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Bill on ‘divisive concepts,’ against ‘critical race theory’ in education sparks statewide debate

Bill part of national effort to restrict teaching of structural racism, other concepts in public schools

Senior Staff Writer
Wednesday, June 23, 2021

A state bill proposing the prohibition of “divisive concepts” in education has sparked controversy across Rhode Island on the inclusion of racial justice curricula in public schools.

The bill, which was introduced in the Rhode Island General Assembly early March, comes amid a nationwide push by conservatives to limit such curricula in the wake of the Black Lives Matter protests of last summer. At least 24 other states have seen similar actions in recent months.

The bill includes provisions such as prohibiting teaching students that “the state of Rhode Island or the United States of America is fundamentally racist or sexist” and that “any individual should feel discomfort, guilt or anguish on account of their race or sex.”

According to State Representative Patricia Morgan (R-Dist. 26, West Warwick, Coventry, Warwick), one of the authors of the bill, these provisions are collectively intended to root out what she referred to as critical race theory in schools.

“Critical race theory is a poisonous ideology that seeks to impose a new kind of racism,” she told The Herald. “It would have us judge people by the color of their skin instead of by the content of their character, which is the opposite of the goal that MLK set for us as a country and that we have embraced since the 1960s.”

Critical race theory is a branch of critical legal studies, typically covered in law school, that seeks to understand how the law perpetuates racial inequality. In recent months, however, the term has become a buzzword among conservatives, encompassing education about phenomena like institutional racism, white privilege and unconscious bias.

Morgan said that the bill is meant to ban education about concepts like structural racism and white privilege. “To be telling a six-year-old that they are guilty of white privilege — which, by the way, is a made-up construct — that’s just wrong,” Morgan said. “I don’t want them to be indoctrinated in an anti-white ideology that is poisonous to our American culture.”

But many teachers, students and organizers opposed to the bill say that it is intended to ban conversations in schools about racial injustice in American history and its persistence into the present.

Providence teacher Lindsay Paiva said that the bill is intended to “put handcuffs on teachers and on schools, to limit what they can say.”

She added that many teachers feel that such bills create a culture of fear that threatens to chill necessary conversations about history and racial justice. “If you’re limiting what a teacher can say, and what they can teach about, and making sure that it fits within the box of white supremacy culture and that it’s aligned with this false narrative of American history — that’s indoctrination,” she said. “And that’s powerful, because then you’re bringing up generations to grow up knowing a false history.”

On the issue of critical race theory, Paiva said, “We don’t teach critical race theory in schools that are K-12 … This (buzzword) is a tool to mobilize the right.”

Paiva was an organizer of a June 12 rally against the bill in Bristol that was attended by teachers and students and that featured dozens of testimonies from students, educators and community members. The rally, part of a national day of action organized by the Zinn Education Project and Black Lives Matter At School, was held at the DeWolf Tavern, which was a major site of the slave trade in Rhode Island. “We chose a historical site that, if the bill were to pass, … we would have to lie to students about,” Paiva said.

Nancy Xiong, lead organizer for the Alliance of Rhode Island Southeast Asians for Education, co-organizer of the June 12 event and a student at Rhode Island College, emphasized the importance of teaching about racial justice and diverse histories. “Growing up, I only learned about Eurocentric history and never had the opportunity to explore other perspectives, cultures and history,” she said. “I didn’t learn about my own history.”

“I want the next few generations, and those further on, to not only learn about Europeans and why they came to America,” she added.

Jesse Hagopian, a Seattle high school teacher and an organizer for the Zinn Education Project and Black Lives Matter At School, said that he sees the nationwide push behind this type of bill as a reaction to last summer’s protest movement against police brutality and systemic racism.

“The Washington Post described that uprising as the broadest in U.S. history,” he said. “Given the breadth of this movement, it really scared racists … They had to figure out how to stop this growing racial justice consciousness from spreading.”

Hagopian added that he views the most recent assault on racial justice content in schools within the context of historical racist suppression of education during slavery, Reconstruction and the Civil Rights Movement. “They knew that there was power in education,” he said. “This is the tradition that we stand in — this long Black freedom struggle that has always seen education as central to our goals.”

“For today’s racists, they are not so bold as to ban the reading of the word. But they do want to ban the reading of the world,” he said. “They want our students to not be able to understand how power is organized in our society, the role of white supremacy, and they want our students to be confused about the power of solidarity of white students and Black students and Indigenous students and students of color joining arms to take down white supremacy and inequality.”

Hagopian also commented on the national campaign against teaching about structural racism. “This is in no way a grassroots effort,” he said. “This is a well-orchestrated campaign from Republican Party operatives and their corporate sponsors.”

The struggle sparked by the bill has impacted school administrators elsewhere in the Ocean State. Jennifer Lima, a member of the North Kingstown School Committee, said that many conservative parents came to the most recent committee meeting to speak against what they saw as critical race theory. “We have recently created a diversity, equity and inclusion committee as part of our school committee … and they are concerned that we are pushing CRT,” she said.

She added that she and others have been the target of harassment on local social media in recent weeks. In South Kingstown, school officials received a death threat, according to Lima and Paiva.

“I hope that it comes to a peaceful conclusion, but I don’t see them going away quietly any time soon,” Lima said. “Sometimes they think they can intimidate people … but that’s not going to work.”

Editors’ note: Due to safety reasons, the school name of a source featured in this article has been removed.

