Speaking tour on ‘critical race theory’ to make stop in Marshall
MARSHALL — Organizers of a “critical race theory” presentation being held in Marshall this week say they’re alerting people about how an academic movement could affect social studies standards being drafted for Minnesota schools.
But while some Marshall area residents are interested in the event, others said they’re worried it could deepen divisions among Minnesotans. Teachers and administrators at Marshall Public Schools also say critical race theory, an academic theory developed by legal scholars in the 1970s, isn’t being taught in the school district.
“Nobody at Marshall High School is teaching critical race theory. If you asked the social studies teachers in our building if they teach CRT, their first answer would probably be, ‘What is it?’ “ said Rick Purrington, a social studies teacher at MHS.
The Center of the American Experiment, a conservative think tank based in Minnesota, said it is bringing its “Raise Our Standards” speaking tour to Marshall on Thursday. The event starts at 11:30 a.m. at the Marshall Golf Club, and people attending are asked to RSVP online at www.americanexperiment.org.
“We are excited to bring this successful tour to the Marshall area so parents and taxpayers can learn how critical race theory and the draft social studies standards are radically changing how our children learn about their country,” said Kendall Qualls, one of the speakers planned for Thursday’s event. “We are eager to travel across the state to empower parents and citizens to fight back against the ‘woke’ movement that is transforming our education system.”
Bill Walsh, director of communications for the Center of the American Experiment, said the talk in Marshall is part of the second phase of a statewide tour.
“We did a 17-stop tour this summer,” Walsh said. The tour kicked off after a draft of proposed social studies standards was released and received some criticism. Walsh said ideas from critical race theory are “embedded” into the draft standards. A press release announcing the Marshall presentation said attendees “will learn how to push back against the politicization of our schools.”
The event has sparked interest among Marshall area residents. At the public comment portion of last week’s Marshall school board meeting, local resident Trudy Madetzke said community members were interested in knowing “with the critical race theory, if that’s going to be implemented into the social studies programs here,” Madetzke said she planned on attending Thursday’s event.
Jeff Kolnick, history professor at Southwest Minnesota State University, said he also planned on attending the event. But Kolnick said he was concerned that some of the ongoing discussion about critical race theory could be part of an effort to deepen already-existing divisions about race in Minnesota.
“(Critical race theory) is not saying ‘You’re bad because you’re white,'” Kolnick said. Instead, critical race theory is a way to look at systems that uphold inequality without individual acts of bigotry, he said.
Kolnick used the example of funding education through property taxes. “That doesn’t require an act of prejudice,” but it still leads to low-income areas having poorly funded schools, he said.
And while Kolnick said the ideas of critical race theory have been around for years at law schools and in higher education, Marshall educators said it’s not part of K-12 standards.
Dana Moore, a seventh-grade social studies teacher at Marshall Middle School, said critical race theory wasn’t part of the curriculum there.
“The Minnesota social studies standards are currently very specific for what each grade level covers for grades 5-8, and we as a staff adhere strictly to these standards. The social studies standards do not include critical race theory,” Moore said.
Purrington and Moore said teachers at MPS don’t leave out parts of history that may be challenging for students, but they teach those topics in a professional and fact-based way.
“The social studies standards do cover some difficult aspects of U.S. history such as slavery and lack of rights for women for much of the nation’s history, as examples,” Moore said. “I would say that our staff does a very good job of covering difficult topics like these that are part of our standards.”
“Our history teachers teach history,” Purrington said. “We teach the truth of our past as well as we can. This means we challenge our students to critically and thoughtfully consider the good, the bad and the ugly parts of history and how it can all be applied to make today’s world a better place.”
Purrington and MPS Director of Teaching and Learning Beth Ritter said a first draft of new Minnesota social studies standards had met with some criticism last year. However, updated drafts are still coming out.
“The standards review process is a long and lengthy process that takes a few years from start to finish,” said Ritter. Multiple drafts of the standards are usually released before final standards are approved by Minnesota lawmakers. A second draft was released this summer.
“It is my understanding that yet another draft will be coming out in a few months,” Ritter said.
Ritter and Purrington said the latest draft of social studies standards was different in that it included more of an emphasis on “ethnic studies.”
“The goal here is to help students recognize and appreciate the diverse world they will be living in,” Purrington said.
Some earlier stops on the “Raise Our Standards” tour drew pushback, including protests of events in Moorhead and Duluth earlier this summer. However, it’s uncertain what kind of reaction Thursday’s event in Marshall will draw.
“I’m just hoping there’s time for a Q&A,” Kolnick said. It would provide an opportunity to engage in dialogue and ask the speakers evidence-based questions, he said.
As of Monday, the Marshall Golf Club was anticipating about 75 people in attendance at the event, said club house and restaurant manager Carlene Taylor. Taylor said she had heard of the Center of the American Experiment, but did not know what the group was planning to talk about when they rented space at the golf club.