By CCDC Chair Charlotte Valyo, in response to a 7/15/21 opinion piece by Chester County Republican Party Chair Gordon Eck
Over the past six months, President Biden has been successfully getting our country back on track and making America “normal” again. We have record job creation, wage growth for working families, normalized relationships with our allies, and are even on the brink of a major bipartisan infrastructure package. With strong presidential approval ratings, Republicans have been getting worried about losing additional seats in Congress in 2022 and the real possibility that the White House may be out of reach for them in 2024.
So rather than an honest look at where their party went wrong or how to win back the voters that fled Donald Trump in overwhelming numbers, they are doubling down on culture wars and turning to their familiar tactics of trying to divide our country. We have all seen this play before.
More has probably been written about the origins and history of “Critical Race Theory” in the last five months, including in these pages, than in the 50 years since the term was first formally coined. I won’t rehash what is widely available, other than to briefly summarize: it is an academic theory that racism is not merely a belief held by individuals but has been woven into structures and institutions over our history.
If this sounds like a complex, somewhat controversial concept that should be debated in higher education environments, you are correct. In fact, the President of the American Federation of Teachers, Randi Weingarten, recently said definitively that critical race theory is not taught in U.S. elementary, middle, and high schools– the subject is taught only in law school and in college, including at the US Military Academy.
Despite this, Republicans and their allies in the right-wing media have been frightening parents from coast to coast with warnings that CRT is being used to brainwash students in their local school systems, turning ordinarily mundane school board meetings into screaming matches. They have turned ordinary, important discussions about race, diversity, and inclusion into a toxic conspiracy that the left wing is trying to teach white children they are oppressors and black children that they are victims. And stuck in the middle of these dangerous lies and inflammatory rhetoric are the very students, teachers, parents, and communities that Republicans are claiming to try to protect.
As School Boards have been confronted by these angry parents, the truth– that Critical Race Theory is not taught in the K-12 space– has begun to emerge. But this has not stopped the Right from continuing their crusade; Chris Rufo, one of the “founders” of this effort, admits the goal is not to stop CRT from being taught, but “to have the public read something crazy in the newspaper and immediately think ‘critical race theory’” and make the term represent the “entire range of cultural constructions that are unpopular with Americans.”
Recently on these pages, the Chair of the Chester County Republicans also admitted that you will not find Critical Race Theory included in local school curriculums, but instead instructed readers to look for incredibly broad terms like “racism… equity, diversity, inclusion…” ideas that I think most reasonable people agree belong in an education system that seeks to prepare kind, decent, well-rounded students for life-long success.
If these right-wing efforts to divide us were limited to some angry parents at school board meetings, that would be one thing, but they are not. GOP-controlled states are passing laws restricting teachers’ ability to educate their students honestly and openly, and in some cases, threaten educators with criminal charges for teaching legitimate, fact-based United States history.
Ironically, this oppression of education is the exact thing that the Right is falsely accusing school systems of doing. It is the responsibility of our schools to present facts. We live in an amazing country with a history of many great moments, but also some darker ones. Teachers need the freedom to present all sides of an issue or an occurrence in our history so that they can teach students how to use information to come to their own conclusions. Recognition of our past prepares us to deal with the present and future. Allowing schools to foster honest and open discussions is vital to developing critical thinking skills and well-educated citizens.
It is unfortunate that we have come to a point in our political environment where the Right feels comfortable using our school systems, teachers, and students as political pawns. There are many real issues facing our education system, from the return to full-time, in-person schooling to education funding reform, to the technology and broadband gap that was exposed over the pandemic. Our school boards and state education officials should be focused on those challenges.
Instead, school board members– volunteers who step forward to serve their communities– are facing wild accusations and are being forced to address conspiracy theories. I was disappointed to see my Republican counterpart here in Chester County jump into this territory in a desperate attempt to win back voters.
It is time for us to get back to debating the real issues. I will put our Democratic policies, ideals, and record of achievements up against the Republicans’ any day. And I think they know that in a fair fight, we win. So, here we are, again.
(See also as letter to the editor “CRT in Chester County: Teachers need to present all sides of history,” Daily Local News, July 19, 2021)