Opinion: ‘The way educators are being asked to address the history of racism in our past has changed dramatically’

Clark County Today Editor Ken Vance offers thoughts on the new law in Washington state that incorporates Critical Race Theory into the training for all K-12 educators

Ken Vance

Over my many years in journalism, especially those spent writing columns like this one, I have stated many times how thankful I am for the education I received as a youth. I grew up at a great time and in a great place. As a result, I was blessed with a wonderful education in the Stevenson-Carson School District. I can’t remember one single educator or experience in my school years that troubles me. If there is a negative experience that I’m failing to recall, I’m confident the reason I can’t remember it is because it is drowned out by hundreds, if not thousands, of uplifting ones.

Two of my favorite classes in high school were Washington State History and U.S. History. I loved learning about our state and our country. Both teachers made those classes compelling, and I definitely learned things I was previously unaware of and still remember to this day.

Both classes included segments on race and each opened my eyes to aspects of our history I wasn’t previously aware of. Neither educator guided the explorations of that part of our history with an agenda or an ideology. Rather, they simply presented it as part of our history, not a proud part mind you, but a part that is necessary to understand and learn from.

My high school years spanned 1977-1981. I’m often naive about things going on around me, but I don’t recall issues on race being a huge issue in those years. Sure, we were still breaking through barriers and making necessary and overdue advancements, but I don’t recall that being akin in any way to the unrest we’ve experienced in this state and this country in the past 12 months.

As a result of the differences between then and now, some 40 years later, the way educators are being asked to address the history of racism in our past has changed dramatically. Just recently, Washington Gov. Jay Inslee signed into law a bill that incorporates Critical Race Theory into the training for all K-12 educators in this state. 

Senate Bill 5044 was passed by the state legislature last month. It requires school districts in Washington to use one of three professional learning days to specifically train all staff in topics of “cultural competency, diversity, equity, or inclusion.’’

A portion of the bill’s text reads:

“The legislature plans to continue the important work of dismantling institutional racism in public schools and recognizes the importance of increasing equity, diversity, inclusion, antiracism, and cultural competency training throughout the entire public school system by providing training programs for classified staff, certificated instructional staff, certificated administrative staff, superintendents, and school directors that will be provided in an ongoing manner.”

According to a state Senate report (link here), proponents of state SB 5044 would help educators support “immigrants and students of color” and that it would make students “feel safe, heard, and understood.” However, opponents have called it a “divisive” and “dangerous” bill that would lead to students being taught to judge others based on the color of their skin.

Rep. Vicki Kraft
Rep. Vicki Kraft, R-17

“I’m very concerned CRT concepts will cause more divisiveness, not less,’’ Rep. Vicki Kraft (Republican, 17th District) said in an email exchange with Clark County Today. “This training is now going to be mandatory for public school teachers and staff, and as a result will become even more a part of K-12 education. Kids will be taught to judge others based on the color of their skin or background instead of simply learning to treat each other with kindness and respect no matter who they are or what a person looks like. 

“If we’re going to go down this road, then ‘love your neighbor as yourself’ and ‘do to others as you’d have them do to you’ are solid, time-tested principles that yield real, positive results regarding how we are to treat one another,’’ Kraft added. “Educators should focus their efforts on making sure students are improving in key core competencies such as English, math, science, and history — not CRT — especially after the Covid-19 school shutdowns and decline in student learning over this past year.’’

At least three states — Idaho, Oklahoma and Tennessee — have already passed legislation that will ban the teaching of CRT and many other states currently have bills proposed to do the same.

Liv Finne
Liv Finne

Liv Finne, education center director for the Washington Policy Center, testified before the legislature on the topic and she produced this legislative memo. She also shared her thoughts during a webinar earlier this week.

“One of the positive things that happened during the session is that we were able to expose the effort of the radical left to impose the Critical Race Theory training of staff in the public schools,’’ Finne said. “And unfortunately, the legislature was either diluted or did not understand, or perfectly well understood, what they were doing when they mandated the training of staff on what they call diversity, equity inclusion and anti-racism training, which are just code words for critical race training. It is going to teach our staff that the most important quality that they have is the color of their skin and that they would, if they are white, they will be labeled by the government as ‘oppressors.’ And if they’re not white, if they’re black or Hispanic, they will be labeled as ‘oppressed,’ as victims of the ‘oppressors.’ This is a very bad development.

“It violates our core civil rights protections,’’ Finne added. “I testified multiple times saying that this was illegal and this would violate our First Amendment rights. And the legislative committees ignored what I was saying, and other people were saying, and now it’s official state policy of Washington. It’s official state policy to divide people on the basis of race.’’

You might be asking, what is wrong with one day of racial sensitivity training for all educators?

“These ideas are being woven into the curriculum that will be delivered to students,’’ Finne said. “Right now, the Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction is what is weaving these ideas in through the English language standards, the history standards, even the math standards … This is coming right at our students. Unfortunately, that’s just the fact of the matter.’’

As a soon-to-be 58-year-old white male, I don’t make it my practice to lecture others about racism. As I stated, both in my education and my personal life, I have been blessed not to have been exposed to much of it in my lifetime. But, there’s one thing I feel very strongly about. Racial issues in this country have not gotten better in the last 12 months. They’ve become worse and there are many, many reasons for that.

A little more than three years ago, actor Morgan Freeman was interviewed by Mike Wallace on the CBS News program 60 Minutes.  During this insightful portion of their interview (about one minute and 20 seconds), Freeman shares some interesting thoughts about race. The most powerful for me was this statement:

“I’m going to stop calling you a white man,’’ Freeman told Wallace. “And I’m going to ask you to stop calling me a black man.’’

Isn’t that exactly what we all should want? When I listen and watch Freeman speak those words, I have a hard time thinking Critical Race Theory would create an environment or culture in our schools where that could take place. And that frightens me for our children.

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