Opinion | Susan Knopf: A critical look at race theory
For the Record
A lot of folks are worried about the Summit School District’s equity policy and critical race theory.
Breckenridge resident Alexandria Nicole Carns, Solidarity Nation founder, sponsored a community conversation on the topic Sunday, July 18, at the outdoor stage at the Silverthorne Performing Arts Center.
Frisco parent Aaron Grasley said at the event that he honors all perspectives.
“I believe there is power in diversity. I believe there is value in inclusion. … I want to be a part of that discussion. Because I believe it brings about a better community and a better country if we all work together. We have the ability to solve problems if we bring people together.”
Skeptics bravely shared their doubts about racial privilege. Summit County mom and military veteran Kim Langley said she prefers to judge people by their character and not by the color of their skin. She said her kids have been called out for their whiteness in class.
Summit County high school teacher Melissa Ptolemy expressed concern about that. She asked for Langley’s permission, which was given, and then revealed she teaches Langley’s son. It’s a small town.
Ptolemy asked if this racial affront happened in her class. Langley said no. Ptolemy was visibly relieved. She said she works to bring all perspectives to class but tearfully admitted it’s been a tough year and that she is sure she has made lots of mistakes.
Summit County mom and language arts teacher Sara Gacnik said, “We have failed a lot of people who have passed through our buildings.” She said the state has identified our district as one of those with the widest gaps in achievements between groups of students.
Local mom Danielle Surette acknowledged learning styles affect learning and that’s been an ongoing challenge in education. She said, “We want everybody to be treated fairly, equally.”
Then Surette said something that was a lightning bolt. She said her understanding is that equity is about outcome, meaning how everybody performs.
That’s not equity. Equity is helping everybody get the help they need to maximize their opportunities to succeed. It doesn’t mean everybody performs the same.
The district’s new equity policy states that white students are overrepresented in gifted and talented, and advanced-placement programs. Surette objected to the inference that overrepresentation somehow implies systemic racism.
“Because there’s not enough diversity that means there’s racism. To me there is no correlation between those two. It’s merit-based,” she said.
Ptolemy countered that point.
“Honestly, it’s not merit based,” she said. … Teachers … make recommendations. … I hate saying this — love all of our teachers — but surely there is some bias.”
Gacnik said she thought that there was a misinterpretation of the equity policy.
“We’re not trying to give kids the same outcomes,” she said.
That brings me to another conversation I had with a local who told me she thought equity was something for nothing. I appreciated the candor. But that’s not equity.
This word is so divisive that the Summit Colorado Interfaith Council calls its effort the Community Equality Committee. Equality appears to be a point on which everyone agrees.
Another term that is misunderstood is critical race theory.
If someone is concerned about teaching critical race theory, the first thing they should ask is, “What is critical race theory?”
It’s not a particular theory, like Einstein’s theory of relativity. It’s not a curriculum to be taught. It’s a way to analyze law, education and social sciences just like the scientific theory is a way to test theories about the natural world.
According to the American Bar Association, critical race theory popped up in one of Trump’s executive orders, so the conservative movement latched on it. The New Yorker says conservative filmmaker Christopher Rufo created conservative hysteria over this previously little-known grad school level, legal and social science analytical device.
For the record, the concept has been around since the 1970s, when Harvard Law professor Derrick Bell began teaching his students to look at law through a racial lens.
Critical race theory is not something you need to worry about. No one is teaching white people are evil racists. Modern social studies teachers might teach that Reconstruction didn’t end the oppression of Black people. That’s a pragmatic fact, not a theory.
Susan Knopf’s column “For the Record” publishes biweekly on Fridays in the Summit Daily News. Knopf lives in Silverthorne. She is a certified ski instructor and an award-winning journalist. Contact her at email@example.com.
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