FRANKFORT, Ky. — A group of Republican state lawmakers want to ban the teaching of critical race theory in Kentucky schools.
“It’s a radical ideology that seeks to use race as a means of moral, social, and political revolution,” said Rep. Matt Lockett (R-Nicholasville), the main sponsor of BR 69.
Lockett’s proposal, which would limit discussions of race, sex, and religion in public K-12 schools and universities, was the main subject of Tuesday’s interim education committee meeting in Frankfort.
Delvin Azofeifa, a Black teacher in Fayette County, joined the bill’s sponsors during testimony to criticize critical race theory, claiming it makes Black children out to be victims.
“There’s no denying that racism has played a major role in the history of America,” he said. “But objectively, 2021 isn’t even close to the levels of racism that was experienced in 1921.”
But what exactly is critical race theory? The short answer is it depends on who you ask.
People in the academic field say CRT examines how race and racism impacts our culture and the law.
Kentucky education commissioner Jason Glass said it isn’t taught in K-12 schools, and he worries about BR 69’s impact on discussions around race in general.
“‘Memory laws’ like these are increasingly the tools of some of the most authoritarian regimes in the world,” Glass said. “The fact that the Kentucky legislature is now considering them and has called this special meeting on them should cause us all to pause and consider our next move carefully and how history will judge all of us.”
Jefferson County Public Schools superintendent Marty Pollio also testified against the bill. He said the education system already fails to adequately teach about America’s racial history, evidenced by the fact he didn’t know about the 1921 race massacre in Tulsa, Oklahoma until just a few years ago, despite his background as a social studies teacher.
“In order to be able to interpret history, I think first and foremost, all of the stories need to be told, and I think that’s where we’re short,” Pollio said.
Pollio also responded to questions from lawmakers about a specific class that’s offered as an elective to high school juniors and seniors called “Developing Black Historical Consciousness” — a class that, at one point, included critical race theory until mentions of CRT were taken out of guiding documents earlier this year.
Pollio said the class is meant to give students an historical perspective about racial inequities in America.
“We did not want CRT to be something that takes our eye off of the ball in racial equity, so it was removed at that time and remains removed from the curriculum,” he said.
Pollio also emphasized JCPS administrators don’t set the curriculum for the district’s schools, and students are not required to take the course.
Lockett had a different take, likening critical race theory to the communist teachings of Karl Marx.
“CRT is simply identity-based Marxism based solely on the color of one’s skin,” he said. “And here’s the thing: at the end of the day, all Marxist theories fail and come unraveled.”
Lockett explained two scenarios to lawmakers where teachers used critical race theory in Kentucky — including one where he said a class of first graders was separated by race and was told the white group was oppressors and the black group was the oppressed — but he declined to give any specifics about where those incidents occurred, citing the need to protect the privacy of the parents who reported them to him.
Democratic lawmakers who were present at Tuesday’s committee meeting all voiced opposition to the bill. Sen. Gerald Neal (D-Louisville) says he wants to have more discussions about the bill — but right now, it isn’t good.
“If we don’t grapple with the truths of those histories, then we cannot deal not only effectively with the present, but we can’t lay down the foundation for the future,” he said.
Rep. Tina Bojanowski (D-Louisville) said conservative groups have pounced on something that is only taught at the university level and turned into a political ploy.
“It’s all designed to rile up a base to generate votes for a midterm election,” she said.
The bill doesn’t specifically mention critical race theory, but it bans teaching concepts that makes a student “feel discomfort, guilty, anguish, or any other form of psychological distress on account of his or her race, sex, or religion,” something opponents say lawmakers can’t actually legislate.
It also bans the teaching of several other concepts as well, including that any “one race, sex, or religion is inherently superior,” or that someone is responsible for actions committed in the past by someone else of the same race, sex, or religion.
Lockett called the bill “one of the most vital pieces of legislation” lawmakers will consider during the upcoming legislative session, which starts in January.