Republican attorneys general charge that efforts to add diversity to education are 'deeply flawed and controversial.'
A group of 20 Republican attorneys general is demanding that the Department of Education not adopt proposed rules on including more racial and cultural diversity in American education.
In a letter printed on the official letterhead of Indiana Attorney General Todd Rokita and addressed to Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona, the attorneys general write:
As the chief legal officers of our respective states, we write to express our deep concerns with the proposed priorities recently issued by the United States Department of Education ... The proposed priorities are a thinly veiled attempt at bringing into our states' classrooms the deeply flawed and controversial teachings of Critical Race Theory and the 1619 Project. Critical Race Theory ... is an ideological construct that analyzes and interprets American history and government primarily through the narrow prism of race. ... As such, it distorts, rather than illuminates, a proper and accurate understanding of our nation's history and governmental institutions and, therefore, is fundamentally at odds with federal and state law.
Accordingly, the Department should not adopt the proposed rule or, at a minimum, should make clear that grants may not fund projects that are based on CRT, including any projects that characterize the United States as irredeemably racist or founded on principles of racism (as opposed to principles of equality) or that purport to ascribe character traits, values, privileges, status, or beliefs, or that assign fault, blame, or bias, to a particular race or to an individual because of his or her race.
In addition to Rokita, the letter was co-signed by the attorneys general of Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, Georgia, Idaho, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Texas, Utah, and West Virginia.
The Biden administration published the proposed rule in the Federal Register on April 14 and sought public comment through May 19.
There is no mention of "critical race theory" in the entire document, but Republicans have seized on the label to describe any ideas and initiatives that include an examination of racism in the United States' history and development and its current reality. They insist that any discussion of such topics is in itself racist and divisive and "un-American."
In a "Perspective" column published in the Washington Post on May 19, University of Oklahoma professor Kathryn Schumaker writes of an Oklahoma law aimed at preventing the teaching of so-called critical race theory:
But the law also distorts the meaning of CRT. The theory has its roots in the 1960s, which witnessed the end of openly segregationist politics on the national stage, the passage of landmark anti-discrimination laws and Supreme Court decisions that enforced these laws. Amid these legal, social and political transformations of the 1960s, scholars sought to explain the continuing significance of race in a nation that had eliminated formal racial segregation.
As a "colorblind" politics arose in the 1970s, scholars looked beyond the law to understand how racism, race and power shaped one another in the post-civil-rights era. Their work reckoned with the continuing importance of race in producing disparities in education, wealth and the criminal justice system even after the demise of legalized racism.
The actual proposals of the Education Department are intended, according to the document published in the Federal Register, "to support the development of culturally responsive teaching and learning and the promotion of information literacy skills in grants under the American History and Civics Education programs."
It points out that COVID-19 has had a disproportionate effect on communities of color and that there has been an "ongoing national reckoning with systemic racism" that has "highlighted the urgency of improving racial equity throughout our society, including in our education system."
"There is growing acknowledgement of the importance of including, in the teaching and learning of our country's history, both the consequences of slavery, and the significant contributions of Black Americans to our society," the document notes.
The proposal points to the New York Times' "1619 Project" and resources at the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture as examples of the kinds of materials that can be used in schools.
It proposes funding projects that "incorporate teaching and learning practices that reflect the diversity, identities, histories, contributions, and experiences of all students [to] create inclusive, supportive, and identity-safe learning environments."
Republican members of Congress claim that government efforts to fight racism are "critical race theory," which they said in a proposed bill banning such efforts, "according to Heritage Foundation visiting fellow Chris Rufo, is 'the idea that the United States is a fundamentally racist country ... ' ... Critical Race Theory is, at its core, un-American, discriminatory, and based on Marxist ideology and are attempting to defund it."
They have also said applied the term to attempts to implement diversity training within the military.
A Republican legislator in Louisiana recently argued that students should be taught the "good" of slavery as an alternative to an education curriculum that includes discussions of systemic racism.
The campaign has been fueled by conservative outlets like Fox News, which has aired hundreds of segments on the topic over the last year. According to Media Matters for America, Fox mentioned "critical race theory" 552 times in 11 months.
Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.