As an academic, I greatly welcome the exchange of ideas. Good faith arguments and critiques of ideas are quite welcome, which is why I maintain that questioning the utility of critical race theory (CRT), the existence of systematic racism, and intersections of privilege and oppression is not in and of itself problematic. That said, many of the public comments we are seeing take place in the Springfield Public School (SPS) Board’s meetings over the last year concerning CRT in the curriculum and diversity training are not being made in good faith.
My evidence? Simply put, despite the rhetoric, CRT is not being taught in SPS classrooms. A recent survey conducted by the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education found that Springfield and the vast majority of school districts (422 of the 425 surveyed) found that neither CRT nor the controversial 1619 Project are a part of their curriculum. Why then, is there so much time and energy being spent to address a problem that does not appear to exist? That is a very important question.
While it is certainly frustrating to me, hearing angry, confused, inarticulate, bad-faith arguments against CRT and any type of inclusive curricula is something that I can tolerate. I mean, talk is cheap. However, this silly fixation on the non-existent CRT in SPS’ curriculum will cost taxpayers tens of thousands of dollars.
Enter Rep. Craig Fishel’s call to engage in a costly review of SPS’s use of CRT and other “trigger” words in their servers. Not only is this call a tremendous misuse of time and money, it is also the epitome of political grandstanding. This is not about seeking the truth about what is going on in the classrooms of SPS. It is a way for a politician to gain support from a group of highly motivated, right-wing individuals who have been made to believe that all of the issues facing them stem from changing demographics and the “woke.”
Fortunately, in invoking the Sunshine Law and calling for this review of the servers, Rep. Fishel sheds light on his own goals. Yes, he seems very interested in garnering support from his base, but he is also attempting to root out any type of curriculum that is by design meant to increase awareness of justice, equity, diversity and inclusion.
This Sunshine request is less about addressing any real issue, and instead is about maintaining a status quo that has not been working for members from historically excluded groups. In being against SPS’s inclusive curricula and diversity trainings, Rep. Fishel and his supporters demonstrate that they are against diversity, equity and inclusion in our schools. They are against any notion that our community, and by extension the U.S., is anything short of a colorblind society free from any issues of racial inequality. Such a delusional view of the world hinders any opportunities for progress toward achieving racial harmony.
Kyler Sherman-Wilkins, Ph.D. is an Assistant Professor of Sociology at Missouri State University. His research program centers around investigating social determinants of health and health disparities among older adults.