2021 August 1
“Critical Race Theory,” is a topic that dominates the news around America. Specific to Nebraska, the number of searches for the topic of “Critical Race Theory” reached an all-time high in June, according to Google Trends. That’s as in MOST-ever, or never been more interest in the topic, and for NEBRASKA.
An intellectually-honest person would conclude there is interest in “Critical Race Theory”, and without qualification. It is what it is. People are talking about it, some love the idea, some are terrified by it.
One organization absolutely smitten with “Critical Race Theory” is the Nebraska Department of Education. On their website they write, “Your students may have questions about what they see happening in local communities, Nebraska, the United States, and across the world. Listed below are resources available to Nebraska educators in an effort to promote equality, equity, racial tolerance, empathy, and inclusion by addressing the historic and systemic marginalization and racist actions that have plagued underrepresented populations.”
Below that language is a long list of “resources,” that begin with the “1619 Project.” If you are not familiar with the “1619 Project,” you should visit the Nebraska Department of Education website.
In the spirit of fact-finding, research, and journalism, I emailed each member of the Blair School Board to ask their opinion about “Critical Race Theory,” and the use of sexually-themed materials in classrooms. I also emailed the school superintendent. I hoped to have an article that outlined the opinions, beliefs, and goals of the people who represent Blair parents and lead Blair children through their education from kindergarten to graduation. I did not state my opinion, I did not ask leading questions, I did not attack them for what they believed or did not believe. And, although there are some quotes in the Blair Enterprise, I wanted to get a fuller, more robust discussion from school board members.
1) What is your opinion about “Critical Race Theory” in whatever form you understand it?
2) At what age do you believe children in Blair schools should be exposed to sexually-charged, or adult-themed materials?
As of the time I write these words, I did not receive any emails back with answers to these two questions. And, I am happy to update this article with the explicit, exact, unedited answers to those questions should any board member feel inclined to provide them.
But, before I examine the issue from a broader perspective, let me address something specific to Blair. You see, I have no belief there is a cabal of school board members in favor of either “Critical Race Theory,” or sexually-charged education materials for children. If I were to place a bet on it, I’d put a big stack of money on the idea that Blair’s school board members are against both of these things. And, even if they are not explicitly-opposed to them, they would rather they be handled by parents.
To back up my belief, the Blair Enterprise reports, board-member Bob Schoby said, “Having two teachers in my family, I’ve discussed it with them,” and, “They don’t want to touch it with a 10-foot pole. They don’t have time to deal with it. We all agree. It’s something that should be left to the parents.”
From what I read, Laura Ronning concurs with Mr. Schoby.
Furthermore, any board members, like Schoby and Ronning, who publicly discuss these “hot button” issues with honesty, candor, and sincerity should be applauded. It is a tough spot to be in to have to walk the minefield of our current political climate; and, regardless of your opinion of WHAT they believe, if any school board member shares their belief, or answers your questions directly, without equivocation, that act alone deserves recognition and respect. If you ask them, I suspect they will tell you – again, this just my opinion – they would rather focus on math, science, and how to bring more athletic awards to Blair High School than things like “Critical Race Theory” and teaching children about “gender identity.”
However, it would be naive to pretend “Critical Race Theory” is going to disappear as a proposed – if not mandated – curriculum. And, regardless of whether you like the idea or not, you may want to find out what the people in charge believe. It’s one thing to vote against something that’s “not mandated;” it’s another to stand firm in the face of the Nebraska Department of Education if they choose otherwise.
Here is what Matthew L. Blomstedt, Ph.D., Nebraska’s Commissioner of Education says: “The role of education is a system for change and improvement…”
I want to focus for a moment on that. He wrote a letter last June where he couched the role of the school system in a way you might be startled by – at least with respect to his candor. Nebraska’s Commissioner of Education sees the role of the schools as a “system,” for “change and improvement.”
If you are a parent, you may want to know the definitions Dr. Blomstedt uses for the words “change” and “improvement.” For, to you, schools might be for reading, writing, math, and science. Those being objective goals. It may be you don’t agree that the school you send your child to is a “system” for “change” of any sort, nor a way to “improve” your children beyond their ability to score higher on their ACT.
