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Opinion >  Column

Shawn Vestal: Mead board wisely rejects the borrowed proposals to corral civics lessons

More than 100 people signed up to testify before the Mead School Board on Monday night over proposals to ban critical race theory districtwide and materials concerning gender identity from elementary libraries.   (Quinn Welsch / The Spokesman-Review)
More than 100 people signed up to testify before the Mead School Board on Monday night over proposals to ban critical race theory districtwide and materials concerning gender identity from elementary libraries.  (Quinn Welsch / The Spokesman-Review)

Maybe the Mead School Board should adopt a policy against plagiarism in proposed policies.

Because what became glaringly obvious after the marathon meeting Monday night in which crowds testified on policies attempting to ban critical race theory and the subject of gender identity in elementary libraries was that the proposals had nothing to do with the world of the Mead schools – and everything to do with the world of the Tucker Carlson show.

Not only was the language put forth by board member Michael Cannon drawn, word-for-word in some cases, from other anti-CRT proposals, but the spirit and concerns animating them were unoriginal, knee-jerk, hand-me-downs from the echo chambers of the culture wars.

During the course of the meeting, it became apparent – especially after many excellent presentations from district teachers and librarians – that these ideas were a misfire. As one board member put it, voting for them would be “a vote for solving a problem that doesn’t exist.”

In the end, Cannon was left tying himself in knots: “Maybe we don’t do that here, but maybe we don’t want to do that here, so what’s wrong with writing a policy that says we aren’t going to do what we already don’t do?”

Most of his fellow board members were not persuaded, and both policies were voted down. The votes followed hours of testimony from a crowd somewhat evenly divided among supporters and opponents. It was the second such meeting in a row for the Mead board, which also faced a large crowd – mostly opposed to the proposals – in mid-August.

The timing of this charade was awful, coming at the start of the school year after two years of pandemic-related challenges. The board members, administrators and teachers who took time to address it had many other more important things to do back in the real world.

Cannon proposed two policies: one that banned CRT and outlined a list of things that could, and could not, be included in civics lessons, most of which centered around preserving a jingoistic approach to history and race; and one that prohibited materials about gender identity or gender studies in the elementary school library.

Calling these proposals plagiarism isn’t quite right, really – plenty of lawmakers copy language from others, and though it may be lazy and unoriginal, it’s not the same as doing it on a term paper. Cut-and-paste CRT legislation in particular has spread like crazy.

Still, the lack of overlap between the world these policies envision and the real world of the Mead School District was striking – and a direct result of people who are passionately tuned in to a political ecosystem that is divorced from facts and thrives on fear of a diverse, multicultural world.

In this ecosystem, teachers are seen as marauding around trying to make white children feel guilty and encouraging boys to think they’re girls. In this ecosystem, teaching about racist events in history is divisive. The fact that some people believe it doesn’t make it true, nor does it make it a sound basis for educational policy.

CRT is an academic theory that addresses the way racism is woven into institutions and social systems. It’s not taught in K-12 schools – not Mead, not others – but it’s become a right-wing umbrella for a range of white grievance complaints, and it’s often wildly mischaracterized, as it was Monday night and in Cannon’s policies.

Cannon said he understands that CRT isn’t part of any formal curriculum, but he described it as a teaching practice meant to infest “every class in every grade.”

Seattle’s Christopher Rufo, the right-wing conflict peddler, basically invented CRT as a form of right-wing red meat and has acknowledged it’s a strategic attack meant to delegitimize public schools and build support for school choice.

Former President Trump picked up the scent of Rufo’s grift and issued a presidential declaration against CRT and diversity training. Cannon has said he copied the language in his proposals from a Washington state bill – much of it repeats Trump’s declaration verbatim, as first reported by Range Media.

When you’re getting your ideas about what happens in Spokane classrooms from the Mad King of Mar-a-Lago, it’s time for a reality check.

The board got one Monday. Teacher after teacher defended their practices and curricula, insisting that CRT simply isn’t in the picture while defending the need to teach accurate history and to be inclusive of all students.

Supporters of the policies spoke – sometimes trembling with emotion – about protecting children from indoctrination, about the importance of centering the Bible in classrooms, about white kids being made to feel like oppressors, about adults pushing kids to question their identities.

One of the wisest voices of the night was that of a 9-year-old girl, a fourth-grader at Prairie View Elementary.

“It’s kind of scary standing up here, but sometimes doing the right thing is hard,” she told the board, before launching off on an incredibly mature explanation of why it’s important for the schools to include and respect the experiences of people who are not white like her.

“I don’t need you to protect me,” she said. “I need you to include me in the conversation.”

In the end, presented with a choice between these bad, borrowed ideas and the simple wisdom of a child, the board made the right call.

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