A webcast of high-level California educators discussing how to teach critical race theory (CRT) has raised the ire of parents, teachers, and organizations who’ve been told since early summer 2021 that CRT isn’t being taught in K–12 schools.
The three-hour webcast, called “Demystifying Critical Race Theory: Teaching Critical Race Theory in K-12 Classrooms” created by a group known as the Liberated Ethnic Studies Model Curriculum (LESMC) Coalition, was live-streamed on YouTube on Nov. 20, 2021. The coalition is composed of 18 core advisers and has about 70 members.
Three members of the coalition who participated in the webcast were part of an advisory committee, appointed in 2019, which developed the now-state-mandated program that California Gov. Gavin Newsom signed into law in 2021 requiring ethnic studies as a requirement for high school graduation starting in the 2029–30 school year.
The process became controversial when a draft was released that excluded lessons on anti-Semitism and was criticized by Jewish groups.
The controversy caused a rift among educators and some left the committee to create their own “liberated” coalition.
In the webcast, coalition members admit they use CRT to develop their lessons and that the purpose is to transform students into social justice activists.
“What you will see in the lessons that follow,” one coalition member says in the webcast, “are how classroom teachers begin to use critical race theory connected to ethnic studies in a way to empower and to create social justice activists out of our students.”
Teachers don’t normally preface lessons by telling students they’re teaching critical race theory, she said. Instead, they take tenets of critical race theory, she said, and make them come “alive” in the classroom as an “anti-racist project.”
The educator went on to say that one of the most important tenets of CRT for educators is that “we make an explicit commitment to changing this society in thought and in action.” CRT will change the majoritarian narrative, she continued, and “that’s why people are so afraid of it.”
The educators also discussed how to deal with the optics of the pushback from parents over CRT.
Concepts discussed in the webcast touch on “white supremacy,” for instance when NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick’s older white male childhood coach called him a “thug” due to his hairstyle. The educators also express support for the works of Brazilian Marxist Paulo Freire, known best for his book “Pedagogy of the Oppressed.” Another lesson deals with sports teams and logos depicting Native Americans. It shows a cartoon of a white sports fan displaying “Go Savages” on his chest.
It’s unclear why the coalition posted the webcast publicly, as some say educators are bending over backward to distance themselves—due to recent public outcry—from the term “CRT” even when they are fully deploying it in their classrooms.
“They’re not going to [use] the term, but they’re basically going to embed all [of its] concepts … and kind of thin it out,” said one California Teachers Association (CTA) member, who asked not to be named for fear of retaliation.
In a CTA memo dated Jan. 21, 2021, the teachers’ union refers to the coalition that hosted the website and created the liberated model as “the experts” on ethnic studies.
The teachers association didn’t respond to an inquiry asking whether it has either advocated or endorsed the liberated model.
Wenyuan Wu, executive director of the Californians for Equal Rights Foundation, told The Epoch Times that at least four school districts—including Los Angeles Unified, San Diego Unified, Salinas Union High School, and Hayward Unified—are using the coalition’s liberated model in classrooms.
Wu said it “closely resembles” the first ethnic studies proposal rejected by Newsom, who told the Jewish Journal it would “never see the light of day.”
The liberated coalition is well-connected, Wu said, “with a strong political agenda.”
Meanwhile, the California School Board Association, which represents more than 1,000 school boards in the state, has repeatedly denied that CRT is prevalent in California classrooms.
“We are not endorsing critical race theory, nor do we believe that critical race theory is widely taught in California schools,” Troy Flint, a spokesperson for the association, told The Epoch Times in 2021. “We do support ethnic studies instruction, and we think a lot of the discussion that is going on has conflated critical race theory with ethnic studies.”
When asked about the coalition’s webcast, Flint said on Jan. 12 that the liberated ethnic studies model is “not the norm” and there’s no accounting how many school districts or individual teachers have adopted it into lesson plans.
“A district could—if they wanted to—adopt a CRT-influenced ethnic studies curriculum,” Flint said. “I have not seen that on a widespread level and I don’t anticipate that. Mostly what you see in those cases where elements of CRT are being taught in the classroom [is] that it’s an individual decision the teacher has made … that this is a way to communicate or to illustrate a particular concept that they think enhances a student’s understanding of the material. But, you’re not seeing CRT as a whole or as a matter of practice taught in California schools on a widespread basis.”
According to Flint, decisions on how to teach ethnic studies as well as any or all components of CRT are left up to local school districts.
“The curricular regulations that come from the state level are quite broad,” he said. “It’s the local level where the determinations are made in terms of implementation, and what students are learning in the classroom.”
Those opposed to CRT have reacted strongly to its use of terms to describe white people as “privileged.”
According to Flint, that term isn’t specific to CRT.
