Jun 23, 2021 - News

Colorado GOP pushes against teaching critical race theory

Photo illustration of media, Black Lives Matter protests, Emmett Till, the Daily News cover of Eric Garner's death, a Black power pin, olympic athletes on podium, a Star Tribune cover.

Photo Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios. Photos: Photo by David J. & Janice L. Frent/Corbis via Getty Images, NY Daily News via Getty Images, Bettmann / Contributor, Dave Rushen/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images, Star Tribune via Getty Images.

Republicans are pushing to make the teaching of critical race theory a political issue in Colorado by targeting local school boards.

Why it matters: A year after George Floyd's killing, how systemic racism is — or is not — taught in public schools has become a new fault line in the culture wars, with implications for how the next generation of Americans understands U.S. history, writes Axios' Russell Contreras.

State of play: At least 21 states are advancing measures to restrict education related to race and history, according to Chalkbeat, an Axios reporting partner.

  • Some teachers and professors are being threatened or facing termination for teaching critical race theory, Axios reported.

Colorado is not one of the states. The conversation didn't materialize in the Democratic-controlled Legislature, though a bipartisan bill to emphasize civics education won approval.

  • Part of the dynamic is how education works in Colorado. The state mostly sets standards while local school boards set curriculums.

Yes, but: The issue is gaining steam in Republican circles, where leaders are asking critical race theory opponents to run for school board positions and make their voice heard at meetings.

Reality check: Critical race theory, a concept developed in the 1970s, holds that racism is ingrained in our society and comes from how the nation formed, Contreras explains.

  • It says that policies and practices in areas from law to education to banking contribute to persistent racial inequalities and are designed to conserve white supremacy.
  • The 1619 Project, first published in the New York Times, was developed into a curriculum to teach about the consequences of slavery.

U.S. Rep. Lauren Boebert, a Republican who represents the Western Slope, says it teaches "children to hate each other."

And Colorado GOP chairwoman Kristi Burton Brown is suggesting it's an issue the party can use to win middle-of-the-road voters.

  • "Children should not be taught that they are either oppressors or oppressed," she told Axios in a statement.

The other side: Democratic state Sen. Rachel Zenzinger, the education committee chair and a history teacher, says the issue is overblown and being driven by national politics. She backs teaching the material to children.

  • "We have used critical race theory as this lens on how you view history and we've been doing it for years — in my mind it's not new," she told Axios. "It's appropriate — we should be more inclusive and teach from this perspective."

Quick take: This conversation has played out differently in Colorado than in other states where Republicans get to set the agenda, Chalkbeat bureau chief Erica Meltzer tells us.

  • But we are seeing some bubbling at the district level, with parents complaining about how race is taught in school.

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