Commentary

Among the CRT panicked — Column

August 6, 2021 12:00 pm

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The Raise Our Standards tour chugged its way through 17 different locations in Minnesota, including a whistle-stop in Hibbing earlier this summer.  The tour, which was coordinated by the right wing Center of the American Experiment (CAE), claims that the Minnesota public school educational system is being besieged with radical indoctrination centered on critical race theory.

Here was the pitch: “The ‘woke’ political movement has invaded Minnesota’s public schools, turning them into ideological battlegrounds and threatening the quality of our children’s education. Our students deserve better. Join us to learn more about how Critical Race Theory advances a leftist, anti-American agenda that radically changes how our children learn about their country. Attendees will also get access to a resource center that informs, supports and connects Minnesota parents so they can fight back against ideologies that are harming our students.

An NBC News analysis found over a hundred groups nationwide have been created by conservative think tanks and activists aiming to disrupt educational lessons on race and gender. 

I registered to attend. Seraphia Aguallo Gravelle, executive director of Chisholm based Voices for Ethnic and Multicultural Awareness had requested that VEMA Facebook followers contact the Hibbing Elks Lodge to voice their concern about the tour being hosted by an organization whose mission is principled on charity, justice, and brotherly love. Some followers on the page commented they were Elks members, and were certain that the Lodge was unaware of the context of the tour. 

Within hours of the VEMA request, the venue had been changed. (Unclear if our pressure was the reason.) The Raise Our Standards tour had been in the news, as a disruption broke out in Moorhead, when several members of the audience voiced opposition to the presentation. A stop had also been planned in Duluth, until members of the Duluth NAACP asked allies to contact the event host to request cancellation, by calling out what they considered “overt racism” coming during the week of Juneteenth.

My 87-yr old mother and I drove to Hibbing to listen to the presentation, which was held at JJ’s Coffee and Cream. The hosting business displayed Trump campaign signs, and several stacks of Trump literature including claims Trump did not lose the election.  

We were escorted to a large meeting room in the back and greeted with coffee, juice, and a small complimentary breakfast. Fifty or so people made up the audience, which, yes, was white, older. 

The Sex-Ed book “It’s Perfectly Normal” was passed among tables. The tabbed pages provided fodder for the book-holder’s claim: “Pornography was being taught and distributed in our public schools.”  

I explained to my mother, who was unfamiliar with the book, that it was a contested sex-ed book frequently banned, just like the 1971 edition of “Our Bodies, Ourselves” 50-years ago at our local library.

The host and tour speaker, Catrin Wigfall, a policy fellow at CAE and former Alpha News journalist, introduced herself with a pat on her pregnant belly, informing the conference attendees that she was not a racist, was married to a person of color, and was carrying a child of mixed race.  

“This is not about race — we see good intentions leading to bad actions,” she said. The program began with the explanation that critical race theory (CRT) uses “thought reform” to divert energy away from parents and schools, threatening to divide society.  

(Critical race theory is a pretty obscure legal theory but it’s been given a weirdly high profile thanks to Trump. You can read a very high level summary here.)

The presentation used several slides with statistics depicting Minnesota’s public education struggles with spending and academic outcomes.  Wigfall said, with alarm, that the newly suggested revisions to the Minnesota social studies programs lend themselves to Marxism with terms like “inclusion and diversity.”  

“Critical race theorists have become the master of language,” she warned. 

She asked that concerned parents contact two lawmakers, Reps. Jim Davnie and Ruth Richardson, to encourage them to remove CRT-inspired language on ethnic studies from the final education bill.

Another speaker from CAE stepped up to the podium and asked attendees to support “education savings accounts,” — which are the latest version of vouchers — and put their children in a school of their choice if the curriculum at their public school did not match their standards. Critics of ESA’s argue this just redirects desperately needed money from public schools to private and religious schools. 

Wigfall mentioned, in closing, that the hand-out’s contained information that would encourage concerned citizens to counter revisions to the Minnesota Department of Education social studies standards.  

Using a brochure called, “Conversations on Critical Race Theory, Informed Answers to Common Questions,” which was created by a new organization called TakeCharge, she coached us on how to respond to arguments. 

If challenged about racial disparities and creating programs to fix them is, you can say, “As a country we accepted MLK’s challenge to judge people by the content of their character, not the color of their skin. Are you telling me that MLK was wrong?  Are you telling all of us that dream is outdated? Who are you to make this change for the entire country?”

After listening to the presentation, reading the hand-out’s, and doing added research online to include: “A Roadmap for Transformational Change in Minnesota Education,” I have decided I will send an email to Davnie and Richardson, the two Minnesota lawmakers, that reads: 

“Dear Representatives: In 2021, at age 59, I learned about the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre.  I believe this was 45-yrs. too late. I would have hoped Dr. Martin Luther King Jr’s 1963 ‘I have a dream speech’ was a day of reckoning for civil rights transparency in the United States. I am asking you to support revisions in Minnesota education that will continue to work toward fulfilling the dream of MLK by addressing racial disparities in American history.” 

Perhaps I should send a postscript to Wigfall and the CAE, mentioning I caught their sleight of hand on King’s ‘dream speech,’ paraphrasing portions out of context, attempting to appeal to those who believe no change is necessary. 

It’s not the radical left that has an anti-American, anti-public education agenda. It’s the right in their semi-cloaked movement seeking public monies for private schools with the ultimate goal of undermining public education.. 

The CAE found a new presentation venue in Duluth and was met with protest on July 13th at the Lafayette Community Center on Park Point, all while the anti-critical race theory movement sweeps across the United States. 

The right seems to think they’ve found a potent issue. A law firm affiliated with CAE also recently launched a lawsuit, as the Pioneer Press recently reported, against Hennepin Healthcare System, the Minnesota Department of Human Services and the Lakeville School District, “accusing them of bullying or retaliating against employees, students and parents by promoting what they call a racially divisive and demeaning ideology.”

Gays, guns, “under God” and now this. And what’s most likely at the end of all this culture war chest thumping? Corporate tax cuts and defense of the oil and gas industry, as it ever was in Republican politics. 

I believe that if Dr. King were alive today that he would not be pinch-hitting for the Center for American Experiment, but rather continuing work to restore justice.  His line: “Now is the time to make justice a reality for all of God’s children” is as relevant today as it was in 1963. Be wary of these whistle-stops — history, education, is at stake.

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Pam Dowell
Pam Dowell

Pam Dowell, is a freelance writer who runs Facebook page called The Itascan Monitor. Her 21-story series “Indivisible, Inspiring, and Humans of Grand Rapids” was featured in the Grand Rapids Herald Review over the past four years.

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