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Not teaching them critical race theory,” the elderly voter shot back, when an interviewer asked for the most important issue in the governor’s race in Virginia. “And what is critical race theory?” the interviewer asked.

He balked. “I don’t understand it that much —  but what I’ve heard I don’t care for.” The interviewer asked again. But the man was completely lost.

It’s not funny, because this is real life now: Vigorous opposition based on absolutely no information. And on Tuesday, Colorado Springs voters elected too many people just like that old man — strident, ignorant and fearful — to school boards across the city. This is alarming.

Back in 2018, Jason Stanley presaged these attacks on critical race theory in his book How Fascism Works: “Whenever fascism threatens, its representatives … denounce schools as sources of ‘Marxist indoctrination,’ the classic bogeyman of fascist politics. Typically used without any connection to Marx or Marxism, the expression is employed in fascist politics as a way to malign equality….”

That played out on the campaign websites of those who won seats on the board for Colorado Springs School District 11, where the student population is one of the largest and most diverse in the region. It’s the district that produced Tuesday’s most shocking results.

From Lauren Nelson’s site: “CRT is ... rooted in Marxism and is a philosophy that MUST NOT be taught in ANY public school. … Teaching this ideology will bring about the destruction of our country.”

John Gustafson went caps-lock: “I am anti-CRT .... D11’s Equity policy, which is CRT in disguise, is a REINTRODUCTION OF SEGREGATION INTO OUR SCHOOLS!”

Among “reasons for VOTE FOR SANDRA BANKES,” Bankes listed “CRT does not have a place in our classrooms.”

But CRT isn’t taught in classrooms. For the people in the back: Critical race theory is essentially the acknowledgement that the white supremacy of the past lives on in the laws and societal rules of the present — and it is not being taught in K-12 schools. The Republican railing against critical race theory is manufactured. It’s the work of cynical political strategists: Invent an issue, build false outrage, create “victims,” and parlay it into success at the ballot box.

Sadly, it worked in D11.

D11 is climbing out of a long stretch of difficult, dramatically underfunded decades, and has seen a renaissance since Dr. Michael Thomas took the helm as superintendent in 2018. Thomas helped establish a master plan for achievement and growth, directed new energy to high expectations for rigorous curriculum and instruction, and last year under his leadership the school board passed an equity policy — the first in the region.

It’s the kind of progress that makes emotional, under-informed people very, very angry. So they ran for the D11 school board and — amidst dismal voter turnout — they won.

Those newly elected to the D11 school board (Al Loma, Nelson and Bankes) aren’t running to build a better, safer future for all our children. They’re fear-driven people whose goal is to obstruct progress and stifle development. They’re buoyed not by broad grassroots support but by dark money, pouring in from groups too cowardly to show their faces or admit their motives.

What can we do, now that the election is past?

Show up to school board meetings. Don’t let these people fly under the radar and achieve their wrongheaded goals. Hold them accountable. Make your voices heard. Make it clear that closed-minded, regressive people are not the majority.

It’ll be hard. School board meetings can be drudgery. But the decisions made by these people — some of whom have very little interest in education and an outsize attachment to ignorance and ideology — shape our kids’ futures.

This means we must also show up for elections. Next time school board seats are up for grabs, fund and support qualified, progressive candidates. We need school board members who deal in logic, not emotion; who are qualified for the serious work ahead. We need school board members who aren’t spouting strategists’ dog-whistle talking points.

We need people who will put the children first. 



Editor's note: This column has been corrected to remove John Gustafson from the list of newly-elected members of the D11 school board. The winners were Sandra Bankes, Al Loma, Laura Nelson and incumbent Julie Ott.