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  1. Burn Loot Murder says:

    Maoist struggle sessions do not belong in the classroom. It is ironic that those who oppose MLK’s inspiring quote see themselves as virtuous saviors. They are the ones who intimidate and ban dissenting opinions. Parents of all races around the country are rising up against rotten school boards who think they can bully everyone into submission. Sunlight is the best disinfectant.

  2. Concerned says:

    I absolutely agree with the reply above, I am currently working in the mental health field, and can tell you the number of young, white children (both girls and boys) and teenagers who have committed suicide in the last year is beyond hearth-breaking. In RI and across the country.

    Yes, the isolation of the pandemic had alot to do with it. However, I am also hearing the other side from parents that no one wants to talk about: these children and teenagers who are white feel that – because of learning in CRT – that the “whiteness” of their skin makes them “oppressors” and no amount of their own achievement in life should be celebrated because of “unearned privilege” – they feel hopeless, they feel discriminated against, they feel they shouldn’t even try to have dreams.

    Most agree teaching about black history in America is very important, and breaking the lingering effects of any racism of blacks should be dis-mantled. However, you cross the line when you peg these white children (and white adults) as the sole owners of any oppression of black people. That is the DEFINITION of racism. Period.

    CRT teaching in schools – as many parents are finding across the country – is also a gateway cover coup to teach students other very radical, anti-American ideas.
    However, what turns my stomach the most, is that parents are finding that CRT is also being used to teach self-satisfaction of masturbations in young children! In Virginia, a first grade class was shown a cartoonish video about a boy and girl’s private parts and “how touching it feels good”. Uncomfortable about reading that last sentence? You should be. These educators and their supportive school boards are no better than a pedophile’s grooming process.

    BAN CRT teaching in our children’s schools. Stop teaching our children to hate America, to hate themselves, to see themselves as openly sexualized grown-ups, and to hate one another. It is sick, perverted, un-patriotic, and Marxist.

  3. Concerned Patriot says:

    BTW, most parents agree that teaching children of ALL cultures is beneficial -especially how it pertains to past and current American history. That’s not the problem. Most CRT is only focused on pitting black history against white history in America.

    What about the Native American culture who were the indigenous people in America? What about the discrimination against Italian, Irish, Asian, and middle-east immigrants?

    White people are not afraid of “going there” in discussing the inequities of these people immigrating to America or for black Americans, being brought from Africa into slavery. The Irish were also brought here into slavery. Make the discussion inclusive to all races, all creeds, and all religious backgrounds.

    And do it in a way that does NOT vilify any race, creed, or religion.

    The pushing for a ban on CRT in classrooms is not part of a Republican agenda either. I know many Democrats who want to ban this CRT in our children’s classrooms as well.

    Let’s be clear, CRT is not at all about just bringing forth the left out parts of America history that hasn’t told every culture’s story and it’s current impact in American’s present. If so, it would have the the goal of expanding the consciousness of these kids to be tolerant and kind towards all people of all races, etc.

    It’s about – and I state from the quote above – “the take down of white supremacy”.

    Tell me – are you not aware that all Americans who have been through school already know about black slavery? Why pluck this out of history & weaponize it now?

    Tell me – give me concrete examples of this “white supremacy” you speak of?

    Tell me – why did the teacher who went to the capitol in Providence to oppose the banning of CRT in schools BRIBE her class room children with extra-credit if they showed up and agreed with the banning?

    Tell me – what methods are you teaching our children of how to “take down” this group?

    Tell me – what concrete goals does the teaching of CRT have in impacting our children where they ALL feel safe and equal and compassionate towards one another?

    Tell me – are you just wanting to indocrinate these children with a radical agenda? Or do you want to provide these children how to peacefully co-exist with each other so that they can collaborate in a kind manner and exhibit civil behavior to work with each other to address these agencies in which you feel discrimination still exists?

    Tell me – how can you preach the evils of racism while promoting it at the same time?

    Tell me – how do you feel about the fact that Black Lives Matter’s co-founder extorted millions of dollars from the organization (which was never reported on the main-stream news)?

    Tell me – how do you justify BLM joining with the bought-and-paid-for-by-Democratic group called Antifa? A group along with BLM that looted and set afire cities all across the nation, who harrassed innocent white people just walking down the street, or eating in a restaurant?

    Tell me – how “black” does one need to be in order to fit into your narrative?

    If a child has one black parent and one white parent, is that child considered the “victim” or the “oppressor”?
    What about two black parents with white grand-parents?
    What about minority groups like Latinos – who aren’t white, but not black. Do they get to be “victims” too and label white people as oppressors?

  4. Concerned Patriot says:

    Once last thing, this conversation doesn’t need to end in death threats or violence, or rudeness, etc.

    But we see this all the time, don’t we?

    Why don’t you throw away your CRT teaching agenda, and instead:
    – teach our children how to be critical thinkers
    – teach them to question the sources of their media news
    – teach them to be tolerant of different opinions
    – teach them to be accepting towards one another
    – teach them that their voice is important, and it’s ok to voice it without the fear of humiliation or retaliation
    – teach them to do their own research instead of taking an adult “teacher” to instantly take what they teach as truth?
    – teach them that they have the self-authority to question a narrative that doesn’t “feel good” to them

    and MOST of ALL:


    How is THAT for promoting diversity, equity, and inclusion!

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