So some school districts say they don’t teach Critical Race Theory (CRT) when they really do. They may call it something else but the essence is there. In Washington State teachers are required by law to go through CRT training. Today we share a story that ran in The National Review. Take a few minutes to read the article and then go ask your local school district what they are doing and then file a public record request to get the details. Lastly, share those with us so we can share with our readers.
As the intra-right debate over anti–critical race theory laws continues, new evidence has emerged to support the notion that the laws are toothless because ultimately teachers in the classrooms decide what is taught.
In key Republican-dominated states across the country, the sentiment among school-district officials is that the CRT bans don’t affect them, according to a compilation of undercover interviews recorded in Idaho and Tennessee by Accuracy in Media (AIM), a conservative watchdog group.
Melissa Langan, the Van Buren Elementary School principal and now the chief academic officer of the Caldwell School District in western Idaho, told Adam Guillette of AIM that her district circumvented the state’s law by simply renaming certain aspects of their curricula. “Social-emotional learning,” which opponents of CRT have identified as a Trojan horse for racialized instruction, was rebranded under the seemingly innocuous title of “behavior adaptations.”
“I just went to a superintendent’s meeting last week and the district was intending to switch out social-emotional learning to ‘behavior adaptations.’ Changed the label, same stuff,” Langan said. “And I thought, it’s kind of a bummer they have to do that, but at the time I thought it was kind of brilliant. Because they don’t care about this even though it’s the same as this. But it’s the label. So, I thought it was brilliant on their part.”
When Guillette asked, “Why can’t we just do stuff like that with critical race theory?” she replied, “I agree.”
Langan and the Caldwell School District did not immediately respond to request for comment.
On the outskirts of Boise, Nampa School District seems to have similarly adapted. Cindy Dion, the district instructional coach, told Guillette that faculty also changed their phrasing to circumvent the state’s law, which bars publicly funded K–12 schools, colleges, and universities from compelling students to subscribe to the tenets of CRT.
“Social-emotional learning, we can’t say that here anymore. It’s mental health . . . We already had a big blowup with that. So, it’s just, you know, our mental-health curriculum,” she said. “So, we’re trying to make that transition to, you know, no we’re not doing social-emotional learning. It’s all mental health. It’s just all the different words you have to use and of course we don’t do CRT. We don’t.”
“We’re just learning how to worm around all of those weird things out there,” Dion added.
When Guillette asked, “So this dumb new law doesn’t mess with you guys?” she responded, “Not yet, no.” Dion and the Nampa School District did not respond to a request for comment.
In terms of introducing progressive racial concepts, Dion recognized that, technically, the 1619 Project, the New York Times’ radical reimagining of American history as defined in every way by racism, has been banned for use as learning material in Idaho. “There’s just been a lot of pushback on that. So, we’ve had to say, right now we can’t,” she said.
When the other interviewer with AIM began to ask, “Can you use other sources that have the same concepts but —” Guillette responded with “don’t have that name?”
She answered, “We do. And so, like, we have access to, the company is called Newsela.”
Newsela is a content platform that takes articles published in outlets such as the Washington Post, Associated Press, and the Guardian, rewrites them to fit five different reading levels, and publishes them online as supplementary teaching materials for school children.
Many of its politically oriented articles have a distinct progressive flavor, lauding President Obama or highlighting racial and ethnic grievances, the National Association of Scholars reported in 2016. Newsela enjoys the huge financial backing of venture-capitalist Zuckerberg Education Ventures, the investment fund of Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg, the organization noted.
And, according to the Capital Research Center’s Influence Watch database, Newsela has partnered with both the 1619 Project and the Southern Poverty Law Center, the civil-rights advocacy group that has devolved into a left-wing watchdog of right-wing “extremist groups.”
“Explore the roots of slavery in the U.S. and its lasting impact on race, culture, opportunity and identity via The 1619 Project and Newsela,” the company advertised on Twitter in August 2020.
The 1619 Project and Newsela also collaborated in September 2020 to launch Quizlet, a “free, digital library of educational materials on the history of systemic racism and other forms of oppression in the U.S.”
Amy Vagnier, the assistant director of Maryville City Schools in Tennessee, told AIM during a hidden-camera interview that Newsela is used by some teachers in her district.
“Are you familiar with Newsela?” the AIM interviewer asked.
“I do know that one . . . We have a subscription,” Vagnier said. “We do have a few teachers who use I think still the free portion of that. Yeah, and then I believe we’ve got a couple of teachers at the junior high I think that’s using Newsela. Maybe the intermediate school.”
Vagnier and Maryville City Schools did not immediately respond to request for comment.
Administrators in other districts in Tennessee that AIM visited said either that teachers can basically ignore the state’s CRT ban or that it’s not relevant to them anyway, insisting that the ideology is not taught in their classrooms.
Kimberly Shurett, director of Early Grades Academic Support on the Marion County Board of Education, said, presumably in reference to CRT, “It’s not actively being taught but it’s not actively not being taught,” according to video footage.
Playing along, Guillette said, “I was worried that that [law] had affected curriculum or changed things here.”
“No,” she replied. “It has not. It is not in this district . . . Like we don’t really let anybody tell us what to do if we don’t believe in it.”
Denying that CRT was part of the district’s curricula, she said that even if it was, teachers would likely be defiant.
Guillette asked, “Even if they do ban, like, supplemental materials, can’t teachers, at the end of the day, they’re closing the door, they can bring in whatever, right?”
“It’s kind of like the copyright police. There are no . . . you know how when you talk to . . . ‘You can’t make a copy of this!’” she said.
Shurett and Marion Schools did not immediately respond to request for comment.
In Metro Nashville Public Schools, director of instruction for K–12 Todd Wigginton said that Tennessee’s law prohibiting CRT “was really well crafted and accomplishes nothing.”
“So, if you see right here,” pointing Guillette to the print of Tennessee’s anti-CRT law, “it does not keep us from teaching the history. So basically, we’re doing what we’ve been doing.”
Wigginton did not immediately respond to request for comment.
Metro Nashville Public Schools responded, “This is disingenuous portrayal of an out of context clip of a longer conversation for a story based on a false premise. Mr. Wigginton was explaining that we did not teach ‘prohibited concepts’ before or after the law, so it has not had an impact on MNPS. We are in compliance with the law and the rules adopted by the State Board of Education, and our educators teach the TN state standards using curricular materials approved by the State Board of Education.”
Jenny Lopez, director of curriculum at Williamson County Schools, said the same of her district’s response to the CRT ban: “There’s a lot of conversation around it for sure . . . But there has been no actionable change to the curriculum.”