“Essentially critical race theory just holds that throughout American history there have been elements of racism, classism, sexism and other forms of prejudice that were prominent in the culture and have, as a result, shaped the development of some of our institutions,” he said.
Because of that, according to the organization, the legacy of our history should be taken into account when making public policy—or, in this case—developing student curricula, not to create guilt over America’s past but to advocate for change.
While proponents claim it’s necessary to undo hundreds of years of “systemic racism” and “white supremacy,” opponents contend CRT is needlessly divisive, racist, and pits “people of color” against white “oppressors.”
Despite mounting evidence that CRT is being taught in classrooms in many states, left-leaning educators, politicians, and the mainstream news media have denied it, shifting the blame for the controversy to parents who they claim are uninformed.
On July 3, 2021, the National Education Association, a teacher’s union which represents nearly 3 million educators nationally, passed a resolution to promote CRT and “fight back against anti-CRT rhetoric.”
And then, just days later, the American Federation of Teachers, another national teachers’ union that is affiliated with the AFL-CIO and represents 1.7 million members, denied CRT was being taught in public schools.
“Let’s be clear: Critical race theory is not taught in elementary schools or high schools,” the federation’s President Randi Weingarten said during a speech at an internal conference. “But culture warriors are labeling any discussion of race, racism or discrimination as CRT to try to make it toxic. They are bullying teachers and trying to stop us from teaching students accurate history.”
Weingarten later reiterated the statement in a tweet: “#CriticalRaceTheory is not taught in K-12 schools.”
Meanwhile, parents across the United States have accused school boards and teachers of hiding that they are teaching CRT lessons in ethnic studies and other classes.
In Loudoun County, Virginia, Laura Morris quit her teaching job in front of the school board over critical race theory.
“School board, I quit,” Morris told the school board in August 2021. “I quit your policies, I quit your training, and I quit being a cog in a machine that tells me to push highly politicized agendas on our most vulnerable constituents—the children.”
Teachers, Parents Speak Out
The admission of the coalition that CRT is indeed taught in K–12 classrooms in California has only raised the ire of parent groups and teachers who say they feel they’ve been deliberately deceived.
They argue CRT by any other name is still CRT, and that these concepts don’t belong in K–12 classrooms, no matter what they’re called.
Linda Cone, 79, taught in Fullerton Joint Union High School District for 32 years before retiring in 1997. After watching the video, she told The Epoch Times that CRT concepts shouldn’t be taught in K–12 classrooms.
To teach children they’re victims and that white people are their enemy is wrong, she said. She added that many ethnic studies lessons not only promote victimhood but depict parents and adults in a “profoundly negative light.”
Cone, a former debate coach, recalls when she and her team attended a national tournament in Nashville, Tennessee, in 1967, and how her students were shocked to find remnants of racism at government buildings.
“They were appalled that they could actually see signs on the wall—the old signs about white and colored drinking fountains. They were furious, and I was furious along with them,” she said. “California teachers in ’67 wholeheartedly embraced Martin Luther King Jr.’s ‘I Have a Dream’ speech that people should ‘not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.’
“Having grown up in the civil rights era, there were some pretty incredible changes that were made, and I think we moved significantly forward.”
Kali Fontanilla quit her teaching job in California and moved to Florida after exposing CRT in the ethnic studies curriculum at her former school district in Salinas.
The continual denial of school board officials that CRT isn’t being taught in K–12 classrooms is “getting really old,” Fontanilla told The Epoch Times.
“We have a video of teachers talking about their lessons of critical race theory … so let’s start with that.”
In her old school district, Fontanilla said “admitted Marxists” constantly push CRT because they want “transformational and systemic change.”
“They want students to become revolutionaries—not just activists—but revolutionaries,” she said.
The issue of CRT became front and center for some during the COVID-19 pandemic when lockdown orders forced students, nationwide, onto online classes. When their children were forced to attend classes via Zoom, parents had a rare opportunity to take a closer look at their day-to-day lessons.
“I think America is really waking up,” Fontanilla said.
School boards and the teachers’ unions were caught off-guard when parents began protesting CRT.
“They are not used to pushback,” Fontanilla said. “Teachers’ unions are just an extension of the Democrat[ic] Party, and I think this is the first time they’re really experiencing that. And yeah, their bubbles are being burst.”
Kelly Schenkoske, a homeschool parent and CRT opponent who has attended school board meetings in several districts in Monterey County, California, accused teachers of intellectual dishonesty in trying to conceal CRT content in the ethnic studies curriculum and putting politics before basic academic principles.
“They have lost their way,” she told The Epoch Times. “This is a complete bait and switch on the American public. The product marketed is not the product received when it comes to the content.”
Requests for interviews with Salinas Union High School District Supt. Dan Burns, President Phillip Tabera, and members of the LESMC Coalition weren’t returned.