Critical Race Theory Comes to Portsmouth in a Misleading Mask
After business hours on Wednesday, the Portsmouth school Superintendent Tom Kenworthy sent an email to the parents of children in the Portsmouth school system:
Hello Members of the PSD Community,
This fall the Portsmouth School Department will be working with the Equity Institute to conduct an Equity Root Cause Analysis to inform our district work related to our Strategic Plan goal of “providing equitable opportunities to prepare each and every student for college and/or career”. Before starting their data collection process the Equity Institute will be conducting two community feedback sessions on October 5 and 6, 2021, to gather input on proposed survey and focus group questions. If you are interested in participating in one of the community feedback sessions please fill out the interest form that can be found in this letter.
Parents who haven’t been following the controversy around critical race theory (CRT) and “anti-racism” might think these sessions have something to do with “college and/or career” readiness for their children. They do not. That sort of misleading phrasing is only how proponents advance their goals of indoctrinating children into a radical belief system.
Sound conspiratorial? Dig just a little more deeply, and you’ll see that it is not. The first step is the letter that Kenworthy mentions. If your idea of a “community feedback session” is that members of the community can meet with a government contractor and offer feedback about the direction they want for the town in which they live, you might find the Equity Institute’s offerings strange. Both scheduled at 4:00 p.m., before many working people could attend, the sessions are strictly limited. The first is for 15 children (five each from elementary, middle, and high school) with five “family members.” The second is restricted to five administrators and five employees of the district.
According to the sign-up form, however, access is even more restrictive. Here, we learn that the numbers for the first session are just three from each group, while the second session will involve 12 people, three school committee members, three teachers, three staff members, and three principals. The form claims that participants will be “randomly selected,” but that is false, because the Equity Institute will “validate” that “there is equitable representation.” So, if 100 parents apply to participate, but only one fits the “equity” mold, then that parent is sure to be selected.
So, what is “equity”? Here, again, the language is misleading. Kenworthy’s presentation to the school committee, shared at its September 14 meeting, compares “equity” with “equality.” The latter “is achieved when students are all treated the same and have access to similar resources.” That may sound like a fair approach, but “equity” goes farther and “is achieved when all students receive the resources they need so they graduate prepared for success after high school.” This, also, may sound fair, simply ensuring that Portsmouth’s education system adequately prepares all students, even if some of them require more help. The presentation states that “equity has been the goal of federal education policy since the No Child Left Behind Act.”
One word that does not appear in any of the materials reviewed so far is “race.” Yet, if you search the internet for “Equity Institute,” you’ll find that the very link of the organization’s website sets its mission as “Racial Equity and Justice. Now.” That doesn’t seem like college readiness; it seems like hard-core activism. Click through to the site, and you’ll discover the top-line goal of “transforming communities through collective action.” The institute wants to “reimagine education” in order to “cultivate antiracist, people-centered communities for all learners.”
It’s important to note that concepts like “justice now” and “anti-racism” change the meaning of the words around them. In that framing, “people-centered communities for all learners” does not mean everybody is important and everybody is a priority. It means that some children already have “privilege” — which is to say, more than they deserve — and “justice” requires “collective action” to make sure that “students are not all treated the same,” but rather, that privilege is taken away from some and given to others.
On the Equity Institute’s About Us page, “educational equity” is defined as including such changes as “modifying or eliminating biased academic standards,” rewriting them along anti-racist lines. In fact, “interventions may even fall outside of the traditional boundaries of our education systems, such as promoting housing security, improving food access, and addressing poverty through economic policy.”
Keep digging. On a graphic meant to show you where you fall on the educational equity spectrum, step 6 involves “lifting students’ identities to the forefront of my work.” Not their abilities. Not their talents. Not their particular educational needs. But their identities. In a promotional video, Equity Institute Board Member Christina Turner adds in the goal to “dismantle systems.”
Parents in the East Bay of Rhode Island have long held up Portsmouth as being among the best schools in the state, allowing families to avoid the private-school tuitions that other parents in the area find necessary. Superintendent Kenworthy’s engagement of the Equity Institute is not about taking that achievement and making it even better — perhaps to compete with schools like Barrington and East Greenwich at the very top of statewide rankings. It’s about labeling that status as “privilege” and dismantling it along the lines of radical anti-racist ideology.