If there’s anyone who thinks talking about race in the U.S. is easy, I sure haven’t met them. So, I can see how parents might be scared by spooky stories about critical race theory warping our public schools.
But here’s the thing: It isn’t happening. Not in Washington and not, as far as I can tell, in any other state where the trumped up specter of CRT has been haunting school board races. It’s absurd that candidates for part-time, volunteer school board director positions in towns like Bellevue, Richland, Spokane, Moses Lake, Port Orchard and Peninsula are being asked to weigh in on an obscure academic theory from the 1990s. But here we are.
Take South Kitsap School Board District 4 Director candidate Gregg Anderson, a self-effacing Port Orchard dad taking his first run for office in an open race. His oldest two children graduated from the district, and his youngest two are in middle school. He’s running because he wants to be more involved in their education. Here’s what he wrote in his candidate statement: “I bring a level head, rational demeanor, and critical thinking skills to the table, and would be more than happy to help out our students in any way I can.”
Anderson told me he thinks the biggest issues facing the district right now have to do with facilities, but most of the 400-plus emails he’s gotten as a candidate have been about critical race theory.
“I did not realize it was going to be this political,” he said.
I asked if he leans Democrat or Republican. He sighed: “If you knew how many emails that asked that exact same question. There are parts of both platforms that I agree with — and I know that’s a boring, milquetoast answer, but it’s true.”
Anderson said the emails have been civil. People seem to honestly be asking. This summer, CRT — or, rather, a thicket of vaguely related concerns about how the school district’s curricula address some of our nation’s more shameful moments — was a topic of school board discussion. One board member proposed a resolution that would have banned the district from teaching CRT or using so-called gateway terms like institutional racism, systemic racism or structural racism that could be “seen as opening the door for critical race theory concepts to be taught in the schools.” School board members barely voted it down 3-2.
Still, I find it hard to fault the curiosity of parents who are being fed lies by the likes of news personality Tucker Carlson or William A. Jacobson of the Legal Insurrection Foundation. The latter just this week warned Fox News that CRT has “infiltrated” America’s top 25 private K-12 schools. These sorts are peddling a twisted notion that the schools we trust to teach our children about everything from the ABCs to the birds and the bees will so badly fumble an honest accounting of the history of racism and persistent inequalities that white children will be scarred forever and children of color will resign themselves to roles as permanent victims. It’s simply bunk.
And the spinners ignore the fact that plenty of kids already are dealing with this subject matter regardless of whether they want to. The Black girls and boys who suffer dirty looks when they’re goofing around at the bus stop. The kids of Asian descent trying to figure out why they are complimented on their English, even though they were born and raised in Washington. Of course every kid’s experience is different, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t patterns that we should call out so that we can change.
I’ve had these types of conversations with my first- and fourth-grade sons, and I promise you, they’re fine. It’s adults, not kids, who are being so weird about calling these patterns what they are — systemic. And it’s adults — mostly white adults — not kids who are terrified that calling attention to the problems will somehow make them worse.
I asked Anderson if he’s still sure he even wants to serve on the school board, a job that, in the best of times, involves long hours, a trillion details and no-win situations.
“I do think I bring something to the table,” he said. “I do want to see my girls succeed, and I think I could help that.
“I don’t know,” he stopped and corrected himself. “No. I do know. I could help.”
In normal years, I’d be complaining about the lack of voter interest in school board elections. If anything, this bleeding of political talking points into local, nonpartisan races is worse than voters’ usual ennui.
But the lasting tragedy would be if the politicians and charlatan “experts” who deliberately sow fear and confusion succeeded in turning school board races into proxy fights for their imaginary culture wars.