. “CRT-based programs that claim America is infected with systemic racism are not only inaccurate, but divisive in a way that re-creates elements of segregation and racism.”
Supporters of the strategy of going after school board seats won victories recently in Fairfax County, Virginia, where a fight erupted over one of the nation’s top-rated high schools: Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology in Alexandria.
A coalition opposed to critical race theory instruction and against an admissions policy designed to increase minority representation in the student body regardless of test scores recently won a majority on the school’s PTA chapter. The win prompted the Virginia state organization to try to revoke the chapter’s charter.
Mr. Nehring said the Leadership Institute’s course, which will be offered online or in person, will touch on other important issues such as a district’s collective bargaining agreement, if it is unionized, and fiscal management.
But the institute’s president, Morton Blackwell, made clear that critical race theory is at the heart of the enterprise when announcing the course last week.
“Unfortunately, leftists increasingly use their power on school boards to force their radical ideology on kids,” he wrote. “Critical race theory is the left’s latest form of evil unleashed on America’s youth. It promotes race-based division and twists America’s history into a hate-fueled delusion.”
The Leadership Institute is not the only outfit trying to train school board candidates. The Tea Party Patriots, which last week released a “tool kit” for parents and taxpayers concerned about critical race theory, has declared July “attend a school board meeting month,” said its honorary chairman, Jenny Beth Martin.
“We’ve had thousands of people who have expressed interest in either our ‘United We Stand’ tool kit or school board meeting month how-to guides and training sessions,” she said. “Parents and citizens are interested in running for office this year in a way we have not seen since the beginning of our Tea Party movement in 2009. Nearly 400 of our activists have expressed interest so far.”