The divisive issue of critical race theory reemerged Monday, June 14, at a meeting of the Brainerd School Board.
During a period for public comment, concerned community members — including local activist Doug Kern, who attended the meeting with his wife, former board member Sue Kern — criticized and denounced the idea of critical race theory, claiming it’s a societal scourge sweeping America and weaseling its way into the Brainerd School District. These commentators described critical race theory as “demonic” and “communist” at varying turns and warned board members they would hold them accountable to preserve a patriotic, more traditional curriculum for students.
“I'm here to speak on the ideology, the subject, the religion that is being pushed on our children of all ages. This is in schools around the country and now has found its way into Brainerd. I’m not surprised,” said Mark Olson, a resident of Brainerd. “There are so many questions I have along with numerous people in the community. The topic obviously is critical race theory. Do the board members and the administration even know what it is? If not, why not? Do you know why it took the community to rise up, to push back on something, to stop a speaker or trainer who’d indoctrinate our kids?”
““Basically, we're creating a picnic atmosphere and telling people ‘Come on down, bring a picnic lunch with you and have fun with the family and just enjoy being out in the nice weather.”
— Dave Badeaux, Brainerd mayor and executive director of Brainerd Community Action
Critical race theory is defined in the Encyclopedia of Race, Ethnicity, and Society as an academic movement of civil rights scholars and activists in the United States who look to critically examine the law, justice system, and social mores as they influence issues of race and to challenge mainstream liberal approaches to racial justice.
The issue sparked debate and backlash from members of the community after the Brainerd School District invited a University of Minnesota professor, Timothy Lensmire, to visit for a state-mandated cultural competency training session that teachers undertake.
School board members and administrators said they were inundated with emails and phone calls about Lensmire’s appearance. Critics wrote to the Dispatch as well, worrying about Lensmire’s “radical and progressive” background and that he would force critical race theory upon Brainerd teachers.
In the end, the district opted to cancel Lensmire’s speaking engagement, but commentators on Monday said they were concerned critical race theory would find its way back into the district’s employee training, student instruction and academic curriculum and that, furthermore, that was the intention of the district’s administration. Those who spoke Monday also expressed unsubstantiated fears the Brainerd School District wasn’t educating students about the U.S. Constitution or the Declaration of Independence.
The comments often evolved into personal, hyper-specific interpretations of semantics. Terms like “equity,” “cultural competency” and “diversity” were characterized by Olson as buzzwords, or an underhanded reference to toxic, un-American teachings. Equity — which is defined by Webster’s Dictionary as “the quality of being fair and impartial” — was particularly scrutinized, as Doug Kern claimed it’s being used in this context as a push for equality of outcome that would arbitrarily punish some and unfairly reward others.
“We’re going to hold you accountable. Teach the three Rs (reading, writing and arithmetic), that’s what you’re designed to do.”
— Mark Olson, community member
“One of the concerns that people have is that … equality and equity are two different words,” Doug Kern said. “Equity is where you want the same outcome. No matter what the costs are, no matter if you have to raise one person up over another one.”
Throughout the public speaking period, commenters affirmed and reaffirmed that this isn’t the last word and they would hold the board accountable. Bob Nystrom, the chair of the board, noted board members would not respond to questions, accusations, or comments during the public speaking portion of the meeting as it’s set aside specifically for public comment.
“The CRT (critical race theory), I mean, that's demonic. That is crazy. … I don't know if we're gonna get anywhere with this, but I will be back here to dump hot coals on all your heads,” said Andrew Dunlap, a Brainerd resident. “That's not a mean thing to do. I don't know how many of you read the Bible, in the Bible it talks about that. If you are wrong and if you're on the wrong side, it's gonna hurt.”
“We’re going to hold you accountable,” Olson said to the board. “Teach the three Rs (reading, writing and arithmetic), that’s what you’re designed to do.”