Lawmakers in two Southern states are trying to block public schools from adopting curricula based on critical race theory, which teaches that the legal and governance systems in the U.S. are inherently racist and retain economic and political power for Whites by oppressing people of color.
Their argument also targets instruction incorporating the 1619 Project, a New York Times series that reframes U.S. history with slavery at the center of the narrative.
In Arkansas, newly introduced legislation would ban the 1619 Project and classwork that tells White students they are racist oppressors regardless of their thoughts and actions.
In Georgia, a Republican lawmaker is pressing higher education officials about the kinds of racially attuned workshops and courses are percolating in the state’s public universities.
“I’m trying to focus on the activities going on here, which I think are demeaning to some students, and this business of labeling people as ‘oppressors,’” said Arkansas state Rep. Mark Lowery, who introduced two bills targeting critical race theory. “They believe teaching assimilation is racist.”
The legislative moves are reactions to liberal educators’ increased incorporation of critical race theory in curricula.
Critical race theory has appeared in public schools, private schools and charter schools.
School districts across the country, including the Los Angeles Unified School District, declared the first week of February as “Black Lives Matter School Week of Action.”
It goes beyond teaching racial justice issues to include other equality issues. The program also features “trans-affirming,” “queer affirming” and various LGBTQ role-playing, workshops and reading for students.
Proponents of critical race theory insist the material fosters a more inclusive environment for Black students and other minorities.
“The goal of Black Lives Matter at School is to spark an ongoing movement of critical reflection and honest conversation and impactful actions in school communities for people of all ages to engage with racial justice,” according to the National Education Association, the nation’s largest teachers union.
Los Angeles school officials said Black Lives Matter Week of Action instills social justice awareness into students.
“We hope this effort helps to encourage courageous conversations in our schools regarding systemic racism, social injustice, racial and ethnic bias in our society,” Jackie Goldberg, vice president of the Los Angeles Unified School District Board of Education, said in sponsoring the motion.
Mr. Lowery said he avoided using the term “critical race theory” in his Arkansas legislation because many people are unfamiliar with it, even as it quickly spreads across the country.
He learned of the concept last year when President Trump ended the Obama-era mandatory inherent bias training at federal agencies.
On his first day in office, President Biden reversed Mr. Trump’s order and reinstated the mandatory training for federal workers.
“I think this last election reminded us that all politics is local,” said Elana Fishbein, founder of the parent activist group No Left Turn in Education. “You have to take all the approaches, every possible way to push back, and this is one way, definitely, promoting bills like those in Arkansas.”
Ms. Fishbein, who describes critical race theory in classrooms as “pure poison to children’s souls,” said her group’s chapters in 20 states are beginning to work with lawmakers to craft policies at the municipal, county and state levels to combat racist-focused curricula.
In Georgia, state Rep. Emory Dunahoo is demanding answers from higher education officials about whether critical race theory is creeping into or saturating college classrooms in the state’s public universities.
He is asking whether any classes are teaching students, in particular those who “identify as White, male, heterosexual or Christian,” are inherently privileged and oppressive, or whether those characteristics are identified as “malicious” or wrong.
Mr. Dunahoo declined to comment to The Washington Times on his effort. He said he was awaiting responses from education officials.
The University System of Georgia did not reply to an email asking whether it had addressed the questions or for a copy of its responses if it had.
Anecdotal evidence suggests critical race theory is on campus.
Several university students who requested anonymity told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution that they were mocked or told to be silent in classes that discussed race.
The students voicing complaints were affiliated with Turning Point USA, a conservative group addressing education issues, according to the newspaper.
Neither Turning Point USA nor its student leaders in Georgia replied to The Times’ questions about the classroom atmosphere.
Mr. Lowery said the effort to block racially woke schooling likely is on firmer ground in K-12 public schools, especially in terms of excising the 1619 Project from classrooms.
The project’s creator, Nikole Hannah-Jones, was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for commentary for her introductory essay. Yet the accuracy of the reporting in the 1619 Project has been questioned by Pulitzer Prize-winning historians.
Prominent liberal scholars have sharply rejected the project’s historical accuracy. They denounce in particular one of its key arguments: that the American Revolution was fought to preserve slavery in the Colonies.
The New York Times did not respond to requests for comment on how it views the proposed legislation regarding its 1619 Project.
Jake Silverstein, editor-in-chief of The New York Times Magazine, last year responded to criticism of the project by saying it “elevated the year 1619 to a far more prominent status than it has ever had.”
“And it has prompted countless conversations and reflection about the persistence of racism and inequality in a country founded on the principle that ‘all men are created equal,’” he wrote.
One troubling practice Mr. Lowery fears will linger in Arkansas schools even if his bill becomes law is “privilege walks,” where students take steps forward or backward depending on their skin color, whether they live in a two-parent home and other factors.
Although Arkansas is viewed as a deeply conservative state, Mr. Lowery said he has received considerable criticism from teachers, professors and liberal activist groups. Flyers posted around Little Rock called him a racist and bigot.
He said the attacks were false and rooted in sharp-elbowed partisanship.
“They claim the bills would ban teaching African-American history or the Fellowship of Christian Athletes, and of course none of that is true,” he said.
A Tuesday hearing has been scheduled on the Arkansas 1619 Project bill.
Ms. Fishbein said the 1619 Project and critical race theory need to be fought at all levels of government. She says education is the best tool with which to counter what she considers left-wing indoctrination.
“Open your eyes, educate yourself,” she said as she urged parents and others to read the materials used in critical race theory. “Kids are afraid to voice their opinion, but over and over again with parents, with concerned citizens, when they are exposed to this material about CRT, 1619, sexuality indoctrination, once they are exposed to it they are really terrified.”
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