Over the past several months, and all across the country, there’s been an organized effort led by right-wing fringe conservatives to bash critical race theory and ban it from being taught in schools. Along with that organized effort and bashing, there’s been a lot of misinformation being spread about what critical race theory is, and that misinformation is being spread by people who believe that all it takes to be heard is for them to shout the loudest.
Because when lies are being spread, it’s always best to be as loud as possible about it.
That brings us to the Salinas Union High School District Board of Trustees meeting of June 22, with an entreaty posted to social media by a woman who leads a local anti-vaccination group: “If your kids go to ANY school in the (district) SHOW UP to the meeting… This will remain if we stay silent and if the school board doesn’t want to listen, PULL YOUR CHILDREN OUT OF THE PUBLIC EDUCATION SYSTEM AKA INDOCTRINATION CAMPS! #RiseUp831.”
Critical race theory, her post continued, “is a divisive, racist, indoctrinating framework being taught in this district under the guise of ethnic studies. Chanting to the Aztec god of human sacrifice is included along with a BLM Unity Chant. Tell SUHSD to remove this political indoctrination immediately.”
Chanting to the Aztec god of human sacrifice? This I gotta see, because as I understood it, critical race theory is the study of systemic racism and an examination of how our system of government and government policies can perpetuate systemic racism, even unintentionally.
I tuned into the meeting, and it was a spectacle of misinformation and hostility and shouting. For about 40 minutes, speaker after speaker, based on the misinformation being spread on social media (because when lies are being spread, it’s always best to be social about it), took the SUHSD board to task for things they’re not even doing and for things that aren’t being taught.
And sure enough, it was as if they were reading directly from the social media post. From one: “You have an ethnic studies curriculum [and it’s] offering critical race theory under the guise of that title. You are promoting chants to the Aztec god of human sacrifice. You also include an activist toolkit… our political ideologies should be left out of the classroom.”
From another speaker: “I am appalled to think you are entertaining the idea of putting this kind of garbage in our children’s minds… what on earth are you people thinking? Are you trying to destroy the innocence of our children?” From another, referencing the ethnic studies curriculum: “How many of you have actually looked at this garbage?”
Here’s the thing. Ethnic studies has been formally taught in Salinas schools for at least three years, first as an elective and, starting last year, as a one-semester graduation requirement. The curriculum has been online from the start, and it was developed after extensive dialogue with a variety of stakeholders and approved by an elected body before being implemented.
And there’s no chanting to an Aztec god, of sacrifice or anything else. When talking about how groups create unity, there’s a discussion of how chants can be used to facilitate it, “si se puede” or “one struggle down, many more to go” style.
“What transpired last week,” a weary Superintendent Dan Burns tells me, “was sad and frustrating. This was an attack on a government entity in an attempt to portray critical race theory as the evil of all evils.”
Burns knows critical race theory has become a focal point of what’s being termed a culture war, and groups have organized to look at school board agendas, find anything that looks like an opportunity to come in and make a show of protest so they can record it and put it on social media.
“There’s such bad information out there. People haven’t done their homework and they believe kids are being brainwashed in school and that’s not happening,” Burns says.
The item that raised ire on the June 22 agenda? Voices of Monterey Bay, an online news source, wants to rent a room from the district to teach their annual journalism bootcamp, entirely free, to local kids who want to learn to tell their own stories.
What are the aggrieved masses so afraid of? That children will learn to tell their stories?