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Critical Race Theory: The Latest 'Boogeyman’ In Public Education

A photo of a small crowd with a Black woman standing and speaking at a podium.
Sonja Hutson
Supporters and protestors stand behind Ogden NAACP leader Betty Sawyer at a press conference on Critical Race Theory Wednesday.

Some educators in Utah are calling Critical Race Theory the latest “boogeyman” in public education.

It has become a loosely-defined, catch-all phrase some parents and state lawmakers have criticized as a threat to students across the state. The reaction is not unlike the one many people had to the introduction of Common Core standards in the early 2010s.

Common Core was the first major attempt to create a set of national school standards for K-12 students in language arts and mathematics. Before, states had their own standards, which varied by difficulty and expectation.

But the introduction was met with a swift and, at times, emotional backlash, remembers high school government teacher Amy Jones. It was much like what’s happening with Critical Race Theory now.

“The fear [is similar],” Jones said. “The ‘Oh my gosh, it's going to teach our kids this and we can't have them learning that!’ It’s a situation where [people are] not educated on the issue, but they're buying into the emotion and the fear.”

After the rollout of Common Core, which Utah adopted, parents spoke out about federal overreach in local schools and many opted their kids out of standardized tests in protest.

Some of the concerns were warranted, said Rep. Carol Spackman Moss, D-Holladay, who’s also a retired English teacher. But overall Common Core was not the disastrous school takeover some had made it out to be.

“The Common Core thing just died away because it wasn't anything revolutionary one way or the other,” she said.

Spackman Moss sees the debate around Critical Race Theory as more dangerous though. While much of the misinformation and misunderstanding remains the same, the increased polarization has meant people face harsher consequences for having a dissenting opinion.

She pointed to a recent school board meeting in the Granite District, which devolved into shouting and police later escorting school board members to their cars. A teacher also received threats after being falsely accused of championing communism.

Particularly when the conversation involves something as foundational and politically sensitive as race, it’s all the more important to approach the subject with humility and patience, she said.

“These are important discussions to have,” she said. “But we cannot let them get hijacked by the extremes who are not taking an honest look.”

Jon reports on quality of life issues, education and the economy
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