While social justice activists continue to protest in support of Critical Race Theory instruction in American classrooms, state legislatures in Arizona, Georgia, Idaho, Iowa and Oklahoma have already banned such instruction (Photo courtesy Alternet.com).

SALT LAKE CITY – Political debate over so-called Critical Race Theory is heating up both here in Utah’s capitol and in Congress.

In Washington, Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, recently blasted the proposed priorities of the U.S. Department of Education for teaching American history and civics because that plan includes instruction based on Critical Race Theory.

“We have seen in recent years what happens when we indulge the cultural fragmentation of our national community,” Sen. Lee said in a formal comment to the DOE priority outline. “The critical race theory that undergirds the Department’s proposal does not celebrate diversity; it weaponizes diversity.

“(Critical Race Theory) casts aside our national identity, instead sharpening hyphenated racial identities into knives and daggers as a means to cancel anyone daring to recognize the underlying reality behind the history of this country.”

Critical Race Theory (CRT) is an academic movement launched by civil rights scholars and activists that contends that societal racism is the root of most social, cultural and legal issues in America.

The concept of CRT is not a recent development. The theory was first discussed by legal scholars studying the issue of racial bias in the U.S. court system in the 1970s. CRT emerged as a movement in the 1980s when civil rights activists began to apply the theory more broadly to other societal problems.

In the aftermath of the death of George Floyd in 2020, Black Lives Matter and social justice advocates have begun arguing that CRT should be incorporated into American history and civics instruction to counter what they consider to be the influence of “white supremacy” in U.S. classrooms.

Recent press reports from Capitol Hill indicate that some officials of the Biden administration are generally receptive to those arguments.

State legislatures in Arizona, Georgia, Idaho, Iowa and Oklahoma have responded by enacting laws banning CRT instruction in their classroom.

Here in Utah, Senate lawmakers are also on record as opposing Critical Race Theory.

“American history should be taught in a way that accurately depicts our country’s highs and lows, triumphs and mistakes,” according to State Sen. Chris Wilson, R-District 25. “Although our nation’s history is complex, we continue to strive to do better.”

Gov. Spencer Cox deliberately excluded discussion of Critical Race Theory from the agenda of a recent special session of the Legislature, saying that the hot-button issue needed more “time, thought, dialogue and input” before lawmakers take any action.

Despite that, the Utah Senate convened its own extraordinary session on May 19 to pass a resolution urging the State School Board to ensure that racial overtones don’t dominate instruction in Utah classrooms.

Wilson explained that resolution encouraged state officials to exclude CRT concepts from curricula and classroom materials.

Wilson added that the specific concepts to be excluded are the ideas that “one race is inherently superior or inferior to another race; that an individual should be discriminated against or receive adverse treatment because of the individual’s race; and, that an individual moral character is determined by the individual’s race.”

Additionally, the Senate’s Education Interim Committee has launched a year-long study of Critical Race Theory and its educational implications.

“Everyone is created equal and should be judged by their character, not the color of their skin …” members of the Senate Majority Caucus added in a prepared statement on Critical Race Theory. “We do not want to erase or bypass history, but we need to prevent schools from endorsing discriminatory concepts.

“We have heard from numerous concerned parents across the state regarding critical race theory being taught in the classroom. We are committed to listening to constituents’ concerns and uniting to find positive solutions that create inclusive learning environments for all students …

“As we look toward the future, we want our students to lead the nation on a brighter path forward and encourage the Utah State Board of Education to consider appropriate action.”

In Washington, Sen. Lee echoes that sentiment.

“While we are not without mistakes as a nation,” he said, “we have consistently sought to improve our society so that all men and women – regardless of age, race or religion – can flourish.

“It is dangerous for the federal government to knowingly support ideals and principles that pull us further apart, rather than those that bring us closer together.”

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