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Republicans vow to end “indoctrination,” Critical Race Theory in NC schools

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Lt. Gov. Mark Robinson and Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger (Photo: Screen capture from NC General Assembly committee hearing)

Are North Carolina’s teachers indoctrinating students with tenets of Critical Race Theory? 

The state’s Republican leaders say they are, but struggled to provide solid evidence Wednesday when asked to do so by Democratic colleagues. 

“All you have to do is to go to almost any local school board meeting around the state and talk to the parents that are showing up with very real stories of what they are hearing from their children,” offered Senate leader Phil Berger, a Republican from Rockingham.   

Lt. Gov. Mark Robinson, a Republican from Greensboro, promised hard evidence next week. 

After the State Board of Education adopted new social studies standards that Robinson opposed, he launched a new initiative dubbed “Fairness and Accountability in the Classroom for Teachers and Students” [2] (F.A.C.T.S.) to give students, teachers and parents a tool to report perceived cases of bias or indoctrination in public schools. During debates about the social studies standards, Robinson caused an uproar when he said that “systemic racism” no longer exists and demanded the phrase be removed. 

Robinson said he will share a report next week documenting evidence of indoctrination reported by parents, students and educators.   

“The issue of indoctrination in our classrooms is real, folks,” Robinson said. “It’s not some figment of somebody’s imagination. It’s happening all across the state, unfortunately.”  

Berger’s and Robinson’s comments came during a state Senate Education/Higher Education Committee discussion of House Bill 324 [3], which would restrict what students can be taught about America’s racial past. HB 324 has been approved by the House. The committee took up the bill Wednesday but did not vote. Berger said he does not anticipate HB 324 coming up again in committee over the next seven to 10 days. If ultimately passed by the Senate, the bill will likely be vetoed by Gov. Roy Cooper.

Earlier Wednesday, Berger vowed that he would fight to keep Critical Race Theory out of schools. 

“I oppose it, and I will combat it with everything that I have, because I believe the doctrine undoes the framework that produced the most successful ongoing experiment in self-government in the history of mankind,” Berger said during a late morning press conference. 

In all, there are 13 concepts [4] in the bill Berger said educators could not promote. Here’s how “promote’’ is described in the bill [5]: “Promote” would be defined as “compelling students, teachers, administrators, or other school employees to affirm or profess belief in the identified concepts.”  

But Berger and Robinson insisted HB 324 would not prevent teachers from discussing the ugly parts of American history. 

“It [HB 324] is an effort to make it clear that we want our teachers to teach the full history but we do not want students to be indoctrinated, which is why the bill deals with prohibiting the promotion of certain aspects and defines promotion, specifically,” Berger said.  

A proposed “committee substitute” version of the bill would also require public schools to provide at least 30 days’ advance notice to the NC Department of Public Instruction and the public before providing instruction on any of the 13 concepts or “engaging” speakers, consultants, diversity trainers or others to discuss them. 

Despite their conservative colleagues’ contentions, Democrats were unconvinced that Critical Race Theory is being taught in schools. Nor does the state needs to enact a law they said, that prevents teachers from talking honestly about race. 

“What are the instances in this state that are bringing us here today?” asked Sen. Don Davis, a Democrat from Pitt County. 

Sen. Jay Chaudhuri, a Wake County Democrat, took issue with Berger’s assertion that student “indoctrination” is a problem in North Carolina’s schools. 

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Sen. Jay Chaudhuri

“I have not heard any concrete evidence of where students have been indoctrinated by their teachers that would reflect this to be a pervasive issue in our state,” Chaudhuri said.   

Robinson attempted to address those statements with a story about a student he claims was told they could not base their school project, assigned to be about a person of color from North Carolina who made history, on the state’s first Black lieutenant governor — Robinson himself.

By denying the student the right to choose him for the project, Robinson reasoned, the teacher forced the student to “disavow” something the student believed in. 

“You tell me why that teacher wouldn’t allow that unless that teacher just disagrees with my politics,” Robinson said. “Let’s just get down to brass tacks, that’s what it was all about.” 

As Policy Watch reported last month [7], Critical Race Theory is an academic discipline that examines how American racism has shaped law and public policy. CRT emerged in the legal academy in the 1980s as an offshoot of critical legal studies. 

Fears about Critical Race Theory have spread nationwide in recent months. Many political observers believe the issue could tip the 2022 midterm elections in favor of Republicans, many of whom are still mourning the loss of the White House. 

Critics say they fear CRT will be used to teach young, impressionable students that America and white people are inherently and irredeemably racist. They often share stories about young white children who, after learning hard truths about American racism, return from school stung by the revelation that the nation has been imperfect in its treatment of Blacks and other people of color. 

Defenders say it’s important that children learn the whole truth about the nation’s racial past. 

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Kristie Puckett-Williams, ACLU of North Carolina

Kristie Puckett-Williams, a civil rights activist and the Smart Justice manager for the ACLU of North Carolina, told lawmakers that measures such as HB 324 show that the nation is not ready to reckon with racism and other aspects of its racial history. “There has been a concerted effort to try to censor speech about race and gender in public schools, and this is a problem because of the chilling effect it will have on educators’ ability to address imperative parts of this country’s history that are an integral part of building and sustaining a diverse democracy,” Puckett-Williams said. 

Such legislation will lead to a “culture of surveillance” that will disproportionately impact educators of color during a period in the nation’s history when they are expected to help guide students through the turbulence of protests brought on by police killings of unarmed Blacks.  

“Teaching about sexism and racism is emotionally challenging, but our students need to develop the emotional intellect to handle difficult conversations,” Puckett-Williams said.    

Educators contend school districts are not teaching Critical Race Theory, despite Republicans’ claims to the contrary. 

“Manufactured outrage over a political problem that does not exist is a shameless attempt to score political points,” said Tamika Walker Kelly,” president of the NC Association of Educators [9], said in a statement. “Senate leaders are stoking fear aimed at discrediting our hard-working educators and dividing parents and the public along racial and ideological lines.” 

Walker Kelly said educators are trained professionals who know best how to design age-appropriate lessons for students, help them grapple with difficult facts, and teach them to be critical thinkers and lifelong learners.  

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Julie Emmons

“As professionals, educators believe that all students deserve honesty in education, rooted in facts and truth, even if some of those facts are difficult and even if some of the truths about the history of North Carolina and the United States make some feel uncomfortable,” Walker Kelly said. 

Julie Emmons of the conservative NC Values Coalition [11] argued that HB 324 will provide guiding principles to allow teachers to discuss difficult issues about the nation’s racial past. “It will help students face these things together; not in categories that are forced upon them from a divisive framework,” Emmons said.    

As presently drafted, HB 324 would also ban 12 other concepts from being discussed in public school classrooms: