JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. – Monday was the first day of school for many districts in Missouri. Over the summer, the state’s education department asked school districts if they taught critical race theory in a survey.
Last month, members of the Missouri House and Senate heard testimony on why critical race theory (CRT) should be banned in the state, but on Monday, they heard why schools should teach it. Of the 554 districts in the state, only one said it teaches CRT.
“I don’t think that people actually know what critical race theory is at one moment in time,” Former director of the Anti-Defamation League Karen Aroesty told the committee. “Learning about the history of race and racism is important.”
CRT is a hot-button issue that’s making headlines across the country as other states pass legislation prohibiting curriculum in their public-school systems. Some Republican lawmakers are asking the governor to ban the teaching of critical race theory in Missouri schools.
“The idea that it is appropriate to level acquisitions of a historical nature of people currently for wrongs in the past,” Rep. Doug Richey (R-Excelsior Springs) said. “It’s amazing how many administrators I’ve had direct conversation with who prior to three months ago had no knowledge whatsoever of critical race theory.”
Last month, a letter drafted by Sen. Mike Moon (R-Ash Grove) and signed by other Republicans asked Gov. Mike Parson to issue an executive order banning the teaching of CRT and the “1619 Project” in schools before students return in August. The other side of the aisle said CRT makes a difference.
“Critical race theory is I think maybe getting in the way by giving it this name and holding up as the boogie man interfering with our ability to say, let’s let our kids learn about history, let’s let them learn about themselves and others,” Sen. Jill Schupp (D-Creve Coeur) said.
CRT is known as the academic study of how racism has impacted the U.S. through things like politics to culture. After last month’s meeting, some Democrats were upset because no one spoke in favor of CRT. Those who testified Monday were invited by Schupp and Rep. Paula Brown (D-Hazelwood).
Monday’s meeting last nearly two hours and consisted of seven different people testifying in favor. Dee Simon, Executive Director of the Holocaust Center for Humanity told lawmakers she’s concerned by banning CRT, students wouldn’t learn about certain parts of the Holocaust.
“To teach the Holocaust, educators need resources, and they need to understand why they are teaching the Holocaust,” Simon said. “I am a firm believer that if the Holocaust isn’t taught well, it’s better not to teach it at all because it could actually support anti-Semitism.”
Over the summer, the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) gave the 500 plus school districts a survey about CRT and the “1619 Project.” The first question read:
Question: Does your LEA’s board-approved curriculum include lessons about CRT?
The only school to answer yes was Kansas City Public Schools, explaining their answer by saying:
“We offer an African Centered College prep magnet school that services both elementary and secondary students. The board also approved the 1619 Project service learning and community activism grant to be taught during summer school. The curriculum is fully aligned with the Missouri Learning Standards.”
Five schools left the answer blank and 419 districts said no.
The second question read:
Question: Does your LEA’s board-approved curriculum include The New York Times 1619 Project?
Three schools answered yes: Hazelwood School District, Kansas City Public Schools, and the School District of University City. Hazelwood explains its answer by saying:
“4th Grade Social Studies – The 1619 Project is listed as one of the teacher resources about the arrival of enslaved Africans in Jamestown.
8th Grade Social Studies – Students are given a reading of two paragraphs from the 1619 Project describing the arrival of enslaved Africans in Jamestown.
US History (9th Grade) – The 1619 Project is mentioned in a suggested learning activity where President Trump discusses the 1619 Project and the 1776 project.”
University City explained its answer by saying:
“Our board did not approve the 1619 Project. One of our teachers used the resource during one unit of study with students.”
DESE said during July’s meeting, the state does not issue guidance on CRT because it’s a local control state.
“The story of this nation is a narrative around race and the remnants of structural racism,” Aroesty said. “We feel comfortable with people who are like us and that association quietly undermines how we engage with others who are not.”
Mya Walker is a senior at Francis Howell High School in St. Charles. She testified in favor of CRT, saying it’s a way for voices to be heard.
“We cannot have equality without addressing openly and honestly how it’s taken so long for people who look like me to make it as far as we have,” Walker said. “CRT is not anti-white nor is it racist, it’s a different way to look at historical and present-day social systems and to see them through a different atypical lens.”
The committee plans to hold another hearing in the future but has not yet set a date.