We've now entered the "The education funding problem for Democrats is a lot more than just Critical Race Theory!" phase of blaming Joe Biden for Republican state budget cuts to educator staff, school closures, and charter school smoke and mirrors in states around the country. Of course, WIN THE MORNING DOT COM is specifically ignoring the millions being spent to disrupt school board meetings by right-wing corporate donors, treating all this rage as organic. You know, just like the Tea Party ten years ago.
Elina Kaplan is the kind of suburban mom who made Joe Biden president.
An immigrant who came to the United States from the Soviet Union, she is a registered Democrat from San Mateo County, Calif. And she’s alarmed over her state’s new model ethnic studies curriculum, which cites critical race theory as a “key theoretical framework and pedagogy.”
“I firmly believe that if the vast majority of Californians and Americans knew about this, and about the content of this type of curriculum, this would not be happening. We would not be having this conversation,” Kaplan said.
Kaplan, who has launched an email list, set up meetings with state legislators and recruited people to meet with their school boards to discuss ethnic studies, is representative of Democrat-leaning or politically moderate suburbanites interviewed by POLITICO in six states, all but one of which were won by Biden. They are up in arms over their school systems’ new equity initiatives, which they argue are costly and divisive, encouraging students to group themselves by race and take pro-activist stances. Proponents of the initiatives say they are a long-overdue step toward getting rid of systemic racism in the school system.
On the national level, Democrats have insisted that the brush fires over critical race theory — which has become a political punching bag even for unrelated equity initiatives — are largely the work of right-wing activists who willfully misrepresent what it means, and they blame Fox News for fanning parents’ anger.
"That's another right-wing conspiracy. This is totally made up by Donald Trump and [Republican candidate for governor] Glenn Youngkin," Virginia gubernatorial candidate Terry McAuliffe said in June.
“I don’t think we would think that educating the youth and next and future leaders of the country on systemic racism is indoctrination,” said White House press secretary Jen Psaki in May.
But those Democrats appear to be underestimating parents’ anger in places where critical race theory is top of mind. Objections to new equity plans are not the sole province of conservatives but extend to many moderate and independent voters, according to POLITICO interviews with school board members, political operatives and activists in Democratic and left-leaning communities including the Northern Virginia suburbs of Washington, D.C.; Palm Beach County, Fla.; New York’s Westchester County; Maricopa County covering Phoenix, Ariz.; and suburban Detroit.
Parents who are showing up to school board meetings and have helped launch a spate of recall elections say they are angry about a host of issues, including what they see as a myopic focus on diversity at school boards, ongoing frustration over a year of closed schools and school lesson plans that they say are becoming too progressive, too fast. While those complaints have often been branded in the media as “anti-critical race theory,” the causes of the anger are varied, and are being ignored, parents say.
The stakes aren’t lost on Amanda Litman, founder of the Democratic organization Run for Something, which works to elect school board members and other local officials: “This is a perfect storm of something that can appeal to, or draw back in, some of the suburban parents that might have voted Republican in 2016, Democrat in 2018 and 2020, but could be drawn back to the Republican Party in 2022.”
“We’re trying to argue ‘No, you’re mis-defining critical race theory,’ and that’s not the point,” Litman added. “The point is that people are scared about what their kids are learning.”
Critical race theory is an academic discipline that evolved at law schools and universities in the 1980s to examine institutional racism and challenge existing approaches to racial justice. This year, opposing activists started using the term as shorthand to describe a wave of newly adopted efforts to combat systemic racism in schools.
Polling suggests that the majority of voters still aren’t aware of critical race theory. But as the current debate escalates, activists and Republican officeholders are succeeding in giving voters a negative impression of it. As of mid-June, fully a third of voters told pollsters from the firm YouGov they hadn’t heard of critical race theory, and only a third of voters said they’d both heard of it and had a good idea of its meaning. But opinions among those who’d heard of it were sharply negative. Fifty-three percent said they were “very unfavorable” of it while only 23 percent said they were “very favorable.”
People who identified as Republican and had heard of critical race theory were especially negative: 85 percent termed their views “very unfavorable.” But the same was true of 71 percent of independents, the group that was key to Biden’s victory over former President Donald Trump, favoring the Democrat by 9 points, according to the Pew Research Center, after Trump had narrowly won the group over Hillary Clinton in 2016. Among Democrats who had heard of critical race theory, most (58 percent) were “very favorable,” while a smaller but still significant 7 percent were “very unfavorable.”