Critical Race Fury: The School Board Wars Are Getting Nasty in TexasBreaking News
tags: conservatism, Texas, culture war, teaching history, critical race theory
No child is guaranteed success in life, but students in Eanes Independent School District, located in the rolling hills of West Austin, will have an easier time attaining it than many of their peers. The neighborhoods that feed into Eanes are some of the state’s richest. All but one of the district’s nine schools won an A rating from the state in 2019, the last time grades were handed out.
About 99 percent of the 2021 senior class at Westlake High School was accepted to college, superintendent Tom Leonard tells the audience at the June 22 meeting of Eanes’s board, recapping another year of high achievement. The robotics team won a state championship, he adds, which could improve the school’s third-place standing in the Lone Star Cup, awarded to the state’s winningest schools. Westlake also won a state football championship, and the boys’ golf team won state too, as it has four years running. By the standards of Texas public schools, Eanes is an idyll.
Soon after Leonard stops speaking, however, loud yelling commences, and it continues for the better part of an hour. According to most of the 38 people who have come to give public testimony, the district’s schools have become beholden to “post-Marxist critical theory,” as one speaker puts it—“an updated version of Marxism focusing on differences between people.” The school board, says another, has opened the doors of Eanes to “antifa and BLM,” forces that “salivate after war” and “burn down” communities.
On the agenda today are two items that might seem unlikely reasons to go to battle. One is the contract of Mark Gooden, a professor at the Teachers College at Columbia University, in New York City, and, since 2020, the diversity, equity, and inclusion consultant for Eanes. The second is a rewrite of the district’s mission statement. After workshopping the document for more than a year, the board had settled on “Unite. Empower. Inspire . . . Every Person, Every Day.”
In the burst of self-reflection that followed the summer of George Floyd, many districts hired DEI consultants. Gooden, according to Eanes board president John Havenstrite, looked at Eanes’s data, met with community stakeholders, and provided recommendations. Schools in Eanes did not appear to discipline children of color at a higher rate than white children, as many others do, or place disproportionate numbers of white students in advanced-placement courses. Gooden did recommend training for teachers and staff on how to approach racial issues, among other sensitive topics. That didn’t happen, for the most part, because of the disruption of the pandemic.
But the parents at the June meeting see Gooden’s involvement, along with the new mission statement, as evidence that Eanes is becoming excessively woke, if not antiwhite. Gooden, they say, embraces critical race theory, and by letting him run riot, the whole district has become tainted with it.
Before this past year, CRT was a term you’d hear mostly in discussions among academics, especially legal scholars, about the ways in which racism has shaped various institutions and practices in the United States—for example, the “redlining” of minority neighborhoods, where banks would not make loans. Now it’s become a catchall term encompassing fears that our youth are being taught to hate America through constant recitations of its sins and that whites should be considered irredeemably racist. That the Legislature passed multiple laws earlier this year to “move to abolish” the teaching of critical race theory in schools, as Governor Greg Abbott put it, has only inflamed those concerns.
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