Hearing Support for Critical Race Theory

Missouri state lawmakers heard public testimony in support of critical race theory for the first time since the Joint Committee on Education addressed the issue this year.

The Joint Committee on Education held its second public hearing on Critical Race Theory and The New York Times’ 1619 Project Monday in Jefferson City.

As with the committee’s first public hearing on the contentious issue, only guest speakers were allowed to testify.

Seven members of the public, representing various organizations, groups and viewpoints, testified and answered questions from lawmakers during the approximately two-hour hearing.

Unlike the previous hearing, most members of the public permitted to testify spoke out against legislative efforts to ban or impede the teaching of critical race theory.

Fred Barnes, legislative staffer for committee chair Cindy O’Laughlin, R-Shelbina, said the agenda for Monday’s hearings was created in consultation with Democrats on the committee.

Members of the public not invited to speak at the hearing were given the opportunity to provide comment through written testimony sent to O’Laughlin’s office.

Barnes said the written testimony will not be included in Monday’s committee minutes. Instead, they will be compiled and sent to committee members.

The in-person testimonies ranged from the importance of students identifying commonalities and celebrating differences, to how the critical restrictions of race theory might limit Holocaust education.

Critical Race Theory is a decades-old academic framework centered on the idea that race and racism permeate social institutions, such as politics, culture, and law, in ways that often negatively affect people. people of color. Racism is systemic and not just the product of individual prejudice, the theory argues.

Many speakers on Monday noted that critical race theory is not taught in K-12 schools, but rather at the university and law school levels.

The Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education sent a survey to Missouri K-12 school districts and charter schools in July in an effort to determine how many schools were teaching Critical Race Theory and the 1619 Project. .

Of the 425 schools that responded, Kansas City School District 33 reported that its local education agency-approved curriculum includes lessons in critical race theory.

Three school districts in Hazelwood School District, Kansas City Public Schools, and University City School District reported that their local education agency-approved curriculum incorporates Project 1619.

The 1619 Project is a long-running New York Times Magazine journalism project with the goal of reframing American history “by placing the consequences of slavery and the contributions of black Americans at the very center of our national narrative. “, according to its website.

Project 1619 started in August 2019.

Joint committee co-chair and state Rep. Doug Ritchie, R-Excelsior Springs, said DESE’s investigation was flawed because it did not define critical race theory enough for administrators responding to the investigation. give a specific answer.

Mya Walker, a senior at Francis Howell North High School and a part-time student at St. Charles Community College, testified that critical race theory is generally misunderstood by parents and communities seeking to drive it out of school systems.

“Banning equity work based on the misconception that it’s part of the CRT invites and allows racism to run wild, and denies people’s basic human right to feel safe in their bodies. and feel like they have inherent worth,” Walker said. . “For people of all colors to feel a sense of safety and belonging, everyone needs to talk about the obstacles and roadblocks that people of color have faced.”

Walker said critical race theory offers students the opportunity to hear about the lives and experiences of others for a better understanding of how social institutions have and continue to treat people differently.

Heather Fleming, founder and director of an equity and diversity education program, testified that critical race theory is an academic concept in higher education not commonly found in K-12 schools, calling it an umbrella term that is fundamentally misunderstood.

Any legislation banning critical race theory in K-12 schools would discourage and prevent teachers from discussing race in Dred Scott v. Sandford, Fleming said, or would place historical tragedies, like the murder of Emmett Till, into larger social, cultural and political contexts. .

“One thing that bothers me about this whole conversation is that people keep talking about discomfort,” Fleming said. “Discomfort is experienced through racism.”

Fleming said that critical race theory is not designed to shame white people for the actions of their ancestors, but rather to recognize guilt stemming from wrong collective action.

“There are different kinds of racism, we always seem to think of the worst examples,” Fleming said. “That’s not where most of the racism I will experience will be. Most of the racism I will experience will come from really good people who don’t realize what they’re doing is racist, that it’s a micro- aggression or that it contains bias.”

Dee Dee Simon, president of the Missouri Holocaust Education and Awareness Commission, testified that restrictions on critical race theory teachings could impact Holocaust education in the state.

“Bills that prohibit any educational materials identifying individuals or groups of individuals, entities or institutions in the United States, whether or not, as inherently, unchangeably, or consistently sexist, racist, anti-LGBT, bigoted, biased, privileged or oppressed would impede and/or impede the teaching of the Holocaust in the classroom.”

Karen Aroesty, former regional director of the Anti-Defamation League Heartland, and Rabbi Noah Arrow testified in favor of teaching history in all its forms, even the history a country is ashamed of.

“Let’s not cover our sins, the sins of our ancestors or the sins of our nation,” Arrow said. “On the contrary, let us confess and make amends, and let them go to find mercy, atonement, and peace. »

Aroesty said lawmakers should capitalize on the country’s current conversation on race to open up and expand education on the topic.

The Joint Committee on Education held its first hearing on Critical Race Theory and the 1619 Project on July 19.

The committee heard informative testimony from DESE and the public.

The hearing, intended to gather public comment on critical race theory, drew criticism for its lack of diversity and narrow collection of perspectives.

Like Monday’s hearing, only members of the public invited by O’Laughlin were able to testify. None of the people who testified in July were black, and all but DESE were opposed to critical race theory.

Michael A. May