Ray Carter | September 10, 2021
Speaker claims Critical Race Theory not in K-12 classrooms
The featured speaker for the September session of Advancing Oklahoma, an online program described as “a lengthy conversation about race and race relations in Oklahoma,” claimed the tenets of Critical Race Theory (CRT) are not incorporated into K-12 classrooms.
“There is no Critical Race Theory curriculum,” said Khalilah Harris, managing director for K-12 Education Policy for the Center for American Progress. “If you walk away from here with anything, there is no Critical Race Theory curriculum in K-12 education. You will go into a current-events class and hear people trying to make sense of the murders of George Floyd, Brianna Taylor, why some law enforcement are arrested and others aren’t when they extra-judicially kill unarmed people, why there would be a pipeline running through people’s land, why there would be people who are willing to create a culture war around a concept that the children have never heard of before. So, there is no Critical Race Theory curriculum, and I encourage you to eradicate that from your mental mind map about what is being discussed here. You will not find any state standards that say, ‘So now, for Critical Race Theory curriculum, make sure the children learn white people are bad, make sure they learned that slavery happened and all the white people were participating, make sure they learn that all the white people were trying to eradicate Indigenous people from their land.’ That does not happen. It does not exist.”
The Center for American Progress describes its mission as advancing “progressive ideas” to not only “change the conversation, but to change the country.” Prior to working for the Center for American Progress, Harris founded a Baltimore City school focused on social justice and worked for the Obama administration.
Shortly after saying Critical Race Theory is not incorporated into classrooms, Harris conceded it is a “a framework for understanding race and power.”
Although Harris claimed Critical Race Theory does not influence classroom lessons in K-12 schools, earlier this year members of the National Education Association (NEA) approved several resolutions that endorsed the use and promotion of Critical Race Theory in the classroom during the union’s annual meeting.
Among the new business items approved by NEA delegates was a measure to establish a task force whose explicit goals included “increasing the implementation” of Critical Race Theory and similar material in “curriculum in pre- K-12 and higher education.”
Another measure called on the union to share and publicize “information already available on critical race theory” and have a “a team of staffers” dedicated to helping union members “fight back against anti-CRT rhetoric.” That proposal also required the union to make clear that the union’s members “oppose attempts to ban critical race theory.” The proposal also declared that in teaching social studies “it is reasonable and appropriate for curriculum to be informed by academic frameworks for understanding and interpreting the impact of the past on current society, including critical race theory.”
In similar fashion, the U.S. Conference of Mayors adopted a resolution at its recent annual conference stating that “the nation's mayors support the implementation of CRT in the public education curriculum.”
Despite NEA teachers saying Critical Race Theory is and should be incorporated into K-12 classrooms, Harris described Critical Race Theory as only a “legal theory now applied across many academic contexts” and claimed it is applied only at the college level.
“We may hear students in public schools discussing the phrase ‘Critical Race Theory’ because the adults have decided it’s something of consequence, and they kind of pulled it out of nowhere,” Harris said.
Harris said parents concerned about Critical Race Theory in K-12 schools are typically “a minority of very loud voices” or occasionally “a majority of very scared people,” and dismissed opponents of Critical Race Theory as individuals who would prefer to “skip over the enslavement of people or the genocide of people as a means of capitalism, building wealth.”
“People bristle when they say, ‘America is a racist country,’” Harris said. “The question then becomes, ‘What makes you so uncomfortable with that concept?’ Is it not okay to call the truth so that we can adjust the truth into a new reality? Is it not fact that any American system you can think of—whether it is government, whether it’s education, health care, access to jobs in the economy, access to resources—have been informed by a system that says it was okay to enslave human beings, it was okay to wipe people out of their land so that others could conquer it? It’s hard to hear words like ‘conquer.’ It’s hard to hear ‘it was okay to enslave people.’ But something being difficult doesn’t make it not true.”
She also suggested opponents of Critical Race Theory are racists.
“People really get triggered when they hear the word ‘racism,’” Harris said. “They feel like being called ‘racist’ is worse than being racist. Waking up as a black woman in this country every day is a lot more difficult than the potential of being called a racist.”
She also suggested that racial minorities who oppose Critical Race Theory are upholding racism.
“You can be ‘not racist’ and support a racist system,” Harris said. “As a black woman I can do things that uphold white supremacy if I’m not mindful and intentional of how I engage with community and people around me. That does not make me a racist. That means I live in a system that has been established through racist practices that have not been eradicated, and it’s okay for us to say that out loud and discuss.”
At one point in the program, Harris dismissed the historic reality of prejudice against European immigrants.
“You start to hear things like, ‘My family was Irish and they too were treated like enslaved people and indigenous people in this country,’ which we know has been rebuffed time and time again by actual facts,” Harris said.
The website for the History channel explicitly declares that the “discrimination faced by the famine refugees was not subtle or insidious” and included racist caricatures in editorial cartoons that “dripped with prejudice” and portrayed Irish immigrants as “Celtic ape-men with sloping foreheads and monstrous appearances.”
The site notes that when the anti-Catholic, anti-immigrant American Party won all state offices and substantial legislative control in Massachusetts in 1854, politicians proceeded to confiscate weapons from the Irish and bar naturalized citizens from voting unless they had spent 21 years in the United States. That same year a mob in Maine set ablaze a church recently purchased by Irish Catholics, and in 1855 in Louisville, Kentucky, mobs targeted German and Irish Catholics, torching immigrant homes and killing between 20 and 100 people.
At one point in her presentation, Harris referenced the Tulsa Race Massacre and the perceived lack of public awareness of that event in which white mobs burned a prosperous black neighborhood and killed an undetermined number of black Oklahomans.
“Not only did it happen, but the government actively participated in wiping it out of public education,” Harris said.
While Harris claimed discussion of the 1921 massacre has been stifled by government, the event has been featured prominently in Oklahoma History textbooks for decades. That history course has long been a required part of an Oklahoma public-school education.
As public awareness of Critical Race Theory has increased, many of its advocates have minimized its influence, typically arguing as Harris did that the theory is applied mostly in college settings. However, parents in Oklahoma and nationwide have identified many examples of Critical Race Theory-derived racial essentialism in classroom assignments and lessons.
Notably, the Oklahoma State School Boards Association (OSSBA) opposed a new state law that bans teaching children that “one race or sex is inherently superior to another race or sex” or that “an individual, by virtue of his or her race or sex, is inherently racist, sexist or oppressive.” OSSBA officials have claimed the new law will “chill classroom discussions.”
As awareness of Critical Race Theory has increased, so has opposition to its use in K-12 classrooms.
A recent edition of the Sooner Survey revealed that the firm’s polling showed 58 percent of Oklahoma registered voters who are familiar with Critical Race Theory oppose it being taught in public schools compared to only 30 percent who support its use.
When Oklahoma voters were asked if children in elementary school should be taught that America is structurally racist and dominated by white supremacy, just 19 percent agreed with teaching those concepts. Notably, the poll found 61 percent of Oklahoma voters who identify as members of an ethnic or racial minority oppose teaching that the United States is structurally racist.
The Advancing Oklahoma program is offered to the members of Leadership Oklahoma, The Oklahoma Academy, Oklahoma Center for Nonprofits, Oklahoma Center for Community and Justice, and the Oklahoma Hall of Fame.
Prior sessions of the program have included one where a speaker claimed there is a “very high correlation between the most racist attitudes in America and white evangelical Christianity.”
Paycom is the presenting sponsor for the program while 12 other entities are listed as lower-tier sponsors.
Ray Carter is the director of OCPA’s Center for Independent Journalism. He has two decades of experience in journalism and communications. He previously served as senior Capitol reporter for The Journal Record, media director for the Oklahoma House of Representatives, and chief editorial writer at The Oklahoman. As a reporter for The Journal Record, Carter received 12 Carl Rogan Awards in four years—including awards for investigative reporting, general news reporting, feature writing, spot news reporting, business reporting, and sports reporting. While at The Oklahoman, he was the recipient of several awards, including first place in the editorial writing category of the Associated Press/Oklahoma News Executives Carl Rogan Memorial News Excellence Competition for an editorial on the history of racism in the Oklahoma legislature.