Opinion: Where do Michigan leaders stand on critical race theory?

This column originally appeared in The Detroit News.

There’s a debate raging in Washington, D.C., Lansing, local governments and school districts over the merits of individual freedom, equality and even capitalism: Do we embrace the American dream and our commitment to liberty — the qualities that have long made the United States “a shining city on a hill,” or are equality and opportunity no longer worth protecting?

Those are essential questions. Unfortunately, they’re questions that too many high-ranking Michigan politicos, from Gov. Gretchen Whitmer to prominent metro Detroit members of Congress, have spent the summer ducking.

“Critical race theory” is an academic push in schools, workplaces and government that, according to critics, tells people what they do and what they believe is less important than what they look like. There are victims and oppressors, its advocates teach, but you don’t get to choose by action which camp you fall into. You’re born into a camp based on the color of your skin.

Critics contend that the ultimate goals are to eliminate personal freedom, abandon capitalism and dismiss equality (in fact, a belief in equality, CRT advocates claim, is “camouflage” for White supremacy and oppression) in favor of equity.

Equity, those advocates tell us, means suspending private property rights, establishing unelected and unaccountable government bureaucracies, ending federalism and embracing "anticapitalism."

Perhaps most concerning, they aren’t taking this debate to the halls of Congress or the state House and Senate. They’re bringing it to kindergarten classrooms.

One researcher at the Manhattan Institute has compiled a list of more than 1,000 stories in schools and other public institutions, where CRT policies have directed kids do things like celebrate communism, "acknowledge thieved inheritance," and ask teachers to accept the blame for the "spirit murder" of Black children. Elementary school students are being taught that they are inherently and irreversibly “oppressors” — based solely on the color of their skin.

CRT advocates claim the American system is broken. They say our nation was never great, and it can’t be until things like capitalism, federalism and individual responsibility are upended.

No wonder so many voters are concerned (polling shows the overwhelming majority oppose CRT), and so many parents are flooding school board meetings to fight back.  Alas, they don’t always get direct answers from their elected leaders.

In just the last few weeks, the curtain’s been pulled back on metro Detroit members of Congress, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and the Michigan Department of Education. 

Rep. Haley Stevens, a Democrat from Oakland County who sits on the powerful House Committee on Education and Labor, was asked what she thought about critical race theory at a public town hall forum. She flatly refused to answer the question.

Her colleague, Rep. Elissa Slotkin, whose district covers Lansing, Livingston County and portions of Oakland County, went a step further. In July, The Washington Free Beacon discovered Slotkin’s chief staffer in Livingston County sits on a local diversity council openly pushing to get critical race theory taught in local schools. 

Slotkin’s name and official logo were included on the council’s advocacy website as well. When parents raised the alarm, the council quietly scrubbed its page to cover up the connections, and the politician’s press office has ducked press calls asking about Slotkin’s support for CRT.

In Lansing, FOIA requests recently revealed that Whitmer and her Department of Education are spending $130,000 per year on a ‘diversity and inclusion director’ for public schools, an office that, critics contend, may be used to push critical race theory in local district curriculum.

Voters are left with more questions than answers: Where do their elected representatives stand on critical race theory? On equality? On liberty? On capitalism? 

They’re not saying, but their silence speaks volumes.

Greg McNeilly is chairman of the Michigan Freedom Fund.

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