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As the controversy over critical race theory in public schools heats up, activists on both sides of the debate have spent massive amounts of time and money on a topic that takes aim at white privilege in America.
It's the latest front in the culture war over how students should be taught U.S. history. Its roots date back to the early 1970s, but it has become a modern-day flashpoint that has moved from the classrooms into politics. Now, some are wondering who is funding the movement and why.
Parents Defending Education, an advocacy group headed by conservative Nicole Neily, said parents should be wary of progressive groups behind teaching critical race theory.
"Through a stealth marketing campaign, Black Lives Matter — the global enterprise not the cause with lowercased letters — found its way into their children’s homeroom classroom with its divisive, political agenda — putting students just one click away from the Black Lives Matter Political Action Committee and a lesson that 'the characteristics of white supremacy' include 'objectivity' and 'right to comfort,'" she wrote.
At its core, critical race theory is a broad set of ideas about systemic bias and racism in American history. It argues the legacy of white supremacy remains embedded in society through laws and institutions.
Supporters believe the law has preserved the unequal treatment of people based on race. Opponents argue because the theory focuses on race, the approach itself is racist. Others claim it paints a negative picture of the United States and is designed to make white children feel bad about their country.
Though it's been around for 40 years, the controversy around critical race theory heated up in September when then-President Donald Trump issued an executive order banning federal contractors from conducting diversity training that drew on "race-based ideologies" such as critical race theory. Trump accused schools that teach students about slavery of spreading "hateful lies" and insulting the country's founding fathers.
The Biden administration rescinded Trump's order, which prompted Republican lawmakers in several GOP-controlled legislatures to introduce bills that would prohibit teaching it. Some states, such as Idaho and Missouri, mentioned critical race theory by name. Others, such as Tennessee, Arizona, and Iowa, touched on key aspects that are part of critical race theory.
The National Education Association, the largest labor union representing public school teachers, has strongly pushed against the ban and encouraged its members on June 12 to participate in a "national day of action" by selecting a site in their town or city that "symbolizes or reflects history that educators would be required to lie about or omit if these bills become laws" and protest.
Zinn Education Project, which cranks out race-centric material for middle and high schools across the country, sponsored the event. Teachers in all 50 states can and do download these lesson plans for free.
But some question the motives and teachings of the Zinn Education Project,
One lesson, called "Students Design a Reparations Bill," asks students to improve on the "flimsy" reparation bills making way through Congress.
"Critical thinking isn't encouraged," Betsy McCaughey, former lieutenant governor of New York, wrote in an opinion piece. "This isn't a debate about whether there should be reparations. This is one-sided indoctrination."
The Zinn Education Project launched in 2008, boasting 130,000 members and about 10,000 new registrants each year. The group is a collaboration of two non-profits: Teaching for Change and Rethinking Schools.
The Zinn Education Project has organized massive rallies in support of teaching critical race theory and supports teachers unions that promote its teachings.
The group was founded by the late Howard Zinn, a Marxist historian who served as a foot soldier in the Communist Party. Zinn became a progressive hero and is best known for his book A People's History of the United States. The book quickly became required reading by enthusiastic professors around the country and has sold more than two million copies.
Zinn's even been name-dropped on The Simpsons, Good Will Hunting, and The Sopranos. The History Channel aired The People's Speak, a film partly based on Zinn's book featuring special appearances by Pearl Jam's Eddie Vedder, Sean Penn, and Pink.
Trump also singled out Zinn during a White House Conference on American History last year.
"Our children are instructed from propaganda tracts, like those of Howard Zinn, that try to make students ashamed of their own history," he said.
Trump's comments seemed only to bolster the organization's resolve to teach critical race theory in schools and beyond.
Zinn Education Project's current campaigns include a push to abolish Columbus Day and rename it Indigenous People's Day. They also want educators to teach "climate justice" and are behind the "Teach Reconstruction Campaign," which is designed to "probe the relevance of Reconstruction" and "help teachers and schools uncover the hidden, bottom-up history of this era."
The group said it runs 100% on donations and accepts stocks and mutual funds, life insurance, charitable gift annuities, bequests, and charitable remainder trusts to fund its endeavors.
The Zinn Education Project has collaborated with Black Lives Matter at School and the Southern Poverty Law Center to hold large-scale, national protests pushing back on efforts to ban teaching critical race theory in schools.
On Saturday, thousands of educators and supporters gathered virtually and in-person to protest efforts by Republicans to restrict how educators teach racism, sexism, and oppression in America. Several thousand teachers across the country signed a pledge that read, "We, the undersigned educators, refuse to lie to young people about the U.S. history and current events — regardless of the law."
Emails sent to the Southern Poverty Law Center and Black Lives Matter for comment were not immediately returned.
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Original Author: Barnini Chakraborty
Original Location: Group with Marxist ties behind critical race theory push in schools