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The Critical Race Theory Debate Comes To Frankfort

Josh James

Kentucky lawmakers on the interim joint education committee focused their attention on Critical Race Theory Tuesday, but observers heard little in the way of arguments favoring the approach.  

The gathering debate around Critical Race Theory, or CRT as it's commonly abbreviated, often boils down to defining critical race theory itself. Where supporters see a necessary corrective to a sanitized version of U.S. history, critics detect a divisive doctrine melding Marxism and identity politics.

What is Critical Race Theory? Listen to a conversation from NPR.

Fayette County social studies teacher Delvin Azofeifa was among the most vocal opponents at the committee meeting, where he argued CRT promotes a narrow understanding of historial events.

"It doesn't consider any other causal factors for anything else – just racism," Azofeifa testified. "There's no denying that racism has played a major role in the history of America, but objectively 2021 isn't even close to the levels of racism that was experienced in 1921."

Speakers, presumably including those more sympathetic to CRT, were promised time to weigh in at a future meeting.

The other big question on the minds of lawmakers: Is critical race theory being taught in Kentucky schools? Specific examples were hard to find in the discussion. But when pressed on what one lawmaker called “stacks” of evidence that teachers are under pressure to incoporate CRT, State Education Commissioner Jason Glass said that's not what he's seeing.

"I'm not sure where the pressure would be coming from in terms of pushing districts to teach it or not teach it, other than it's amplified in the dialogue that's taking place politically in the country right now," he responded. 

Glass said he was not aware of CRT being taught in any classrooms. Mentions of Critical Race Theory were scrubbed from an elective course dubbed “Developing Black Historical Consciousness” in Jefferson County Public Schools, according to JCPS Superintendent Marty Pollio.

The committee meeting was held to discuss BR 69, a bill aimed at preventing K-12 schools and public colleges and universities from teaching CRT. It follows on the heels of a similar measure introduced by Republican Rep. Joe Fischer in June. That bill, BR 60, would also bar public postsecondary schools from requiring students to engage in any "mandatory gender or sexual diversity training or counseling."

Asked to comment on Fscher's proposal, Gov. Andy Beshear said legislative interest in what specifics are taught in the classroom is concerning, adding "especially in the framework of politics, it gets really dangerous."

Josh James fell in love with college radio at Western Kentucky University's student station, New Rock 92 (now Revolution 91.7). After working as a DJ and program director, he knew he wanted to come home to Lexington and try his hand in public radio.
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