SEEN Weekly Update – Let’s Talk About Critical Race Theory

Dear SEEN Community,

If you’ve been following the news (or the algorithms), you know that the pushback against the equity policy and regulation here in Saratoga Springs was framed as opposition to the introduction of “critical race theory” into our classrooms. It’s become clear over the last months that our “city in the country” is reflective of the nation it’s within. School districts and school boards are increasingly subject to a national political strategy that seeks to mobilize “white suburban moms” against racial equity.

Former Trump advisor Steve Bannon has categorized the power of this fabricated wedge issue as “the Tea Party to the 10th power.” New political action committees like the 1776 Project and 1776 Unites (refutations to the 1619 Project) and nonprofits like No Left Turn in Education are targeting school boards and districts. They are funding candidates and lawsuits with the goal of eventually reaching the Supreme Court, and trying to halt the work of public education through aggressive requests under the Freedom of Information Act. These organizations are fueled by conservative and far-right think-tanks, including the American Enterprise Institute, the Manhattan Institute. Locally, they are supported by the Empire Center for Public Policy and the Yankee Institute, which are just a couple of the state policy centers that are under the umbrella of the Manhattan Institute. These entities aim to defund public education – through voucher programs, aggressive opting-out for privatized, homeschool, or “unschool” programs, or integration of corporate education models. 

We encourage everyone to review resources below that have shed light on the intentions and mechanisms behind the pushback. Schools should not be sites for the nation’s “culture wars,” and certainly not for partisan jockeying. It should go without saying, but in this partisan environment it is purposely obscured: full access to education should not raise concern about “a left turn” in education. Opposition is exclusion.

May we keep that in mind in the coming weeks and months as we seek to protect each and every student’s right to a quality public education, and when pushing for policies and actions to ensure that right. Each and every one of us has a sphere of influence within the community. It is within that community and through personal connections and conversations that we can help keep initiatives and discussions focused on the Saratoga Springs City School District – with the commitment that each and every student, family, and staff member is fully seen. 


Resources

  • SpeakOut (now). SpeakOut – the Institute for Democratic Education and Culture – is hosting a virtual event, “Behind the Attacks on ‘Critical Race Theory’ and How We Can Respond,” today, at 4 p.m. Several SEEN members are already registered, but if you have time today and catch our email in time, please consider registering on Eventbrite. A link to the recording will be sent to all registrants as well.
  • From NBC. In an article and segment from NBC, journalists Tyler Kingkade, Brandy Zadrozny, and Ben Collins identify some of the groups and funders behind the latest pushback, including the Heritage Foundation, Parents Defending Education, Manhattan Institute and Cato Institute.
  • From MSNBC. In an interview with Joy Reid, Kimberlé Crenshaw, the academic behind the terms “intersectionality” and “critical race theory,” goes through the background and her creation of these terms.
  • From the NY Times. In an article and then in an opinion piece, The New York Times has been chronicling the latest furor around “critical race theory.”
  • From The New Yorker. Screenshots of Manhattan Institute fellow and filmmaker Christopher Rufo’s tweets have been circulating online for the last couple of weeks because they willingly expose the political cynicism behind the manipulation of equity and “critical race theory” at the school board level. In this profile, Benjamin Wallace-Wells provides a biographical sketch of Rufo and the origin of his characterization of all anti-racist education initiatives as “critical race theory.”
  • From Inside Higher Ed. Critical Race Theory developed within the halls, libraries, and offices of higher education as an academic lens. In this guest blog, Isaac Kamola of Trinity College works through the “bizarre hysteria” about “critical race theory” and the monetary sources behind it.
  • From Media Matters. The media watchdog group outlines the ways that Fox News and others have fanned the flames and promulgated misinformation, over 550 times in the last 11 months. On Facebook, 90% of posts mentioning “critical race theory” come from right-leaning sources, suggesting that this isn’t an initiative from “the left,” but a fabricated backlash from “the right” for political – not educational or parental – purposes. One could imagine a more even split if people were promoting critical race theory across the nation, but there are few if any cases popping up.
  • Truth Matters. The Partnership for the Future of Learning issued a messaging guide to help advocates, allies, officials, educators, and community members with the advancement of culturally-responsive education, which is the model at the center of the actual district initiatives. If you find yourself in some of the discussions – online or in person – the messaging guide can help keep tempers cool and engage others with vetted language that centers students and counters misinformation. The truth bridges.
  • Assessing Sources. This is a great time to revisit or introduce techniques for evaluating bias in sources, for ourselves or for children and teens in our lives. An accessible YouTube video for older-elementary and middle school students works through standard ways to determine if a source is reliable. According to Pew Research, the majority of Americans believe they can recognize “fake news,” one type of unreliable source, but nearly a quarter of Americans are sharing it. In 2016, Stanford researchers have found that the majority of students can’t differentiate the quality of sources.

Actions

  • Board of Education. The next Board of Education meeting, the first with the new Trustees, is an organizational meeting scheduled for July 1 at 8 a.m., followed by a business meeting. In an important note, the Governor’s Executive Orders around COVID-19 expire on July 5, 2021. In this week’s Board of Education meeting, Dr. Patton noted that if these are not renewed, there will be changes to BOE meetings moving forward. While they aim to continue streaming meetings for community members to listen and view, public comment will require in-person attendance. This could be in effect as soon as the subsequent Board meeting, scheduled for Thursday, July 22.

SEEN’s emails will be switching to a summer schedule after this week. We will be producing monthly, rather than weekly, emails. Our next email will hit your inboxes in mid-July, and then again in mid-August, before resuming a regular schedule with the return to school. We hope you enjoy the summer!


~ The SEEN Team

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