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Our View: Cortez Schools

Whatever the perceived problem, whitewashing history is not the answer

Coloradans should remember with pride the names of John Schuenemeyer and Chris Flaherty. They have demonstrated courage and character.

Schuenemeyer and Flaherty were members of the Montezuma-Cortez School District RE-1 board. They resigned last week in response to the board’s decisions not to require students to wear masks and to purge the district’s schools of all traces of critical race theory. They may have done better to stay on the board and defend their stance, but the strength of their position was worthy of their action.

Rejection of the mask mandate comes despite the recommendation of local health officials, who probably know more about public health than school board members. Local medical professionals can and should weigh in on that.

The business about critical race theory is more disturbing in that it involves more than simply pushing back against authority. It is not only a refusal to acknowledge ongoing problems in American society, but a rejection of historical facts.

The board banned critical race theory without so much as defining it. Schuenemeyer has said district teachers have told him they think the board’s move is meant to remove anything that puts non-whites “in a favorable light.”

According to EducationWeek, critical race theory is a 40-year-old academic concept that posits nothing more radical than the idea that “race is a social construct, and that racism is not merely the product of individual bias or prejudice, but also something embedded in legal systems and policies.”

“Redlining” is one example. At one time, officials drew red lines on maps to delineate areas deemed unworthy of credit simply because they were primarily home to non-whites. Banks then denied mortgages in those places.

That practice has been illegal for decades. Its effects, however, linger on in the racial makeup of neighborhoods, schools and the workforce.

That says nothing about the thoughts or actions of any individual today. Nor is it a blanket condemnation of white people. Nobody should be blamed for inherited problems – especially not schoolchildren.

Again, critical race theory is an academic concept and local schools are not universities. But it is the schools’ job to teach the history of racism as an undeniable part of American history.

Slavery existed in this country for almost 250 years. Legal segregation went on for another century, with further discrimination lingering longer still. Should schools teach that history has no lasting influence? Should they simply ignore the Civil War, “separate but equal” and the civil rights movement of the 1960s? How about this country’s history with Native Americans or why Japanese Americans were rounded up during World War II while people with German ancestors were not? Is all that off the table?

Telling the truth about this country’s past is not un-American. Nor is it disrespectful to acknowledge that some problems from the past still reverberate today.

But effectively asking teachers to withhold the full story of this nation from their students violates America’s best traditions and endangers its future. Schuenemeyer and Flaherty were right to object to that.