Senate leader Phil Berger vows to keep critical race theory out of schools

Phil Berger

State Senate leader Phil Berger attacked critical race theory Wednesday, pledging to fight against the controversial doctrine he contends has taken root in some North Carolina Schools.

Most educators say critical race theory is not being taught in K-12 schools.

“I oppose it, and I will combat it with everything that I have, because I believe the doctrine undoes the framework that produced the most successful ongoing experiment in self-government in the history of mankind,” Berger said during a late morning press conference.

Berger’s remarks came a few hours before the Senate was scheduled to take up House Bill 324, which would restrict what public schools can teach students about America’s racial past.

“Children must learn about our state’s racial past and all of its ugliness, including the cruelty of slavery to the 1898 Wilmington massacre to Jim Crow,” Berger said.  “But students must not be forced to adopt an ideology that is separate and distinct from history; an ideology that attacks “the very foundations of the liberal order,” and that promotes “present discrimination” — so long as it’s against the right people — as “antiracist.”

As Policy Watch reported last month, Critical Race Theory is an academic discipline that examines how American racism has shaped law and public policy. CRT emerged in the legal academy in the 1980s as an offshoot of critical legal studies.

Critics say they fear it will be used to teach young, impressionable students that America and white people are inherently and irredeemably racist. They often share stories about young white children who, after learning hard truths about American racism, return from school stung by the revelation that, historically, the nation has been imperfect in its treatment of Blacks and other people of color.

Meanwhile, proponents say it’s important that children learn hard truths about the nation’s racial past, warts and all.

Paul Scott

Durham activist Paul Scott is watching HB 324 closely.

Scott shared a letter he wrote to Berger on Tuesday, calling the senator’s stance against anti-racism education a “literary lynching” of Black children.

“Now, more than ever, our children need to know the truth about American history,” Scott wrote. “You and others seem to be determined to push America back to the era of white’s only water fountains and restrooms.”

Scott helped to convince Durham Public Schools and the Durham City Council to adopt resolutions that support teaching critical race theory.

Berger complained that the Durham city council authorized a racial equity task force that’s “steeped” in critical race ideology.

“It tells us that the current education system is working as it was designed: to indoctrinate all students with the internalized belief that the white race is superior,” Berger said. “If government officials really believe that, one needn’t think too hard about what kind of steps they’re taking to fix that problem.”

Berger was also critical of anti-racism education efforts in Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools where he said the district tells students that it’s “no longer enough to be passively ‘not racist’ and that they must be antiracists.

“Today’s antiracist literature, embraced by some school districts in North Carolina, preaches that discrimination by race is “not inherently racist [and]…The only remedy to past discrimination is present discrimination,” Berger said.

The Senate leader said he will introduce a Constitutional amendment that reinforces the Civil Rights Act of 1964. He said it will be pattern after similar amendments in the constitutions of California and Michigan.

“The Civil Rights Act of 1964, one of our country’s greatest advancements toward realizing the promise of America’s founding principles, prohibits discrimination against a person “because of such individual’s race, color, religion, sex, or national origin,” Berger said.

He said then-U.S. Senator Barack Obama, was right in 2004 when he said there is only one America.  Obama was elected president in 2008, and again in 2012.

“To those who heard those words, America’s first black president was saying there is no white or black or Latino or Asian America — there is only one America, undefined by color,” Berger said. 

Earlier this week, Berger shared two articles about Critical Race Theory on his website, Senator Berger Press Shop, that he described as “well-reasoned” and “well-researched” that offered countervailing perspective to the one pushed by critical race theory proponents.

One article was written by Kevin Drum, who formerly wrote for Mother Jones and the other by Andrew Sullivan, a former writer for New York Magazine.

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