FILE – While parent groups in many states have raised their voices in opposition to the teaching of Critical Race Theory in public schools, Utah Sen. Mike Lee has been leading similar efforts in Washington, D.C.
Monica Wilbur expresses her opposition to critical race theory at the State Captiol in Salt Lake City on Wednesday, May 19, 2021. Standing behind her is Betty Sawyer, who holds an opposing point of view.(Trent Nelson/The Salt Lake Tribune via AP)
WASHINGTON, D.C. – Sen. Mike Lee, R-UT scored a significant victory Monday over advocates of Critical Race Theory in the administration of President Joe Biden.
Under fire from Sen. Lee and other conservatives, the U.S. Department of Education has announced a reversal of previous plans to require that public schools teach Critical Race Theory to qualify for certain federal grants.
Sen. Lee greeted the news of that policy reversal by saying “the only thing more troubling than Critical Race Theory in public schools is (U.S. Secretary of Education) Miguel Cardona mandating that it be there.
“These decisions should be handled by states and communities,” the senator added, “not the federal government. So I’m glad to see Secretary Cardona make this U-turn.”
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.
While some officials of the Biden administration have been generally receptive to those arguments, Sen. Lee and other conservative congressmen are bitterly opposed to Critical Race Theory.
When the Department of Education released an outline in May of proposed requirements for future American history and civics courses that would have mandated the inclusion of elements of CRT, Sen. Lee publicly blasted the proposal.
“We have seen in recent years what happens when we indulge the cultural fragmentation of our national community,” he wrote in a formal response to the proposed outline. “Critical Race Theory does not celebrate diversity; it weaponizes diversity.”
More generally, Sen. Lee and other conservatives view any attempts by the Department of Education to dictate a nationwide curricula as federal overreach.
“The federal government should have no role in the creation of an American history and civics curriculum for K-12 education,” the senator argues. “This (Critical Race Theory) proposal is evidence of why the involvement of federal bureaucrats in education is misguided.”
Many educators across the nation are advocates for Critical Race Theory both as a step toward achieving what they consider social justice and as a way to inoculate public education from criticism by the Black Lives Matter movement.
But parent groups and state lawmakers have been pushing back on the controversial curricula.
Here in Utah, for example, the Senate convened an 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.
“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.”
Sen. Wilson added that the Senate resolution encouraged state officials to exclude CRT concepts from curricula and classroom materials.
The Utah resolution listed specific concepts to be excluded as 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.”
In recent days, Sen. Lee has emerged as one of the most vocal opponents of Critical Race Theory on a national level.
“Critical race theory is seeping into our foundational institutions and attacking what it means to be American,” he wrote in a recent commentary published by the Deseret News. “This dangerous philosophy undermines our founding principles, institutions, social mobility and history itself. It threatens to take us backward in time, not forward.
“The path forward will not be found in tearing down the precious truths and beliefs that unite us. Instead, it will be found in building on their sure foundation.”