Dr. Blomstedt continues, “As the pandemic continues to unfold, we see the power and place schools have in their communities. Standing idly by during this time is not responsible. We, in education, have an opportunity to hear voices that are too often excluded from developing education policies reflective of our diverse communities. We must create space to genuinely and intentionally embed racially diverse perspectives into our conversations and actions.”
He adds, “The conversation about racial inequities must occur everywhere to prepare our students in every corner of the state to better face the challenges of our nation. This cannot fall solely on those who have suffered discrimination but to all of us as educators and citizens of a peaceful state and nation. I encourage all Nebraskans to reflect and develop a critical consciousness and sense of responsibility for action for this generation of students and the generations that follow.”
And, how does Dr. Blomstedt believe the path forward will look?
He writes, ” The Nebraska Department of Education (NDE) is committed to leading and supporting all Nebraskans in learning, earning, and living. This starts with an unabashed commitment to action for racial justice. Here’s how we plan to do that in the education space… (2) Promote active anti-racist teaching and leading and commit to culturally relevant standards, pedagogy, and materials.”
To read Dr. Blomstedt’s entire missive, and do so in full-context, visit: https://cdn.education.ne.gov/wp-content/uploads/2020/06/NDE-Commissioner-of-Education-Statement.pdf
To be clear, those are not my words. Those come directly from Nebraska’s Commissioner of Education. He says “we” must “intentionally embed racially diverse perspectives in our conversations and actions,” and the Nebraska Department of Education will, “Promote active anti-racist teaching and leading and commit to culturally relevant standards, pedagogy, and materials.”
The Lincoln Journal-Star reported last week, “Leaders of national and Nebraska teachers unions are pushing back on critics of critical race theory and defending curriculum based on it. They accuse opponents of trying to prevent teaching kids the truth about racism in America.”
Lots of words to define. Lots of concepts to embrace or reject. And, you have the ability to decide for yourself what you believe.
To Dr. Blomstedt’s credit, he is 100% clear on intent and purpose. Whether you agree with him or not, you must know the sincere, clear, focused effort he will engineer to present his worldview to the children of Nebraska – including Blair. It is up to you to decide if you believe Nebraska is systemically-racist, and whether you believe it’s a good idea to teach children those beliefs.
It is up to YOU to make those determinations, and it is up to YOU to support people in the school system who align with your beliefs.
The idea of “Critical Race Theory” is not going away. You can love it. You can hate it. You can think it’s true, false, or anywhere in between, but it’s NOT going away. The people at the top of the education food chain in Nebraska told you it is their purpose to broaden the scope of what Nebraska’s children are exposed to.
And, to further this point: It will not be their fault if you don’t agree. You can never say you “didn’t know,” or that you “weren’t aware,” of these issues. Again, to the CREDIT of the people who believe these theories, they are bold in their proclamations.
Let’s go deeper, though. What’s the core issue at work? What’s the real problem?
The truth is – and, this may be hard for some to read – the TRUTH is most parents don’t connect with their children about what goes on at school. At least the parents I’ve known don’t. The public school system is so ubiquitous it’s just a given to send your kids to a building where they are fed, lectured-to, and indoctrinated in beliefs that you may or may not agree with.
And, yet, parents know almost zero about what their children are exposed to. Is that the fault of the school, school board members, or teachers?
Whether “Critical Race Theory” is mandated or not, it’s important to know the beliefs of the people who you allow access to your children. In fact, ignore “Critical Race Theory,” and focus on this question: What do you know about the people who you trust with your children each day?
That’s it, really. What do you know? What’s important to you? If your children are the most precious gift you’ve ever received, who do you trust to guide them?
My article began with a discussion of “Critical Race Theory,” and it closes with a simple, direct statement of purpose: What do you believe is true, good, right, and decent for your children? Find the answers to that question and then ask the people in the school system if they agree. If they do, great. If they don’t, vote them out.
But, don’t ever blame them for what they believe.
If you are opposed to “Critical Race Theory,” or if you are an ardent-supporter, do the research, ask the questions. Because that is what your children need to learn the most: How to ask questions before a vote, not after it when you can blame only yourself for the outcome.