Michael Wagar Commentary: Critical Race Theory Is a Red Herring Pushed by the Right


The debate over the teaching of critical race theory in our schools is raging.

Some believe critical race theory is being taught and is an attempt to teach children in our public schools to hate white people. Others claim it is a classic red herring — using conservative red meat to get the base riled up and raise money and passion for the upcoming midterm elections in 2022.

After all, there are 34 out of 100 senators up for reelection and all 435 House seats are in play.

A letter to the editor written by a Chehalis resident summed up the fears of some when it comes to critical race theory: “I believe critical race theory is a liberal, Marxist theology and a party line of only one side of this country and as such, of course, it shouldn't be pushed in our schools no matter the grade level.”

State Superintendent of Public Instruction Chris Reykdal called the hullabaloo over the teaching of critical race theory a “manufactured outrage for political purposes.” He said it is not being taught in our schools.

“We talk about the Civil Rights Movement, we talk about the causes of the Civil War, we talk about the experiences of Black Americans, of white Americans,” he said. “It’s comprehensive history, but it’s not critical race theory,” he said on a Seattle radio show.

He went on to state, “Teaching both sides of our history where we’ve made progress in race and where we’re still dragging some of that in our institutions and our laws and our decisions, that’s just good teaching. And that’s what we do. That’s not exactly what’s being described by folks who, again, are contriving this for political reasons. It’s a really convenient way to throw everything they’re raging about under a brand because it’s easier to run candidates under that brand.”

I take Reykdal at his word on this issue.

I think the opposition to a condition that is not taking place is indeed a red herring (red herring is defined as something intended to divert attention from the real problem or matter at hand; a misleading clue).

Caught in the middle of this contentious issue are the teachers and administrators that just want to be the best at educating our children. The matter came up at last month’s Chehalis School Board meeting where the board passed an equity statement.

The statement is powerful, spot on and clear, and includes the following:

• “Our school district is not a political or partisan organization. The district does not push any ideology. It does not endorse curriculum where students are taught what to think.”

• “Further, it is acknowledged there is evidence of systematic wrong doing, intentional or unintentional where the United States has failed to live up to the ideals of the Nation’s founding. Understanding and learning from these failures is a necessary part of a quality education.”

• “We will not teach Chehalis students that people, due to their race or background, are inherently good or bad, guilty or innocent, more or less capable than others.”

Not once was critical race theory brought up in the statement, but it is clear the school district was addressing concerns about the hot topic.

Teaching that white people hate Black people is simply not taking place in our public schools. I trust school board members and parents would be up in arms if such teaching was taking place in our schools, but we need to make sure we are teaching a complete rendering of the history of America, the good with the bad.

I still believe the United States is, as President Ronald Reagan stated, “a shining city upon a hill whose beacon light guides freedom-loving people.” For 245 years America, with all its faults, has offered hope for the rest of the world. Hope for freedom. Hope for democracy.

We have much to be proud of, but we also have struggles in our past. We can’t ignore history; we need to learn from it. Native American atrocities, slavery, women not being allowed to vote — the list is long. As Winston Churchill said in 1948, “Those who fail to learn from history are condemned to repeat it.”

Simply teaching our history, without adding opinion, is critical for our children to learn. I applaud the Chehalis School District’s position and intent as described in it’s equity statement.


Michael Wagar is a former president, publisher and editor of The Chronicle.