By Rebekah Perry
About 75 people gathered Thursday evening July 8 at the Orleans municipal building for an informational meeting about Critical Race Theory (CRT) being taught in our schools, organized by Vermont State Sen. Russ Ingalls (R-Essex Orleans). What they heard from middle school and high school students surprised many.
The crowd included taxpayers with no other connection to the school, parents, at least one school board member, at least one member of the “Equity Committee” and several students. The crowd would have been bigger but, Ingalls reported, over 30 people who wanted to attend the meeting, however they feared that they would lose their jobs if they did so.
After an overview of CRT shared by Ingalls, Ben Morley, a community member and founder of “FAIR Education for Orleans Central Supervisory Union (OCSU)” talked about an alternative: Ethical Diversity Training that is respectful, positive and unpolitical. And, he reported on how the ideas of CRT are being taught in the OCSU schools.
The Supervisory Union has contracted with an activist group, “Building Fearless Futures,” to write the curriculum that is being taught. According to its website, BFF is a project of Wheelock Mountain Farm, a not-for-profit. Wheelock Mountain Farm also supports Migrant Justice and the Hardwick Community Dinner.
The curriculum does not use the term “critical race theory”, however it does teach the same ideas. It was noted that Building Fearless Futures is an activist organization, they are NOT licensed professionals or people with an understanding of early education or child psychology, yet they are creating a curriculum that teaches our children to feel embarrassed and ashamed of how they were born.
Teachers are being required to teach this curriculum, often against their better judgement, but fear for their jobs if they refuse. Morley pointed out that school boards are paying big bucks for curriculum and “curriculum support”, to the tune of many thousands of dollars by each school district. In fact over a million dollars was earmarked in this year’s budget by Essex-Waterford School District, as reported in Vermont Daily May 25.
After these two brief presentations, Ingalls requested that all be respectful and if necessary, “agree to disagree”, then the floor was opened to questions and comments. One of the first people to speak was a member of the diversity committee from Westmore. She expressed disappointment in the perspectives being offered, that there was no one from the school board defending their decision to teach “equity” subjects. She also commented that CRT was not actually being taught in the divisive and political light that Ingalls had depicted it.
In response, Ingalls turned to the middle and high-school students in attendance for their input.
Students reported that they are taught that they are “wrong for being born white”, that they are “oppressors of black people” because they are white… because of what their ancestors did by owning slaves.
Morley asked the students if the conversations ever turned political. They said yes, very often. “What happens if you disagree with the teacher, politically?” he asked. “If we take a different political perspective than the teacher, we are asked to leave or be quiet,” one offered. Another student shared: “If we write from a conservative perspective, then a paper that is written “with the same writing style, the same effort and experience… what would get me an A if I wrote with the teacher’s political perspective, I get a C if I write a Republican or conservative idea.”
When asked how often the conversations of race are occurring, the students report that these conversations happen 2-3 times per week.
A person of color offered a powerful observation and plea that CRT is hurting our children. She demanded that we teach our children to follow the values that Dr Martin Luther King Jr taught, that we value each other by the content of our character, not by the color of our skin. She implored that schools reflect the teachings of Dr. King and others to teach our children to accept each other as we are, not to make kids feel bad for things – like skin color – that are out of their control. She received a loud round of applause from the crowd.
A one year veteran of the school board offered a clarification that even with the school restructuring, all towns are represented on local school boards. It was noted that school board meetings are open to the public. Ingalls encouraged increasing public presence at both Equity Committee and school board meetings.
It was noted that the Equity Committee makes decisions in their meetings about what is being taught, and that this is presented in palatable summary form to the school boards for vote. Equity Committee meeting minutes can usually be found alongside school board meeting minutes, and are worth reading to better understand what is going on.
One community member suggested that parents need to step up and provide stronger teaching at home about race relations in order to counter what’s being taught in schools. This parent was interrupted by students who assured her that teachers are quick to say “Your parents are wrong,” when kids share their parents’ perspectives.
Morley shared two other important points: that the lessons of CRT are being brought in under the umbrella of “broadening social-emotional health” curriculum. And that there is a push toward “21st Century Education” that is technology based, meaning that kids do a lot of their work on computers, assuring that there is no schoolwork going home for parents to see.
Ingalls closed the meeting by encouraging people to attend meetings and make concerns known. Other CRT info meetings are being planned around the state in coming weeks.
The author is an Island Pond resident