'They wanted to hear from their friends': GOP hearing on race in schools excludes Black speakers
A legislative committee in the Republican-led Missouri General Assembly actually went about holding an invite-only hearing on how race is taught in schools without including a single Black parent or educator, according to NBC-affiliated KSHB-TV. The hearing on Monday only featured the voices of those who oppose critical race theory, a framework for interpreting law that maintains racism has an undeniable effect on the legal foundation of American society. One of the invited guests who got a chance to testify was Katie Rash, who leads Missouri’s chapter of the political group No Left Turn in Education, KSHB reported. “Some students are having serious emotional problems dealing with the CRT, or social justice, concepts being taught in our schools,” Rash said.
Heather Fleming, a former teacher and diversity and inclusion trainer, told KSHB she wasn’t allowed to testify and that legislators were “talking about us, without us.” “What not having any African Americans in the room really showed was that this wasn’t really about understanding,” Fleming said. Missouri NAACP President Rod Chapel called the display of privilege “ridiculous,” “excluding the very people who are saying we’ve been treated inequitably.”
“That talks more to the kind of hearing that they wanted to have than the information that they wanted to gather,” he told journalists after the hearing. “They wanted to hear from their friends who were going to support their political talking points.”
Republican Sen. Cindy O’Laughlin said she intended for the hearing of the Joint Committee on Education to feature parents who felt ignored when they raised concerns about critical race theory at their children’s schools. “I felt today it was important to hear from people who have tried to go through the official cycle of authority within their districts and have basically been turned away,” she told her peers.
O’Laughlin said an associate professor of Black history she invited decided not to testify but she’s “certain this won’t be the last conversation.”
Republicans throughout the country have been leading efforts to have critical race theory banned in public schools, but it’s worth noting the upper-level framework wasn’t being taught in many K-12 schools anyway. The GOP’s campaign has been about redefining critical race theory to mean anything remotely related to race, bias, or racism and having those topics banned. In Tennessee, a group of parents deemed author Robert Coles’ The Story of Ruby Bridges, a classic about a six-year-old girl’s work to integrate a New Orleans school in 1960, too closely aligned with critical race theory. In Texas, the Republican-led Senate is trying to push through the state legislature a bill no longer requiring teachers to teach Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream,” the emancipation proclamation, women’s suffrage, Native American history, and works by civil rights activists Cesar Chavez and Dolores Huerta—all deemed critical race theory.
Republican state Sen. Mike Moon delivered a letter to the governor signed by 67 members of the Missouri General Assembly urging the governor earlier this month to issue an executive order banning critical race theory in schools as well as Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Nikole Hannah-Jones’ “1619 Project.” The project correctly asserts that “no aspect of the country” has been “untouched by the years of slavery” that followed the first slave ship’s arrival to the coastal port of the English colony of Virginia in August of 1619.
“Since the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education is within the Executive Branch of Missouri government, the governor has the power to exercise authority over the department,” Moon wrote in his letter. “I believe the destructive nature of this type of teaching demands immediate executive action until the Legislature can address it.”
Gov. Mike Parson tweeted his disapproval of critical race theory in a thread on Monday night. “Critical Race Theory (CRT) has no business being taught in Missouri classrooms – but the vast majority of our schools are not doing that,” he said. “Missouri schools are teaching diversity, equity and inclusion to help prepare our students for life and for the workforce by allowing them to better understand and respect each other’s differences. However, we do NOT need the extreme teachings of CRT in order to accomplish that goal.
“I believe in local control and our state has a long history of valuing local control, and that is why local schools districts have statutory authority over curriculum. Individual schools receive direct input from teachers and parents and know best how to address these topics,” Parson tweeted.
For many educators, this intense pushback on critical race theory is nothing more than a rejection of any history white supremacists don’t approve of. Rydell Harrison, a Connecticut superintendent, told NBC News he was resigning at the end of June. Harrison, a rare leader in the mostly white Easton, Redding, and Region 9 district, responded to demands to increase diversity efforts after George Floyd’s murder by actually increasing diversity efforts. But following his criticism of the insurrection at the U.S. Capitol in January, sentiments about his work changed, and local conservatives begin floating flyers questioning his work. “People have asked me, ‘Was it one flyer too many?’ And it wasn’t just this one thing,” Harrison said in a Facebook post. “It was the collection of all of these pieces and the emotional and personal toll to be a Black man doing this work and facing very blatant attacks left and right.”